Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 will land on July 29, and that means that if you want to be ready for it when it arrives, you have a couple of months to prepare.
Let's take a look at what you need to know and do to get ready for this release.
The simple way to check for Windows 10 compatibility
If you're running Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 and are eligible for the Windows 10 upgrade, you can use the built-in compatibility checker to test your system. If you want it to check the compatibility of peripherals they will need to be plugged in and active for it to work.
OK, so what do you need to run Windows 10? Well, fortunately for us, Microsoft has already published the system requirements for Windows 10. Fire that page up because I'm going to step through the important bits of this document.
First thing that should pull your attention is this:
"Basically, if your PC can run Windows 8.1, you're good to go. If you're not sure, don't worry--Windows will check your system to make sure it can install the preview."
This is an oversimplification (we'll get to why in a moment), but it's a useful one nonetheless. Basically, most people running a Windows 8/8.1 system are good to go. And if you're not sure, the installer will run a check to make sure before trying to shoehorn the operating system onto hardware it's incompatible with.
So, what if you're not running Windows 8/8.1? How can you decide if your hardware is up to the challenge of running Windows 10? This is where the hardware specs come into play.
Here's what Microsoft says you need to run the Windows 10 preview:
Processor: 1 GHz or faster
RAM: 1 GB for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit
Free hard disk space: 16 GB for 32-bit or 20 GB for 64-bit
Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver
A Microsoft account and Internet access
Beyond the basics
Now if you're the sort of person who is a walking encyclopedia of tech trivia, then you might notice how these specs are the same as those for Windows 7. But there is one gotcha that you need to be aware of, and this only becomes apparent if you pull up the specs for Windows 8/8.1 and look closer at the processor specs:
Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2
So in order to be able to run Windows 10 (or Windows 8/8.1), you need a processor that supports PAE, NX, and SSE2. Without this, your Windows 10 fun comes to an end.
Try installing Windows 8/8.1. If it won't work, the installer will tell you before you wade out beyond your depth.
Download and run a handy utility called CPU-Z. Look under Instructions and if you see SSE2, EM64T (indicates the processor has support for PAE) and either VT-d or VT-x (which is what's needed for NX support) then you're ready to rock.
Manually check out your CPU by wading through this list. This will tell you directly if the CPU supports NX, and it will be listed as "NX / XD / Execute disable bit".
NX can be a pain in the behind because while your processor might support it, it could be disabled in the system BIOS, which then means having to dig around looking for the on switch.
To install a 64-bit version of Windows 8.1 (not Windows 8) on a 64-bit PC, your processor also needs to support CMPXCHG16b(which also, annoyingly, needs motherboard support, so it can be hard to test for), PrefetchW, and LAHF/SAHF, which adds more confusion. Fortunately, most people will have this already.
While most people running a relatively modern PC - say up to around three years old - shouldn't have a problem getting Windows 10 onto their PCs, there are some things to bear in mind.
Never be in a rush to move up to a new operating system (whether it's Windows, OS X or Linux). It's not like Microsoft is going to run out of copies! Even small problems and bugs can put a severe dent in productivity and leave you hating your life. Keep in mind the "Tech Prime Directive" - If it's not broke, don't fix it!
Get involved in the Windows 10 preview program. Sure, it might be a bit late, but you can't really complain about problems not being fixed if you've not offered feedback relating to them.
If you're running some must-have piece of software, then make sure that it is still being supported. If you're relying on something that hasn't been updated in years, and you find that it doesn't work right under Windows 10, then it may never be updated, leaving you stranded.
The same goes for any incompatible hardware drivers. Never assume that an OEM will release updated drivers for old hardware.
Keep in mind that between now and the end of the year that there will be a slew of updates and fixes for Windows 10. If something isn't working right for you now, then keep an eye open for a fix down the line.
The virtual machine route
If you'd rather play with Windows 10 from the comfort and safety of a virtual machine, you can either install it into something like VirtualBox ( these instructions for OS X will work on Windows), Hyper-V, or something like VMware Workstation. It all seems to work well as long as your hardware supports virtualization and your system has the grunt to run two operating systems side-by-side.
Here's a step-by-step look at how to install Windows 10 into VirtualBox. This is identical whether the host is Windows or OS X.
Installing Windows 10 into VirtualBox on Windows or OS X
You could also experiment with a native boot VHD, although this is a kludgy and possibly buggy route to take.
What about running Windows 10 on a Mac?
Seems like Windows 10 runs well in Boot Camp (actually, on lower-spec Macs, it seems to run better than OS X itself, with is a bit of a black eye for Apple). While I've not carried out any proper testing, my experiences with Windows 10 on Macs has been very positive indeed, with performance, particularly user interface performance, being excellent. I've also experienced decent battery life, and rock-solid stability.
Again though, if you rely on running Windows on your Mac, don't throw caution into the wind and just nuke your existing Boot Camp installation. Take your time, back up your existing installation and give yourself plenty of time to test it properly.
Adding touch support to an existing PC
While not mandatory, running Windows 10 on a PC that has support for touch will allow you to get more from Windows 10. And you can do that without breaking the bank, either by adding a touch-enabled display, or upgrading your peripherals.
Touch-enable your Windows PC
If you're running Windows 8/8.1 then you're probably good to go. If you're not then you can use the Windows 10 installer or the Windows 8.1 Upgrade Assistant to uncover any major issues. If you are eligible for the free upgrade, you can use the built-in compatibility checker.
However, neither of these are a substitute for in-depth testing. Given that Microsoft has been very transparent with Windows 10, releasing a number of updates, there really is little excuse for not doing your own testing on your hardware.