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Windows 8 on Older PCs?

Windows 8 on Older PCs?

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 I've been following the IT press as it's been covering the much-publicized Windows 8 launch over the last few months. Having a passion for keeping IT equipment alive and well as long as possible, I've been following the sub-debate on whether or not Windows 8 is suitable for older PCs.

Most of the libraries and nonprofits I visit have older PCs. The press reports I found mostly concurred that Windows 8 seems to work well on two- or three-year-old equipment, but what about a vintage seven year old PC? My colleague Kevin Lo and I went on a quest to find out. Here's what we discovered.

The Windows 8 Footprint

We installed Windows 8 and Office 2010 Standard on a classic Windows XP computer, a Dell Optiplex GX 280 from 2005.

The seven-year-old Dell Optiplex was a mid-priced business computer in its day, not a high-end gaming machine. It’s a small form factor 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 desktop computer with 2 GB of RAM, and a 75 GB hard drive. Its current value is around $60.

The onboard Intel graphics card turned out to be the weakest part of the PC, causing it to rate only a 2 (out of 10) on the Windows Experience Index, a utility in Windows 8 that rates the performance of your PC. We found that Windows 8 had simply installed a generic graphics card software driver rather than one specific to this model of computer. The vintage 2.8 GHz Pentium 4 processor got a rating of 3.8 – still pretty low. Even so, the old computer seemed to work fine with its new Windows 8 operating.

The Windows 8 installation does indeed have a light footprint, using only 10GB of space on our hard drive. By comparison, Windows 7 requires 16GB of hard drive space. The Windows 8 and Office 2010 installations went smoothly without any problems.

How Windows 8 Works on A Seven-Year-Old Computer?

To test how well Windows 8 worked on our seven-year-old computer, we ran all of our Microsoft Office 2010 applications (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, and OneNote) all at the same time. In addition, we ran six Internet Explorer 10 browser windows, one with a Lady Gaga YouTube video running and then another with a demo of the Sony Bravia 3D TV, a heavily-animated Adobe Flash website.

With all that going, I flipped around to all the different screens and found no delays or pixilation. The computer skipped around to wherever I wanted to go instantly, despite our modest graphics card. Office 2010 worked perfectly as well.

I then shut down the computer to see how the new fast startup feature works on such an old computer. Windows 7 is starts up pretty fast at 38 seconds and Windows 8 is supposed to cut that time in half. Sure enough after testing the startup five times, it consistently clocked in at 17 seconds (without logging in).

Okay, it works.

Why Would Anyone Install Windows 8 on an Old PC?

Glad you asked. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to buy a new touch screen monitor for $300 or $400 to use on an old $60 computer so you can use the Windows 8 new touch screen features like you would on a tablet computer.

But according to ZDnet's Jason Perlow, your system will run faster, more reliably, and more securely on Windows 8 than it did before. Our finding is that this is so even if you have PCs that are up to seven-years-old.

Another reason that comes to mind is to standardize all the PCs in your office on single operating system (OS) to make maintenance more reasonable. Is Windows 8 an OS that is suitable for both for newer and older PCs? I've basically found that it is. The beat goes on, though.

Here’s a sampling of the debate on this:

We'd love to hear about your experiences using Windows 8 on older PCs. Are you upgrading? Have you already tried? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Jim, I like your test with all of Office and the IE windows opened played video on Windows 8, but how did this setup compare to doing the same on Windows 7? Thanks for the post, very informative.

  • Francois,

    Great question. Neither I or my colleague Kevin Lo did the same test with Windows 7. I checked with our desktop support engineer, Gene Newkirk and he reports that we have Windows 7 on PCs that are designed for for it at TechSoup. He says that in his experience Windows 7 works pretty well on Windows Vista vintage PCs (Vista launched in 2007).

    I also found a great University of Indiana post about Windows 7 on older PCs from 2009. Find it at: ittrainingtips.iu.edu/.../2009

    That one quotes one John Breeden, lab director for Government Computer News who had Windows 7 running on a Pentium II computer with 2 GB of RAM, saying it made the PC run faster and better then either Windows 98 or XP. That's the most extreme account I've come across.

    If you get a chance to test Windows 7 on an older PC I hope you'll tell us about it. It may well work.

    -jim

  • Do you know if Windows 8 upgrade requires you to reload the original operating system if you have to reload the computer? This is the case with Windows 7 and it is a pain.