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Windows 8 Review
Author: James Prior
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: December 11th, 2012
A little over a month ago Microsoft introduced Windows 8, their most widely previewed operating system to date, heralding the era of a new Windows driver model (WDDM 1.2) and new DirectX API version (11.1), fast (and securable) boot, baked in multi-touch support, and a reworked NT kernel aimed to reduce reboot requirements when updating applications or drivers. AMD was first to market with DirectX 11.1 hardware, launching the AMD Radeon HD 7970 late last year, but stopped short of getting that DX11.1 support across the range with three chips able to take advantage of the new GDI and 2D graphics improvements. Something that did make it into Windows 8 (and the big boy counterpart, Server 2012) was a new improved scheduler for Bulldozer Architecture processors.
In our Piledriver architecture FX-8350 processor launch review, successor to FX-8150, we used Windows 7 and the two patches Microsoft issued for Windows 7 systems running Bulldozer based processors, which AMD blogged about here. AMD also blogged about the new DirectX 11.1 and WDDM 1.2 details , showing how the different features are supported by different hardware.
ATI Radeon devices older than the HD 5000 series are moved into legacy support now, leaving only the DirectX 11 hardware launched in tandem with Windows 7 in 2009 and subsequent products supported under WDDM 1.2. AMD provides a legacy driver for older hardware which operates under WDDM 1.1 feature support, and my testing on older hardware (ATI Radeon HD 4650 Mobility equipped Dell Studio 1747 notebook) shows that it works well.
To recap, DirectX 10 hardware is now considered legacy, with drivers no longer updated unless significant benefits to do so. Windows 8 does support the legacy hardware, but some of the fancier features aren't supported; the hardware isn't capable, or is considered too old to be worth continuing to support. With DirectX 11 hardware, only the Radeon HD 7700 series and higher get the pieces of DX11.1 highlighted by AMD in the blog linked above. This is a shame, because the non-gaming features were really aimed at productivity applications and users on portable devices like tablets and notebooks, i.e. the use cases that needed them the most don't get the hardware to support the new API features that would be most beneficial for the product use.
I'm not saying Windows 8 is terrible on the lower powered AMD products; we found a fresh install of Windows 8 transforms a Windows 7 tablet or multi-touch enabled notebook in a very pleasant and surprising way. If you're running a Windows 7 tablet, update that sucker to Windows 8 now. We did so on our AMD C-60 APU based Acer Iconia tablet and loved the more responsive feel and new experience; it transformed the device. Similarly, running Windows 8 on an AMD E-350 ITX next-computing-unit-before-there-was-one device was similarly impressive, faster boot times than Windows 7 and a snappy and responsive feel where before it felt a little sluggish.
Bolstered by the success we had on our laptop, tablet and ITX PCs, we turned our attention to our Piledriver test rig. The age old Windows question raised its head - in place upgrade or fresh install? For years the mantra has been nuke 'n pave, anything else is more trouble than it's worth; but that was before the new, shiney Windows 8 modern UI experience, and surely with the NT kernel incrementing only one tiny decimal, it'll work out fine, right?