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Windows 8 Installfest

(Slightly less than) fresh off the plane from France, I took the desktop PC out of my office, removed the Windows 7-based hard drive inside, and replaced it with a new SSD, upon which I then installed Windows 8 Pro. But this was just the first in a series of Windows 8 installs on all of the PCs in my house. And while I will likely go back and repeat at least a few of these installs when the web-based installer goes live later in the fall, I was curious to see well the final version of the OS did on my rogues' gallery of PCs.

It’s mostly very good news. Windows 8 installs fast—very fast, in about 10-15 minutes in all cases—and it installs reliably, too, with only minimal driver clean ups to perform on some PCs. And when you combine the speed Setup time of this OS with other advances—Push Button Reset, which means most people will never need to perform even this incredibly faster Setup routine ever again, cloud-to-PC document and file sync with SkyDrive, and the quicker installs of key applications like Microsoft Office 2013, the net result is something wonderful: You can be up and running on a complete PC wipe in just a few hours. In the past, this was an activity that could occupy much of a day.

I’ve now installed the final shipping version of Windows 8 on virtually every PC type imaginable: Desktop computers, laptops, Ultrabooks, multi-touch tablets, Macs, and even lowly netbooks. I’ve also installed all three Windows 8 product versions, Windows 8 Core, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows 8 Enterprise. I’ve done clean installs, in-place upgrades, and migrations.

Here are my notes from my installs on my most frequently-used PCs.


Machine: HP Pavilion HPE h8-1220t (2012)
Type: Desktop PC
Specs: 3.5 GHz Intel “Ivy Bridge” Core i7-3770, 8 GB of RAM, 256 GB SSD, 27-inch Planar display (1920 x 1080)
What it was running earlier: Windows 7 on HDD (Windows 8 pre-RTM on SSD)
Type of install: Clean install of Windows 8 Pro, boot from USB memory key

The Windows 8 Start screen at 1920 x 1080

My primary desktop computer (“Ivy”) is a big, new (but old-school) tower machine with pretty high-end specs. But this hardware combined with Windows 8 made for a very speedy install. It was a fairly flawless install, too: I had only one device driver missing in Device Manager, for PCI Simple Communications Controller, which I knew to be the Intel Management Engine Components from previous experience, and had a recent driver on hand to solve this issue. (As a matter of course, I save these drivers to my home server along with a link to the PC’s driver download page.)


There’s not much to say on this one: After Windows 8 was up and running in under 10 minutes, I installed the Office 2013 preview, Windows Essentials, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and a few other applications, configured SkyDrive to get my files syncing, and was pretty much on my way.

Verdict: Near-flawless victory


Machine: Samsung Series 9 (2012)
Type: Second generation Ultrabook
Specs: 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5-2467M, 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD, 13-inch display (1600 x 900)
What it was running earlier: Windows 8 Release Preview with beta Windows 8 trackpad driver
Type of install: Upgrade to Windows 8 Pro for testing purposes, then a clean install of Windows 8 Pro (run Setup from within Windows)

The Windows 8 Start screen at 1600 x 900

This loaner machine from Microsoft has become my go-to machine when I’m on the road, and for the three weeks I was in France, it was my primary PC, despite still being stuck on the Windows 8 Release Preview. (I had updated all of my other travel PCs to more recent builds over time.) As such, I had to be careful to copy the important data—like photos from the trip—before moving to Windows 8 Pro RTM. (You know, just in case.)


Since a Release Preview-to-RTM “upgrade” (really a migration) is an interesting test case, I decided to perform that first, with the idea being that I’d later wipe it out and perform a clean install regardless of how it turned out. You may recall that Microsoft had previously told me it was looking into supporting this migration, though it had never done so with previous Windows versions. And sure enough, a base migration—taking personal files only—is indeed possible. It’s either that or a clean install.


Not surprisingly, the migration took longer than a clean install, about 25 minutes, though it’s unclear whether that was largely because of the data file protection and restoration phases. There were a few oddities after the migration, however. The Start menu and desktop weren’t picking up my synced settings at first. But that was because the wireless network never connected: Because an upgrade/migration skips over this step during Setup and a migration doesn’t carry forward settings, the PC wasn’t online. Hilarious, but quickly fixed.

Once that was resolved, I could see that it worked mostly as expected: The system was cleaned of applications and Metro apps I had installed, and once my settings synced, the lack of settings retention during the migration was pretty much a moot issue. Oddly, however, Device Manager wasn’t clean: Like the clean install on Ivy (above), there was a bang next to something called PCI Simple Communications Controller, which I cleaned up by installing the Windows 7 version of the Intel Management Engine Components (which Samsung has listed as HECI). Done.

Verdict: Near-flawless victory

Clean Install

For the clean install, I decided to run Setup from within Windows rather than boot the PC from the USB key. Because I had previously installed Windows 8 Pro on this machine as noted above, this time I had three choices during Setup: I could keep everything (settings, personal files, and apps), keep personal files only, or nothing. Since I wanted to do a clean install, I chose the latter.


When you perform this type of install, your old files are actually saved to a folder called C:\Windows.old, which provides you with a failsafe in case you wiped out something important by mistake. But if you’re sure you don’t need anything, you can delete this file to recover the disk space. (This was considerable in my case: The folder was over 11 GB big.)

Curiously, this time around Device Manager was completely clean: Even that pesky HECI driver was preinstalled, presumably because I ran Setup from within Windows. There were no issues at all.

Verdict: Flawless victory


Machine: ASUS Zenbook (late 2011)
Type: First generation Ultrabook
Specs: 1.7 GHz Intel Core i5-2557M, 4 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD, 13-inch display (1600 x 900)
What it was running earlier: Windows 8 Pro RTM
Type of install: Clean install of Windows 8 Enterprise, boot from USB memory key

I decided to install the Enterprise version of Windows 8 on my first Ultrabook, a late 2011-era ASUS Zenbook. The Enterprise install is a bit different than that of Windows 8 or Windows 8 Pro, in that there’s no need (or way) to enter a product key during install. But you still perform the same steps, and can sign-in with a Microsoft account as with the other editions.

The only device not found during Setup was listed as USB 2.0-CRW, which is for the integrated card reader. I had previously downloaded a Realtek USB 2.0 Reader Driver from the ASUS support web site, which resolved the issue.

There are a number of interesting things about Windows 8 Enterprise, but the big one, of course, is Windows To Go. Microsoft promised me that the Windows To Go wizard would be included in the RTM version of Windows 8, and sure enough it is. Since I do have one of the two supported USB memory keys, a DataTraveler Ultimate 3.0 G2, I was able to get this solution up and running. Rafael and I will write more about Windows To Go in a future article.


The Kingston Windows To Go hardware

Activation is also interesting in Enterprise. Since you don’t enter a product key during Setup—Enterprise activates continuously against a server running Key Management Service (KMS) or once against a server running Microsoft activation server—you have to do so after the fact. This can normally be done through a Metro interface (Activate Windows in PC Settings) or a desktop-based control panel (Windows Activation). However, since Setup was “pre-keyed” with an invalid key that would allow Setup to continue but not activate, I had to swap product keys, which is even more convoluted: You need to use a command line-based VBScript, which you may recall from my article Clean Install Windows 7 With Upgrade Media. The syntax is:

slmgr.vbs /ipk [product key, with dashes]


That did the trick.

One side issue with the ASUS—and this is always the case, and is not Windows 8 specific—is that the default trackpad driver is nearly worthless, and it’s far too easy to accidentally move the focus by tapping it while typing. This can be partially solved by downloading the latest driver from ASUS and configuring it properly. But it is only fully solved by using an external mouse and configuring the trackpad to shut off when using a real mouse.

In the near future, I’ll connect this one to my Windows Server 2012 Essentials-based domain.

Verdict: Near-flawless victory, with a bit of work to activate the product


Machine: Samsung Series 7 Slate
Type: Prototype multi-touch tablet PC
Specs: 1.6 GHz Intel Core i5-2467M, 4 GB of RAM, 64 GB SSD, 11.6-inch display (1366 x 768) 
What it was running earlier: Windows 8 Pro pre-RTM build
Type of install: Clean install of Windows 8 Core (run Setup from within Windows)

The Windows 8 Start screen at its optimal resolution of 1366 x 768

The prototype version of the Samsung Series 7 Slate that Microsoft provided to BUILD attendees last year is a mixed bag: It’s cool having multi-touch hardware so far in advance of Windows 8’s launch, of course, and the specs are decent. But the machine is loud, gets horrible battery life, and it’s really, really hard to get it to boot to an external device. (In my case. My understanding is that this varies from machine to machine.) For this reason, I ran Setup from within the previous Windows version, which was a random pre-RTM build of Windows 8 we had been using to finish the book Windows 8 Secrets a few weeks ago.

I also decided to put the base Windows 8 version, called Windows 8 officially, but called Windows 8 Core internally, on this machine. In case it’s not obvious, the same Setup routine is used to install both Windows 8 Core and Windows 8 Pro. Which you get depends on the product key you enter (which is why Windows 8 Setup require a product key for Setup to continue). So when you enter a Windows 8 Pro product key and click Next in Setup, you’re shown the Windows 8 Pro EULA (end use license agreement). But when you enter a Windows 8 Core product key, of course, it just says Windows 8:


My guess is that the majority of Windows 8 installs we’re going to see out there over the next year plus will be of the Windows 8 Pro variety. But honestly, you don’t lose much by going with Core. You can’t install Windows Media Center, which is no huge loss to most people. And you don’t get BitLocker (including BitLocker To Go), Client Hyper-V, domain join, or other business-specific features. But that’s about it.

As with my second install on the Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook, I had a C:\Windows.old folder to delete when Setup was complete. And with a touch-based machine, you get the touch part of the intro video, in which Microsoft (weakly) tries to show you the basics of using Windows 8. Device Manager, as you’d expect given that Microsoft still uses these devices extensively, was perfect. In other words, nothing surprising.

Verdict: Flawless victory

More Soon…

This is just the beginning of my Windows 8 install adventures. In the future, I’ll write more about how well Windows 8 works on legacy hardware, including netbooks and my older desktop and laptop computers. I’ll look at upgrading from Windows 7. And of course we have the web-based installer to look forward to: I expect that service to come online when Windows 8 officially launches in late October.


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