October 28, 2012, 8:50 PM — Windows 8 is here, but plenty of Windows users are still on the fence about whether to take it for a spin. In the wake of Windows Vista, you can't blame Windows users for being cautious; upgrading unquestioningly to the latest version of our operating system is a luxury we may have envied in our Mac OS brethren, who can (usually) look forward to the newest big cat without reservation.
If you're thinking about upgrading to Windows 8 but you're concerned that you might permanently mess up your PC (or be stuck with an OS you don't like), read on to see whether the new Windows is right for you.
Meet our test PC
For the purposes of this article I decided to use my main desktop PC. It's a home-built system cobbled together mostly from older spare parts, so if anything were likely go wrong with a Windows 8 install, it would probably go wrong with my FrankenPC. The computer packs a decent amount of power--a 3.4GHz AMD Phenom II X4 965 CPU in a DKA790GX Platinum MSI motherboard, 4GB of DDR2 RAM, an Nvidia GTX 570 video card, and a pair of hard drives (a 7200-rpm 1TB drive I use as my main Windows 7 boot/data drive, and an older 5400-rpm 100GB drive I used for my previous Windows XP install).
I also have a fair number of associated accessories and gadgets plugged in: two monitors, speakers, a headset, an external mic, a Wi-Fi dongle, a PS/2 keyboard, and a fairly high-end gaming mouse, among other things, so I figured that this would be a good opportunity to see if anything significant broke.
Though you can download and run the Windows 8 setup utility simply to upgrade OSs while carrying over your personal data, applications, and settings, I wanted to perform a clean install of Windows 8. This isn't my first time at the OS upgrade rodeo, and I've never had a good experience installing a new OS (Mac or Windows) on anything less than a pristine, freshly formatted drive. If you have the same concerns, I recommend installing Windows 8 on an old PC or on a separate partition of your hard drive. For the purposes of this install diary, I decided to try reformatting my XP drive (which I hadn't booted from since moving up to Windows 7) and then installing Windows 8 on that drive to see whether liked the new OS enough to make the switch permanent.
As a PC gamer, I know that even if Windows 8 works perfectly well as an operating system, it may cause games to run poorly (compared to Windows 7, at least) for at least the first six months after its release. Developers need time to update their software to play nicely with Windows 8. By installing it on my secondary hard drive, I can try it out, see if I like it enough to make it my main OS, and eventually install it on my 1TB boot drive when I'm ready to switch over completely.
Let's get ready to upgrade