September 18, 2012, 8:40 PM — It's like a special consumer-tech corollary of Murphy's law: Your PC will inevitably die just before a new Windows OS is about to ship. You need a new laptop immediately, and you can't wait to buy one that comes with the new OS preinstalled.
Or maybe you want to upgrade a component or two to ensure that your system will be compatible with the new operating system. In either case, if you're planning on adopting a new OS, you'll want to get the most out of any new hardware you buy, even if you buy that hardware prior to the operating system's release.
Microsoft has emphasized that systems capable of running Windows 7 can also run Windows 8. That may be true--but if you need to get new hardware, you should ensure that it not only "works" with Windows 8, but performs optimally with Microsoft's new baby.
In this guide, I'll walk you through several purchasing scenarios, discussing which component upgrades to make in anticipation of Windows 8, and what to look for when buying a new computer that currently runs Windows 7. If you need to buy a new system now, you'll want it to be primed to offer a no-excuses Windows 8 experience down the line.
Checking out your current system
If you're running Windows 7, installing Windows 8 should effortless, right? Maybe, maybe not.
Some individual applications may not be compatible, particularly if they require low-level access to the operating system--as, for example, antivirus packages do. Similarly, some hardware drivers may be incompatible, though Windows 8 setup will usually (but not always) replace those with supported drivers.
In particular, you'll want to identify Windows 8 drivers for your networking hardware. I've seen Windows 8 install on a system without any visible drama, only to discover that it had failed to install a networking driver. So it's best to have all of your key drivers on a USB memory stick, ready to go if you need them. Most manufacturers have already begun putting up Windows 8 drivers, so you should start poking around in their online support pages.
Another issue is your system BIOS.
Windows 8 requires a feature called data execution prevention (DEP). DEP prevents certain types of misbehaving code from running. Specifically, it prevents code running from within sections of memory marked as data pages. Such code can originate from badly written applications, but more often it's a sign of malware. Windows 8 needs to have DEP enabled in the BIOS, and some older systems may have a BIOS that lacks DEP support, in which case you may need a BIOS update to enable it. Socket 478 Pentium 4 and earlier systems may not have the capability at all--in which case, Windows 8 won't run, even if it installs without complaint.