How to prepare your PC for Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Prepare: Windows 8 Consumer Preview

As Microsoft plans to release Windows 8 Consumer Preview on February 29, now it is a great time to start thinking and preparing your PC to test the next milestone of the operating system, which final build is expected to be released sometime in 2012.

With that information in mind, let’s talk about your options to prepare your PC for Windows 8 Consumer Preview (a.k.a Windows 8 Beta): you can install the OS in a physical machine, e.g., desktop, laptop, ultrabook, etc. Alternatively, you can test Windows in your own computer, but with a virtual machine using VMware Workstation or VirtualBox, and you can also try Consumer Preview by creating a VHD (Virtual Hard Disk) in your computer and booting from it. Below you’ll find tips and options to safely try the upcoming Microsoft’s OS.

Installing Windows 8 Consumer Preview using a physical machine

I am going to start with the method that users are most likely to use to install Windows 8 Consumer Preview, and that is using a physical machine.

This is the easiest way to install Windows, but also it might be the most complicated, all it’s going to depend on the type of hardware your machine has installed. In the case the computer is running Windows 7 or Windows Vista, then Windows 8 Consumer Preview should install and run smoothly. But if the PC you want to use is currently running Windows XP, chances are that you may be running into some issues, because of the age of the hardware.

To have an idea, let’s look at Windows 8 system requirements specs:

  • 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster 32-bit (x86) or 64-bit (x64) processor
  • 1 gigabyte (GB) RAM (32-bit) or 2 GB RAM (64-bit)
  • 16 GB available hard disk space (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
  • DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver
  • Taking advantage of touch input requires a screen that supports multi-touch

Put it this way, if you have a computer about 3-4 years old, it is more than likely that it will run Windows 8.

You should also consider some other things before testing ‘Consumer Preview’:

1. Windows 8 Consumer Preview still a work in progress, so I want to make clear one thing: DO NOT, I repeat: DO NOT, install the OS in your primary computer — you’ll be sorry when you start getting into problems.

2. BACKUP, BACKUP, and BACKUP! If you are about to install Windows 8 in a physical machine, make a full backup of the hard drive before doing anything else — you won’t regret it.

3. One of the safest way to install Windows 8 Beta on a physical machine will be by removing the primary hard drive from the system and installing another spare hard drive, that way rolling back to the previous version of Windows is as easy as swapping the hard drive back.

4. At this point, upgrading from Windows 7 or Windows Vista to Windows 8 shouldn’t be considered. This option in the Consumer Preview might be supported, but chances are that you will run into issues. A fresh and clean installation will always work best — If you don’t believe me, see how people who upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 8 Developer Preview had to go through to roll back.

5. Your best shot for a better experience would be testing the OS on a desktop PC — preferably a spare PC –, because the hardware is likely to work with the generic device drivers. Of course, you may be able to load Windows 8 on other PC devices such as laptops, tablets, netbooks, the new ultrabooks. However you might encounter one device driver that will not load, for example, video driver and your Windows 8 experience will not be the same.

6. Like I mentioned before, Windows 8 still a work in progress. Windows 8 Developer Preview has shown that the hard drive works more intense that previous versions, if this doesn’t change in the Consumer Preview, you’ll be better of if you use a SATA hard drive, because they’re faster than the old IDE drives — but the old IDE will works anyway with a lower performance, of course.

7. Make sure that you are using a screen resolution of at least 1024×768 pixels for Metros style apps, and if you want to run two Metro style apps side-by-side, you’ll need at least a screen resolution of 1336×768 pixels. 

8. Even though, Microsoft made it clear that Windows 8 will be an operating system “without compromises”, keep in mind that it is touch first, which means that to see and experience all the features that this new operating system has to offer, you may want to consider getting a multi-touch monitor, something like the Acer T231H BMID 23-Inch Ergonomic Multi-Touch Display Monitor which you get for around $315.  

9. This is really, really important, expect for things to go wrong, this is not the final release of Windows 8 just yet, this is a test version (Beta), so you’ve been warned.

Installing Windows 8 Consumer Preview using a virtual machine

Now, let’s talk about the abstract solution or just simply the virtual solution. This is a method that can be some how simpler, but you need to have a basic understanding of how virtualization works. This is the way I tested it Windows 8 Developer Preview, and it will be the first way to test Windows 8 Consumer Preview.

In Windows 8 Developer Preview I was able to virtualize the OS into different platforms:

Using a virtual machine will guarantee the safest way to give Windows 8 a try, without putting your current system at risk of any issues that may occur.

How to dual-boot Windows 8 Consumer Preview using a VHD

This is a good option, but it is a little bit advanced for the average user. 

If you are a Windows 7 user and you want to test Windows 8, this is a great way to accomplish that. Using a VHD to dual-boot will be as if the OS was installed directly in a partition or in a different hard drive in your computer, but without having the need of risking the current Windows 7 installation or repartitioning the hard drive, and there is not boot loader to configure. At the start-up you’ll be able to choose which operating system you want to boot, then to switch back you would just need to reboot and select the OS you want to use next.

This will be really useful for experienced users that want to take full advantage of all the benefits of Windows 8, but they don’t want to mess around re-partitioning or they don’t have and spare hard drive.

You can check how this was done in Windows 8 Developer Preview, and I am confident that this will work as well in the Consumer Preview released.

Although, I haven’t yet tested Windows 8 Consumer Preview, I am sure that these tools are going to work when the next Microsoft milestone is released.

Be sure to check back to learn more, how to prepare your PC and how to install Windows 8 Consumer Preview when Microsoft releases the next milestone of the operating system. Also, don’t forget to browse Pureinfotech — Windows 8 section to learn more How-Tos, what’s new?, videos and much more.

About the author

Mauro Huculak is a Windows How-To Expert who started Pureinfotech in 2010 as an independent online publication. He has also been a Windows Central contributor for nearly a decade. Mauro has over 14 years of experience writing comprehensive guides and creating professional videos about Windows and software, including Android and Linux. Before becoming a technology writer, he was an IT administrator for seven years. In total, Mauro has over 20 years of combined experience in technology. Throughout his career, he achieved different professional certifications from Microsoft (MSCA), Cisco (CCNP), VMware (VCP), and CompTIA (A+ and Network+), and he has been recognized as a Microsoft MVP for many years. You can follow him on X (Twitter), YouTube, LinkedIn and About.me.