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Is all your gear Windows 8 compatible?

Tom Spring | Oct. 16, 2012
Migrating to a new operating system is a bit like getting ready for a first date. What will she look like? Will he be easy to get along with? Will the two of you be compatible? That last question is the precise question that millions of PC owners must consider on October 26, when they think about upgrading their machines to Windows 8.

Michael Cherry, an analyst with the independent Directions on Microsoft research firm, points out that you're unlikely to run into upgrade compatibility problems with gear from mammoth manufacturers like Epson and Hewlett-Packard. Equipment from smaller peripheral makers is at far greater risk of incompatibility, Cherry says. "If you didn't make money on your hardware peripheral when Windows 7 came out, what incentive do you have to write a new driver that works with Windows 8?," he said.

"Are peripheral makers ready for Windows 8? We'll find out soon," Cherry says. Though he's impressed with Windows 8, Cherry has his own compatibility hiccup to share: He's running Windows 8 on a Samsung tablet and complains that his HP multifunction printer has lost some advanced functions such the ability to display ink levels and perform duplex printing.

Advice when upgrading your desktop or laptop from Windows 7 to 8

If you're considering upgrading your existing system's Windows 7 OS to Windows 8, you should run Windows 8 Upgrade Assistant (see image at right) to determine which of your hardware might not work with the new OS. Lists of incompatible hardware will vary, but one component will invariably show up as needing an update: your DVD player. That's because Windows 8 dumped default DVD playback. Microsoft will continue to offer Windows Media Player in all versions of Windows 8; but to play back videos, you'll need to install a fee-based or free third-party option such as the open-source video VLC media player.

Ultimately this is more of a usability issue than a compatibility problem. But it's definitely a hassle.

Early adopters: You have been warned!

Desktop users will likely have fewer problems upgrading to Windows 8 than laptop users. That's because laptop manufacturers tend to maintain tight control over driver releases. Graphics hardware could be particularly problematic. Even recent-generation laptops with the latest GPUs may run older driversindeed, laptop manufacturers are notorious for their slow deployment of the latest drivers.

Consider the plight of one Windows 8 Preview Release user who owns a Dell laptop equipped with a very recent Radeon HD 7600M GPU: According to a post on Microsoft's support site, Windows 8 won't load the Radeon driver properly, and there's no updated driver on the Dell website.

It's possible that such drivers will show up on Dell's site on October 26, but it's just as likely that some delay will ensue. So even if you buy a new laptop that runs Windows 7 but comes with a $15 Windows 8 upgrade coupon, you might want to hold off on installing the upgrade until you can confirm that drivers are available.


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