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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Review: Windows 8.1 Pro

A couple of years ago, I upgraded my desktop top Windows 8 Pro. Just a few months later, the machine corrupted its own hard drive, but I was fed up with the start screen, and so reverted back to Windows 7 from and old backup. The desktop is still running Windows 7, and my Windows 8 Pro license went unused. I was feeling a bit cheated by Microsoft, to say the least, despite the $40 I paid.

Recently, I noticed that my wife's Surface Pro with Windows 8.1 felt quite usable, and booted to the desktop while booting very fast (10s). The old X201 was taking minutes to resume from hibernate, and 30s to boot from a cold start, and being a laptop, was doing that frequently, so I thought it would be a good candidate for Windows 8.1 Pro, since my old license would get a free upgrade to it.

The installation process is fairly painless, but did take most of the day (I could use the PC most of the time while the upgrade was happening, so it wasn't too bad). And to my surprise, when I was done, the laptop did boot up in 10s, and resumed in about the same amount of time from hibernate, indicating that the improvements in performance wasn't really dependent on CPU performance.

Performance seems pretty fast most of the time as well, as UI elements pop up, and the device seemed to suck much less memory. The device even seemed to sleep more consistently than before, which I was impressed by. And of course, in the intervening 2 years, I'd gotten used to the start screen (though I do hope Windows 9 brings back the start menu), so it no longer bothered me as much. The charms bar was still annoying at times, but by and large it's been ok.

One of the most annoying things about Windows 8 was that you were forced to login using a Microsoft account, but that didn't correspond to any accounts on my beloved Windows Home Server, so effectively you lost access to it. Fortunately, Windows 8.1 fixed that using the Credentials Manager, so now I can happily use my Windows Home Server, which is still easily the best file server I've used at home.

Needless to say, I won't be going back to Windows 7 on the laptop any time soon, so I'd label this upgrade recommended. I'm impressed that Microsoft has actually fixed issues I care about in this release, though obviously, the start menu is still the much needed improvement that I'm waiting for.

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