I was at a Microsoft’s TechEd conference this last week, where like a lot of attendees, I focused much of my attention on Windows 8. A lot of us have been struggling with the early releases of this product, and I was hoping to see if some of our complaints had been addressed. As it turned out, most of our complaints were due to using hardware that wasn’t designed for Windows 8. For Windows 8 to work, particularly without a touchscreen, you need a number of key things.
Coincidently, at the same time the Apple Developer’s conference was going on, and I was covering it remotely. As I listened to what a non-touch laptop needed from Microsoft, I was going over the specs for Apple’s new MacBook Pros, and holy crap, Apple has built the perfect Windows 8 box! Shortly after that realization, I had a briefing from a Microsoft exec whose chosen hardware was a Mac running Windows with Boot Camp.
Now this means two things. One: There will be a ton of very Mac-like hardware hitting the market on top of the Windows 8 launch. Two: Right now, the best hardware to test Windows 8 on may be a new Mac running Boot Camp.
Windows 8 non-touch requirements
Windows 8 is a touch-based operating system. In systems that don’t comply with the specs (and I am using two) the user experience sucks. I’ll get to the touch problem on current hardware in a moment, but you need a special touchpad, GPU, and high-resolution screen to make this new OS sing.
Now, the touchpad is the most critical element. It needs to be large, mirroring the screen closely in terms of the relation of height and width. It needs to be multi-touch enabled, and it can’t be overly sensitive. It also needs to be flush with the wrist rest, because you use the edges a lot (some PC vendors like to put a decorative ring around their touchpads and that destroys the experience).
After that, a GPU is essential. If you don’t have a strong GPU, you won’t get the full level of performance this platform has been designed for. This is a highly visual platform, and it will likely stress whatever video system is in the laptop, so a strong GPU is a must.
Finally this is the first Windows platform that has truly been designed to scale in screen size and resolution elegantly. The more resolution you have, the better this puppy will work.
Now look at the new MacBooks. They have a large multi-touch enable touchpad that is mounted flush with the wrist rest and mirrors the landscape design of the screen. They have Nvidia’s strongest mobile GPU, the Kepler-based GT 650, giving you that needed graphics performance. The high end of the line even has a Retina display, providing the resolution needed to make this new OS really pop.
In short, right now, the perfect notebook for Windows 8 (until the new touch systems arrive) appears to be the just announced MacBook Pro with Retina Display.
I don’t think this has ever happened before.
Right now, most of the touchscreens on the market are resistive, which means they use a membrane over the screen to sense your finger. They are relatively cheap, but they reduce the performance of the screen (the light has to go through another layer which isn’t all that optically transparent), and they pretty much suck with gestures. More expensive capacitive technology is used in most high-end smartphones and tablets. Microsoft has specified it for Windows 8 because it’s more optically neutral, and is great for gestures.
This is why many of us are struggling a bit with Windows 8 on many current touch products. It is gesture heavy, but the resistive screens these products have make the experience more painful than it will be.
I find it fascinating that Apple just announced what appears to be the best Windows 8 laptop line currently in the market. With Boot Camp, a new MacBook Pro may be the best test system if you want to try this thing out early. It also showcases the specification for what you’ll likely want if you don’t get a touchscreen laptop when Windows 8 launches. I think this also makes it clear that if you want a great experience on Windows 8, touch or not, you’ll only get it with hardware that isn’t yet shipping (Apple aside) and that waiting for it (which is always my recommendation with a new OS) is especially good advice now.
On the right hardware, Windows 8 is actually fun to use, but not so much on old hardware. I’m still looking for that one app that makes the platform sing. If I find it, I’ll cover that with another post.
Guest contributor Rob Enderle is the founder and principal analyst for the Enderle Group, and one of the most frequently quoted tech pundits in the world. Opinion pieces denote the opinions of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Digital Trends.