Windows 8 : Understanding product editions, architectures, and hardware requirements

3/11/2014 9:32:58 PM

Windows 8 product edition differences

Microsoft is offering three editions of Windows 8 for consumers. A fourth edition is targeted squarely at the enterprise space, so there are actually four editions from which to choose. Table 1 summarizes the differences among these editions.

Table 1. Windows 8 edition comparison

Feature name

Windows 8

Windows 8 Pro

Windows 8 Enterprise

Windows RT

Product target


Businesses, enthusiasts, technical professionals

Enterprise customers

ARM-based PCs or tablet devices

Maximum processors





Apps (Mail, Calendar, People, Messaging, Photos, SkyDrive, Reader, Music, Video)

Application Sideload


BitLocker and BitLocker To Go

Boot from VHD


Client Hyper-V

Connected standby


Device encryption


Domain Join

Encrypting File System

Enhanced Task Manager

Exchange ActiveSync

File History

Group Policy

Installation of x86/64 and desktop software

Internet Explorer 10

ISO/VHD mount

Microsoft account

Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote)

Mobile broadband features

Multiple-monitor support

Picture password

Play To

Remote Desktop (client)

Remote Desktop (host)

Reset and refresh your PC



Start screen, Semantic Zoom, Live Tiles

Storage Spaces

Switch languages on the fly

Touch and Thumb keyboard

Trusted Boot

Updated File Explorer

VDI improvements

VPN client

Windows Defender

Windows Media Player

Windows Store

Windows To Go

Windows Update



Only Windows RT ships with Microsoft Office. The edition of Office that ships with Windows RT is optimized for touch. The other Windows 8 editions still require a separate Office license.

Perhaps one of the most notable differences becomes obvious in the software deployment process. Although the Standard, Pro, and Enterprise editions of Windows 8 support the deployment of both desktop apps and full x86-based applications, devices running Windows RT can receive new applications only from the Windows Store.

Further, the Pro and Enterprise editions of Windows offer the Microsoft full BitLocker Drive Encryption feature to protect these devices. Windows RT includes its own full device encryption, which is an increasingly important feature for mobile devices that can be easily lost or stolen. Although this consumer-focused edition of Windows 8 does not include any native encryption software, free third-party encryption tools are available that can fill this feature gap.

Windows 8 product architecture differences

Not long ago, the need for a 64-bit client operating system was limited to media and IT professionals. Today, due to the incredible expansion and feature benefits that 64-bit processors offer, the market is seeing a growing desire for 64-bit client operating systems that can use these benefits.

When you look at the different editions of Windows 8, which were outlined in the previous section, the 32-bit versus 64-bit question pertains only to the Windows 8, Windows 8 Pro, and Windows 8 Enterprise editions. These are the editions of Windows 8 that run on standard x86 hardware. Windows RT runs on ARM processors, which are different from Intel x86.

Note that x86 includes both 32-bit and 64-bit processors; it is just a catch-all term for everyday processors from AMD and Intel.

The 64-bit versus 32-bit question becomes one of scalability. From a compatibility perspective, nearly all 32-bit software sold today runs fine on 64-bit operating systems. However, the reverse is not true. You cannot run 64-bit software on a 32-bit operating system.

In terms of addressable memory, a 64-bit system can scale up to 192 GB of RAM, which is far beyond what nearly anyone needs today on the desktop. A 32-bit system, however, tops out at just 4 GB of addressable memory. A few years ago, 4 GB was a luxury; today, it’s commonplace and widely considered a minimum for real work. In addition to the memory limit, the other major difference between 32-bit and 64-bit Windows 8 is the 32-bit edition’s lack of support for Hyper-V. Table 2 summarizes these differences.

Table 2. Windows 8 architecture comparison

Feature name



Maximum memory

4 GB

192 GB


No Hyper-V

Improved scalability, more significant workloads

Windows 8 hardware requirements

The hardware requirements for Windows 8 are extremely modest, especially when you consider the number of new capabilities that have been added to the operating system. In fact, if your current PC can run Windows 7, it can probably run Windows 8, too. Of course, to take advantage of some of the new features in Windows 8, such as touch, you need hardware that supports touch.

The minimum hardware requirements depend on which Windows 8 architecture you’re running. There are different hardware requirements for the 32-bit edition and the 64-bit edition. Table 3 summarizes the minimum hardware requirements for each architecture.

Table 3. Windows 8 hardware requirements


Windows 8 32-bit

Windows 8 64-bit


1 GHz or faster

1 GHz or faster


1 GB

2 GB

Disk space

16 GB

20 GB

Graphics card

Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) driver

Touch interface

A tablet computer or a monitor that supports touch

Windows Store

Internet connection and a screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768

If you’re wondering what a DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver is, wonder no more. DirectX is a group of technologies that makes Windows-based computers ideal systems for running and displaying applications rich in multimedia elements such as full-color graphics, video, 3D animation, and rich audio.

Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) 1.0 was originally introduced in the Windows Vista development period and replaced the Windows XP display driver architecture. WDDM introduced to Windows superior graphics performance and new graphics functionality.

Windows 7 built on the WDDM model with the introduction of WDDM 1.1, which included a host of updates that helped make Windows 7 an unqualified commercial success. Included in WDDM 1.1 are technologies that improve the performance and the security of the graphics system. Further, WDDM 1.1 introduced enhanced support for multiple-monitor support in systems with multiple graphics adapters.

In Windows 8, Microsoft has introduced WDDM 1.2, which further improves graphics performance and adds support for stereoscopic 3D rendering and video playback. In addition, WDDM 1.2 includes a preemptive multitasking feature, enabling the graphics processor to interrupt other tasks and suspend currently executing processes to determine which process should execute next. This helps make sure that all processes get some CPU time.

Do you know what kind of hardware is in your Windows 8 PC? It’s easy to find out.

  1. From the Start screen, choose the Desktop tile to open the full Windows 8 traditional desktop environment.

  2. Open the Settings charm.

  3. From Settings, choose PC Info.

    The System page in Control Panel opens (see Figure 1), which shows the information for your PC.

In Figure 1, you see that the System window displays pertinent high-level information about the local PC. It displays the edition of Windows 8 that is currently installed and the processor type, amount of RAM, and the status of any touch-based hardware that is installed.

The hardware configuration for a Windows 8 computer

Figure 1. The hardware configuration for a Windows 8 computer

  •  Windows 8 Architecture from a Developer’s Point of View : Picking the Appropriate Technology for Your Project
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