With Microsoft giving away free Windows 10 upgrades to Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 users, the one question that I keep getting asked is “Should I upgrade to Windows 10?” The real question should be “Will my hardware run smoothly with Windows 10?” Let’s take a look and see if you should upgrade from Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 to Windows 10.
If you have the GWT (Get Windows 10) icon on the taskbar, you can find out if your hardware and software will run on Windows 10. Just remember that even if GWT says all everything is compliant with Windows 10, it doesn’t mean it will work smoothly with Windows 10. I have seen systems that were completely compatible with Windows 10, but when they got the upgraded, the performance was below what it was with the previous version of Windows.
First thing we should look at are the hardware requirements for Windows 10. When compared to Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, they are essentially exactly same for all three versions.
Windows 7 requirements:
- 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
Windows 8.1 requirements:
- Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz)* or faster with support for PAE, NX, and SSE2
- RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit)
- Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
- Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver
Windows 10 requirements:
- Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster processor or SoC
- RAM: 1 gigabyte (GB) for 32-bit or 2 GB for 64-bit
- Hard disk space:
- Windows 10 version 1809 and prior: 16 GB for 32-bit OS 20 GB for 64-bit OS
- Windows 10 version 1903 and newer: 32 GB for 32-bit and 64-bit OS
- Graphics card: DirectX 9 or later with WDDM 1.0 driver
So what differentiates Windows 10 from Windows 7 or Windows 8? The hardware drivers. Let me explain.
In the past when a manufacturer discontinued a piece of hardware, Microsoft would take the last known Windows Hardware Quality Labs (WHQL) certified driver for that hardware and incorporate it into the driver’s directory for the next version of Windows. The Windows\System32\Drivers directory is the generic driver collection that is included inside of the installation media for Windows. If Windows cannot find a driver for a specific piece of hardware in the driver’s directory, it will go out to the Internet database and look for a suitable driver.
But when the hardware becomes out dated, usually it is the second version of Windows since it was discontinued, the driver can be removed from the driver’s directory. That’s when things can get tough. I’ve actually have had to go back into previous versions of Windows installation media and extract drivers from older driver directories. In fact, I have a customer that has a large format plotter that Windows hasn’t had a driver for since Windows Server 2003 64-bit. But I have extracted the driver from the installation media and have used it on 64-bit versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7 with no problem.
So what am I saying? Well it comes down to whether the manufacturer(s) of your hardware are still supporting them with new drivers. If the hardware is no longer being sold, you can pretty much assume that there will be no new drivers for it. Now there are exceptions to this rule. Expansion cards, like graphic / video cards are one of them. I’ve found that companies like NVIDIA and AMD will create new drivers for what they call legacy hardware (discontinued hardware).
Before you decide to upgrade your Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 computer, take a couple of minutes and go over to all of the manufacturer’s website(s) and locate the drivers for your system components. A few minutes now can save you hours later. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Now with all of that in mind, if the last version of drivers that came from the manufacturer was for Windows 7, then the drivers in Windows 8.1 were Microsoft WHQL certified drivers. And if that is the case, then Windows 10 may or may not come with a compatible generic driver. It may have to go out to the Internet data base and find a driver. And if that’s the case, you can bet it will be a completely generic driver.
But if the last version of drivers that came from the manufacturer was for Windows 8.1, then the Windows 10 driver will most likely be a Microsoft WHQL certified hardware driver.
Bottom line; if your system and/or components were built before the release of Windows 8 / Windows 8.1 (October 2012) and are no longer in production, then I would be skeptical on whether to upgrade to Windows 10. But if your system and/or components were built after the release of Windows 8 / Windows 8.1 (October 2012) and may or may not be still in production, there is a good chance that Windows 10 will run perfectly fine. But remember, there will be exceptions.