Microsoft Windows 8.1, first impressions

I am a little late to adopt the latest MS Windows 8.1, but my old computer wasn’t suitable for the switch to 64-bit so I had decided to wait till my next computer purchase. With the demise of my old PC, now was the right time. So was it worth the upgrade, short answer: Yes, but don’t expect it to change your life.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of improvements (although I think my experience is a little more positive given I had skipped Windows 8 and jumped straight to 8.1), but it doesn’t move the bar as much as Windows 7 did.

Little Gems you might not even notice

There are a lot of negative comments about Windows 8 out there in general with stories of people uninstalling it and reverting back to Windows 7. This is undeserved bad press. I think part of the problem is that the stuff it does well, it does it so well that you take it for granted the moment you start using it.

Little things like:

  • Super fast boot times – you get used to this very quickly!
  • Ability to burn DVDs directly from Windows without additional software
  • Revamped search functionality
  • More powerful task manager (see below)
Windows 8 Task Manager

However, one of my favourite apps of all time is now deprecated – Windows Media Centre. At first I thought they must have put it in a different place or merged its functionality into another re-branded app. Unfortunately after some research it seems that although you can still get it, you have to pay extra for it and there is no place for Windows Media Centre in the new world order. Microsoft simply believe that we do not watch TV the same way we used to and we probably stream everything we watch now (instead of through an antennae) – they are probably right.

Windows 8.1 Interface

The biggest compliant about Windows 8 is the new Metro style interface. It’s perfect for mobile devices, seriously it really does kick Apple and Android out of the park. However, for a desktop people are divided. Personally I love that they attempted to kill the Start button. In reality there is a max of 10 app (and that’s already a lot) that people will use on a daily basis. This is perfect for Live Tiles. I mean it just looks so beautiful, just let it sit in your living room and proudly have it on display. If you really want to find that random app you use once a month, just use the much improved Windows Search (Keyboard windows key and just start typing app name – you don’t even have to reach for the mouse!).

Windows 8.1 livetiles
Microsoft Windows 8.1 LiveTiles

In summary, if you are someone who is generally afraid of your computer going wrong and like things to stay as they are, stay with Windows 7. If you don’t mind doing a bit of exploring, I would recommend an upgrade, there is just about enough features here to be worth the pain.

Start of a new era – Dell XPS 8700

So my desktop PC of past 7 years finally gave up for good, it has had much upgrades over its lifetime – everything from new keyboard/mouse, monitor to hard disk, memory and even the CPU. In fact the only thing that pretty much wasn’t touched is the motherboard and power unit (so quite likely its one of these two that burned out).

After a bit of research, I decided to go with the Dell XPS 8700 which had a reasonably new CPU in the form of Intel i7 4770 and its stylish tower comes with plenty of capacity to expand.

Dell XPS 8700 (new) vs Dell Inspiron 530 (old)

What was the first thing I did when I got my new PC? Open it up of course, people that like to mess around with hardware will always stick with desktops over laptop.

Dell XPS 8700 Internals

The organisation of the internals were pretty neat, but Dell really tried to save every bit of money possible by supplying the shortest wire connectors possible. This meant I had a bit of a hard time plugging my old hard disk into the system to transfer over my data. The cables were so short in fact, that I had to pull out the DVD cable from my old computer for the duration of the transfer.

Transferring data from my old disk using external disk transfer kit
Transferring data from my old disk using external disk transfer kit
Messing with the BIOS

However, the biggest stumbling block was that Windows didn’t recognize the second hard drive I was trying to install. No matter which SATA port I used, it didn’t register in Windows. In fact, it seemed only the first two ports worked and if I swapped the DVD (which was using port 2) with the new hard drive, then the DVD wouldn’t appear! Half an hour of googling later I stumbled upon the answer in various user forums.

To install new SATA port components in Dell XPS desktops, you have to go into the BIOS and disable Secure Boot mode first.

Couple of things worth noting, firstly there was some initial confusion as the BIOS did correctly read the new SATA components but didn’t allow Windows to register them. Secondly, you only have to turn off secure boot once, on next boot up you can turn this back on. Lastly, there was a lot of misleading stuff on the net about your motherboard being broken, even Dell support would tell you this apparently. Don’t listen, it’s just a simple config item.

Welcome to my blog

It has been too long since I last looked under the bonnet as it were and really this new PC has given me a new lease of life. It’s good to be back.