Windows 8.1 won't be arriving until later this year, but early adopters wanting to test the operating system can do so with the beta version, Windows 8.1 Preview. Here's how:
Windows 8.1 Preview requires the same computer specifications that power Windows 8:
- Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
- 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
The very first step is to back up your system. Make sure to save important files, programs and other data somewhere that isn't your hard disk, such as a cloud provider, so that they are always available and easily recoverable after the installation.
This isn't to say installing Windows 8.1 Preview carries an imminent threat, but backing up your data can save you a ton of headaches. This is why:
Updating any operating system always comes with a degree of risk. It can be something easily fixable, such as needing to restore personal settings or reinstall applications. It can also be a worst-case scenario, where the installation process crashes your system and you're left in operating system limbo with errors, data loss and no choice but a factory reset.
Further, once you install Windows 8.1 Preview, there's no going back. If you decide to revert to the previous operating system, you're out of luck — your only options would be to reinstall the previous version of Windows or restore your computer to factory settings.
For these reasons, backing up your system will save you a great deal of stress should you need to restore important files and applications once the installation is complete.
Depending on the size of your organization, there are two options for downloading and installing this free update to Windows 8.
For organizations with enterprise-class Windows environments, your IT departments can download Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview and deploy it on test computers. For IT-specific instructions, Microsoft offers a Basic Windows Deployment Step-by-Step Guide outlining the installation process. If they haven't already, note that IT may need to download several tools — Akamai NetSession Interface to reduce download time, Microsoft Deployment Toolkit (MDT) to simplify deployment and the Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (Windows ADK) to manage applications, user migration and activation. All of these tools are provided by Microsoft before installation. They will also need to use the following Windows 8.1 Enterprise Preview product key: YNB3T-VHW8P-72P6K-BQHCB-DM92V during installation.
Smaller organizations can download the standard version by going to Windows 8.1 Preview and clicking on the "Get it now" button. This will download the setup file. You will be required to reboot your computer and then will be redirected to the Windows Store to download the actual operating system.
Windows 8.1 Preview will install automatically when the download is complete. Once installation has finished, you will be required to restart your computer and begin setting up Windows 8.1 Preview. Your system will also automatically reboot several times during the setup process.
Next, you will be taken to the End Users License Agreement (EULA). After agreeing to the license, you will be able to select automatic update, privacy and other settings. You will be then prompted to sign in using your Microsoft ID, which will enable you to sync your Windows-powered systems. (Note: Windows 8.1 Preview currently requires a Microsoft ID. If you don't have one, you may register for free by getting an Outlook.com account, signing up at Microsoft or during the setup process)
Lastly, Windows will install your apps, then reboot to finally launch the preview version of Windows 8.1.
A few notes
Windows 8.1 Preview is a prerelease version of the Windows 8.1 operating system, which, according to Microsoft, will launch later this year. As an operating system that is still in development, there are several disadvantages to installing it on your system:
- You'll be able to test drive new features first, but you will likely come across many bugs and errors — this means you will also be dealing with many updates as patches are rolled out.
- Some of your files may be damaged, lost or irrecoverable during installation if you don't back them up.
- Your apps, anti-virus software, security software and other programs may be incompatible with this beta version.
- Peripherals, printers, video cards and other hardware may also be incompatible after installation.
- Home and company network access may be affected.
- The full version of Windows 8.1, when released, may require a fresh install — you won't be updating the preview version to the full version, but will be upgrading to a new operating system altogether.