Windows Enterprise Desktop

Nov 18 2013   1:34PM GMT

Windows 8.1: More Than an Update, More than an SP

Ed Tittel Ed Tittel Profile: Ed Tittel

I’m approaching a ten count on applying the Windows 8.1 update/upgrade to Windows 8 systems, many of which I had first to upgrade to Windows 8 to take advantage of that free upgrade from the Windows Store. As my count has crept up, I’ve begun to notice more interesting aspects of the process that really didn’t impress themselves on me sufficiently on my first two or three such efforts. At this point, I feel better equipped to pause and reflect about what I do and don’t like about the Windows 8 to Windows 8.1 update/upgrade process.

win8-2-81

MS Support explains the various steps and potential stumbling blocks to a successful Windows 8 to 8.1 upgrade.

Pros:
1. Aside from the half-hour plus needed to download the upgrade file (which the MS store lists at 3.6 GB) the application process is pretty fast and mostly straightforward, especially on PCs already linked to Microsoft accounts.
2. On machines with Intel Rapid Start Technology, UEFI, and SSDs, the technology truly lives up to the name. My various qualifying PCs and laptops all boot in under 25 seconds, and shut down in 5-10 seconds. Wow!
3. Even aside from technological sleight of hand like Intel RST, 8.1 seems a bit zippier in everyday activity than did 8. The overall user experience is also more consistent and predictable, too.

Cons:
1. You’ll need to reinstall certain elements after the upgrade — most notably, start menu replacements like Start8 or Classic Shell.
2. Surprisingly, lots of settings and preferences (such as those made in Task Manager, for example) get reset to their defaults after the upgrade is over.
3. Even more surprising, Windows 8.1 overwrites up-to-date drivers on Windows 8 with out-dated drivers in Windows 8.1 (not even Service Packs do this across the board, as does Windows 8.1). On several machines I went from one or two (erroneously identified) bad or out-of-date drivers in DriverAgent on Windows 8 prior to the upgrade to eight to ten (mostly correctly identified) bad or out-of-date drivers for Windows 8.1 post-upgrade.
4. Lots of people have already written about the issues involved in upgrading on a machine without a linked MS account; on my wife’s PC she got badly bitten because her account is purely local (who knew before researching that “Create a new account” would lead to an account bypass opportunity?).

I’ve also read some interesting horror stories about incompatibilities in Windows 8.1 that prevent it from running on systems that would happily run 8.0, and I’ve seen enough bits and pieces of software (and drivers) that didn’t gracefully transition from 8 to 8.1 that I wish MS had included a standalone compatibility checker for the upgrade (the MS “Update to Windows 8.1 from Windows 8” page claims that “…we check your current desktop apps and connected devices, and let you know what you’ll need to do to get them ready for the update, or to get them working again after the update”), because I’ve heard of enough missed items, and encountered a few myself — e.g. Start8 — to know that this works better in the literature than on various specific PC configurations.

All in all, it is really more like a major OS upgrade along the lines of Vista to 7, or 7 to 8, than it is like applying an SP to an existing OS. If you proceed from that understanding, you’ll have less cause for concern or alarm as you work your way through the “update” process!

3  Comments on this Post

 
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  • Branestawm
    My advice would be not to update to 8.1 if you have a Lenovo laptop.  Their website lists a large number of incompatible models.  I have an Ideapad U330 Touch (which is supposed to be OK) and have just reinstalled 8 after my problems.

    Many people share this problem, as can be seen on the Lenovo forum:

    Other models have similar tales of woe.  Lenovo support say that they are working on the problems, but I can't understand why they were not sorted out before launch.

    DON'T UPGRADE YOUR LENOVO!

    Richard
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  • TomLiotta
    From what I see, Lenovo isn't especially worse off than other manufacturers. They might even be a little ahead since they at least provide specific warnings on their web site not to upgrade various models (not yet, at least), Comments in forums complaining that Lenovo should have had plenty of time to find and fix problems before 8.1 became generally available seem naive since many of the early problems with 8.1 showed first on Microsoft's own Surface RTs. If anyone had time before GA, surely it was Microsoft. And if Microsoft couldn't get it right on their own machines, why would anyone expect others to do so? -- Tom
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  • Ed Tittel

    I upgraded my X220 Tablet to Windows 8 when it was still customer preview stage. If you're willing to research your drivers and work your machine over thoroughly, it can be done. I expect the same experience when I upgrade that machine, and my T520, to 8.1 over the Thanksgiving break. The forums at notebookreview.com are especially helpful and supportive in dealing with such issues, even when Lenovo support isn't ready to pitch in and help out just yet. I did find over time, however, that Lenovo did catch the X220T and the T520 up pretty nicely with plain-vanilla 8. The "driver jump" to 8.1 is not that severe, either.

    Best wishes,
    --Ed--

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