Before you upgrade to Windows 8, you should definitely make sure your laptop or desktop PC meets the minimum requirements, and that your devices and favorite programs are compatible with the new operating system. Thankfully, you don't need the latest hardware to upgrade and enjoy all the improvements offered by Windows 8.
If your computer can run Windows 7, Windows 8 should work just as well (if not better) on that same hardware, according to Microsoft. Microsoft ensures Windows 8 is backwards-compatible with Windows 7. Even older Windows laptops and PCs should be fine: I installed Windows 8 on a five-year-old laptop and it's running better than ever before. The minimum system requirements, according to Microsoft's FAQs page for the Windows 8 Preview are:
- Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster
- Memory: 1 gigabyte (GB) (32-bit) or 2 GB (64-bit) RAM
- Hard disk space: 16 GB (32-bit) or 20 GB (64-bit)
- Graphics card: Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device with WDDM driver
To use certain features, you'll need to meet other requirements. To use the touch features, for example, you'll obviously need to have a touchscreen monitor or laptop/tablet. Windows Store apps require a screen resolution of at least 1024x768, and to snap apps you'll need a 1366x768 screen resolution. If you have an unusual screen resolution, though, (e.g., on netbooks with default 1024x600 pixels), this registry hack can adjust the resolution so you can run Windows 8 (or just get a higher-res display).
To find out your system specs, go to Start > All Programs (or Programs) > Accessories > System Tools > System Information or right-click on My Computer in the Start menu and select Properties.
As for device and app compatibility, most, if not all, programs and devices that work with Windows 7 should work with Windows 8--that is, the full Windows 8 operating system, not Windows RT. Just to be sure, though, if there's a particular program or device you depend on, check Microsoft's Compatibility Center before upgrading.