Should you buy a now computer now, or at the end of the year? This is a common question that many people have been asking us, wondering if they should wait for Windows 8 to be released, or to buy a computer with Windows 7 on it now. The answer is relatively simple in our opinion: if you want to buy a desktop or a notebook computer right now, then go for it. The reason for this is that Microsoft will be offering a relatively inexpensive upgrade to Windows 8 for any Windows 7-based computers that will be purchased before 31 January 2013 (and also for any Windows 7-based computers that were purchased after 2 June 2012).
The upgrade will cost $14.99 for Australian users and any computer (regardless of the brand) is valid for the upgrade as long as it has an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) version of Windows 7 Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional or Ultimate pre-installed, along with a valid product key. It will be a downloadable upgrade (although a DVD will be available for an extra fee) and you will need to enter your name and email address on Microsoft's windowsupgradeoffer.com Web site in order to get the details on how to register for the offer once it is available. The registration will entail providing contact details and the purchase details for your computer (such as the make and model, where you bought it and the Windows 7 product key that's on it). This registration will need to be made before 28 February 2013.
This particular upgrade path to Windows 8 has been created for home users, students and enthusiasts who want to install the new operating system once it has been released. It is limited to five upgrades per user (that is, five computers per user). Business users with more computers to upgrade will have other options to choose from. For users who have purchased a retail version of Windows 7, this offer is not valid. It is only for users who want to upgrade a pre-installed version of Windows 7 on their computer, not a version that they have bought and installed themselves.
Because there are fewer versions of Windows 8 than there are of Windows 7, all eligible versions of Windows 7 will be upgraded to a like-for-like version of Windows 8 Pro (that is, a 32-bit Windows 7 version for a 32-bit Windows 8 version or a 64-bit version for a 64-bit version). There are some caveats you need to be aware of if you plan to upgrade: if you currently use Windows 7's Media Centre or built-in DVD playback features, you will have to either use third-party software or purchase and download the Windows 8 Media Centre Pack. This is because Windows 8 Pro doesn't have built-in media centre and DVD playback features. The pack can be acquired through Windows 8's Add Windows Feature section.
There is a fine selection of notebooks that have been released already this year, from regular 15in models to lightweight Ultrabooks, many of which are using Intel's third generation Core i5 and Core i7 CPUs — see a selection below of what we have reviewed so far this year. All of these notebooks will be able to run Windows 8 and most applications that run under Windows 7 should have no problems running under Windows 8 either. Driver support should be checked though: before upgrading your computer to Windows 8, make sure that device drivers for your graphics and wireless adapter, for example, can work properly under Windows 8 (check the component maker's Web site).
Windows 8 will be optimised for touchscreens, of which the new Start screen is a major touch component, so the only reason it might be worth holding off on a new computer purchase is to see what types of new touchscreen PC models are released. Windows 8 supports multiple touch inputs, but current touch-enabled computers that support fewer than five inputs are said to not be compatible with all of Windows 8's features.
Related notebook reviews:
• Sony VAIO T Series Ultrabook
• HP Envy Spectre XT Ultrabook
• Toshiba Satellite U840W Ultrabook
• Origin EON15-S gaming notebook
• Dell Inspiron 15R 5520 Ivy Bridge notebook
• Medion Akoya P6635 Ivy Bridge notebook
• HP Envy 6-1001tx Ultrabook
• HP Pavilion dv6-7030tx Ivy Bridge notebook
• Sony VAIO E Series 14P Ivy Bridge notebook
• ASUS Zenbook Prime UX31A Ultrabook
• Fujitsu Lifebook U772 Ivy Bridge Ultrabook
• Dell XPS 14 Ivy Bridge Ultrabook
• Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook
• Lenovo ThinkPad X230 Ivy Bridge laptop
• Apple MacBook Pro (15in with Retina display)
• ASUS N56VM Ivy Bridge laptop
• Acer Aspire Timeline Ultra M3 Ultrabook
• Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E530 Ivy Bridge laptop
• Dell XPS 13 Ultrabook