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Can You Upgrade Your Old PC to Windows 8.1?

If you’re currently running Windows Vista or Windows 7 or 8 on a PC, the answer is yes, you can almost certainly upgrade it to Windows 8.1 — and it’ll probably run faster than Vista, at least.

Officially you can (not should, but can) upgrade if your PC has at least:

  • 1 GHz or faster processor — an Intel or AMD processor. A different version of Windows, called Windows RT, runs on an entirely different class of processors — but you can only buy that version of Windows pre-installed on a new computer.

  • 1GB of RAM memory for the 32-bit version, 2GB for the 64-bit.

  • 16GB (for 32-bit) to 64GB (for 64-bit) of available hard drive space. Of course, that’s just for Windows. If you want to install any programs or save any data, you’re going to need a leeeeeetle bit more.

  • DirectX 9 graphics card with WDDM 1.0 or higher driver. Every video card made in the past five years meets that requirement.

Here are the two additional requirements that are key to using the tile-based, Metro screen side of Windows 8.1 — assuming you want to use Metro:

  • A touch-sensitive screen. Yes, you can use a mouse in the tiled, immersive interface — lots of people do every day. But you won’t appreciate tiled programs as much.

  • A screen resolution of 1366x768. In fact, you can run Windows 8.1 with a 1024x768 screen, but you can’t do a tiled snap — put two tiled Metro apps side by side — unless you have a screen that runs at least 1366 pixels wide and 768 pixels high. You can get a screen that’s bigger, and it’ll run everything — if the screen’s wider than 1500 pixels, you can even snap three apps.

The much more difficult question of whether you should upgrade launches me into a metaphysical discussion. Consider how the following apply to you:

  • If you have a touch-enabled PC, there’s absolutely no question you should upgrade to Windows 8.1. Touch on the Win8.1 tiled Metro side is infinitely better than touch on Windows 7.

  • If you’re using a mouse and keyboard and don’t plan on getting a touchscreen, you only need Windows 8.1 if you really need one of the new features, or if one of the Windows Store apps tickles your fancy. If the benefits there don’t put a tingle down your spine, no, you don’t need Windows 8.1. Stick with Windows 7.

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