Windows 8 Release Preview: how to download and install it

Microsoft offers a choice of a straight ISO file or a setup assistant that will tell you if your current environment is compatible with the new OS.

(Screenshot by Lance Whitney/CNET)

For those of you who want to try out the new Windows 8 Release Preview (RP), you can run a full setup that guides you through the upgrade process.

Or, if you want to skip to the chase and just download the ISO file, you can find it at Microsoft's own site or through CNET's

Microsoft provides both 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows 8 RP, across a variety of languages. After you download the ISO file, you can burn it onto a DVD using the Windows Disc Image Burner in Windows 7 or the Windows 7 USB/DVD download tool, if you're using Windows Vista or XP. The Windows 7 USB/DVD tool also lets you install the ISO file to a USB stick.

Alternatively, if you want to install Windows 8 as a virtual machine in a VM utility, such as Oracle VirtualBox or VMWare Player, you can set it up directly from the ISO file. I described the process for installing Windows 8 virtually, in a previous post.

But, if you want to make sure your current environment can handle Windows 8, you may want to download a setup file that includes Microsoft's Upgrade Assistant. This tool can scan your current OS and applications to make sure they're Windows 8-ready, and choose the correct version of the Release Preview.

All you have to do is download and run the Windows8-ReleasePreview-UpgradeAssistant.exe from Microsoft's website. The tool will first check to see which applications and hardware devices are compatible with Windows 8 and then display a report on its findings.

The process then shows you the product key needed to install the Windows 8 Release Preview, before downloading the OS itself.

After Windows 8 has been downloaded via the Upgrade Assistant, Microsoft displays a screen offering you three choices:

  1. Install now, which will upgrade your current OS to the Windows 8 RP
  2. Install by creating media, which will create an ISO file
  3. Install later from your desktop, which will create a shortcut on your desktop to install the OS.

If you want to upgrade your current OS to the Release Preview, choose options one or three. Otherwise, to create media that you can install anywhere, choose option two.

The ability to install Windows 8 directly from the Web and receive helpful assistance is new with the Release Preview. It's also something slated to pop up in the final version of Windows 8. In the past, Microsoft provided the Upgrade Assistant as a separate tool that you'd have to run manually, before installing a new OS.

Bundling the assistant into the installation process itself, is a smart move, and one that should make it easier for users who wish to install or upgrade to Windows 8.

What if it doesn't work?

If you tried to install the new Windows 8 Release Preview, only to face the message: "Your PC's CPU isn't compatible with Windows 8", the solution may lie in your computer's BIOS.

Several perplexed users chiming in on Microsoft's Answers forum have all reported similar errors when trying to install the new Release Preview. I, myself, ran into issues when I tried to install the RP as a virtual machine on one of my laptops.

The first step, suggested by Microsoft, is to see if the following features are enabled on your CPU: Physical Address Extension (PAE), NX and SSE2.

"Most CPUs have support for these features, so if you receive this error, it is likely because the NX feature is not enabled on your system," Microsoft explained in the forum. "To resolve this error, follow manufacturer guidelines to enable NX ("No eXecute bit") or the equivalent XD ("eXecute Disabled") feature, within the BIOS security settings."

Hmm. OK, Microsoft, we'll bite.

To get to the BIOS setup page, you typically need to press a certain key, such as Esc or F2, depending on your PC. Well, what happens if you don't see any of settings listed by Microsoft? A phone call to your PC maker's tech support may be in order.

But your best bet may simply be to update your BIOS, assuming it's not already current. To do that, you'll need to check your PC maker's tech support page for a section called Drivers and Downloads, or something similar. Within that section, you should see several updates, including one for your BIOS.

Updating the BIOS can be a dicey matter if something goes wrong. So, you'll want to make sure that the BIOS update listed is the one for your specific PC. Several manufacturers now offer software, that you can download through your browser, to detect the make and model of your PC and pinpoint the correct drivers.

You should run a full backup of your PC before you update the BIOS, just as a precaution. But generally, updating the BIOS is a quick and automatic process. After the BIOS has been updated, you can then try to reinstall the Windows 8 Release Preview to see if it works.

I was, initially, unable to install the RP as a virtual machine on my laptop. But after updating the BIOS, the installation ran without a hitch in both Oracle VirtualBox and VMWare Player.

Two questions pop up here:

  1. Why are users running into BIOS issues with the Release Preview, but not with the Consumer or Developer Preview? I, at least, had no trouble installing the previous versions of Windows 8 with the older BIOS
  2. Could this issue affect the final release of Windows 8?

CNET contacted Microsoft for comment and will update the story when we get more information.

The company did attempt to respond in the Answers forum, apologising for the inconvenience and explaining some of the changes in the Release Preview that are related to the CPU.

Yet, it also aired a note of caution, revealing that there could be a glitch afoot.

"There may be a bug here," Microsoft said in its response. "We may contact a few of you if we need further information to track down the problem and make sure it is fixed before RTM [release to manufacturing] completes."

If there is a bug, let's hope Microsoft can track it down and resolve it in time. Windows 8 is already likely to prove a hard sell for many users. The last thing the company needs are throngs of people who can't even install the OS because of BIOS and CPU issues.


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wbervoets posted a comment   

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