Tips & Tricks

Clear drive

One of the first things you'll want to do once you've decided you're comfortable sticking with Windows 10 is to free up a huge amount of disk space by deleting your previous Windows installation. That can be done by right-clicking on your OS drive in the File Explorer window, which brings up a relatively familiar dialog box, as shown here. If you click on the option to "Clean up system files", you'll be presented with a few more check boxes, which include your old Windows installation. By selecting that option, we were able to delete a whopping 29.9GB of disk space.

File Save

The next thing you might like to do, if you have more than one drive in your PC, is to select where data is going to be stored. Windows 10 has vastly improved the process of selecting data locations, and in the screenshot shown here, you can see how incredibly simple it is to tell Windows where you want your data to be saved. This is particularly helpful if you're using a small, fast SSD to speed up your operating system, but also have lots of media you'd like to store somewhere else, such as on a mechanical hard drive.

Edge

Another great aspect of the Windows 10 upgrade is that you get a brand-new and very worthwhile web browser choice in the form of Microsoft Edge. While the name doesn't carry a lot of meaning (the "Edge" nomenclature was simply chosen so that the familiar stylized "e" Internet Explorer logo could be maintained), the browser is totally revamped from top to bottom, and performs far better than Internet Explorer ever did. You still have the choice of using Internet Explorer, however, which will be important to anyone who regularly visits older websites or a corporate intranet that relies on older protocols. While it's somewhat hidden, you can access Internet Explorer simply by typing the application name into the search bar in the lower-left hand corner of the Windows 10 screen. We've included a screenshot here of the new Edge browser in action.

Cortana

Also built into Windows 10 is the new Cortana personal assistant. Borrowing a (very large) page from Apple's Siri, Cortana automates a number of functions, such as setting appointments, searching for news or other information, looking up the weather, etc. Honestly, it only makes sense on computers equipped with microphones, although you can type your questions and tasks into it if you really want to. We haven't actually spent much time getting to know Cortana on our desktop PCs, but we look forward to trying it once Microsoft actually rolls out the updates for our laptops!

File Explorer Jump Icon

One last tip we'll pass along before we get into performance is the handy file explorer Task Bar icon, shown here. While it's pretty obvious that clicking on the folder-shaped icon will open a folder, what users might not realize right away is that it can be right-clicked, which will bring up a contextual menu, allowing you to choose among a number of folders to open. This is a great way to get into your documents, music, or videos without needing to browse through the Start Menu.

Performance

In addition to highlighting some of the new features of Windows 10, we thought it would be useful to determine whether all those new features, along with the other refinements baked into Windows 10, have any effect on performance. We collected some basic performance metrics, using a test system outfitted with the following components:

  1. CPU: Intel Core i7-4770K quad-core CPU (overclocked slightly to 3.9GHz)
  2. Motherboard: ASRock Z97 Extreme 4
  3. Video Card: Sapphire Radeon R9 290 4GB
  4. Memory: 4x4GB G.Skill DDR3-2400
  5. Solid-State Drive: Crucial MX100 512GB
  6. Case: NZXT S340
  7. Power Supply: EVGA Supernova G2 850W

None of these components are brand-new products, and in fact some have been discontinued. But they're still quite fast, so keep that in mind, as your mileage may vary in regards to performance.

First up, we'll take a look at basic OS behavior: startup, shutdown, sleep, and app launching. These functions are very much affected by the type of OS drive you're using, and as noted above, ours is a relatively-speedy MX100 solid-state drive from Crucial.  

Launch times

Well, you can't win 'em all, and Windows 10 definitely doesn't win much here. The only time it's ahead is in putting the system to sleep, where it's over twice as fast as Windows 8.1. In every other test, it loses, sometimes by a lot (in particular in the startup and shutdown metrics). All in all, it's not a terrible outcome, as the OS is still quite fast, but it's not ideal. Because most of our drivers are actually Windows 8.1 versions, it's possible that performance will improve as updated drivers become available. The good news is that every component and peripheral connected to all of the test systems we've upgraded so far has worked, which is really fantastic. The fact that a bit of a slowdown seems to result from the upgrade doesn't worry us too much. The only driver that we manually updated was the video card driver (using AMD Catalyst 15.7.1 for Windows 10). Everything else was left as is, and we assume Windows didn't actually fetch updated drivers for most of our components.

How about some more intensive CPU and video card metrics? We used 3DMark for a quick-and-dirty analysis:

3DMark

Overall, performance dropped by just about 1%. That's isn't anything to worry about, but it does indicate that developers will need to optimize their applications to take full advantage of the enhanced efficiency built into Windows 10.

Update: Shortly after we published this article, we put together a follow-up entitled "Does the OS Matter? Windows 8.1 vs. Windows 10 in Games". Check it out for our in-depth analysis of the new OS in a wide array of gaming benchmarks.

Conclusion

While we haven't discussed the benefits of Windows 10 versus Windows 8.1 in terms of usability, they are pretty obvious from the minute you start using the new operating system. Therefore, despite the caveats we've mentioned above about data collection and performance, there's just no doubt that just every user should take advantage of the opportunity to upgrade to Windows 10 given that it's free. Microsoft has said that this is a limited-duration offer, on the order of one year, so you have at least a little time to decide.

Many new off-the-shelf systems are still shipping with Windows 8.1 as of our publication date, but you'll of course be offered a free upgrade to Windows 10. Over time, we expect to see more systems loaded with Windows 10, but that process has definitely been delayed because Microsoft is allowing for free upgrades, saving manufacturers the expense of rolling out new models just to incorporate the new OS. If you're building your own desktop PC, we strongly encourage you to buy a copy of Windows 10 from the start, either on DVD-ROM or thumb drive. The thumb drive version, which is a new option available only with Windows 10, is more expensive, but will load faster, works on PCs not equipped with optical drives, and is also a full retail version, meaning it comes with tech support and the ability to be moved to a new PC in the future.

Overall, we can definitely say that the Windows 10 upgrade process was not only the smoothest we've experienced among many Microsoft OS releases over the years, but also the most welcome. Windows 8.1 simply wasn't ready for prime time, but it's clear that Microsoft was listening this time around, because Windows 10 is a big step in the right direction.

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