Windows 10’s hidden depths
Despite Microsoft’s efforts to meld the best of Windows 7 and Windows 8 into Windows 10, some aspects of the new operating system are unfamiliar. Windows 7’s desktop gadgets are gone, for example. In Windows 8.1, you could access the Settings by swiping in from the right to expose the Settings charm. Microsoft killed off the Charms in Windows 10, and settings can be found in multiple places.
Let’s say you want to select a Wi-Fi hotspot to connect to. In Windows 8, you would swipe in from the right to expose the Settings charm. In Windows 10, you can click the little Wi-Fi or networking icon in the bottom right corner. Job done. But wait: To the right of the Wi-Fi icon is the Notifications icon. Click it, and it opens up a handy Windows 10 Mobile-ish array of shortcut icons, including a button to choose the Wi-Fi network—and a button to select a VPN. Why wasn’t that VPN option available in the networking shortcut? I don’t know. The Wi-Fi menu also includes a link to go to the Network Settings portion of the Settings menu, where you can specify proxies, or monitor data usage, or VPNs. By hitting Win+X, you can pull up the Control Panel with even more settings.
Whew. Yes, there’s definitely a “Who’s on First?” feeling to the various settings menus within Windows 10. But to be fair, the best place to start is with the Settings link in the Start menu. The really nitty-gritty configuration work is left for the Control Panel, but the most frequently used options reside in the basic Settings, with user-friendly toggles and pull-down menus.
Otherwise, Windows 10 automatically takes care of the basics, behind the scenes. I hooked up a number of USB peripherals to a Windows 10 machine with no issues, and routinely connected to either my work or home router. I did have an instance or two when Comcast’s connection was flaky, however, and while other devices seemed to reinstate the connection, I had to reboot my PC. Since I’ve downloaded the “release” code, however, I’ve had no issues.
Just be aware that there are hidden levels to Windows 10 that the OS hides from you—including features (like a battery saver/monitor, for example) that I’d really rather see as a desktop widget. (Some vendors, like Lenovo do offer a utility that can be placed in the toolbar.)
How does Windows 10 stack up against Windows 8.1? Well, if you look at performance, it’s essentially a tie. We’ve run dozens of benchmarks on Windows 10, and it looks like Windows 10 is slightly faster, but within the margin of error. Realistically, it’s a tie.
Deep within Windows 10 lies DirectX 12, the latest version of Microsoft’s API that will power your system’s graphics card or chip. Those drivers ship with Windows 10, but Microsoft hasn’t really promoted them yet. DirectX 12 is potentially a very big deal, however, because our early benchmark scores show its performance could be incredibly fast. Keep in mind that this is a theoretical benchmark, however, and testing on real game engines won’t be possible for several months.
A bug in Windows 10’s drivers may also cause a small reduction (about 10 percent) in battery life with Windows 10. Intel has promised that a patch will solve that problem, but it’s not clear whether it has been released. Some PC vendors are quietly warning that turning on Cortana’s active listening mode will drain battery life, but it appears to have a small impact.
Microsoft’s mediocre Windows Defender comes installed by default, handling antimalware and firewall duties. That’s not a dig at Microsoft—Defender is there to protect your PC in the absence of anything else—but we’d recommend replacing it with another free or paid antimalware solution. Microsoft made one other security tweak, preventing you from deferring Windows updates as was allowed in the past for Windows 10 Home users.
Like Windows 8, Windows 10 didn’t initially include any basic Blu-ray or DVD playback support, but it does now, sort of. If you’re upgrading from a PC that included Windows Media Center you should see a modern UI app on your PC called Windows DVD Player. In our tests, however, it’s not great. Instead, just download VLC—but not from the Store, which houses the crappy mobile app. Instead, go right to the source, the VLC site. One apparent plus: Region switching seems to be a thing of the past. I swapped between a Region 1 and a Region 2 DVD I’d picked up in the U.K. Both played fine, and the region counter on my USB DVD drive never budged.
Windows 10 also introduces a Windows 95-era array of melodic alerts for various notifications. I’ve grown to like them.
Given that we haven’t tested Windows 10 on a broad variety of hardware, it’s difficult to gauge its stability. Patches and updates will be routine, of course. Early bugs, including an annoying tendency for my Windows 10 HP Spectre x360 to lose connection to an external monitor, appear to have been patched. Ditto for some problems that I had connecting a a Microsoft Wireless Mouse 3500 (connected via dongle) and Logitech’s MX Anywhere 2 mouse to the PC. But other Windows 10 bugs have cropped up, and there will probably be more, too.
Next: Cortana, the queen of reminders and notifications
Microsoft Windows 10
Windows 10 drives the PC platform forward with its mix of powerful, productive features. Only a few bugs and design issues mar its shine.
- Free upgrade for Windows 7, Windows 8.1 PC owners
- Cortana digital assistant is potentially powerful
- Start menu takes best of Windows 7, Windows 8
- Still some obvious bugs at time of review
- Thematically, some apps are just plain dull
- Microsoft Edge browser underperforms competition