Before you rush out and buy a copy of Windows 8, it's important you check that your PC, laptop or tablet is up to scratch. Here are the Windows 8 system requirements.

Most people who move to Windows 8 will do so when they buy a new PC or laptop. However, since the ‘Vista Capable' debacle, Microsoft has worked hard to keep down the system requirements for successive operating systems, meaning older computers could upgrade. Windows 8 is no exception: here's what you need to run it.

The issue of minimum specifications for a new Windows operating system has been a hot topic ever since Vista enjoyed a less-then-auspicious start to life. Desperate to generate some excitement ahead of the appearance of its late-appearing OS, Microsoft created the label ‘Vista Capable', and encouraged PC manufacturers to append it to XP systems that met the basic minimum specification for running Vista.

The trouble was that when Vista was finally launched, it required a great deal more than the basic system requirements suggested, in order to run well. As with any new OS, Vista had issues with compatibility, and the occasional bug. But this was compounded by scores of disgruntled XP users ‘upgrading' underpowered systems, and losing stability and speed in the process.

‘Vista Capable' became the name of a huge class action lawsuit in the US, and a byword for how not to launch a new Windows OS. Once bitten, twice (and now a third time) shy, when Microsoft launched Windows 7, it made great play of the fact that it would run successfully on any system that was happy running Vista.

This may not have done much to dispel the notion that Windows 7 was just the operating system that Vista should have been, but it did manage the expectations of new computer purchasers. Microsoft and partners such as Intel are now at least as focused on providing a stable, lightweight system that doesn't gobble power as they are on adding new features. So once again, as a new operating system is released, Microsoft has kept the minimum requirements the same. So if you have a PC or laptop that happily runs Vista or Windows 7, you will be okay with Windows 8. (See also: Windows 8: the complete guide.)

Related: How to upgrade to Windows 8 and How to install Windows 8.

Windows 8: minimum specifications

In order to run Windows 8, your PC or laptop must have a 1GHz or faster processor. Obviously, as with all computers, a better processor will lead to an improved overall experience. In most cases Windows 8 laptops and PCs will run on AMD or – more likely – Intel processors, specifically Core i3, i5 and i7 processors. Intel's Ivy Bridge processors launched in April 2012, and they offer more efficient power consumption, and should therefore run well in thin and light systems. Microsoft is also set to release a version of Windows that can run on ARM's SOC (system on chip) processors. Windows RT is aimed at portable devices, and shouldn't be confused with the main desktop and laptop version of Windows 8.

The 32bit flavour of Windows 8 requires at least 1GB of RAM, and 2GB is required for a 64bit installation. If speed is important to you, don't skimp on RAM. Get as much as you can, but remember that a 32bit system can use only 3GB RAM. You'll need at least 16GB of hard disk space to run a 32bit installation or 20GB for a 64bit system. These are fantastically low figures, but should be taken with a pinch of salt. They suggest the bare minimum required, and once you start saving things you'll soon run out of space. An SSD rather a traditional spinning disk will help to keep your PC up to speed.

Windows 8 requires a Microsoft DirectX 9 or higher graphics system. If you're not a hard-core gamer, you may find that integrated graphics suffice, especially if you have an Ivy Bridge processor.

To use touch, you'll require a tablet or a monitor that supports multi-touch, and to access the Windows Store and download and run apps, you'll need an active internet connection and a screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768. To snap apps, a screen resolution of at least 1366 x 768 is required.

To install apps from the Windows Store, you'll need to sign up for a Microsoft account.

Windows 8: system requirements

  • Processor  1GHz or faster
  • RAM  1GB (32bit) or 2GB (64bit)
  • Hard disk space  16GB (32bit) or 20GB (64bit)
  • Graphics card  Microsoft DirectX 9 graphics device or higher

Windows 8: additional requirements

  • To use touch  A tablet or a monitor that supports multi-touch
  • To access the Windows Store and to download and run apps  An active internet connection and a screen resolution of at least 1024 x 768 pixels
  • To snap apps  A display with a resolution of at least 1366 x 768 pixels

Visit Windows 8 Advisor for expert reviews of Windows 8, Windows 8 tips and tricks, as well as expert advice on how to get the most from Windows 8. Buy The Complete Guide To Windows 8.