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From this point forward, all Intel and AMD CPUs are Windows 10-only

Intel announced and launched its Kaby Lake and Apollo Lake refreshes this week, kicking off its latest initiatives while AMD demonstrated Zen and its upcoming Summit Ridge platform earlier this month. Such announcements typically come with their own laundry lists of new features and capabilities, but it’s worth remembering one feature that prominently won’t be on any CPU or APU products from either company: Windows 7 / 8 support.

As we’ve discussed before, Kaby Lake, Apollo Lake, Bristol Ridge (Excavator APUs) and Summit Ridge (Zen CPUs) are all Windows 10-only. PC World reached out to both companies and both confirmed that their upcoming products would be tied to the Windows 10 product cycle. Microsoft initially intended to speed Skylake away from Windows 7/8 as well, but later backpedaled on this approach and noted it would support these chips throughout their lifespans until Windows 7 exits support in 2020.

This transition has happened before — all hardware typically reaches a point where previous operating systems aren’t supported — but I can’t remember it happening this quickly. That’s partly because Windows 7, like Windows XP before it, became a long-lived OS. While it didn’t ship as Microsoft’s primary operating system for nearly as long as Windows XP, it was still more popular than Windows 8 until months after Windows 10’s debut. Pushing Windows 7 off the support tree, seven years after it was released, may make sense. Windows 8.1, on the other hand, is less than three years’ old.

In this case, Microsoft is killing support for future products under both operating systems as a way to streamline its own support and push more consumers towards using Windows 10. While the build-it-yourself DIY market for desktops has always been small compared to the entire PC market, these changes will inevitably impact users who bought older retail copies of Windows they intended to keep using. The question is, what does it mean to run unsupported hardware under Windows 7/8?

There’s no way to say for sure, but we can hazard a guess based on how previous hardware has handled the transition. Installing these operating systems on newer hardware should work for a long time, but certain capabilities won’t function. Things might be slightly easier on AMD’s side of the fence, since GPU drivers are typically a major component that quits working between operating systems, and AMD will continue to provide discrete graphics drivers for Windows 7 and 8. A little INF editing and some third-party downloads should keep these segments functional for at least a little while down the line.

As time passes, new features build on old features, and support for those features becomes expected at both the hardware and software levels. There’s a huge gap between “Can I literally boot the operating system” and “Would I want to use this system for daily production?” This page on installing Windows XP on an unsupported Haswell laptop highlights a number of the issues the author encountered, including reformatting the installed hard drive from GPT to MBR, slipstreaming AHCI drivers into the Windows XP install CD, giving up on the installed wireless card, USB3, and most video acceleration. Features like HDMI ports don’t work either.

At some point, trying to shoe-horn an older OS on to newer hardware becomes more trouble than its reasonably worth for the majority of people. It’s actually easier to build classic machines on old second-hand hardware and use those than to try and keep newer systems functional. We’re going to hit that point more quickly than usual with Zen and Kaby Lake and I expect there’ll be some frustration along the way — Microsoft may be pushing Intel and AMD to phase out support for older hardware but the company isn’t likely to win any converts for its strategy in the process.

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