Windows 10 review: It's familiar, it's powerful, but the Edge browser falls short

Microsoft has listened, and Windows 10 debuts with compelling new features—Cortana, Task View, a familiar Start menu—well worth the upgrade.

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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. 

windows 10 review notifications settings shortcuts Mark Hachman

This Windows 10 Mobile-like collection of shortcuts is useful—if you know that it’s hidden at the bottom of the Notifications screen.

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.

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. 

dx12 api perf mantle PCWorld

DirectX12 performance stacks up nicely against the older DX11 API.

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. 

We’re also hearing that a bug in Windows 10’s drivers may cause a small reduction (about 10 percent) in battery life with Windows 10. An upcoming patch should solve that problem. Some PC vendors are quietly warning that turning on Cortana’s active listening mode will drain battery life, but we haven’t tested by how much.

windows 10 windows defender Mark Hachman

Windows Defender offers a basic level of protection, but make sure you download a third-party antimalware package—free or paid—to replace it.

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. Windows 10 was picky about which software I chose, though: I couldn’t install Panda Software’s free antivirus apps on Windows 10, but Avira and others worked fine. Microsoft made one other security tweak, preventing you from deferring Windows updates as was allowed in the past.

Like Windows 8, Windows 10 doesn’t include any basic Blu-ray or DVD playback support—and there isn’t a Windows Media Center add-on you can buy, either. 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 review dvd playback 2 Mark Hachman

If DVDs are, er, precious to you, VLC or another third-party app is the only ticket that will allow entry to a DVD player in Windows 10.

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. What I’ve found is an annoying tendency—still—for my Windows 10 HP Spectre x360 (supposedly co-designed by Microsoft itself) to lose connection to an external monitor, requiring a reboot. Both a Microsoft Wireless Mouse 3500 (connected via dongle) and Logitech’s MX Anywhere 2 (connected via Bluetooth) have stuttered on a regular basis after prolonged use. A reboot has usually helped. These bugs will be fixed, I’m sure, but it’s evidence that things aren’t quite finished yet.

Next: Cortana, the queen of reminders and notifications

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