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October 23, 2013

What to Look Forward to in Windows 8.1

Are you an enthusiast or power-user wondering what Windows 8.1 has for you to look forward to? In this post I’ll give and overview of new features and improvements in Windows 8.1 that will be of interest to PC gamers, makers, professional photographers/videographers, IT professionals, and others. Windows 8.1 is available now, and here’s how you can upgrade from Windows 8 to experience these great new features.

3D Printing
Windows 8.1 is the first operating system with full end-to-end support for 3D printing! During the development of Windows 8.1, Microsoft did the following to bring this scenario to Windows 8.1:

  • Defined a common language for 3D printers and 3D printer aware apps (3MF, 3D Manufacturing Format)
  • Extended the 2D printing pipeline to support 3D printing
  • Worked with IHV and ISV partners to implement support for apps and printers
Windows 8.1 Vase 1200

For more information, check out my full write-up on 3D printing support in Windows 8.1.

High-DPI and DPI Scaling Support
Ultra-high resolution displays are great, but only if you can see images, graphics, text, and UI clearly. Windows 8.1 is ready for ultra-high resolution laptops, tablets, and desktop displays. In Windows 8.1 each display can have its own active DPI scaling factor which makes the relative scale of content consistent if you are running multiple displays with non-uniform pixel density. Furthermore, Windows 8.1 DPI scaling is now fully optimized at up to 200% (compared to 150% fully supported on Windows 8). If you’ve been waiting to get that 4K monitor or ultra-high resolution laptop, now is the time!

Windows 8.1 tri-mon wallpaper spanning 1200

Left to right: 1080p display, WQHD display, 4K Ultra-HD display

Client Hyper-V Improvements
Windows 8 introduced native Client Hyper-V functionality so that you can run Virtual Machines (VMs) on your PC without the need to buy or install extra software. In Windows 8.1 there are enhancements to Client Hyper-V compared with what was in Windows 8. One of the notable updates is called “enhanced session mode” which enables a high fidelity graphics experience for connections to VM’s using the RDP protocol in addition to enabling USB redirection from the host to VM’s. I’ll be blogging more here about Client Hyper-V in Windows 8.1, so stay tuned!


DirectX 11.2 and Tiled Resources
Graphics performance is an important aspect of overall system performance, and for Windows 8.1 DirectX 11.2 includes some great improvements. DirectX 11.2 runs leaner and faster than previous DirectX versions. With these performance optimizations both everyday tasks in Windows and apps like DirectX games will perform better and consume less memory. There are also some great new features in DirectX 11.2 that include tiled resources for giant and extremely detailed virtual worlds with no loading times in-between regions, HLSL shader linking to reduce game footprint and speed up level loading times, and low-latency presentation for more responsive gameplay experiences.


Graphine demo utilizing tiled resources in DirectX 11.2 – more info here

Desktop Options and Updates
Windows 8.1 includes some updates that bring new customization options and help you be more efficient. Here’s a few updates that are great for enthusiasts:

  • All apps view: At the Start screen, you can now activate a view that shows you all of your installed apps. To toggle between the all apps view and the default view in the Start screen, hit Ctrl+Tab or swipe up (all apps) or swipe down (default view) in the middle of the Start screen.
  • Desktop wallpaper on Start screen: In Windows 8.1 you can use your desktop wallpaper as your Start screen background. I am liking this feature because it looks cool and adds a layer of continuity when transitioning between the desktop and Start screen. This setting is exposed on the “navigation” tab on the taskbar properties dialog.
  • Boot to Desktop: If you prefer to start each Windows session at the desktop rather than the Start screen, you can easily enable this option on the “navigation” tab on the taskbar properties dialog.
Windows 8.1 Desktop and Start Screen SxS 1200

My Desktop (left) and Start screen (right) – both using the same background image

There are plenty more navigation and customization options in Windows 8.1, but this short list gives you an idea of what you can look forward to.

Enhanced Device Access for Windows Store Apps
Some of the coolest apps I’ve used are those that interface with specialty hardware. Developers wanting to write apps that interface with these specialty devices are in luck because Windows 8.1 makes it easy. Developers can interface with devices connected via various busses including USB. Example hardware includes activity trackers, the new Lego Mindstorms EV3 system, Netduino, and many others. I can’t wait to see what developers will come up with for these devices on Windows 8.1!

While this list of enthusiast features in Windows 8.1 is not exhaustive, it does give you an idea of some of the great innovations in Windows 8.1 for the enthusiast audience. Don’t see your favorite new feature listed here? Please leave a comment!

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