Windows 8 tablets reportedly won't be available until October, but that doesn't mean you have to wait until Halloween to start using Microsoft's new touch-based operating system. The company has already released Windows 8 Consumer Preview, which provides a pretty close approximation of what the final version of the OS will look and feel like.
Best of all, Windows 8 Consumer Preview is free to download, and it will run on a number of existing Windows 7 tablets, eight of which we present here for your consideration. But before you download Windows 8 CP and run out and buy tablet, there are a few important things you should know. The most basic is the system requirements: To run Windows 8 CP comfortably, Microsoft recommends a system with at least a 1 GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, 16 GB of storage, and Directx 9 graphics, with WDDM 1.0 or higher drivers.
If you want to experience Windows 8's Metro interface on a touch tablet, your device needs a display capable of handling resolution of at least 1024 pixels x 768 pixels. All the devices in our gallery boast screens with at least that capability. To use Metro's Snap feature, which lets you pin a Metro app to the desktop, resolution must be at least 1366 x 768.
Another important point: While existing tablets running Windows 8 Consumer Preview will give you a pretty good sense of the Windows 8 experience, this fall's new tablets, whether they're running Intel chips or ARM-based processors, will be built specifically with Windows 8 in mind.
Those tablets, from manufacturers like ASUS, HP, Lenovo, and Dell, will deliver a Windows 8 touch experience that's superior to the one Windows 7 tablets can achieve. Microsoft has worked with hardware OEMs to ensure that Windows 8 tablets deliver touch performance that is consistent across all parts of the screen, from edge to edge. That's important because Windows 8 has features, like the Charms bar, that can be accessed only by swiping the edge of the display.
Also, Windows 8-specific tablets are no longer hindered by the 20-pixel barrier around the edges that's unavailable to apps on Windows 7 tablets. Microsoft says it has found a way make the entire tablet display available to app makers while ensuring that utilities that live on the screen edge remain highly responsive to touch.
Finally, keep in mind that the Windows 8 tablets that debut in the fall will likely be much less expensive than most of those shown here. Microsoft needs to grab tablet market share, so the company will likely be quite aggressive on price in order to get it. But if you absolutely can't wait, here's a look at eight tablets that can run Windows 8 right now.