Get ready, beta testers. Microsoft Thursday debuted Windows 8 Release Preview, which is one of the last steps before a final release of Windows 8 this fall. Versions of the operating system are available for both 32-bit and 64-bit systems.

Here's what Microsoft says is new or enhanced over previous beta releases:

  • New Bing-powered apps, including ones for travel, news, and sports
  • Improvements to Mail, Photos, and People apps
  • Increased Start personalisation
  • Better multi-monitor support
  • Better Windows Store navigation
  • New family safety and security functionality
  • Enhanced touch support for Internet Explorer 10

Warnings

As with past betas of Windows 8, Microsoft advises users to not install the operating system on a computer used for day-to-day work. There's also no going back without wiping your hard drive.

You can't downgrade from Windows 8 since it cannot access the recovery partition of your hard drive. If you need to downgrade, ensure you have recovery disks readily available.

If you are already running Windows 8 Consumer Preview or Developer Preview, Microsoft says you can upgrade to Release Preview. There's a downside to upgrading, though: you cannot keep any of your files.

To run Windows 8 Release Preview, your test computer will need a processor with a clock speed of 1GHz or greater, 1GB (32-bit version), or 2GB (64-bit version) of RAM, at least 16GB (32-bit) or 20GB (64-bit) of available hard drive space, and a graphics card that supports DirectX 9 with a WDDM driver.

For select features, you will also need multitouch support, Internet access, and a screen resolution of at least 1024 pixels by 768 pixels.

Where to download Windows 8 release preview

If you meet these requirements, head over to the download page on Microsoft's site and enter your e-mail and country. Since the free Release Preview is available in 14 languages, chances are you'll find a version of the software available for your region.

Clicking "Download" will start the download of the "Windows 8 Release Preview Setup." Running this application automates most of the set-up process, and selects the appropriate version of the preview for your machine. If you're a bit more daring and technologically savvy, Microsoft has provided direct links to ISO files.

These must be turned into installation media that are burned to a DVD drive or copied to a USB flash drive in order to complete the install. That's the installation process in a nutshell, but again - be wary. This is preview software, so keep mission critical work off your test PC.

Have you installed Windows 8 Release Preview? Did you previously install the Consumer Preview? Let us know your thoughts on this latest release and anything you notice that needs a little work.