The Windows 8 Consumer Preview (beta) was released by Microsoft on Wednesday, giving anxious Windows users the ability to perform an upgrade to their existing Windows machines to the latest and greatest Microsoft has to offer. Alternatively, you can opt to grab an .ISO and install it the old-fashioned way.

Bearing in mind that this is a preview and not the final product that will be shipped with new PCs and available on retail shelves once beta is complete, this preview will give you a very good idea as to what is ahead for consumers in Windows 8.

So, how do you get your copy? The answer is simple. There are two ways you can take advantage of this consumer preview. The first being by downloading a .ISO file, burning it to DVD, and installing it as you would any other operating system from Windows in the past. You could use this method to run Windows 8 via Boot Camp on a Mac.

Here they are:

The other method allows you to basically install Windows 8 over your existing operating system without having to reach for a blank DVD at all. This is done via a direct download process. Here is the method you’ll need to follow in order to get this done.

The first thing you’ll need to do is go to the Windows 8 Consumer Preview page and download a 5 MB EXE file that will initiate a system compatibility test and determine whether or not Windows 8 is a safe upgrade for you. It will point out any compatibility issues that may arise during the update, including any software you may lose the ability to use once Windows 8 is in place.

How to Download and Install Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Once the check is over with, Windows will initiate a download of the actual OS. This extra step saves Microsoft bandwidth in cases where incompatible machines that couldn’t run Windows 8 at all would have downloaded the whole enchilada.

How to Download and Install Windows 8 Consumer Preview

Once the download is complete, Windows 8 will verify the files. This is a tempting step to skip, but believe me when I say a single misplaced 1 or 0 can cause a nightmare for you down the road. Bravo, Microsoft, for adding this in the installer.

After the verification and preparation processes are complete, the setup screen will ask you whether you’d like to install the new OS now, install it on another partition (the safer alternative if you still want to keep Windows 7), or hold off until later.

Next, you’ll encounter the terms and conditions. All you need to do here is make note of the terms and bear in mind that you’re opting to install test software on your computer, putting everything you have installed at risk in doing so.

In the following screen, you’ll be asked to confirm whether you’d like to transfer over your Windows settings, personal files, and/or nothing for a “clean” install of Windows 8. For my personal uses, I opted to keep as much as possible to see what exactly transferred over. For many users, a clean install may offer a more out-of-the-box experience at the loss of your existing documents and files.

Once you’ve made your decision, you’ll need to make whatever changes are necessary prior to Windows 8 installing. Incompatible software needs to be removed. In my case, it was Microsoft Security Essentials and PlayReady PC Runtime. A reset may be required, as well.

Once reset, another check will take place and you’ll be ready to install the preview. Enjoy!

Have you installed the Windows 8 Consumer Preview? What are your first impressions?