For a long time I used Windows 7 Pro, up until earlier this year. But With Windows 10 becoming more common (I think it hit 50% of Windows market share recently?) and me wanting more memory to use, I did the only same thing. I installed Windows 8.
WHAT!? You ask?
Alright, so, allow me to justify my choice.
Now, I have no idea where you'd get a copy of Windows Embedded 8.1 but if you do, here's a guide on setting it up to be comfortable coming from Windows 7.
So, I installed on an SSD I got for this specific purpose. I secure erased in advance to hopefully improve the lifetime of it - not for security, because if I wanted security I wouldn't use Windows. So, unplug your other devices so it doesn't nuke the boot record or partition table on them, insert your installer CD, tell it which partition to install to, choose your colours for the Metro UI stuff you'll never use, and choose Customize rather than Express Settings.
If it detected your network device, it'll ask you to sign into your Microsoft account. You shouldn't have one, and if you do you really shouldn't sign into it on your computer. Select Create a New Account down the bottom, and at the bottom of that page select Sign in without a Microsoft account, and set up your user.
Before too long it'll log you in, so open Internet Explorer and head to the Waterfox site and grab a copy of it, or your preference of browser. Once you get that set up, you can grab a copy of Classic Shell so you don't have to deal with the Metro start screen.
Alright, so, configuration fun time.
Head to the Turn Windows Features on or off part of the control panel, and check .NET framework and Services for NFS if you deal with Linux machines. Next, uncheck Media Features, SMB 1.0/CIFS File Sharing Support, Windows Location Provider and Internet Explorer 11, because it has achieved its purpose. Let that do its thing, then move on.
Updates are important, as Windows is horridly insecure even when updated. You can either do all of them and remove them with this script afterwards, or not install the updates listed. If you go with the former route, just download it as a batch file and run it, which will remove all the spyware updates from your system. Fair warning, Windows Update will probably take an hour to figure out what needs to update and another 6 to actually do it, so I'd advise having a movie ready or something.
Now, for some extra fun stuff, I'd recommend grabbing a copy of VirtuaWin to provide virtual workspaces and AltDrag so you can manipulate windows without having to use the title bar, which is a feature sorely missed when you're used to a modern window manager.
If you want, you can also see my guide on making Windows friendlier if you're used to Linux if you want, but you may just want a clean Windows setup, which you should now have.