Windows 11 arrives on October 5, 2021. Unlike the big Windows 10 upgrade offer that felt impossible to avoid, Microsoft isn’t encouraging everyone to upgrade this time. In fact, Microsoft is recommending many PC owners not upgrade. Here’s what you need to know.
How the Windows 11 Upgrade Will Work
Windows 11 will be a free upgrade for PCs running Windows 10, just as Windows 10 was a free upgrade for PCs running Windows 7 and Windows 8.
However, this time, Windows 11 isn’t designed for all those PCs. Windows 11 officially supports only very recent hardware: In addition to requiring TPM 2.0 and UEFI with Secure Boot, Windows 11 only supports certain relatively recent CPUs.
Specifically, PCs with Intel processors must have an Intel 8th generation or newer processor. AMD PCs must be running at least AMD Zen 2. ARM PCs must have Qualcomm 7 or 8 Series hardware.
Microsoft refuses to explain exactly why only these CPUs are supported, but we have some theories.
How to Check If Windows 11 Supports Your PC
Not sure what hardware your PC has and whether it will support Windows 11? Microsoft offers an official “PC Health Check” app that will tell you whether your PC can officially run Windows 11. If not, the PC Health Check will tell you what the problem is
You can download the PC Health Check app from Microsoft’s website. The big blue “Check Now” button will tell you whether your PC can officially run Windows 11.
However, the tool won’t tell you the full story: Even if your PC can run Windows 11, you might not want to upgrade yet. And, even if your PC doesn’t officially support Windows 11, you can upgrade anyway.
Windows 10 Is Supported Until October 2025
Before we continue, it’s worth noting that Windows 10 will be officially supported for years to come. Microsoft will continue supporting Windows 10 with security updates until October 2025, which is four years after Windows 11’s release.
If you don’t want to upgrade immediately, you can wait. If your PC can’t run Windows 11—well, there’s a good chance you’ll want a new PC within the next four years, anyway.
Microsoft isn’t rushing you to upgrade to Windows 11.
Reasons You Might Not Want Windows 11 (Yet)
Overall, Windows 11 feels like Windows 10 with a new sheet of paint. Windows 10’s strange weather widget has transformed into a whole Widgets pane, the new Store now includes desktop apps, there are new modern themes and icons, and many apps have been rethought and modernized, including the Settings app.
However, there are a few missing features that may impact certain workflows. For example, Windows 11’s taskbar is missing some features that were found in Windows 10’s. Windows 11’s taskbar is glued to the bottom of your screen, and you can’t drag and drop files and other items to taskbar icons, as you could on Windows 10. If either of these features is important to you, you might want to wait to upgrade: Microsoft already appears to be working on drag-and-drop support for the taskbar, so Windows 11’s taskbar may get an update that makes it more capable in six months or a year after release.
People who have workflows that depend on context menus in File Explorer might also be annoyed. Microsoft has modernized File Explorer’s context menus, and it now takes two clicks to find the old Windows context menus. Applications can add themselves to the new context menu, but most developers haven’t done the work yet to do so. If this kind of thing is going to be a problem for your workflow, you may want to hold off.
There may be other issues, too. Windows 11 may have odd bugs here and there, or specific hardware devices may not work perfectly with it at launch until drivers are updated. If you have a mission-critical computer that you need to “just work,” you may want to hold off on the upgrade, even if your PC is supported.
If You Upgrade at Release, You’re an Early Adopter
Microsoft has said existing PCs may not be upgraded until early 2022, so the standard upgrade process will be slow and gradual even for existing PCs. This will allow Microsoft to gradually test the update and ensure it performs well on PCs like yours before it’s automatically offered to you.
There’s no need to go out of your way to get the upgrade if you aren’t excited about running Windows 11 yet. If you wait a few months until Windows Update offers your PC the update, you can be sure there’s less breakage.
If you choose to seek out the update on your PC at Windows 11’s release, you’re an early adopter.
If Windows 11 Officially Supports Your PC
However, if you’re excited about running Windows 11, don’t let us stop you! Despite a few missing features (we really want to move our taskbars), it’s overall a well-thought-out operating system. It’s great to see Microsoft taking polish more seriously. It’s also great to see Microsoft finally embracing desktop apps in the Store.
If Windows 11 officially supports your PC and you’re not too worried about any missing options or potential bugs, feel free to upgrade.
If Windows 11 Doesn’t Officially Support Your PC
If Windows 11 doesn’t officially support your PC, you have a more difficult decision to make. Microsoft recommends against installing Windows 11 on computers that have older CPUs it doesn’t officially support. We would also recommend against installing Windows 11 on these PCs.
Sure, it may work, but you may encounter bugs—and Microsoft says it won’t guarantee security updates will be available in the future. Do you really want to find yourself reinstalling Windows 10 in a year when Windows 11 stops offering security updates to your PC? After all, Windows 10 will be officially supported until late 2025.
So that’s our official recommendation: Don’t do it, particularly if you use your PC for work or other tasks and you just need it to work.
Tip: If the only problem is that your PC needs TPM 2.0 enabled, you may be able to enable TPM in your PC’s UEFI settings.
However, if you really want to get your hands on Windows 11 and all you have is a PC that isn’t officially supported, feel free to install the upgrade anyway. Just know what you’re getting into. That’s why Microsoft makes you agree to a waiver full of legalese before you install Windows 11 on such a PC.
Be ready to encounter bugs—this is easier if you’re not installing Windows 10 on a PC you use for work and other mission-critical tasks. You should also be prepared to reinstall Windows 10 in the future if you encounter problems. (Bear in mind that you may not encounter problems right after Windows 11’s release, but you might encounter bugs in six months or a year as Windows 11 gets future updates.)
You Can Try It and Downgrade Within 10 Days
If you’re on the fence about Windows 11, you can install it and give it a try. For the first 10 days after you upgrade, you will have the option to downgrade back to Windows 10. (It’s at Settings > System > Recovery. Click “Go Back” under Recovery options. If the option is grayed out, it’s no longer available.)
After 10 days, the option to downgrade will silently vanish as Windows 11 will delete your old Windows 10 files from your system drive to free up space. Also, bear in mind that, if you run a cleanup tool like the one under System > Storage or in the Disk Cleanup app, you may delete your old Windows 10 installation and be unable to downgrade, even within the first 10 days.
This tool should work, but we always recommend having a backup of your important data anyway, just in case anything goes wrong.
After the first 10 days, you can still downgrade a PC running Windows 11 back to Windows 10. However, you’ll have to perform a full reinstall of Windows 10, so you’ll have to reinstall all your applications and set everything up from scratch afterward.