Microsoft is beginning to roll out Windows 11 today with a much stricter set of hardware requirements. For Windows 10 users who want to upgrade to rounded corners and a more developed dark mode, they're going to have to make sure their PCs, which may well run Windows 10 just fine, meets those requirements, or be left with a couple of decisions --- upgrade hardware to meet the new requirements, stay on Windows 10, or upgrade anyway via the Media Creation Tool and be left with a PC in an unsupported state.
Let's take a look at what that all means. First of all, what are the hardware requirements for Windows 11? Microsoft has published a breakdown of the requirements and has released an updated PC Health Check app that you can download to your Windows 10 PC to check that it does indeed meet the hardware requirements. Here's the list of requirements. Keep in mind, if you meet these requirements, you'll have a Windows 11 PC fully supported by Microsoft.
To install or upgrade to Windows 11, devices must meet the following minimum hardware requirements:
- Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with two or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or system on a chip (SoC).
- RAM: 4 gigabytes (GB) or greater.
- Storage: 64 GB* or greater available storage is required to install Windows 11.
- Additional storage space might be required to download updates and enable specific features.
- Graphics card: Compatible with DirectX 12 or later, with a WDDM 2.0 driver.
- System firmware: UEFI, Secure Boot capable.
- TPM: Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 2.0.
- Display: High definition (720p) display, 9" or greater monitor, 8 bits per color channel.
- Internet connection: Internet connectivity is necessary to perform updates, and to download and use some features.
- Windows 11 Home edition requires an Internet connection and a Microsoft Account to complete device setup on first use.
* There might be additional requirements over time for updates, and to enable specific features within the operating system. For more information, see Windows 11 specifications
In late August, Microsoft updated the requirements to include a specific subset of 7th gen Intel CPUs, including not-very-coincidentally the 7820HQ model installed in the Surface Studio 2. When Microsoft first announced the 8th gen line in the sand back in June, users were understandably upset, and Microsoft said that they would take another look based on Windows Insider metrics, but the August blog post held firm:
After carefully analyzing the first generation of AMD Zen processors in partnership with AMD, together we concluded that there are no additions to the supported CPU list.
While most modern PCs meet most of these requirements, there are some gotchas, and just because your PC runs Windows 10 (or even the Windows 11 Insider builds), it may not meet the requirements to run Windows 11. Here's what you need to know:
Running Windows 11 on Unsupported hardware
We talked a lot about running Windows 11 on "official" hardware that meets Microsoft's requirements. However, Microsoft will technically let you install the OS on any PC using the media creation tool. However. doing so isn't supported by Microsoft and you'll need to do some registry tweaks. You're also putting your PC at risk as you won't get critical security updates or driver updates. We don't suggest you do this, at all.
TPM and Secure Boot
TPM (a Trusted Platform Module) is a hardware based security feature either built in to your system's motherboard or added as an installable chip. Most modern hardware (pretty much anything introduced after 2013 or so) will have TPM installed. However, not all systems will have TPM enabled, and even if your PC is TPM capable, you may have to turn it on in the UEFI/BIOS settings. The TPM is a "dedicated microcontroller designed to secure hardware through integrated cryptographic keys," meant to keep your computer safer from attack.
Secure Boot is another security feature that helps to lock down the boot sequence when you turn your computer on, again to help prevent attacks on your system. And again, it may or may not be turned on by default on your system, and you may have to turn it on via the UEFI/BIOS.
Neither TPM or Secure Boot are anything new to Windows 11, indeed you can enable them just as well in Windows 10 if your hardware supports them. However, Windows 11 requires that they're present and enabled, which Windows 10 did not. While neither security feature is infallible, they can help to keep your system safe, reducing (along with some of the other Windows 11 requirements, below) malware by up to 60%.
Microsoft is requiring DirectX 12 or later, and a WDDM 2.0 graphics driver, for Windows 11. This is an update from Windows 10's DirectX 9 requirement, and you may need to upgrade your system's graphics capabilities to be able to run Windows 11.
Compatible 64 bit processors
This is the big gotcha. Microsoft is requiring an 8th generation Intel processor or better as a Windows 11 requirement (with some specific exceptions, see above), or an equivalent processor from AMD or from Qualcomm. The company has not been especially forthcoming about why it's drawing the line at these processors, but according to Microsoft's Director of OS Security, the restriction is for "experience reasons" and not strictly security:
No, CPU is for experience reasons. The TPM requirement is unrelated.
— David Weston (DWIZZZLE) (@dwizzzleMSFT) June 25, 2021
There's been a lot of speculation that something called HVCI (Hypervisor protected Code Integrity) is at the root of the CPU restrictions: processors prior to 8th gen ran HVCI in emulation (read: slower), but it's built in to 8th gen and higher chips. There's also speculation that the upcoming Windows Subsystem for Android and the way Windows 11 will run Android apps requires HVCI, and Microsoft doesn't want the user experience to suffer. They haven't actually come out and said "it's because of Android apps," but that's at least one possible explanation for what appears to many to be an arbitrary cutoff for systems that otherwise seem to run Windows 11 just fine.
In a blog post recently announcing changes coming to the Microsoft Store, Microsoft again made mention of system requirements specifically in relation to Android apps:
As we shared back in August, we’re excited about the journey we’re on to bring Android apps and games to Windows 11, including the ability to discover and search the Amazon Appstore catalog directly in the Microsoft Store. This will start as a preview for Windows Insiders soon; we will share soon more details about the system requirements and market availability of the preview experience, and we look forward to the engagement and feedback with the Windows Insiders community.
Microsoft does seem to be sticking to its guns on the CPU generation system requirements, and if you're system doesn't meet them you may be, officially at least, out of luck.
Windows 11 requires that you be connected to the internet to install Windows 11 either as a new clean install or an upgrade from Windows 10, and for Windows 11 Home, it also requires that you use a Microsoft Account for the installation. This is a new requirement, previously with Windows 10 you could disconnect your PC from the internet during installation to get around the MSA check, but this is no longer the case. If you're adamant about using a local account instead of a Microsoft Account for Windows 11 Home, you can create or use an MSA for the installation, and then create a local account once Windows 11 is running, switch to that, and delete the MSA.
For Windows 11 Pro or Enterprise, you can still install the new OS using a local account.
The TL;DR? If your current PC meets Microsoft's hardware requirements, including an 8th gen or better CPU, TPM and Secure Boot, and a modern graphics card, you're golden. Or, if you either upgrade your system to meet the new specs, or buy a new device this holiday season, you'll be ready for Windows 11, too. You also can try to upgrade to Windows 11 using the media creation tool, but doing so would leave your PC unsupported.
But if your machine doesn't meet these specs, it appears unlikely that Microsoft is going to back down and officially allow 6th or 7th gen processors to run Windows 11. There are already workarounds filtering out, including using the Media Creation Tool, but this leaves your PC in an unsupported state without access to critical security updates.
Microsoft seems content to stand firm on these new system requirements and to allow much of the PC user base to remain on Windows 10. If you don't meet the specs, you'll have to make a decision on whether to upgrade, to try and find a workaround, or to make do without rounded corners and Android apps. Will you be upgrading? Let us know in the comments below