There’s a joke that Microsoft follows a good, bad pattern with its OS launches: Windows XP: good, Windows Vista: bad, Windows 7: good. Windows 8: bad, Windows 10: good. Alas, in keeping with the cycle, Microsoft is botching the Windows 11 launch, and it might wreck an otherwise good OS.
Thanks to a leaked build, a launch event, and a newly released Windows Insider preview, we have a good idea of what Windows 11 will look like now. And for the most part, it looks like Windows 10 with a fresh coat of paint. Windows 11 dumps live tiles, moves the taskbar to a centered view, and handles multi-monitor setups better. But very little exists in Windows 11 that doesn’t exist in Windows 10 in some form. Windows 11 takes what’s good about Windows 10 and improves on it, which is a good thing.
That’s why it’s confusing to see Microsoft completely bungle what should otherwise be the easy part—the launch of the operating system. Don’t get me wrong, the actual launch (as in getting the OS prepared for release) is a difficult process. But we’re talking about the PR launch: telling the world about the OS and what to expect.
When Microsoft held its launch event, we learned that Windows 11 counts as a free upgrade for Windows 10 users. That sounds like every Windows 10 PC could upgrade to Windows 11, assuming the hardware requirements were roughly the same. And there’s the rub: Microsoft keeps sending mixed messaging around hardware requirements and what PCs can even run the next Windows version.
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Windows 11 will (probably) have some TPM (Trusted Platform Module) requirements. The TPM acts a lot like the secure enclave in an iPhone. It’s a physical piece of hardware designed to store your important information securely. The TPM exists either as part of your PC’s processor or as a separate module on the motherboard, or in some cases, as firmware that accomplished the same task.
Bitlocker, which encrypts your hard drive, stores its security keys on your TPM. If you use Windows Hello to unlock with your fingerprint or with your face through a webcam, that info goes on the TPM. Secure Boot, which prevents hackers from compromising your system during bootup, relies on a TPM.
At first, that doesn’t sound so bad. After all, initially, Microsoft announced “soft” and “hard” requirements. In this case, “soft” means “recommended hardware” and “hard” amounts to “the minimum hardware required.” Microsft clarified that a PC that didn’t meet the “hard” requirement CAN NOT run Windows 11. Windows 11 had a hard requirement of TPM 1.2 and a soft requirement of TPM 2.0. TPM 1.2 launched in 2005, and many (if not most) of the current PCs on the market support it. TPM 2.0, on the other hand, launched in 2015 and still frequently omitted in favor of TPM 1.2.
But then Microsoft removed the language surrounding hard and soft requirements. As of now, TPM 2.0 is the minimum requirement, which locks out plenty of PCs made even in the last five years. Worse yet, many manufactures turn off TPM by default in the BIOS. You might have the necessary hardware, and Windows won’t know it. You could, in theory, buy a TPM 2.0 chip to add to your machine, but now you have to watch for scalpers.
Microsoft also insists that Windows 11 requires Secure Boot, though that is a feature nearly every modern (if not every) PC has, again it’s not always enabled by default. Turning TPM and Secure Boot on (or off) requires heading to the BIOS. Unfortunately, nearly every BIOS interface is different, so the usual trick of turning to Google for a how-to may not be all that helpful.
Are you confused so far? It gets worse. It’s not uncommon for Microsoft to release minimum requirements for processors, but it’s usually in terms of hardware capability. Windows 10, for instance, requires a 1 GHz or faster processor or System on Chip (SoC). That’s a low threshold, which means we’ve seen Windows 10 on everything from gaming computers worthy of Superman to ten-inch tablets with smartphone-like processors.
For Windows 11, Microsoft didn’t provide the clear guidance we need. Head to the main Windows 11 page, and you’ll find a requirement section that states the OS calls for a “1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with 2 or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or System on a Chip (SoC).” So right away, we know that 32-bit processor machines won’t run Windows 11, even though they can run Windows 10. That’s not too surprising; the shift to 64-bit processors has been a long time coming.
You’ll also need a 1GHz processor with two more cores, whereas Windows 10 allowed a 1 GHz single-core processor. That cuts out a few more processor options but still isn’t that bad. But notice that extra bit of phrase: compatible processor. See, not every “1 GHz dual-core processor” makes the cut. You have to turn to the compatibility list to find out.
Dig through the list, and the theme becomes clear: Windows 11 will only run on 8th-Gen Intel processors (or the Zen 2 AMD equivalent) or newer. Let’s put that into perspective. The 7th-Gen Kaby-Lake Intel series formally launched in 2017. And they’re still on the market. Right now, you can buy a Surface Studio 2, which starts at $3,499, and that uses a 7th-Gen Intel processor. So if you spend $3,499 on a brand-new Microsoft-made Surface Studio 2 today, it won’t be eligible for Windows 11 when it releases next year.
It’s not just the new Surface Studio 2 either. Processor generations arrive in waves, often starting with the most powerful versions and trickling down to the lower end. So the Surface Book 2 is a tricky scenario where some models have an 8th-gen processor, and some have a 7th-Gen processor. Other devices, like the Dell 2019 Inspiron, launched later with older processors to offer a more budget-friendly price. So it’s not a simple matter of saying, “processors or devices five years or older.” The Surface Studio is still on the market today. The Dell 2019 Inspiron launched three years ago.
You might be wondering why Microsoft insists on 8th-Gen processors and newer, but that’s not entirely clear either. Some assume it’s a security issue, but that doesn’t seem right. You might recall several years ago when security researchers revealed gaping flaws in CPU architecture dubbed Meltdown and Spectre. Meltdown and Spectre were serious design flaws that some speculated could only be solved by entirely new CPU architecture.
Microsoft, Apple, and other OS companies issued patches to help mitigate the problem, but the initial fix came with a performance cost. Thankfully subsequent patches helped, but the best solution ultimately was newer processors. And in theory, that could be the reason for the 8th-Gen processor cutoff. Except not all 8th-Gen processors include those security changes. A few on the “compatible list” don’t benefit from that enhanced security. And Microsoft’s updated blog solely lists the TPM change as a security decision.
For the processor section, it states that the chosen processors embrace Microsoft’s new “Window Driver model.” But when you follow the links about the new model, that page differentiates the new model from the old model by what OS versions it supports. The old driver model only supports Windows Desktop editions. The new model supports Windows Desktop Editions AND Windows 10X. Leaving aside that we’re talking about Windows 11, Microsoft canceled Windows 10X, so we’re no closer to an answer.
And as long as we’re on the topic of hardware requirements: Eventually, Microsoft will insist that all Windows 11 laptops come with webcams. A few gaming laptops skip webcams, assuming you’d rather provide your own high-quality camera for streaming, and it’s unclear what that means for those laptops.
It doesn’t help that Microsoft delivered a compatibility tool that completely failed to explain why your PC isn’t compatible. The company tried to update the tool with clear messaging, but it still didn’t go far enough, and now you can’t even download it anymore. That’s right, Microsoft literally won’t tell you why your PC can’t run Windows 11.
Whether or not you agree with its decision, you could argue that Microsoft sets the tone of what its OS requires. And that might make for a fair argument, especially if under-the-hood changes really did make those requirements necessary. But we already know that’s not the case.
That’s because the first Windows 11 Insider Preview is here already, and it ignores everything we mentioned in this article. You can download and install the Windows 11 Insider Preview even if you don’t have TPM 2.0 or an 8th-Gen Intel processor. That’s right, PCs that can’t install Windows 11 in the future can install it today.
Microsoft says part of that is to explore relaxing the minimum processor requirements. It might be willing to PCs with 7th-Gen Intel (and the AMD equivalent) chips to upgrade if testing goes well. But it’s not clear why it’s okay to use Windows 11 without TPM 2.0 today and not acceptable in the future when it releases. And if you’re hoping to jump on the Insider Preview to sneak into Windows 11, I have bad news: Microsoft says you will need to downgrade back to Windows 10 when it fully releases the OS. If you don’t, you can’t install future builds to fix issues and add new features.
At some point, Microsoft will put in a block to prevent PCs from upgrading to Windows 11, but the fact that those PCs can upgrade today seems to suggest it isn’t strictly necessary. And it’s not like Microsoft couldn’t offer Windows 11 to more devices with the express understanding that certain features won’t work without newer hardware. It’s already doing that.
If you look at the full Windows 11 specifications page, Microsoft already plans to lock out features if you don’t have specific hardware. That makes sense; if you don’t have a touchscreen, then, of course, touch features should turn off automatically. If you don’t have a high-resolution display, disabling the Snap window arrangement feature makes logical sense. And if you don’t have a processor that can handle Client Hyper-V , then disabling it makes sense. Microsoft can tell what hardware you have and act accordingly on that information.
So, it could choose to let you upgrade and disable whatever features need TPM 2.0 or the newer processors. That still wouldn’t fully explain why Windows 10 can manage biometric login with TPM 1.2 and Windows 11 can’t, but at least you wouldn’t be stuck on an OS that will stop seeing updates in the future.
For just a moment, let’s pretend that Microsoft did a good job of communicating why it’s insisting on these seemingly arbitrary requirements for Windows 11. It didn’t, but let’s pretend. Ultimately, one of the biggest issues with Microsoft choosing now to launch Windows 11 is that it will potentially lock out millions of desktops and laptops. And the timing couldn’t be worse.
Think about it for a moment. For the last year and a half, we’ve endured a global pandemic that touched every corner of life. People lost jobs and are still unemployed. Others lost jobs and had to take on lower-paying work. For many, money is in short supply. And Microsoft is choosing now to essentially force the people most likely to own older PCs to buy new hardware if they want to stay up to date.
And you know what else in short supply? Processors, webcams, and other components that go into desktops and laptops. Intel expects that the chip shortage will go on for at least another two years. Microsoft (and Sony) should know that all too well, as does anyone trying to buy a PS5 or Xbox Series X. You can’t find them anywhere. And we all know the law of supply and demand: When things are in short supply and high demand, the prices go up.
Microsoft is essentially creating additional demand for new PCs when supply is already short, which will likely drive prices up. That’s an additional burden for anyone trying to make a PC last as long as possible right now. The timing is completely wrong to force hardware purchases, and frankly, Microsoft should know better. If it can’t get the hardware together to manufacture enough Xboxes to keep them in stock, it shouldn’t expect Dell, HP, or any other company dependent on the same supply to fare better.
And as the Windows 11 Insider Preview proves, these requirements are Microsoft’s choice. Windows 11 as a whole is promising. Beyond a taskbar you might not like, it mostly manages to improve on what makes Windows 10 great. It’s just a shame that Microsoft seems intent on giving Windows 11 a bad first impression. And if it waits too long to correct the course, Windows 11 might never recover. Just look at Windows 8, which couldn’t even be saved by Windows 8.1.