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Windows 11: Release Date, Requirements, All We Know

Windows 11 Desktop
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Microsoft's next-gen desktop operating system, Windows 11, is already available in beta preview and will be released by holiday 2021 (though perhaps not for upgrades). Over the next few  months, Windows Insiders will get to try out all the new features and watch as the platform matures. Here’s everything you need to know about Windows 11 right now. 

Release Date for Windows 11: October Likely

At its initial press conference, Microsoft said that Windows 11 would be out by "holiday 2021," which in theory, could mean any time between October and December. However, the company has now strongly hinted that the OS will launch on October 20th, showing that as a special date in several sample screen shots of the OS and other press materials.

Intel also referred to Windows 11 as the "October 2021 Update (21H2)" in some recent driver release notes, implying that the chip giant is also expecting the update that month. However, it sounds like the initial launch date will be for preloaded systems and not necessarily for users who have Windows 10 to get an upgrade. A Twitter post from the official Windows account said that users wouldn't get free upgrades until 2022.

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 Insiders Can Preview Windows 11 Now

If you’re signed up as a Windows Insider, you should be able to upgrade an existing copy of Windows 10. Anyone in the Dev or Beta channels is eligible to get the Windows 11 Insider builds, even if their hardware doesn't meet all the system requirements. 

To sign up or change your channel in Windows Insider, go to Settings->Update and Security->Windows Insider Program.  If you upgrade, you can rollback from Windows 11 to Windows 10 within 10 days.

If you'd like, you can also do a get a Windows 11 ISO file and do a clean install, without a product key or membership in the Insider program. You don't even need a spare PC as you can install Windows 11 on a virtual machine.

The Latest Build of Windows 11

On July 15th, Microsoft released its second major update to the Windows 11 Preview build. The latest build number is 22000.71 (the original was 22000.51). Key improvements include:

  • A new entertainment widget in the widgets area
  • A transparent background behind the right-click menu
  • A new look for the "new folder" button in File Explorer

Going Hands On With Windows 11

We have had the opportunity to spend several hours testing the new OS and have posted a hands-on and first impressions of Windows 11 article. Our initial takeaway is that many of the UI elements like the Start Menu look more modern but also appear to take up more room or pack less information into the same space as Windows 10. Some will like the changes, but we didn't love all of them.

Free Upgrade

Like Windows 10 before it, Windows 11 will be a free upgrade for anyone who has a recent prior version of Windows and the right hardware. The company lists certain minimum requirements (see below) and it's unclear whether the new OS will install if your computer doesn't meet all of them.

Customizing Windows 11

If you're trying Windows 11 out today, there are several things you can do to customize the UI. We've written tutorials that explain:

Windows 11 Requirements Could Leave Some Out

According to Microsoft’s blog, the minimum system requirements are: 

  • CPU: 1-GHz or faster with 2 or more cores on a 64-bit processor. 
  • 4GB of RAM 
  • 64GB of storage
  • UEFI BIOS with Secure Boot
  • TPM 2.0
  • 9-inch or larger screen with 720p resolution
  • Internet connectivity and an MS account. No offline installs.
  • GPU compatible with DirectX 12 

These exceed the Windows 10 system requirements in a number of ways. Microsoft lists those as 1-GHz CPU (but not dual core or 64-bit), just 1 or 2GB of RAM, a mere 16 to 20GB of storage space and a GPU that is capable of DirectX 9 with a minimum resolution of 800 x 600.

The TPM 2.0 requirement could shut out a lot of users, particularly those with home-built PCs. Not every motherboard comes with a TPM module on-board, though some motherboards are upgradeable with a TPM module you can buy after the fact. Many systems have TPM on board but it comes disabled so you’ll need to turn it on your BIOS. 

It also turns out that Microsoft plans to release non-TPM versions of Windows 11 for countries that don't support or have banned TPM, including Russia and China. The fact that Microsoft can do this really calls into question whether TPM 2.0 needs to be a hard requirement for anyone.

But wait, it gets more complicated, because even though Microsoft's spec list mentions a 1-GHz, 64-bit, 2-core CPU as the minimum, the company also has a list of supported CPUs and processors that are 7th Gen Intel or 1st Gen AMD Ryzen or below aren't on it (more on that below).

Microsoft has also released an even more detailed list of Windows 11 requirements (PDF download), that mentions some hardware requirements for OEMs who are building Windows 11 PCs. 

Most of these are no-brainers like having a power button that actually turns the computer on when pressed. But interestingly, all new non-desktops will be required to have front-facing cameras of at least 720p resolution starting in 2023. Also, all Windows 11 PCs that use touchpads must have Windows Precision Touchpads and all non-desktops are required to have Bluetooth LE connectivity. All computers, even desktops, require some kind of network connectivity, though Wi-Fi is not required.

Even Fairly Recent CPUs May Not Run Windows 11

Microsoft has also strongly implied that even computers which have TPM 2.0 and secure boot, but are older than an Intel 8th Gen Core or AMD Ryzen 2000 series CPU won't be supported in the final release (for preview builds, older hardware should work).  The company released AMD and Intel CPU compatibility lists that omit anything that's older than those generations. 

Both Intel 7th Gen Core and AMD Ryzen 1000 series came out as recently as 2017 and are still actively made and sold. For example, Microsoft's own Surface Studio 2 has a 7th Gen Core chip inside and sells for more than $3,000.

We asked a Microsoft spokesperson about the lists and didn't get, what we'd consider a firm answer. Meanwhile, on Twitter, Microsoft VP Steve Dispensa wrote that "Windows 11 is only supported on the CPU list I posted above. There are more requirements than just TPM 2.0 support (and all supported chipsets should have TPM 2.0, so that's not generally a blocking requirement)."

However, Dispensa also tweeted that "the lists will evolve over time." If they don't, a huge portion of users will not be able to run the new OS.

Microsoft announced that it plans to "test" 7th Gen Intel processors and AMD Ryzen 1 chips to see if they can run Windows 11 well. If so, it will add them to the compatibility list. No word yet on whether the company plans to test older chips than that.

 New Start Menu 

The new Windows Start menu appears by default in the middle of the screen, though you can change a setting to make it appear on the left. Gone are the live tiles, replaced with simple, colorful icons.  

Start Menu

(Image credit: Microsoft)

According to Microsoft, the menu uses “the cloud” to help you as it shows recommended apps / documents, no matter what device you were working on previously. As an example, Microsoft Partner Director of Windows User Experience Carmen Zlateff showed how a document she was looking at on her phone appeared in the Start menu on her PC.

Windows 11 also has a new Search experience, which now appears in a separate window (no more text search bar). It’s supposed to also search across devices and services, as well as using Bing search for the web.

Black Screen of Death Replaces Blue Screen

According to the Verge, Microsoft plans to change the color of its infamous Blue Screen of Death for the final release of Windows 11. However, right now, the preview build does not necessarily give you a black crash screen, unless you change a setting in the registry

Windows 11 Black Screen of Death

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Dynamic Refresh Rates

Windows 11 supports Dynamic refresh rate (DRR), which allows it to seamlessly switch between low refresh rates (60 Hz) and high ones (120Hz+) in order to balance power usage and user experience. If you have a monitor that is 120 Hz or higher, a graphics card that supports AMD FreeSync or Nvidia G-Sync and apps that support this feature, the screen will go to the lower refresh rate when nothing is happening on screen but as soon as you start to scroll or draw something, the rate will tick up.

Your graphics card will need to also have new WDDM 3.0-compatible drivers. Current apps that support the feature include Microsoft Office, Edge, Adobe Acrobat, Adobe Illustrator, Microsoft Photos and Drawboard PDF.

 Snap Layouts and Snap Groups 

On Windows 11, hovering over the minimize / maximize button gives you a choice of different snap layouts, based on  your screen size. So, for example, if you have three apps open and enough room, you’ll be offered the option to split evenly between all three or have one take up half the screen and the other two take up a quarter each. 

Snap Layouts

(Image credit: Microsoft)

If you have to interrupt your workflow by, for example, responding to an incoming email, you’ll be able to restore your snapped layout by clicking on an icon on the taskbar. Icons for these “snap groups” will appear next to app icons so you can easily switch back to a complete layout in one click.

Windows 11 Snap Groups

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

Docking and Undocking: Windows 11 Remembers 

If you have a tablet or laptop that you dock to an external monitor and then undock, Windows 11 will automatically minimize the windows that were on the external monitor(s) when you disconnect from them and then automatically restore them to the monitor when you reconnect. This is a huge win for anyone who has to take their laptop into a conference room for a meeting and then back to their desk after it's over. 

Virtual Desktops Now Allow Custom Wallpaper 

The virtual desktop experience has been improved so now each desktop can have its own wallpaper and distinct look. As in Windows 10, you can also rename virtual desktops so it's easier to separate work tasks from home tasks.

Virtual Desktops

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Teams Integrated with Windows 

The Teams icon will be on the taskbar and you’ll be able to use it to make calls to anyone else who uses Teams on any device, including Android and iOS devices. You’ll also be able to send and receive SMS messages from the taskbar.

The news feed adapts to you, trying to bring in feeds that you want, based on your preferences. There’s also a feature that lets you give some content creators a tip.

Teams

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows Widgets 

A slide-out pane on the left side of the screen shows you “Windows widgets” a set of curated news, weather and stock information. This is a clear evolution of the weather and news bar we see in recent versions of Windows 10. 

When we tried Windows 11's window widgets feature in the preview build, we were less-than-impressed. It has a nice looking translucent background, but the mix of widgets reminded us of the home page of MSN or any other web portal. 

Window Widgets in Windows 11

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

New Touch Experience 

Say goodbye to “tablet mode.” When you go into tablet mode on a 2-in-1, you’ll see slightly more space between icons and larger touch targets, but the interface will remain largely the same. You’ll be able to use the same gestures -- three finger swipe for example -- that you use on a Windows Precision touchpad as well.

The pen experience has been updated to allow haptic feedback as you write. The touch keyboard is all-new and will let you customize its look and feel while also using emojis. Voice typing has also been improved and automatically adds punctuation while taking voice commands such as “delete that” to help you edit. 

 Auto HDR for Gaming 

If your monitor supports HDR but your game doesn’t, Windows 11 will convert the color and lighting. During a demo, Microsoft’s Sarah Bond showed how this feature made Skyrim look much more colorful and lifelike. This feature originated on the Xbox and is now coming to the PC. 

AutoHDR

(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

 DirectStorage Helps Load Times 

Another Xbox feature now bound for Windows, DirectStorage allows your game to load content directly from your NVMe SSD into your GPU’s memory, without using a lot of CPU resources. This means faster level load times and less time spent waiting. 

Xbox Game Pass Built In 

Xbox Game Pass will come built into WIndows 11 so, if you purchase a membership, you’ll have access to hundreds of titles. Xbox Cloud Gaming will also be available so you can even play on systems that have lesser hardware. 

New Microsoft Store Policies 

The store will support all kinds of apps, including those programming as PWA, UWP or Win32 formats. If you use your own commerce engine, you will not have to pay any revenue share to Microsoft at all. However, if you use Microsoft’s engine, you’ll have an 85/15 split for regular apps or 88/12 for games.  

 Android Apps Coming to Windows 11

You will be able to launch Android apps directly within WIndows and find them in the Microsoft store via Amazon’s own app store. You'll also be able to sideload Android apps, though you won't be able to get them from Google's Play Store.

Windows will use Intel’s Bridge Technology, a run-time post compiler, to allow the Android apps to run natively and be treated like any other Windows app that you can snap, pin-to-start, etc. Panay demonstrated this feature by running TikTok.

Yes, this technology will work on both AMD and Intel CPUs. Intel writes that “Intel Bridge Technology is a runtime post-compiler that enables applications to run natively on x86-based devices, including running those applications on Windows.” More importantly, on a later broadcast, Microsoft Head of Developer Platform Kevin Gallo confirmed that this "Android subsystem for Linux" would run on both brands of processor.

Android Apps

(Image credit: Microsoft)

 Windows 11 Ready PCs 

Get ready for the marketing blitz. Microsoft says that “Windows 11 ready” PCs are coming. Considering that the hardware requirements are so low that pretty much any new PC can meet them, this sounds like more marketing hype than useful information. 

We have already received updates from Acer and Dell saying that either all of or the vast majority of their recent offerings are Windows 11 compatible. Suffice it to say that if your PC has less than 4GB of RAM and a sub-1-GHz processor, Windows 10 probably isn’t working very well for you either. However, we don’t know if all of these computers came with TPM 2.0 modules on their motherboards. 

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch is Tom's Hardware's editor-in-chief. When he's not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you'll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.
  • sonofjesse
    Interesting about TPM 2.0. I dont' think a lot of home builders buy TPM chips and install them.

    Also no offline installs and MS accounts required?
    Reply
  • TJ Hooker
    sonofjesse said:
    Interesting about TPM 2.0. I dont' think a lot of home builders buy TPM chips and install them.
    It's funny, I always thought my mobo had a TPM because Windows reports that I have one, but thanks to your post I double checked and it doesn't. Turns out what I'm probably using is Intel PTT (platform trust technology), which is a firmware implementation of TPM that appears as the real thing to the OS. AMD has an equivalent fTPM.

    So I don't think the TPM requirement would be an issue for most people, as their CPUs will provide a FW based TPM even if they lack a discrete module.
    Reply
  • Giroro
    Its 2021. Everybody and their dog is out there making "content". Windows does not include even a basic video/audio editor, and HEVC decoding is still an optional upcharge.

    Yes I know it has the useless "does whatever it wants" editing in the photos app, but that doesn't even come close to the baseline windows XP level of "cut a single long clip down and throw some text on for youtube, maybe with music"
    Reply
  • ThatMouse
    Still doesn't address the issue of what happens when I try to upgrade my 4 PC's on various Windows 10 installs, with no clear way to see which keys are being used. Looks like I'll be using the same "key" again.
    Reply
  • Awev
    The TPM is the first of a number of reasons I think I will pass. Next, can I rip out and remove Team and Gamepass? How about Edge? I want to customize my operating system the way I want to use it. How about OneDrive and Contra - are they both still forced on people?

    And of course M$ is lying if they say only 2GB of RAM :LOL: - which doesn't matter since I have 16 GB RAM installed.
    Reply
  • Giroro
    Would it be too much to ask for a hardware monitor capable of telling people when their CPU is overheating? Particularly, without needing admin privileges just to see a basic temperature.
    Reply
  • Awev
    Micro$oft has released a PC Health Check program to see if your computer is able to upgrade to Windoze 11. I failed - and it failed to tell me why. Since I built the computer myself I am guessing it is because I do not have TPM2.0 dongle installed. I am kind of glad, I don't want to have to unplug my ethernet cable to avoid being connected to M$ to do an upgrade/fresh install. I already use Linux a fair amount, guess I will be using it a lot more.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    Awev said:
    Micro$oft has released a PC Health Check program to see if your computer is able to upgrade to Windoze 11. I failed - and it failed to tell me why. Since I built the computer myself I am guessing it is because I do not have TPM2.0 dongle installed. I am kind of glad, I don't want to have to unplug my ethernet cable to avoid being connected to M$ to do an upgrade/fresh install. I already use Linux a fair amount, guess I will be using it a lot more.
    There is almost certainly nothing wrong with the current Windows version you're using now (Win 10?).
    Reply
  • Awev
    USAFRet said:
    There is almost certainly nothing wrong with the current Windows version you're using now (Win 10?).
    You mean other than being Windoze? Isn't that a problem to begin with - security, privacy, bloatware, not properly optimized for CPUs and GPUs, and it just being from Micro$oft? I am running Win 10 Pro so I do have a bit more control such as to when updates get installed. I have managed to strip out the stuff I don't need yet Micro$oft tries to integrate into the system, and no I do not mean Candy Crush, I mean things like the new weather and news widget (anyone remember Vista?) and OneDrive.

    I am sure that when I build my next computer I will have Win 11 installed on it, as I don't plan to build it until the next generation or two of Zen is out, and if M$ gets rid of the requirement for the OS to phone home and for you to have a M$ account. Yet I am happy to stay with Win 10 Pro for the next few years, and whatever version Mint is on (dual boot).
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    I meant in the context of Win 10 vs Win 11.
    (But you knew that....;) )

    There seems to be no huge compelling need to change. So don't worry about it.
    Reply