Updated: Date, Year
Ah, Windows 11. The last Windows you'll ever need ... plus one. Marketing slogans aside, let's focus on the technical bits and pieces. Mostly. As it happens, in June, Microsoft announced the next major release of their operating system. It's going to be called Windows 11, it comes with a revamped user interface, it has new hardware requirements, and a few other important details. Before we can discuss all of those, we need to set up Windows 11.
This turned out to be far harder than I wanted or expected. As a member of the Windows Insider Program since the early days of Windows 10, I have been able to enroll various devices and try new builds without any issues. However, this time, I hit a whole bunch of snags. Almost like that song by Human League, Don't You Want Me Babe. Therefore, I decided to write a pre-review article, which only details my getting Windows 11 installed experience first, before we move onto the actual review. So let's have a look.
Hard hardware requirements
One of the topics that came out of the early testing by nerds worldwide - and astonished journalists looking for a dramatic scoop - is the set of minimum hardware requirements that Microsoft announced for Windows 11, and which may absolutely change as Microsoft has often shown remarkable market flexibility when it comes to making money. At the moment, these stand at Intel 8th gen or Ryzen 2 and above for the processor, and a motherboard with TPM 2.0 available and enabled. Fury, furor, shock, and anger. But why.
I noticed a lot of people finding the processor requirement harsh - but don't forget. Windows 10 will be supported until 2025. The requirements need to be looked at from a future perspective, four years from now. While Intel 8th gen processors are relatively new today, by the time Windows 10 goes into the digital heaven (or whatever), that processor family will be about eight years old. That's pretty reasonable.
The bigger issue is TPM. Technobabble aside, the question you want to ask yourselves is, does my processor support it? If you have Windows on your box, you can simply run Start > tpm.msc, and check what the utility reports. If it shows no TPM, that does not mean you're out of luck. It may simply be that your box isn't configured to use TPM.
Case in point, my new desktop from late 2019. It's a powerful, modern beast, and I intend to use it for a good decade or so. But then, on the surface, it reported no TPM. My first reaction was, there is NOOOOO scenario in this universe where I will throw away this awesome piece of kit in 2025 just so to be able to run Windows 11. My second reaction was, let's go into BIOS and see what gives.
The desktop has an Asus motherboard with AMD Ryzen 3700X processor. So technically, TPM isn't a thing. But then, under Advanced Settings, there is an option, clearly labeled fTPM, which stands for firmware TPM. By default, my motherboard was configured for Discrete TPM, which is not what Windows 11 requires. Switching to fTPM gives me the TPM 2.0 compatibility. Not that I have any intentions of upgrading this box to the new version, but more on that later.
A second case in point, my Lenovo IdeaPad 3 laptop. It's a new thing, bought just six months ago. It has no TPM option in BIOS. Instead, it has something called AMD Security Processor. But in essence, it's the same thing, as Windows reports full TPM 2.0 compatibility. So even if you're a Ryzen person, things ought not to be too bleak. And they will only becoming a limiting factor in 2025, if then.
Test 1: IdeaPad 3
All right, so what's the purpose of a test laptop if it ain't used for testing? At the moment, the laptop has a triple-boot configuration, Windows 10 plus two Linux distributions. I decided to upgrade the Windows 10 instance. But this proved much harder than I expected. The big problem was, I had no Windows Insider Program option listed under Settings > Updates.
I spent about an hour trawling the forums, trying to figure out what gives. I tried to make a number of registry changes, which would tell the system to go forth with the Windows 11 builds. Alas, no luck. I even found an unofficial workaround that lets you configure your device for different test rings in a completely offline fashion. It didn't help at all, of course.
And then, I realized the big problem - I was running under a standard user account - as one ought to.
BTW, unrelated and yet related, I did try to create a new account (in Windows 10), to see how this goes. Boy, oh boy. First, if you click Other Users > Add, you get an error that tells you go to Control Panel, y'know, the one that Settings is supposed to replace. There, the user applet redirects you back to Settings. Full circle. Nowhere does Windows 10 tell you that it can't do a task because of missing admin privileges. I was able to create a user account on the command line, of course.
I logged out, logged into the Administrator account, and lo and behold, the Insider Program option was there. Nowhere is this listed, plus it makes no sense, because you can receive updates as an ordinary user. One hurdle down, a few more to go.
At this point, Windows 10 started complaining about many things. First, generic errors, then, diagnostics and telemetry. As you know, I detest low-IQ stuff, which is why I have my systems configured for minimum intrusion and maximum privacy slash efficiency. The steps needed to achieve that are outlined in my somewhat older privacy guide and the much newer essential tweaks guide for Windows 10. Part of that lovely setup is disabling useless telemetry, of course.
Now, though, Windows 10 wouldn't let me turn telemetry on, even though I had started the service. In the end, I had to use another registry trick. I had to force-tell Windows to do full telemetry (integer value 3). It's really funny how Windows works, because all it needs is a registry value. There are no other sanity checks in place. Anyway, I had this fixed, but still no Windows 11 in the offing.
Windows 10 did offer me a Dev build now - of Windows 10. Download, install, reboot. A lot of time has elapsed at this point. I noticed that the new Dev release featured happier, shinier icons than the standard set. I guess this is an incremental change that will make the transition to Windows 11 feel more natural to ordinary users. Funny, the whole cycle of unnecessary modern software development. Windows 7 had a perfectly usable, decent-contrast interface. Then, Windows 10 went all-flat, like The Netherlands. But now, Windows 11 is bringing back color and roundedness into equation, as though they are magical artifacts of genius breakthrough. No, it's called simple human ergonomics, and it cannot be defeated by AI.
After reboot, I noticed I was signed out of the Insider Program. I had to join afresh, like nothing had happened before. But now, finally, finally, I had Windows 11 available. So I pressed the download button and waited. The image download completed in about 15 minutes. The in-vivo installation took about 20 minutes - on IdeaPad's Ryzen 5 and NVMe storage. The offline installation took only about 5 minutes and just two reboots. A surprisingly nimble result, I must say. Job done. Review to come very soon.
And here we go, but more details later!
Test 2: Virtual Machine
I also decided to see whether it's possible to try Windows 11 in a virtual machine - VirtualBox to be more precise. I had to start with Windows 10, because there isn't a downloadable Windows 11 ISO. I grabbed the latest '10 Dev build from the Insiders portal, and launched the virtual machine. Once I had the guest system configured, Windows told me that Windows 11 wasn't available, because my system didn't meet the minimum requirements.
As it happens, my Slimbook laptop (the host) comes with an 8th gen Intel processor, so that shouldn't be an issue, but then, I'm not sure which CPU flags are available or exposed inside the virtual machine. Anyway, once again, Microsoft allows you to bypass this with a set of registry key changes. Indeed.
This may not work for the final official build, but during the testing phase, it works just fine. And this is where things get fuzzy. It seems very likely you can install Windows 11 on systems that fall out of the requirements band (at least some), it's just you'll be running in an unsupported mode, ergo, if things go bad, you can't complain. How will this pan out eventually, well, we shall see.
Things sorted on the registry front, I started the download and installation. The laptop's fans went into overdrive, but that's kind of expected. The whole process took roughly two hours and change, but this is perfectly reasonable, given the fact I've allocated limited resources to the virtual machine, and also kept doing serious stuff in parallel. But in the end, I had Windows 11 installed and running.
BTW, check this notification out, which I received during the installation - the place to think, express and create in a natural way. Come again? Express what? Doesn't express require an object in a sentence? Maybe my mastery of English is rusty, or maybe I struggle with Marketingese. Natural way? Like painting with ox blood on cave walls? Oh boy, I'm such a lovely, grumpy dinosaur, and I so detest these pseudo-inspiring messages.
And with that, we must pause. I wanted to give the hardware requirements and installation process extra focus, so I decided not to dilute the message with the ranting and fussing that is bound to come once I start testing Windows 11. For me, the big hurdle was to convince Windows to let me test its latest Dev release on the IdeaPad, which is 100% supported. I guess part of the pain was induced by me creating a custom setup, with my own tweaks and whatnot. The other part is the convoluted way by which Windows 11 is currently offered - an ISO would do wonders to work around that. Then, if you're running a standard user, it won't see the Insider Program settings. Not even a wee message to tell you, hey, you need to be an admin for this.
Anyway, I checked whether my Ryzen systems could cope with Windows 11, and the answer is: affirmative. In fact, Windows 11 is one of three systems on the IdeaPad 3, residing happily side by side. It did not touch, change or mangle the GRUB bootloader, either. Very nice. On my desktop, and I presume, on many a machine out there, to be able to use Windows 11 (if they choose to), users will need to toggle TPM, fTPM or whatever equivalent setting in their BIOS to an enabled state. Easy enough for the nerds, but this could be a big hurdle for ordinary folks. Okay. So we did the installation and such. Now, is Windows 11 worth looking for? We shall see shortly.