Microsoft Releases Windows 11 Preview and Outlines Hardware Requirements
Microsoft on Monday announced its first Windows 11 preview, along with hardware and system requirements, plus some tips for organizations considering a move to the new client operating system.
Windows 11 preview build 22000.51 was released on Monday to the Windows Insider Program's Dev Channel subscribers. Microsoft redesigned the PC setup process (also called the "out-of-box experience") for in-place upgrades from Windows 10 to Windows 11. It's also possible to "clean install" (wipe and replace) the new OS.
Windows 11 is an all-64-bit OS for x64 and ARM64 processors. There's no 32-bit version for x86 machines being released.
The production-ready "general availability" version of Windows 11 is expected to arrive this fall. Windows 11 will be a free upgrade for users of the latest Windows 10 versions, but their hardware also must also be compatible, which complicates matters to a high degree.
IT pros using certain Microsoft tools, such as Endpoint Analytics or Update Compliance, will be able to determine Windows 11 hardware compatibility when Windows 11 reaches general availability commercial release, according to an announcement by John Cable, a program manager on Microsoft's COSINE servicing and delivery team.
Microsoft is planning three client OS releases in the second half of this year, namely Windows 10 version 21H2, a new Windows 10 long-term servicing channel product and Windows 11.
Cable noted that Windows 10 will be hitting its end-of-life phase on Oct. 14, 2025. The OS will stop getting updates, including security patches, after that date.
'What's New' Splash Event
Microsoft had unveiled Windows 11 last week in a Thursday "What's New with Windows" online event. During it, Microsoft played up the new OS's user interface enhancements.
Windows 11 includes a Start button redesign, Snap Layouts and Snap Groups, widgets, taskbar integration with Microsoft Teams for chats and Microsoft Store support for accessing Android apps on Windows 11. Many of the features shown during the Thursday event were not expected to appear in the initial preview release, Microsoft had previously indicated.
Window 11 notably will have feature updates that are released once per year. Moreover, these feature update releases will have "24 months of support for Home or Pro editions, and 36 months of support for Enterprise and Education editions," Microsoft indicated. In making that change with Windows 11, Microsoft acknowledged IT pros' grumblings that biannual Windows 10 feature update releases were just too frequent.
PC Health Check Tool Suspended
Last week, Microsoft had released a PC Health Check tool to make it easier for Windows 10 users to tell if their PCs can make the jump to Windows 11. However, Microsoft acknowledged on Monday that it had removed the PC Health Check tool to better respond to recent user feedback.
In particular, Microsoft mentioned it wants to improve the tool's assessment of upgrade compatibility for "Windows 11 on 7th generation processors."
On the Intel side, seventh-generation processors include the Kaby Lake products, which were released in the 2017 time period.
The new processor requirements for Windows 11 are based on using certain security, reliability and compatibility capabilities. In a mixed statement concerning the suspension of the PC Health Check tool, Microsoft suggested that eighth-generation processors would be needed to run Windows 11, while Microsoft also suggested that seventh-generation processors could work.
Here's how Microsoft put it:
Using the principles above, we are confident that devices running on Intel 8th generation processors and AMD Zen 2 as well as Qualcomm 7 and 8 Series will meet our principles around security and reliability and minimum system requirements for Windows 11. As we release to Windows Insiders and partner with our OEMs, we will test to identify devices running on Intel 7th generation and AMD Zen 1 that may meet our principles.
Possibly, the hardware requirements for Windows 11 are "still fluid." At least that was a concept floated by Michael Niehaus, a Windows deployment expert and former longtime Microsoft employee, in this Twitter post.
Test Base for Microsoft 365
Microsoft is promising high application compatibility with Windows 11, much like its Windows 10 forebearer. In cases where application incompatibilities are detected, Microsoft has its FastTrack App Assure program, where Microsoft or its partners carry out remediation steps in some circumstances.
Windows Insider Program testers of Windows 11 can use a new Test Base for Microsoft 365 solution to check application compatibility early on, as described in this Microsoft announcement. Test Base for Microsoft 365 is an Azure service that checks applications. It's been at the "private preview" release stage for almost a year and was first rolled out to "critical third-party software vendors," such as makers of "antivirus, VPN and disk encryption" products.
At some point, it'll be possible to use Test Base for Microsoft 365 in Microsoft Endpoint Manager, Microsoft promised, although exact timing wasn't described.
"If you are an Intune customer, you will soon be able to find the link to Test Base on the LOB and Win32 application page on the Microsoft Endpoint Manager admin center," Microsoft's announcement explained.
Other Hardware Requirements
Microsoft has published a "Windows 11 Minimum Hardware Requirements" document, which can be downloaded from a link at this page.
With regard to the processor support question, the minimum hardware requirements document includes a link to a "Windows Processor Requirements" document. It contains links to lists showing the specific AMD, Intel and Qualcomm processors that have support for Windows 11.
Windows 11 requires that machines use the Universal Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI). There's no support listed for BIOS-based machines. Microsoft is turning on Secure Boot by default with these Windows 11 UEFI machines. Secure Boot wards off malware present at the boot-up level, which otherwise might go undetected. Windows 11 machines also are required to have a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0 chip installed, which is used with Secure Boot.
Microsoft began requiring that Windows Server products have TPM 2.0 chips and Secure Boot turned on by default back in February. TPM 2.0 chips have been required in new PCs since July 28, 2016, according to this Microsoft "TPM Compliance" document:
Since July 28, 2016, all new device models, lines or series (or if you are updating the hardware configuration of an existing model, line or series with a major update, such as CPU, graphic cards) must implement and enable by default TPM 2.0 (details in section 3.7 of the Minimum hardware requirements page). The requirement to enable TPM 2.0 only applies to the manufacturing of new devices. For TPM recommendations for specific Windows features, see TPM and Windows Features.
Early on, TPM 2.0 use was marketed toward enterprise or business organizations. However, Microsoft's statement above makes it clear that TPM 2.0 chips were supposed to be part of new PCs running the Windows 10 Home, Pro, Enterprise, and Education editions. Consequently, it's possible that consumer PCs built within the last five years already have TPM 2.0 chips installed, but consumer awareness might be lacking.
The TPM 2.0 question has been confusing, with some people suggesting that those chips aren't factory-installed in gaming PCs, per this Twitter thread.
Possibly, Microsoft's PC Health Check tool looks for TPM 2.0 chips, but it's on hold for now.
Beyond hardware and system requirements, Microsoft lists "feature-specific requirements" for Windows 11, which perhaps are only essential when you want to use the feature.
Some of the feature-specific requirements are kind of plain. For instance, to use 5G wireless connections, Windows 11 users will need 5G-capable modems in their machines. The use of the Windows Hello biometric user authentication service requires having a camera that supports near infrared imaging, or a biometric-reader device.
Windows 11 devices are capable of using Wi-Fi 6E, a wireless technology accessing newly opened 6-GH spectrum. Wi-Fi 6E is billed by Microsoft as enabling "3x more Wi-Fi bandwidth." People wanting to use it will need "a PC that's equipped with a Wi-Fi 6E device such as the Intel AX210 and a capable driver," Microsoft explained. They also will need a Wi-Fi 6E-capable router.
Windows 11 Planning Advice
Microsoft on Thursday also described "best practices" for organizations planning Windows 11 moves, per this announcement.
The announcement admitted that "Windows 11 is based on the Windows 10 code base," but that circumstance means that it'll be "natively compatible" with existing applications, Microsoft suggested.
Microsoft wants organizations to join the Windows Insider Program to review Windows 11. They should validate hardware and software compatibility with Windows 11, and create a deployment plan. Lastly, Microsoft touted Microsoft Endpoint Manager, which can be used to leverage "cloud-based endpoint management capabilities" with Windows 11.
Not only is Microsoft pushing organizations toward more secure hardware with TPM 2.0 chips in Windows 11, it's also suggesting cloud-based alternatives to using Group Policy, per the announcement:
Windows 11 uses modern hardware to deliver the most secure Windows ever, with TPM and virtualization-based security support for everyone. We've also added over 1,000 new management controls to make it easier to move away from older management systems like Group Policy.
Microsoft listed several cloud-based solutions to that effect. Windows Autopilot can set up PCs to be self-provisioned by end users. Microsoft Intune provides controls over settings and apps, and lets organizations require multifactor authentication. Cloud Configuration offers simplified PC provisioning, in cookie-cutter-like fashion, for organizations that don't need custom configurations (Microsoft added this capability to Microsoft Endpoint Manager for Windows 10 back in March ). Lastly, Microsoft touted Endpoint Analytics, a Microsoft Productivity Score solution that measures things like hardware performance for end users.
These tools are discussed in this "Prepare for Windows 11" Microsoft document. The document noted that organizations using Microsoft Windows Server Update Services and Microsoft Endpoint Manager will have to "sync to the new Windows 11 product category" to start managing Windows 11 devices.