Bottom line: Windows 11 brings several impressive changes, but it also shares a lot in common with Windows 10. After applying a fresh coat of paint, Microsoft seems to be encouraging users to upgrade their hardware to take advantage of these optimizations, and there's no explanation as to why it can't backport most of them to Windows 10.
Next month, Microsoft will start rolling out Windows 11 to people with supported PCs. Those looking to upgrade their aging devices will be able to choose from several new models from the company's many OEM partners.
As we approach the release date, it's worth looking at what Windows 11 brings to the table. As our readers know, there's been a lot of controversy around the system requirements for the new operating system, which are admittedly stricter than any previous version of Windows. Microsoft just posted a video discussing this at length.
Microsoft's reasons are not entirely clear, but we know the company insists on TPM 2.0 support and relatively new CPUs from AMD and Intel. Still, the Redmond company won't stop you from installing Windows 11 on an unsupported PC should you wish to do so—keep in mind that you won't receive any OS updates if you do.
The deep integration of Microsoft Teams in Windows 11, along with the new security requirements, indicates the company is simply adapting its operating system to the post-pandemic, zero-trust world. Many companies feel like they've had to trade security to continue business operations with their employees mainly working from home, so this is good news for them.
At the same time, the TPM 2.0 requirement is a new step for anti-cheat systems, so gamers who enjoy online multiplayer games can hope for fewer cheaters in their lobbies as more developers take the example of Riot Games.
Windows 11 may look like Windows 10 with a redesigned UI on the surface, but VP of Enterprise Management Steve Dispensa says there are plenty of changes under the hood that will make Windows 11 feel faster in actual use. For instance, how the operating system prioritizes apps and processes has changed to favor apps running in the foreground and will carry forward to situations where you launch additional apps.
That means that even when your PC is under heavy load, you can still launch any other app with no lag as you would if the system were idle. As demonstrated in the video, the CPU load stays the same, which can save you a lot of time, not to mention your mental sanity.
The same principle applies across the Windows UI and the Microsoft Edge browser, but one can only hope that Microsoft does the right thing and lets you easily switch to a different browser. Saving resources such as CPU cycles and reducing RAM usage by 30 percent with sleeping tabs sounds cool, but it's not a must-have for people who prefer Chrome or Firefox and are okay with their resource usage.
Another area where Windows 11 is improved is that it offers an optimized instant-on experience as your device resumes from sleep, just like your phone is always one unlock away from being ready to use. Microsoft says it has changed the way its new operating system talks to the hardware in your system, and now it will also remember the priority states so that the resume process feels faster. As a result, the wake-from-sleep time has been reduced by 25 percent, while Windows Hello authentication is 30 percent faster.
Microsoft reduced the overall disk footprint of Windows 11 thanks to the "expanded use of compression technologies," but it has not explained that in more detail. Instead, we are told that inbox apps and components that aren't needed are simply a stub until you open them, at which point they get downloaded on your system. It will probably save some space here and there, but this raises the question of why can't Microsoft do the same with the Office suite.
Circling back to the hardware requirements, Dispensa explained that having an Intel 8th generation and AMD Ryzen 2000 series CPU or newer is motivated by performance to some degree. However, the move to a single 64-bit architecture and UEFI-based firmware and Secure Boot is Microsoft's way of shaking off risks related to legacy 32-bit systems equipped with BIOS firmware.
This doesn't explain why you can't use older CPUs, but Microsoft will supposedly have more on that in the coming weeks. For now, the company wants us to believe that systems that don't meet the minimum system requirements of Windows 11 have 52 percent more kernel mode crashes according to internal tests, while those that do meet them have a 99.8 percent "crash-free experience."
If these numbers look a little odd, it's because they don't entirely support Microsoft's rationale. If a PC that meets the minimum requirements is virtually crash-free, how much worse can a slightly older one be?
Moving on to compatibility and servicing, the company says apps that work on Windows 10 will work the same on Windows 11—no surprises there. However, it doesn't say why all the other optimizations are baked into Windows 11 but can't be backported to Windows 10. Features like DirectStorage for gaming are coming to the users who can't or don't want to upgrade to Windows 11. So, Microsoft is essentially abandoning the 1.3 billion Windows 10 users that don't want to stay on the bleeding edge.
The servicing model will be one major feature update per year, which is neither good nor bad. Most people don't care about these, and the same goes for many companies who use Windows across their infrastructure. Home and Pro editions of Windows 11 will get two years of support, while Enterprise and Education editions will get three years of support, so you can at least wait a year or two before needing to update.
Perhaps the biggest insult to Windows 10 users is that Microsoft is introducing changes to the update engine in Windows 11—namely delta updates—that could have also been backported to Windows 10. Update sizes will be reduced by up to 40 percent, but Windows 10 users won't be getting that.
Overall, Windows 11 should be an exciting release. Still, Microsoft's strict minimum requirements make it look as if the company and its OEM partners are trying to force users to upgrade to newer hardware and fan the flame of the PC market.