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Windows 11 is available now, but not everyone will have an easy time upgrading

The upgrade requirements are more stringent than in previous releases

Windows 11 got a significant facelift — among other things. (Microsoft)

Windows 11 is here, and if you own a PC, you might be wondering whether it’s time to upgrade your operating system. After all, you are likely to get this new software free.

Microsoft first revealed its new operating system in June, its first major software upgrade in six years. With the new update, the company has given its old-faithful operating system a major facelift, and tried to make it more relevant to a post-pandemic world where we work and communicate differently.

With all that said, it’s no surprise that Microsoft thinks you should start using Windows 11. But should you do it right now?

Windows 11 will take some time getting used to — it’s that different from the previous OS versions you may have used. And even though the new version is available, not all of the 1.3 billion PCs in the world running Windows 10 will be able to make the upgrade.

Before you decide to take the plunge with Windows 11 on your computer, here are a few things you should know.

What can Windows 11 do?

Windows 11 is jam-packed with new features and design tweaks, and coming to grips with all of them will take some time and effort. You can check out the full list of changes Microsoft made on the company’s website, but some new features have garnered more attention than others.

The most notable — and possibly the most divisive — change is the way Windows 11′s desktop looks. After years of looking for the Start button in the lower-left corner of your monitor, you’ll now see it centered along the bottom of the screen. (Don’t worry: You can move it back if you really want to.) And what used to be the Start menu looks pretty different, too; the full list of options and programs installed on your computer is gone, replaced by a grid of recently used apps and documents.

Windows 11 also includes tools to help you more easily view multiple apps running at the same time — a big deal if you use large monitors — and it makes working with multiple screens easier, too. If you (or your company) relies on Microsoft Teams for chats or conference calls, you won’t need to worry about installing it either, since it’s built into Windows 11. Meanwhile, you can access a new panel of “widgets” that offer quick views of the weather, your calendar and more, and eventually, you’ll even be able to find popular Android apps from inside the Microsoft store. (The company hasn’t confirmed when that feature will go live, though.)

How much does it cost?

If your computer is compatible with Windows 11 — more on that a little later — and it’s running Windows 10, you’ll be able to upgrade free. That said, people who build their own computers will presumably have to purchase a stand-alone license for Windows 11 before they can install it on their shiny new machines. (Too bad Microsoft hasn’t said how much those licenses will cost yet.)

Help Desk: Tell us what is working with Windows 11 and what isn't working for you

Do I need to upgrade now?

Microsoft confirmed in June that it would continue to support Windows 10 until Oct. 14, 2025, which should give you plenty of time to make your decision.

Windows 11 is a pretty jam-packed update, and if Microsoft’s new design or new features speak to you, it might be worth taking the plunge. But if you’re perfectly fine with how Windows 10 works for you, there’s no big rush to install this new software.

That’s especially true as the first wave of Windows 11 reviews were quick to point out some of the new software’s shortcomings. The new Start menu may not be as immediately helpful to people used to the old way of doing things. And, if you’re using the “Home” version of Windows 10 and attempt to upgrade, you’ll wind up installing Windows 11 Home. What’s the problem with that? Well, you can’t proceed with the installation unless you’re connected to the Internet and have a Microsoft account — lots of people already have one, but this might not be a great change if you don’t want yet another account to deal with.

How can I tell if my computer can run it?

Not every computer out there running on Windows 10 will be able to run Windows 11. The best way to tell whether your computer is ready for Windows 11 is to run Microsoft’s PC Health Check tool. (The company originally pulled it because it often told people they couldn’t upgrade without explaining why more fully, but it’s back.) You can download it here or here if you’re using a computer that runs Windows 10 S.

If your PC has what it takes to run Windows 11, the Health Check tool will offer the same cheerful message you see above. But if it fails the Health Check, it’s probably because of the same shortcomings many of Microsoft’s beta testers ran into over the past few months.

Windows 11 is meant to run on Intel’s 8th-generation processors onward and Advanced Micro Devices’s Ryzen 2000 processors or newer. If none of those ring a bell, here’s another way to think about it: If you bought your computer before the middle of 2017 or so, you might not be able to upgrade easily.

Microsoft has said it will test Windows 11 on older processors to see if it runs well enough to support Windows 11, but for now, you can find the full list of supported Intel processors here and AMD processors here.

Here’s how to see what kind of processor your computer has:

  • Click in the Windows 10 search bar, type “Control Panel,” and click on the result.
  • Click on “System and Security.”
  • Click on “System.”

There’s also a tiny component inside your computer that — among other things — helps secure your files if you use the Windows encryption feature. It’s called the TPM, or Trusted Protection Module. This is important because if your computer doesn’t have one, upgrading to Windows 11 might not be possible.

And here’s where things get even trickier. Microsoft points out in one of its support pages that “most PCs that have shipped in the last 5 years” have the proper TPM feature — it’s just that sometimes, it’s not turned on by default. If you’re not usually one to poke around in your PC’s settings, your best bet is to see if the manufacturer has specific instructions available. But if you’re feeling brave, Microsoft has instructions for enabling the TPM feature here.

How do I upgrade?

If you’ve managed to make it through that rigmarole and your PC ticks all the required boxes, you can finally get started upgrading to Windows 11. Before you do anything else, though, make sure to back up all your important files — documents, photos, videos and everything else you’d hate to lose — onto an external drive. (We like SanDisk’s portable SSDs but any spacious external drive will do) and make sure you have copies of everything you need saved onto it, just in case.

Then, just open Windows Update on your computer (Settings -> Update & Security -> Windows Update) and wait until it tells you Windows 11 is available. If your PC passes muster according to the PC Health Check app, you’ll eventually be prompted to download and install the new software. From there, you just have to follow the instructions. If, for whatever reason, that doesn’t work, or if you’d rather not wait, you can also try downloading and running Microsoft’s Installation Assistant. Either way, you should soon be on your way to trying out what Windows 11 has to offer.

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