Microsoft ‘Clarifies’ Windows 11 Requirements, Pulls PC Health Check App

Another day, another round of Windows 11 updates, clarifications, and additional confusions. Microsoft has issued a new blog post on which systems are and are not compatible with Windows 11. It explains some of the company’s specific thinking on security in more detail, but it also confuses the CPU situation further.

Specifically, Microsoft writes:

[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.  (Emphasis added)

At this point, Microsoft is talking out both sides of its mouth. It’s obvious that the company decided to launch its OS before it had finished deciding what the upgrade and fresh install requirements would be. Two days ago, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed that only 13 out of the 25 total Surface devices the company has launched would be upgradeable to Windows 11. There’s a specific cutoff between 7th Gen chips (which are not supported) and 8th Gen chips (which are).

The new blog post suggests that some 7th Gen CPUs and first-generation Ryzen CPUs will be supported, but the authors seem to have confused “Zen 2” and “second-generation Ryzen.” Second-generation Ryzen CPUs belong to the 2xxx product series and are built on the Zen+ core. There are Zen+ CPUs currently listed in Microsoft’s database of compatible AMD CPUs, so for now we’re going to assume that this blog post is in error and that the Windows Team meant Zen+.

One of the major points of confusion in all of this has been why a CPU or system fails when the PC Health Check app reports that a system or CPU cannot run Windows 11. Microsoft updated the app on Friday but has now acknowledged sufficiently huge problems with it to justify pulling it altogether. There’s a third-party variant that appears far more detailed, but the author acknowledges he’s just writing it based on what’s known — and what’s known about this situation is now so complex, we can’t even say if first-generation Ryzen or 7th Generation CPUs are on the upgrade list. The app currently can’t be trusted to tell you for certain which products are supported because Redmond may not have finished making those decisions yet.

According to Microsoft: “To meet the principle, all Windows 11 supported CPUs have an embedded TPM, support secure boot, and support VBS [Virtualization-Based Security] and specific VBS capabilities.” We know some systems were built without a TPM option the end-user can actually enable or disable, but support for Secure Boot has been mandatory since Windows 8. Some of the features it requires have been shipped in AMD and Intel CPUs since ~2009.

There are also low-level questions of driver and UEFI compatibility. Drivers for Windows 11 must be Hypervisor Code Integrity (HVCI)-compatible drivers, and not all existing drivers are compatible with the standard. Microsoft’s documentation notes that UEFI developers must implement UEFI v2.6 Memory Attribution Tables (MAT).

Right now, it isn’t even 100 percent clear if this is a CPU problem or a chipset problem. Some Microsoft executives have referred to lockouts as chipset-based:

The good news in all of this is that some Kaby Lake and Ryzen 1xxx owners may be able to upgrade after all. The bad news is that it’s obviously going to be some period of time before we have straight answers on the topic. Right now, different people at Microsoft are saying enough different things to make following this story confusing.

Microsoft can still fix this situation. The company needs to identify which technologies, specifically, render a CPU or system ineligible for upgrade. If some 7th Gen or Zen-based systems can still be eligible for Windows 11, it needs to provide a list of which features or capabilities need to be enabled, and probably an explanation for how to enable them or directions on where to find that information.

Second, the company needs to start being more transparent about its own internal testing process. This single sentence: “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,” along with a mention regarding support on Cascade Lake, Epyc, Xeon, and Threadripper, published last Thursday, would have dealt with an awful lot of end-user concerns before they had a chance to become concerns. The reason everyone ran out to buy a TPM 2.0 module is that people thought they were required.

There’s nothing wrong with Microsoft saying it’s still testing specific CPU families and there’s no harm in handing people a list of still-to-be-tested components. But don’t just give people a laundry list of features that systems running Windows 11 need to support when some of those standards have been shipping for over a decade. Every 7th Gen CPU appears to support VT-x with EPT, for example.

To put this differently: If most machines dating back to 2016 can run Windows 11, and Windows 10 is supported through 2025, the outcry from users will most likely be limited. A Sandy Bridge rig built in 2011 will be 14 years old in 2025. Outside of gaming, we’d expect the benefits of an upgrade to be quite robust at that point. It also matters if the lockouts mostly hit DIY users or if the OEM channel is also affected.

If the cutoff line isn’t even three full years ago (Coffee Lake shipped in H2 2018), then it plays very differently. Part of the problem here is that Microsoft hasn’t tried to seriously raise system specs since Windows Vista, and that didn’t go particularly well. It’s been nearly 14 years since anyone tried to sell PC users on a major system upgrade as part of buying a new OS. People are typically grudgingly willing to tolerate upgrade requirements if the new OS requires more horsepower and makes good use of it. Fewer people are willing to throw out perfectly good systems for amorphous security features, even when those features are beneficial.

If Microsoft had led by saying that it was still evaluating a whole list of specific hardware and that updates would be forthcoming, this would not have blown up into the confusing mess it has. The best way to solve the situation is to be transparent about which specific requirements block Windows 11 installation in the majority of cases and to either provide information on addressing those concerns or declare that systems in such configurations will not be supported. An update on whether it’s possible to install and use the OS in such an “unsupported” mode would also be very helpful.

And in Other Windows 11 News

Windows 11 Insider Preview builds are now available today. Microsoft notes: “We’ve set the bar for previewing in our Windows Insider Program to match the minimum system requirements for Windows 11, with the exception for TPM 2.0 and CPU family/model.” The company promises to take provided feedback into account if it changes its minimum system requirements in the future.

If you’re looking to upgrade to Windows 11 this year, you may be out of luck. Our colleagues at PCMag discuss a tweet from the Windows account indicating that while the OS will launch this year, it won’t be immediately available as an upgrade to Windows 10. Those upgrades will begin in 2022, through the first half of the year. Microsoft has previously made OS versions available to OEMs before putting them on general sale, so this is not unprecedented.

Finally, the current smart money is pointing towards an October launch for the new OS. That’s based on multiple screenshots of the OS showing the date 10/20, often set to 11:11 AM. There’s also a tweet visible in one shot from Steve Bathiche saying he “Can’t wait for October,” shown above.

So, the new updated guidance from Microsoft is this: Its minimum system requirements may still change. Certain 7th Gen and Ryzen 1xxx systems may be allowed to upgrade if they fulfill certain Microsoft principles. This has not yet been decided. We do not know if there will be a viable upgrade path forward for DIY builders or if the 7th Gen/Zen systems Microsoft has in mind were only sold by OEMs. We’ll continue to assume that Surface devices not otherwise named by Microsoft are ineligible for upgrade based on Microsoft’s statements to the press, but this could change as well.

There’s been no word on allowing any systems older than 7th Gen/Ryzen 1xxx to upgrade to Windows 11, even if minimum system requirements are relaxed. We also do not yet know if Microsoft’s lockouts and CPU requirements can be easily bypassed or if the company will throw up more fundamental roadblocks, like refusing to deliver Windows Updates if you have the wrong make/model of CPU or motherboard. This would not be unprecedented, though there were workarounds when this happened with Windows 7 and 8.1.

We’ll have to wait and see just how many older systems can qualify for Windows 11 under Microsoft’s principles. Hopefully, we’ll eventually be able to tell you which specific issue might block updates or installation on certain PCs and what can be done to ameliorate or avoid the problem.

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