How to Upgrade to Windows 11 (and How to Tell if You Can)

How to Upgrade to Windows 11 (and How to Tell if You Can)
Contributor: Zachariah Kelly and David Nield

One year on, Windows 11 has received a bunch of performance and feature upgrades, and it’s definitely worth upgrading to the operating system now.

However, for many PC users, and especially some custom PC users (like myself), upgrading isn’t as simple as it might seem. Unlike Windows 10, when upgrading from Windows 7, 8 or 8.1, it’s not as simple as clicking the notification in the taskbar and downloading the upgrade.

Additionally, some computers may not be compatible with Windows 11, while they were previously compatible with Windows 10 and earlier operating systems (and Microsoft has unfortunately been sending out upgrade notices to incompatible devices).

So, how might one upgrade to Windows 11? Here’s our handy guide on how to do it. Note that your experience may be different depending on your device. If you want to jump straight to the install part of this guide, click here.

Windows 11 system requirements

Windows 11 has steeper, more demanding system requirements than any other Windows OS. It’s perhaps more difficult than it should be, because Microsoft published a minimum spec, then tweaked it, then waived certain parts of it for the testing period, leaving us all thoroughly confused about which computers would be able to run the new operating system and which wouldn’t.

Broadly speaking, if your computer was purchased within the last five years or so, or was assembled by parts released in the last five years or so, then it’s a fairly safe bet that it’s Windows 11 compatible (unless, obviously, it’s a Mac). If you want to see if your specific computer can run Windows 11, download Microsoft’s PC health check app. It’s a quick tool that assesses your computer for compatibility with the new operating system, and is a great place to start.

It’s a good idea to use the above application, cause as we said earlier, Microsoft has been sending out upgrade notices for incompatible machines.

Right now, the list of system requirements includes a 1GHz or faster CPU (with two or more cores), 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.

Those specs are easy to fulfil and most computers will be compatible with them. What’s more difficult is the storage and motherboard requirements.

You’re going to need a version 2.0 Trusted Platform Module (TPM), which takes care of various security-related duties — TPMs are included on most modern motherboards, so you may already have one, even if it’s not enabled. If it’s not enabled, you’ll need to go into your BIOS and manually enable it (I had to do this on my custom PC, but not on my laptop). We provide more on how to do this in the next section.

You’ll also need to enable Secure Boot and have the booting hard drive set to GPT. We provide information on this in the sections after TPM.

Microsoft also says that you must be running Windows 10 (version 2004 or later) to upgrade, however, there’s nothing preventing Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 computers from upgrading, provided they have compatible hardware. The free upgrade, however, is exclusive to Windows 10 users.

Use the About screen to check your system specs. (Screenshot: Windows 10)
Use the About screen to check your system specs. (Screenshot: Windows 10)

If your desktop or laptop doesn’t meet the base qualifications, then Microsoft says “you may not be able to install Windows 11″ — although you can still try to install it if you have access to a licence or the free installation.

There are some additional feature-specific requirements beyond the basic specs, covering parts of the operating system like two-factor authentication (you’ll need a PIN, biometric entry method, or a smartphone for this). If you want to take advantage of the new DirectStorage system for games, you’ll need an NVMe SSD as one of your storage drives.

How to enable TPM 2.0 on your PC

This is the most difficult thing about the entire upgrade process and it varies widely from machine to machine. Most new machines should have it enabled, but some custom PCs might lack it (such as my own).

If you want to check if this feature is enabled, press Windows Key + R and type tpm.msc into the prompted menu.

You’ll either get a message indicating that ‘compatible TPM cannot be found’ (in which case, follow the guide below), or you’ll get a message confirming TPM is ready to use.

If it’s TPM 2.0, you’re good to go, otherwise, your motherboard may not be compatible with Windows 11.

To enable TPM 2.0, you’ll need to:

  • Restart or turn on your computer
  • Access your BIOS (by pressing DEL or whatever the prompted key is on startup)
  • If you’re having trouble accessing your BIOS, you can find specific information on how to by going to your motherboard manufacturer’s website or looking for a guide to your specific motherboard
  • In your BIOS, navigate to a section labelled ‘Advanced’, ‘Security’ or ‘Trusted computing’
  • The option to ‘Enable TPM’ may be worded differently, and could be listed under Security Device, Security Device Support, TPM State, AMD fTPM switch, AMD PSP fTPM, Intel PTT, or Intel Platform Trust Technology

Once you’ve enabled TPM 2.0, make sure you save your changed BIOS settings and exit the BIOS. Once you’ve done this, your computer should start to boot normally. If you also need to enable Secure Boot, that needs to be done in the BIOS as well (however you should make sure GPT is also enabled).

How to enable GPT on your hard drive

Windows 11 relies on a different hard drive partition style to previous versions of Windows and will not run on a booting hard drive without being sent to GPT (instead of MBR).

Most hard drives should be running GPT, but just in case yours isn’t, there’s a handy tool for overcoming this. You can also check if your hard drive is running GPT or MBR by accessing ‘Disk Management’ on your PC (‘Create and Format Hard Disk Partitions’ in Control Panel).

Provided that you’ve kept Windows 10 up to date, you’ll just need to do the following steps:

  • Open Settings > Windows Update > Recovery > Restart Now (under advanced startup)
  • Click Troubleshoot > Advanced Options > Command Prompt
  • Now that Command Prompt is open, type mbr2gpt /valdiate to make sure your drive can be converted
  • Now type mb2gpt /convert
  • This will take a few moments, but after this is done, enable Secure Boot in your BIOS using the above guide

How to enable Secure Boot on your PC

Note that Secure Boot requires GPT to be enabled. The section below details how you can enable this.

Access the BIOS by following these steps:

  • Restart or turn on your computer
  • Access your BIOS (by pressing DEL or whatever the prompted key is on startup)
  • If you’re having trouble accessing your BIOS, you can find specific information on how to by going to your motherboard’s manufacturer’s website or looking for a guide to your specific motherboard
  • In your BIOS, navigate to a menu called ‘boot mode’ or  ‘CSM mode’
  • Click on this setting and enable UEFI/BIOS

Once you’ve done this, make sure you save your settings and exit the BIOS. Once you’ve done this, your computer should start to boot normally.

Check your files and backups

When you go through the Windows 11 upgrade process, all of your applications, files, and folders should still be intact when you finish. But just in case, back up your important files.

If you’ve been doing your daily computing without the safety net of backups in place, now’s the time to change that. Use the File History tool that comes as part of Windows: From Settings go to Update & Security, then Backup, then click the Add a drive option to choose where you want to save copies of your files.

It's upgrade time: Do you know where your Dropbox files are? (Screenshot: Dropbox)
It’s upgrade time: Do you know where your Dropbox files are? (Screenshot: Dropbox)

Many people now turn to cloud storage services to keep important files backed up on the web and synced to multiple devices at once. Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive (the obvious choice for Windows, as it’s built right in) are all good options. You’ll need to pay a monthly subscription fee to store a serious number of files, but it’s usually good value. The Google Drive desktop software has just been updated to make it easier to use as a backup solution for Windows.

Even if all your key files are stored on the web, we’d recommend keeping a local copy on an external hard drive as well and updating it once a week or so. Not only does it give you another option if something disastrous should happen to your cloud locker (or your internet connection), it’s typically much quicker to restore files from a local drive than download terabytes of data over your broadband connection.

Check your installed software

It’s worth noting that not all of the features and native tools of Windows 10 are going to make it to Windows 11 — if there’s something in this list that you’ve come to love and rely on, then you might want to hold off on upgrading to the next operating system until you’ve found a suitable replacement or workaround.

When it comes to checking everything currently installed on your system, just click the Apps entry on the main Windows Settings pane to see a list. You can sort it based on file size and date of installation, so if there are any programs you’re not really using anymore, you might want to get rid of them, especially if they’re taking up a lot of room — the more space you’ve got to install Windows 11, the better.

Check the apps you've got installed on Windows 10. (Screenshot: Windows 10)
Check the apps you’ve got installed on Windows 10. (Screenshot: Windows 10)

As with your files, installing Windows 11 shouldn’t interfere with your applications, but it’s best to prepare for the worst anyway. Make sure that you know how to re-download and reinstall all of your most important software packages (double-check on licence codes, download locations, and so on), just in case you need to start again from scratch — and make sure all your projects, saved games, and the like are backed up somewhere.

We haven’t heard of any Windows 10 program that’s going to refuse to run on Windows 11, but there’s always a chance with particularly old software. If you regularly rely on a program that hasn’t been updated in a few years, you might want to contact the developer to make sure it’ll work with the new operating system — and perhaps hold off on installing Windows 11 until you’ve confirmed.

How to upgrade to Windows 11

To get started:

  • On your PC, open Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update
  • Check for updates
  • If the Windows 11 upgrade is available, the option to download and install will appear before your eyes (go on, click it)
  • Follow the prompts to configure your new settings.

If your machine isn’t ready and you don’t want to wait:

  • Head over to the Windows 11 software download page
  • Using the Windows 11 Installation Assistant, click Download Now and follow the instructions
  • You can also create a bootable USB or DVD by selecting Create Windows 11 Installation Media
  • And after following the directions, you should have successfully installed Windows 11.

Do I have to upgrade to Windows 11?

There’s no real pressure to install Windows 11. Microsoft says it will support Windows 10 Home and 10 Pro until at least October 14, 2025, which gives you three more years to figure out your upgrade plan. And even then, we wouldn’t be surprised if Microsoft extends the support timeline for Windows 10, similar to what Microsoft did for Windows 7.

However, you’ll miss out on key software and performance upgrades that are exclusive to Windows 11, such as the 22H2 update, which added a whole bunch of accessibility, gaming and productivity features (my favourite is the ability to snap layouts for all of your open apps).

Additionally, it has largely become your only option. Windows 10 keys are no longer available through Microsoft, in favour of the new operating system.

Anyway, happy upgrading. Hopefully this guide has made the process easier for you.

This article has been updated since it was first published.

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