How to Turn Windows 10 Into Windows 11 When You Can’t Actually Update

How to Turn Windows 10 Into Windows 11 When You Can’t Actually Update

Many PCs don’t meet Windows 11’s stringent hardware requirements. And while you could try installing the OS on unsupported hardware, there’s another option: Make Windows 10 more like Windows 11. All it takes is a few free apps, a custom desktop theme, and enabling a select of enhanced security options to do the trick.

Of course, it won’t be a perfect recreation of Windows 11. Your PC will still run Windows 10, and many of Windows 11’s new features and settings just can’t be recreated, but you can get pretty close — especially when it comes to matching Windows 11’s look.

Step 1: Create a restore point

Before getting started, make a new system restore point. Don’t skip this step!

We’ll be changing several important settings, so having a recent restore point ensures you can safely revert back to your current configuration with all your files intact in case something goes wrong. It’ll also help revert your changes if you end up not liking the custom desktop look later on.

Screenshot: Brendan Hesse
  1. Search for “Restore” using the Windows task bar.
  2. Select “Create a Restore Point” from the search results to open the System Properties menu.
  3. In the System Protection tab, select your hard drive and make sure Protection is set to “On.” If it’s off, click “Configure” then toggle “Turn on system protection.”
  4. With system protection turned on, highlight the drive from the list, then select “Create.”
  5. Add a description for the new restore point, then click “Create.”
  6. Wait for the backup process to finish.

If you end up needing to use the restore, go back to the System Properties menu using the steps above, then click “System Restore” and follow the on-screen instructions.

Step 2: Make Windows 10 look like Windows 11

Next, we’ll make Windows 10 look more like Windows 11 — including the controversial new taskbar and start menu, the rounded folder and taskbar corners, new icons and backgrounds, and more.

To do this, you’ll need to install a custom, third-party desktop theme and icon set based on Windows 11, which takes a lot more work than simply installing the theme from the Microsoft Store. If you’d rather just give Windows 11 a quick, temporary test drive, there’s a way to see the OS’s new interface first-hand without installing anything. That said, if you want a fuller experience (and can’t install the beta) a custom theme is your best option.

Before we can apply the custom theme, however, you need to install several third-party apps the theme requires to run.

There’s a lot to install, but don’t feel too overwhelmed; full installation instructions for each app or file are available on each of the download pages listed below, and all of these apps are open-source and/or certified safe to use.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • SecureUXTheme: This app allows you to install third-party Windows 10 themes without affecting your system files.
  • OldNewExplorer: Changes the look and feel of the Windows explorer menus.
  • StartisBack ($US4 ($6); free trial available): Adds a better start menu based on Windows 7’s. The full version is a $US4 ($6) on-time fee, but the trial version can be used indefinitely (albeit with limited features). You only need the free trial to use the custom Windows 11 theme.
  • Stardock Curtain mod: Rounds out folder windows on Windows 10, like they are on Windows 11.
  • RoundedTB mod on the Windows Store: Adds rounded edges to your taskbar.

Once the prerequisite apps are installed on your PC, it’s time to make it look like it’s running Windows 11. For this, we’ll be using niivu’s Windows 11 for Windows 10 theme (it just requires a free DeviantArt account). Niivu’s installation instructions are available here, as well as tips on using custom desktops, but here’s the simplified version:

  1. First, we need to figure out which version of Windows you’re on. Press Windows key + R.
  2. Type “winver” then press enter.
  3. Make note of the version number (it should be between 1903 or 21H1), then close the window.
  4. Download niivu’s theme from the link above.
  5. Unzip the download file.
  6. In the unzipped folder, open the folder that matches your Windows version.
  7. Open another Windows Explorer window and go to This PC > [drive] > Windows > Resources > Themes and copy over the downloaded files.
  8. Once the files are in the correct folders, right-click on your desktop.
  9. Select “Personalise.”
  10. Under the “Themes” section, select the Windows 11 theme from the list. It should immediately apply to your desktop.

By this point, your Windows 10 desktop should look pretty close to the default Windows 11 theme, but there are a few optional tweaks you can make to get it even closer:

Again, these are optional mods, but they’ll make Windows 10 look and act even more like Windows 11.

Step 3: Upgrade your Windows 10 security option to match Windows 11’s (sort of)

The upshot of Windows 11’s strict hardware requirements is that it’s a much more secure operating system — at least on paper. The combo TPM (Trusted Platform Module) and SecureBoot requirements should help keep Windows 11 devices safe from malware, ransomware, and remote take-overs.

Now, some Windows 10 PCs already have a TPM and support SecureBoot. Of course, that means it can probably run Windows 11, but still, it’s worth checking to see if your PC can use these features.

Enabling your TPM or SecureBoot will add extra security to your PC at the hardware level, but Windows 10 will often disable them by default. We’ve already covered how to check for and enable your PC’s TPM (if you have one), so let’s talk about SecureBoot — besides, it’s more likely your PC will support this feature.

How to enable SecureBoot

SecureBoot prevents apps from installing if the code is not properly verified, and will prevent processes from taking over your device during start up, so it’s definitely a worthwhile feature if it’s available to you.

Here’s how to check:

  1. Search for “System information” in the Task Bar, then select it from the search results.
  2. In the System Information window, scroll through and check that BIOS Mode is set to “UEFI” and Secure Boot is set to “On.”
  3. If Secure Boot is set to “Off,” then it’s disabled. If it says “Unsupported,” well, it’s not available for your PC, or your BIOS Mode is set to “BIOS.”
Screenshot: Brendan Hesse

In either case, it’s possible to enable UEFI and SecureBoot from your startup BIOS menu. Doing so will differ based on your motherboard and its firmware, but a quick Google search should point you in the right direction.

However, a word of caution: Only change your PC’s BIOS settings if you’re absolutely certain you know what you’re doing. And even if you do, it’s always possible changing to UEFI or enabling SecureBoot could cause major issues. Of course, if it works, you won’t run into any issues. But if it doesn’t, you’ll need to resort to some drastic measures to reset your motherboard and regain access to your PC. This includes popping open your PC and temporarily removing the motherboard’s battery. And if you screw this up, you’ll end up with an unusable PC. Trust me. I learned it the hard way while researching this guide.

Other security features you should turn on

Enabling SecureBoot and your PC’s TPM (if you have one) will get you closest to Windows 11’s baseline security features, but there’s a lot more you can do to safeguard your Windows 10 PC and all the apps and files on it. Here’s a quick checklist:

As I’ve said a few times already, you can’t get Windows 10 to mimic Windows 11 in every way. But if you enable these extra security layers and take the time to apply the custom themes and UI mods, it’d be easy to fool yourself into thinking it’s the real thing.

Faking Windows 11 is nice option for those of us who can’t upgrade just yet — but don’t feel left out. Windows 11 is sure to go through plenty of growing pains in the months and even years following its October 5 release date. Hopefully by the time users can upgrade, it’ll be a much more enticing option. In the meantime, Microsoft plans to support Windows 10 until October 2025, so it’ll be a viable option for several more years.