Here’s Your Windows 11 Upgrade Guide

Here’s Your Windows 11 Upgrade Guide
Windows 11 is on the way. (Image: Microsoft)

Windows 11 is finally here, and while you don’t need to upgrade, you can. So if you’re ready, let’s get you set up for when Microsoft grants you access to its new OS.

This article was first published on August 27. It has since been updated with current information.

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 four 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.

But, if you’re ready for the change, let’s start with checking on your PC to make sure there’s a smooth and stress-free transition.

Check the System Requirements

Checking the system requirements for Windows 11 is 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.

Right now, the list of system requirements includes a 1GHz or faster CPU, 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage. You’re also 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.

You also must be running Windows 10 (version 2004 or later) to upgrade.

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 at the moment it’s not clear whether the company will let you try anyway. The specs list is actually relatively basic, and if your machine doesn’t meet the standards, then we might suggest upgrading your PC.

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.

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. That’s what should happen… and that’s what will happen, for the majority of users. But you should always have a backup of your most important files and folders somewhere, whether or not you’re upgrading to a new operating system.

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 any more, 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.

OK, Let’s Go

Microsoft is gradually rolling out Windows 11, so the upgrade won’t be offered all at once to everyone. We’re expecting full rollout to be done by mid-2022.

If you’re one of the lucky few:

  • 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‘; you can also download a disk image (if you don’t know what to do here, take that as your sign to not touch a thing)
  • And after following the directions, you should have successfully installed Windows 11.