Windows 11: Should you upgrade?

Windows 11 has given a new touch to Microsoft’s operating system. There’s an all-new look for the desktop, a major UI overhaul, and major changes to the core Microsoft operating system apps and services we rely on for PC gaming. More importantly, Microsoft says Windows 11 is made for gamers.

 And this was all supposed to happen on October 5, 2021. Except, frustratingly, there are a lot of  promised features and revamped apps that aren’t included in the launch day version. The new Windows Store is there and okay, although we’re still waiting for the Android apps to make their intended appearance, and AutoHDR is there, but no DirectStorage, and the embellished paint app is missing too.

 Prior to the official announcement, however,  the future of the Windows operating system was unclear. The general expectation was that the changes to the Windows UI, codenamed Sun Valley, would just happen in a new update to Windows 10. And in many ways, that’s what Windows 11 is, another update to Windows 10, although the Microsoft’s marketing department can support it.

Windows 11: Release Date

Windows 11 was made available for new machines on October 5, 2021, and the Windows 11 ISO download went live at the same time, so anyone can update their existing machine without waiting for a prompt, or do a clean install themselves.

Updates for existing Windows 10 users are expected to roll out from now on, and Microsoft hopes to have Windows 11 available to all compatible machines by mid-2022.
Microsoft has confirmed that Windows 11 will be rolled out October 5, 2021. This includes a blog post by Panos Panay, the Windows product manager, who said, “Windows 11 will be available through an update. Tier free for qualifying Windows 10 PCs and on new PCs starting this holiday.”


We were supposed to also see a major update to Windows 10 appear, although Microsoft will likely focus on its new operating system. Windows 10 will still receive updates until 2025, so there’s still a lot of life in the old dog.


This release date for Windows 11 is usually for new machines, followed by the update for existing Windows 10 users. So don’t be surprised if the Switch still hasn’t been offered to you, it’s probably a good thing, because that should mean that all bugs and issues are (mostly) resolved by the time you can upgrade.


If you can upgrade, that is, assuming you have a TPM 2.0 compliant machine.


If you can’t wait to see what it is, you can now install Windows 11 ISO. That said, we don’t recommend installing it on your primary machine as it’s still early in the release schedule and chances are it won’t run flawlessly.

What’s New

New UI

windows 11 ui
Image Credit: Microsoft

The most obvious changes in Windows 11 relate to the user interface (UI). Microsoft has always had a tendency to play with its user interface and for Windows 11 it didn’t hesitate for a moment. There is a new look for the existing windows, and for some overlapping panels, the effect of frosted glass has been revisited. The home button has moved, widgets are making a comeback, and the Overall Ethics is a move to a softer, more expansive theme.

Windows no longer has the rectangular corners we are used to, but is rounded. It’s a subtle change, but it feels different, at least when windows aren’t full screen.


The other big change is moving the taskbar to the center of the screen, instead of being stuck in the lower left corner. Don’t worry, you can get it working again in Windows 10 with just a push of a button on the taskbar settings screen.


The way you organize your windows on the screen has also received a long-awaited boost. Hovering your mouse over the magnify icon will bring up a drop-down palette that allows you to select how you want to arrange the different windows. You have some control over such things in Windows 10, but with simple support for windows that take up a third of the screen or quarters, the layout can look a lot more polished. This is especially useful if you’re using a large 4K screen and want to run multiple apps at once.


One cosmetic change reportedly coming to Windows 11 is the end of the blue screen of death, or BSOD if you prefer. But don’t worry, this BSOD acronym will still be preserved (at least in English), as it goes to the Black Screen of Death, which sounds a lot more metal.

Redesigned Microsoft Store

windows 11 store
Image Credit: Microsoft

Windows 11 offers a new version of the Microsoft Store, with a new interface and a wider selection of applications. This new store should have a more user-friendly and better organized digital storefront. It should also be faster.

“We built for speed again,” Panos Panay said when announcing Windows 11. So far, our experience is pretty much the same as the rest of Windows 11. It’s good. But it’s also still largely filled with apps that you’d probably download straight from your browser, if not touch at all. But that should change with future updates.


The new look of the Microsoft Store is also coming to Windows 10.


One of the most surprising announcements about the Microsoft Store, besides the fact that Microsoft is not finished yet, is that you can run Android applications on your Windows PC.

Microsoft has sided with Amazon by bringing its specific brand of apps to the Microsoft Store, but you can download apk files from elsewhere. This comes from the work Intel has done with its Bridge technology, but don’t worry, it works on AMD processors too.
The new store has also started offering apps for other storefronts, such as Epic and Amazon.

Gaming on Windows 11

windows 11 gaming
Image Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft boldly claims with Windows 11 that it will be the “best Windows ever for PC gaming”. Considering we’ve all been using Windows for PC gaming for… well, forever, I think that’s a sign that Microsoft is taking gaming seriously, which it took for granted in the past.

They claims Windows 11 is the fastest option for gamers, with two technologies exclusive to the latest OS: Auto HDR and DirectStorage.
Windows 11 also sees better integration of the Xbox app into Windows.

AutoHDR gives games a visual overhaul

windows 11 autohdr

Auto HDR has been featured in Insider Preview builds of Windows 10 for a few months now, and before that it was a technology Microsoft used on the Xbox Series X/S. It doesn’t work with all games, although Microsoft says every DirectX 11 game should benefit from it.


Obviously you need an HDR-compatible screen to get the most out of it, but the results can make a big difference. Not so much as games encoded for HDR in the first place, but it could potentially breathe new life into some games that are no longer actively developing.


Microsoft showcased the technology at the Windows 11 announcement event using Skyrim, which certainly looked a bit livelier, though it lost some of its low-key charm in the process. I have a feeling that purists are going to avoid this option, while anyone looking to show off their HDR display will take care of it.

DirectStorage

direct storage

The decision to make DirectStorage exclusive to Windows 11 has been a bit controversial, as it’s a technology that has long been expected to make the most of the NVMe SSDs that many of us have in our machines.

Fortunately, it appears that this suggestion is incorrect, as a recent preview from developer DirectX will also bring the new functionality to modern versions of Windows 10.


It’s already been shown that you don’t need the fastest PCIe 4.0 SSDs to run Enjoy the benefits of DirectStorage, as it works with PCIe 3.0 SSDs, but we’ll have to see how it all plays out.


The promise with DirectStorage is that it will make game load levels and textures much faster, potentially allowing game developers to create games in a completely different way. It will also reduce CPU load and possibly improve performance slightly. Though the impact of this in today’s gaming PCs can be quite negligible.


Streaming environments more efficiently sounds like a great idea, but how are game developers going to enable the completely different types of players that gamers have in their machines? I mean, some PC gamers still run on hard drives.


The fact that this is happening on the Xbox Series X/S could work in its favor here and give the developers a chance to say, look, you need an NVMe SSD to play this game. We are not starting to see games that make the most of DirectStorage, and with PCs not being supported until Windows 11 releases at the end of the year, a lot could change before the first games that support the technology are revealed

Windows 11: System Requirements

requirements

The basic system requirements for Windows 11 are not much different from what Windows 10 requires, at least when it comes to CPU, RAM and graphics card. However, a Trusted Platform 2.0 module is currently included, which may cause some upgrade plans to fail.

The full specifications are:

  • Processor: 1 GHz or faster with 2 or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or System on a Chip (SoC)
  • Memory: 4 GB RAM
  • Storage: 64 GB or larger storage device
  • System firmware: UEFI, Secure Boot capable
  • TPM: Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 2.0
  • Graphics card: DirectX 12 compatible graphics / WDDM 2.x
  • Display: >9-inch with HD Resolution (720p)
  • Internet connection: Microsoft account and internet connectivity required for setup for Windows 11 Home

You’ll notice from these requirements that Windows 11 isn’t limited to x86 processors, and we’ve installed Insider Preview on some interesting hardware before. Not-so-humble-anymore Raspberry Pi 4.0 can run Windows 11, which isn’t bad for a system that can be had for just $55. There are also reports of powerful smartphones handling the exploit.


The problem for some, though, is what a “compatible” processor is for Microsoft. To pass this test you need a relatively modern processor, but it is not always sufficient. AMD Zen processors and older AMD processors make no cut, as do most 7th gen Intel chips.

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