Upgrading your PC’s hardware for Windows 11

Microsoft’s stringent hardware requirements for Windows 11 have left many wondering if they can — or should — upgrade their current PCs to support the upcoming OS.

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I’m both a cheap geek and a realistic one. There are some hardware upgrades that I will gladly do — upgrades such as ensuring that all hard drives in any computer I have are SSDs rather than IDE hard drives. Especially with Windows 10, it’s a no-brainer: an SSD makes any wheezy computer snappier.

I’ve even upgraded a server to include a TPM module. Typically the hard part is finding the right part that you need and then finding a picture (or ideally a video) showing exactly where the TPM module is plugged into the motherboard.

But upgrading a processor?  That’s where I draw the line. I have slathered on too much CPU thermal paste to feel comfortable in taking an existing processor out of a computer and upgrading it.

So why am I worrying about upgrading hardware? Because of the recommended hardware mandated with the upcoming Windows 11 rollout near the end of the year — requirements that include a 64-bit processor with 2+ cores and a speed of at least 1GHz, as well as a Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 2.0. (Find out how to use the Windows 11 requirements checker.)

To be clear, Windows 10 will be supported with updates until 2025, so there is no need to panic now. Rather, it’s a time to determine which computers can be updated to Windows 11 when it comes out at the end of the year and which ones should be left at Windows 10.

Upgrading to TPM 2.0

But let’s start with the basics. You may need to do some research on your computer or motherboard to see if it shipped with a TPM chip or can support it. Start by clicking in the Windows search box and typing in tpm.msc. If you have a TPM chip on the motherboard and it’s enabled in the bios, then the resulting screen will show you if you have TPM 1.2 or 2.0. Updating your computer to support TPM 2 may be only a boot away, or it may be more complicated.

But first you have to ask yourself if you’ve encrypted your hard drive with a third-party encryption tool or with BitLocker. If you have, you’ll have to unencrypt the hard drive and re-encrypt it after the firmware upgrading process. This may take time. Going by my experience with unencrypting a BitLockered drive, be prepared to start it overnight and wait until the process has fully completed.

On my Lenovo ThinkPad laptop, I was able to easily flip from TPM 1.2 to 2.0 by booting into the bios, finding the section in the bios settings — usually in security — and then changing the setting from TPM 1.2 to 2.0. A sample video on the process can be found on YouTube. For my HP desktop at the office, the process was a bit more complicated, as I had to find the exact firmware update to upgrade the computer from TPM 1.2 to 2.0. I originally attempted to use HP’s TPM Configuration Utility but found a more exact match for my motherboard by reading this HP support document. For Dell, you can follow the company’s documentation or YouTube video. If it’s been done successfully, your TPM module will now indicate that you’ve upgraded from 1.2 to 2.0.

Upgrading the processor

But now you will find that the real block in running Windows 11 successfully is not the TPM chip — even though that is important — but the processor. Unless you already have an Intel Generation 8 (or equivalent in the AMD family) or unless Microsoft backs down on its processor requirements, you won’t be able to run Windows 11.

Researching my computers and which Intel chipset they run on made me realize that some of my Core i5-based PCs are older than I had remembered. While I was a bit concerned that so many computers I control won’t be able to upgrade to Windows 11 with their current processors, it was a useful wakeup call to the fact that I have a lot of older equipment in my fleet.

While you can upgrade a processor after researching which ones your existing motherboard can support, the ease of doing so will depend on the kind of computer you have. I’ve found that if I’ve built a computer from scratch, buying the motherboard, the graphics card, the processor, and the case separately, I can often find a newer processor that the motherboard will support, or I can opt to upgrade the motherboard as well. In the good old days that usually meant a trip to Fry’s Electronics, but those days are over now that Fry’s has gone out of business. Nowadays upgrading is a bit harder, especially in cases where I’ve purchased refurbished business desktop machines rather than starting from scratch.

The only computer I have that will support Windows 11 is my recently purchased Surface Pro 7. But whenever I purchase Surface devices these days, I don’t purchase them up front. Instead I sign up for the Surface All Access for Business plan that allows me to purchase them over time for 0% interest, and then when I get near the end of the term, I can turn in the device and get a newer one. Because Surface devices are extremely hard to open and service (I never have managed to pry open the Surface RT from years ago that had a battery die and was never able to be charged up again), I look to ways that allow me to swap them out for new equipment after several years. While this program is set up for businesses only, other computer vendors may provide similar offerings for lightweight laptops that cannot be easily upgraded.

Should you bother?

Of course, you’ll probably ask me if you really need to upgrade to Windows 11. If you think your computer has four more years of good, solid life in it, then the answer is no. Windows 10 will be fully supported for the next four years, and knowing Microsoft, if enough of us are still running Windows 10 at the end of these four years (we will, trust me), then the company will come up with some sort of extended patching program.

Bottom line: evaluate your computers. See which ones can make the cut for Windows 11, and those that can’t. And then relax, because Microsoft has just started the beta process for Windows 11, and  Windows 10 has a lot of life still left in it.

If you have any lingering questions, we’ve got plenty of answers over at Askwoody.com and here on Computerworld.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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