New Windows 11 device? Want to downgrade to 10? You've got options

If you wound up with a new Windows 11 laptop or desktop over the holidays, but want to run Windows 10 anyway, there are ways to make that happen.

Person using Windows 11 on a laptop next to a sunny window

So, you got a shiny new Windows 11 computer over the holidays, opened it up, and turned it on. And, well, you sort of miss being able to right-mouse-click on the taskbar, or pin things on the taskbar, or doing any number of things you’ve been doing since Windows XP.

So now you have a decision to make: Do you want to stay on Windows 11 or install Windows 10 on that new computer (and possibly void a warranty or two)? I do hope you have enough RAM (16GB or more), a processor that can support Windows 11 (even if you don’t want to install it), and more importantly, an SSD drive. If you purchase a computer that doesn’t have an SSD, you may see something like Costco warned about on its website: “After the initial boot up of your laptop, your device may experience performance lags for approximately the first one to two hours as performance features are downloaded and installed. The laptop will return to normal operating conditions once all downloads are completed.”

That’s certainly not the best experience with a new laptop — and it’s a telltale sign Windows should not be deployed on systems with old-fashioned IDE drives. If you have this sort of laptop, I recommend you take it back and try to get a replacement that includes a SSD drive.

If you still have a Windows 10 machine using an older hard drive, figure out whether you can upgrade to an SSD. You can typically use your backup software to create a full image drive and then restore it to a clean drive. The SSD drive connection is typically the same as an IDE drive and you can easily find mounting units that let you slide the new SSD into the existing drive slot.

Before you think about installing or downgrading to Windows 10, consider first the third-party software that can bring back many of the features you want. There are many options to choose from, including Startallback and Start11. Both bring back many of the traditional menu functions Windows 10 migrators will want. My recommendation: install either one first and see whether Windows 11 is acceptable with these additions. (You can see the various options for Windows 10-style menus here.)

One item I’ve not yet seen return to Windows 11 is a preview of photos and videos that normally occurs in File Explorer. To speed up the new OS, Microsoft removed the thumbnail view of folders. So while this feels like a step back, it might allow your machine to run faster. The major difference between Windows 10 and Windows 11 is in the folder pane view. Startallback and Start11 will move the menu to the left and bring back right-mouse-click on the taskbar. (The workaround could be as simple as better organizational naming of folders.)

The question many users ask first is whether they can upgrade, or rather downgrade, to Windows 10 if the machine is running Windows 11. As noted in a recent thread on Askwoody.com, a Windows 11 license is a digital one that allows an install of Windows 10 on a machine running 11. But, as a Lenovo support note points out, a clean install of Windows 10 may require that you download needed drivers. Whenever I install Windows 10 cleanly on a computer, there are invariably one or two devices in the device manager that show up with a “!” icon indicating a missing driver. If you’re lucky, as the machine gets online and checks in online, the drivers will trickle down in the background and get installed. If you’re not lucky, you have to search for them on vendor websites. Do not download drivers from a random driver site, as more often than not they will include malware.

If you have a Windows Surface device, your options are easier. You can go to a Microsoft site and download a specific ISO for your model. You’ll need a larger USB device and the serial number from your Surface; you can then download the full ISO and install everything, including the drivers for your device. 

Bottom line, if you have a Windows 11 computer now and want to run Windows 10, I’d recommend that you first try third-party tools to make it look and act like Windows 10. Reinstalling a clean version of Windows 10 can be easy — or an absolute annoyance if you can’t find the right drives for full functionality. If you are a more advanced user and still want to downgrade, I suggest getting a backup program to fully image your Windows 11 system as it was when shipped, then attempt a clean install of Windows 10. If you can’t find all of the drivers you need, you can always roll yourself back to what was installed on the computer. Just ensure that you know your options before deciding you don’t like Windows 11.

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