Microsoft has had six years to prepare for the release of Windows 11, but it still seems to be trying to explain the new hardware requirements. Windows 11 will support Intel Coffee Lake 8th generation processors or Zen 2 and above, leaving behind millions of computers sold during the release of Windows 10.
It's a bad surprise if you bought a new Windows 10 PC or maybe you have a powerful machine with an older chip. Windows 11 requires Intel 8th generation Coffee Lake processors or AMD Zen 2 or higher, support for TPM 2.0 (Trusted Platform Module), 4 GB RAM and 64 GB disk space.
After the confusion it caused earlier this week, Microsoft tried to re-explain the hardware requirements yesterday and states that everything is done for security. In conjunction with the new hardware, Microsoft wants to enforce a more modern BIOS (UEFI) that supports features such as Secure Boot and TPM 2.0 (Trusted Platform Module).
Combining TPM with some of the virtualization technologies used by Microsoft in Windows has a fairly large security benefit. Microsoft claims that the combination of Windows Hello, Device Encryption, virtualization-based security, and the integrity of the code protected by the hypervisor and Secure Boot "has been shown to reduce malware by 60%."
Obviously you need up-to-date hardware to enable all of these protections, and Microsoft wants you to get it now. TPM support is a prerequisite for OEMs to be able to certify Windows from the release of Windows 10 onwards, but Microsoft did not force people to enable it.
Microsoft tried to explain more clearly yesterday, but the explanations do not satisfy thousands of consumers:
"As we release the operating system through Windows Insiders and work with our OEMs, we will try to identify devices running Intel 7th generation and AMD with Zen 1 that may meet our principles," said a post from the Windows team. This could be good news as Surface Studio 2, a $ 3.499 device that Microsoft still sells, wears a 7th generation chip that is not on the list of allowed Windows 11 chips.
"We also know that devices running Intel 6th generation and AMD pre-Zen will not meet Microsoft's minimum requirements," the post said before deleting the line.
It is not clear why Intel 6th generation chips are off the list, but part of this decision could be related to security vulnerabilities. Specter and Meltdown which have affected almost every device that has been manufactured in the last 20 years.
"Microsoft's CPU options for Windows 11 have nothing to do with performance, but they look like security mitigation for side-channel attacks," said Patrick Moorhead, chief analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.
The side-channel Attacks, which could have taken place with the Specter and Meltdown gaps, were revealed shortly before Intel implemented hardware updates to protect some 8th generation chips in 2018. So Microsoft has drawn an imaginary line from 8th generation chips onwards. Now explain why to millions of consumers.
Critics of Microsoft's approach say the move would create unnecessary e-waste as consumers need to upgrade to computers capable of running Windows 11. The complexities of TPM and UEFI are also discussed by some IT administrators, especially if devices they use were never configured for these technologies.
Security expert Kevin Beaumont, who spent nearly a year working for Microsoft during the pandemic, criticized the company for its Windows 11 hardware requirements.
"In the midst of a pandemic when organizations are in pain, with a global chip shortage, Microsoft is trying to force people to replace things for questionable security reasons," Beaumont said on Twitter.
In the middle of a pandemic when orgs are hurting, with a global chip shortage, MS are trying to get people to replace things for security reasons that are questionable.- Kevin Beaumont (@GossiTheDog) June 28, 2021
Buy a Surface? No. Make a better OS.
However, there will be some exceptions to Microsoft's new rules. "Windows 11 does not apply hardware compliance testing to virtual devices during installation or upgrade." This means that if you are running Windows 11 on a virtual machine, you can ignore the CPU and security requirements. But the reality is that most consumers and business customers will not use Windows 11 on a VM.
Microsoft still has a few months to try Windows 11 and listen to the comments of its users. The company has already withdrawn the PC Health Check application which caused a lot of confusion.
Microsoft currently allows testers to access Windows 11 with a wide range of hardware, but plans to apply new restrictions before it is officially released. It would be very strange if there was no significant change in these requirements later this year, except that Microsoft made a discount with some 7th generation chips.