Move over TPM 2.0: Windows 11’s CPU generation requirements are even more confusing. Windows 11 requires at least an 8th-generation Intel CPU or AMD Ryzen 2000 processor. Microsoft can’t seem to clearly explain why, and the company is already backpedaling on this.
Which CPUs Does Windows 11 Officially Support?
Immediately after Windows 11’s announcement, Microsoft had several contradictory web pages up listing different CPU requirements. However, after the first few days, the company’s communication had become more clear. According to Microsoft, Windows 11 will only guarantee support the following CPUs:
- Intel CPUs: 8th generation or newer. (See list of supported Intel CPUs.)
- AMD CPUs: Ryzen 2000 or newer. (See list of supported AMD CPUs.)
Intel launched its eighth-generation chips in 2017 and AMD launched second-generation Ryzen processors in 2018, so Windows is demanding some seriously recent CPUs! Considering Windows 10 supported most CPUs that Windows 7 ran on, this is a big shift.
RELATED: Why Does Windows 11 Need TPM 2.0?
What About 7th Generation and Older CPUs?
Initially, Microsoft’s compatibility documentation said some older CPUs, including 7th generation Intel CPUs, would be partially supported. Specifically, Microsoft said people with these CPUs would be allowed to upgrade, but the upgrade process would warn people that their CPUs were not properly supported and would advise against the upgrade.
As of June 28, 2021, Microsoft says it will test whether Intel 7th generation and AMD Zen 1 processors could run Windows 11 during the Insider Preview process. Specifically, The Windows Team writes:
As we release to Windows Insiders and partner with our OEMs, we will test to identify devices running on Intel 7th generation and AMD Zen 1 that may meet our principles. We’re committed to sharing updates with you on the results of our testing over time, as well as sharing additional technical blogs.
Of course, this is pretty confusing on its own: Will Microsoft only allow the upgrade for specific “devices” with these processors rather than all devices with these processors? Who knows! Microsoft hasn’t decided yet.
Here’s one more wrinkle: In the initial version of this blog post, Microsoft’s Windows Team wrote that it was confident older CPUs would not be supported:
We also know that devices running on Intel 6th generation and AMD pre-Zen will not [meet our principles around security and reliability.]
Microsoft quickly edited this line out of its blog post without any further comment, so it’s unclear whether Microsoft will stick to blocking 6th-generation and earlier CPUs.
Why Does Microsoft Say Windows 11 Is So Strict?
The real question is why Windows 11 is so strict about CPU support. After being able to upgrade computers from Windows 7 to Windows 8 to Windows 10, it’s rather jarring. (Okay, maybe you skipped Windows 8.)
Microsoft is talking a lot about security. Like with the TPM 2.0 hardware requirement, requiring a modern CPU ensures access to the latest security features. This includes virtualization-based security and hypervisor-protected code integrity enabled always and be default on all Windows 11 PCs. Thanks to TPM 2.0, all Windows 11 PCs can have Device Encryption to store files in an encrypted form. They will also all have Secure Boot, protecting the boot process from malware.
Security is the first “principle” Microsoft says is driving its CPU requirements. The second is reliability. Microsoft writes that “CPUs that have adopted the new Windows Driver model…are achieving a 99.8% crash free experience.”
The third principle is that CPUs be “compatible” with the apps you use with “the fundamentals of >1GHz, 2-core processors, 4GB memory, and 64GB of storage.” Of course, that doesn’t have much to do with CPU generation.
Microsoft Won’t Talk About the Spectre in the Room
There’s something not quite right here. Do Microsoft’s security requirements really necessitate a CPU made within the last few years before Windows 11 was released?
Well, maybe they do. Here’s a theory:
In early 2018, we learned that modern CPUs were affected by serious design flaws that enabled the Spectre and Meltdown side-channel attacks. Microsoft had to release patches for Windows that slowed down PCs with older CPUs. This let Windows work around the security problems in these CPUs.
Spectre wasn’t alone. The ZombieLoad attack worked similarly and was also discovered in 2018. After ZombieLoad was announced in 2019, we wrote that only new CPUs could truly fix ZombieLoad, Spectre, and similar attacks. Intel (and other CPU manufacturers, to some degree) would have to rearchitect their CPU designs to truly patch these security weaknesses.
Intel said that Spectre and Meltdown were addressed with hardware-level changes starting with Intel 8th-generation CPUs.
Isn’t it interesting that Windows 11 requires 8th-generation CPUs or newer? We imagine this is related.
Of course, Microsoft isn’t screaming from the rooftops that PCs with older CPUs running Windows 10 are fundamentally insecure at a hardware level compared to new devices. That wouldn’t be good for business. But it seems like Microsoft wants to quietly move everyone to new hardware so Microsoft knows it only has to support Windows 11 on CPUs with these security fixes.
Windows 10 Is Still Supported Until 2025
It’s worth bearing in mind that Windows 10 will still be officially supported with security updates until October 14, 2025. If you have a PC running an older CPU that can’t upgrade, you can continue using Windows 10 with security updates for years to come.
Even if you plan on sticking with Windows 10 for the next few years, you’ll probably want a new PC sometime before October 2025, anyway. At that point, you can get a newer system that supports Windows 11’s higher requirements.
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