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Windows 11 vs. Windows 10: Should you upgrade?

Windows 11 marks a big departure from Windows 10 in terms of design, but the two operating systems are very similar under the hood. With the new OS now available on select devices — and rolling out at a quicker pace than Microsoft expected — comparing Windows 11 versus Windows 10 has never been more important.

Visually, the two operating systems can look quite different. But there are also key changes under the hood that set the next generation of Windows apart from the current generation. You probably have questions about whether you should upgrade, and we have you covered with this look at all the differences between the two. Make sure you check out our in-depth Windows 11 review.

Windows 11 versus Windows 10: Should you upgrade?

Android apps on Windows 11.

Just like Windows 10 was a free upgrade to Windows 8.1 and Windows 7, Windows 11 is a free upgrade to Windows 10. You can download it and upgrade it in just a few simple steps. But there’s a catch.

That upgrade only applies as long as your PC fits with Microsoft’s minimum requirements — which has caused a fair share of controversy, especially in regard to the TPM 2.0 requirement, which in itself can be quite confusing, especially if you plan on upgrading your current system.

If you have a Surface device or a new device from one of Microsoft’s partners, you probably got Windows 11 on the day that it was announced for release. However, new devices that still have Windows 10 installed can now upgrade to Windows 11 via Windows Update.

Microsoft says it’s taking a phased approach for this. In November, Microsoft also announced that it advanced the pace of the rollout of Windows 11 faster than anticipated. This means the OS should now be more broadly available on other PCs.

If you have a compatible device, it’s worth giving Windows 11 a try.

There’s another path, though: The Installation Assistant allows you to install Windows 11 on a compatible PC without using Windows Update. Although Microsoft isn’t recommending against this route, it’s possible that some hardware will cause issues, so you might run into a few bugs or “blue screens of death.”

You can install Windows 11 on incompatible hardware, too. There are registry tweaks to do so, but we advise against it. Microsoft could stop supporting systems that aren’t certified for Windows 11, and you might not get critical security updates anymore.

If you have a compatible device, you should upgrade to Windows 11 to give it a try. There’s a catch, though. After you upgrade, you’ll only have 10 days to revert back to Windows 10. It’s easy enough to learn how to downgrade from Windows 11 to Windows 10 — just make sure you’ve considered your decision before those 10 days are up, or else it’ll be a bigger hassle.

Microsoft is supporting Windows 10 through 2025, but you’ll need to do a clean install (erase all your data) after that 10-day downgrade window. If you’re the technical type, you also can try to dual-boot both Windows 10 and Windows 11, with little risk.

Other than that, there are some changes that you need to know about if you plan to upgrade. Windows 11 removes some features from Windows 10.

You can no longer sync your desktop wallpaper; Internet Explorer and the Math Input panel are gone; and a few apps are also removed. Those apps are 3D viewer, OneNote for Windows 10, Paint 3D, and Skype. You can still find those in the store, though. Microsoft has a full list if you’re concerned.

If you’re a gamer, note that Windows 11 has some exclusive features catered to you. Auto HDR makes your games look more vibrant, and Direct Storage helps your graphics card and solid-state drive communicate faster. In the future, you’ll also be able to enjoy some updates to gaming in windowed mode, too.

Windows 11 versus Windows 10: Performance

Microsoft

When compared to Windows 10, Windows 11 does hold some potential for improving the speed of your computer. Microsoft talked about the performance benefits and optimizations in Windows 11 in a YouTube video. Overall, the performance benefits in Windows 11 pretty much come down to the way the newer OS handles system processes that you usually see when you open Task Manager.

According to Microsoft, Windows 11 does a lot of work in memory management to favor the app windows you have open and running in the foreground. This should ensure that they get more CPU power over other system resources. Microsoft actually tested this by showcasing how even under 90% CPU load, the Excel app in Windows 11 opens up with speed, despite the CPU being so busy. The company says the same also applies to the “shell” in Windows 11, which powers the Start Menu and other visual effects.

Other performance changes in Windows 11 touch on the way your PC resumes from sleep and handles standby time. Versus Windows 10, Microsoft mentioned that in Windows 11, your RAM can stay energized when the PC is in sleep mode, so it has power while everything else doesn’t. This will help your PC wake up to 25% faster from sleep.

In addition, since the Edge browser is the browser of choice in Windows 11, if you end up using it, you should see additional performance benefits over using the browser in Windows 10. Per Microsoft, with the sleeping tabs feature, you can save 32% for memory and 37% for CPU usage.

The last of the performance improvements cover disk footprints and browser caches. In Windows 11, Microsoft expanded the use of compression technologies. In non-critical apps like Sticky Notes, the default rate of the app will be a “stub.” What this means is that while the app loads up, binaries from the system get pulled on-demand without comprising the functionality of the app. This can help reduce the size of an app on the disk and push less background update activity and download traffic. As for the browser cache, Microsoft says that it now uses less disk space.

Windows 10 versus Windows 11: Bugs

Windows 11 is Microsoft’s newest OS, and Windows 10 has been around for five years. With that in mind, you can expect Windows 11 to have a lot of other bugs and issues that might impact the performance of your system. Microsoft, though, is usually quick to address these in monthly Patch Tuesday updates.

Yes, Windows 10 isn’t a bug-free OS either. It has had device-breaking issues in the past, and Windows 11 did have a fair share of problems on its own when it first launched.

You probably heard about it, but there’s an ongoing bug in Windows 10 and Windows 11 with select AMD Ryzen CPUs where you might experience some stutter or lag in the day-to-day use of your system. This is due to a hardware bug. It is not linked directly to Windows but rather extended Firmware Trusted Platform Module (fTPM) related memory transactions in SPI flash memory (SPIROM) located on the motherboard. AMD explained it in a support post and suggests that a motherboard firmware update could come in May 2022 to address the problem. In the meantime, you can use an external TPM chip as a workaround, with guidance provided by Microsoft.

Another since-fixed big bug from earlier in 2021 also directly impacted Windows 11 system with AMD CPUs. This was a situation where AMD CPUs could drop or throttle performance by up to 15% in games. We talked more about the fix in a separate piece.

One more since-fixed bug had resulted in empty folders in important subsystem areas, though the folders don’t really impact performance or take up space.

We also wanted to touch on a since-fixed bug that’s been around since Windows 11 launched. Windows 11 was at one point slowing down NVMe SSD speeds; Microsoft, though, has since issued a fix in the latest Windows 11 cumulative update.

Yet another (and still ongoing) Windows 11 problem relates to memory leaks. As we’ve confirmed and tested, Windows 11 could take up extra RAM when you open up multiple instances of the File Explorer. It never releases the RAM when you close the File Explorer and the system takes up extra resources. This isn’t a problem everyone is having, and it’s also been around in Windows 10 for a while, but it’s a notable one — to say the least.

We just covered a few issues from Windows 11 past, but there’s a great way to track bugs in Windows 11. Windows users can always report new bugs in the Feedback Hub. If you sort by New or Top,  you’ll see all the little Windows 11 bugs that we can’t possibly put in one post. So, if you really want to see what’s happening there, search through the app on your Windows 10 PC for Windows 11 feedback.

Start Menu and Taskbar

Windows 11 Start Menu.

If you’re looking at the differences between Windows 11 and Windows 10, the biggest ones are the Start Menu and the Taskbar. In Windows 11, Microsoft centers the Taskbar and the Start Menu on the screen. This makes it look a bit more like MacOS and ChromeOS. However, you can still move it back to the left if you want.

Speaking of the Start Menu, in Windows 11, it is a bit more simplistic. You only see a static list of apps, followed by your most frequented documents on the bottom. You can expand out your apps, scroll through the list, and pin apps as you choose. That might sound familiar, but it is important to note that Windows 11 drops out support for Live Tiles. If you really want to see information in your Start Menu at a glance, then Windows 10 is best.

As for the Taskbar, note that there are some big changes in Windows 11 when compared to Windows 10. Microsoft has collapsed the search box into an icon and also removed the Cortana functions in Windows 11. If you want Cortana, you’ll need to download the app. Search also moves to the center of the screen, with a floating design and tabbed layout similar to Windows 10.

Even Windows Timeline is gone. Windows 11 drops out that Windows 10 feature in favor of Microsoft Edge’s sync ability. The spot where Windows Timeline used to be is replaced by Virtual Desktops.

The other big change also involves moving the weather in the Taskbar to the left side of the screen. This was known as News and Interests in Windows 10, but in Windows 11, that gets replaced by Widgets. You’ll still see the weather, but you’ll also see other things like your favorite news, sports scores, traffic, and more.

But if you want to pin your Taskbar to the right or the left of the screen, then we have bad news. You can no longer do that natively, as in Windows 11, the Taskbar only stays on the bottom. Paid third-party apps like Start11 can change it if you want, however.

A lot of these changes are just visual. Windows 11 and Windows 10 share the same features, and it’s just the way that things look that is different.

Some big changes for Windows 11 could soon be on the way, though. Microsoft recently started testing the ability to create folders on the Windows 11 Start Menu and pin your favorite files in File Explorer.

Multitasking and external monitor support

Windows 11 Multitasking.

You might have heard about Microsoft’s multitasking improvements in Windows 11 and wondered if it’ll be ported over to Windows 10. Well, this is a Windows 11-exclusive feature, and you won’t be seeing it in Windows 10.

In Windows 11, you can increase your multitasking and system performance with Snap Layouts that group your windows and save them to the taskbar. Hover over the Maximize button and you can tile windows in various sizes. Windows 10 won’t have this. It keeps the traditional Snap feature, where you’ll need to manually tile your windows with a keyboard combination or by hovering to a certain side of the screen.

Then there’s a note about external monitors. Windows 11 remembers how you had your windows on your external monitor and will save them in that state when you disconnect from a monitor and then plug it back in. This is one of the most annoying problems with Windows 10 that Windows 11 finally addresses.

Oh, and a recent update for Windows 11 reintroduced the ability to see the date and time on all secondary screens. Additional improvements for Snap Layouts are also coming so that you can drag your open windows to the middle top of the screen and see the various options rather than just with the maximize button.

Tablet mode

Devices running Windows 11.

Windows 10 has a traditional tablet mode that makes your PC go to a full-screen Start Menu experience. In Windows 11, this is removed.

Instead, Windows 11 behaves more like an iPad, where when you switch your device to a tablet, things become easier to touch. You’ll even see an effect under your window when you touch it with your finger. Microsoft also added gestures for opening and closing windows, switching between desktops, and new options in the Windows Ink Workspace. All of these aren’t in Windows 10’s tablet mode, which was hard to understand for many.

The Microsoft Store

Android apps on Windows 11.

The app store in Windows 11 and Windows 10 is based on the same design. Yet, Windows 11’s app store brings support for Android apps via the Amazon Appstore. You won’t get that in Windows 10 because Windows 11 depends on the new Windows Subsystem for Android.

On both Windows 10 and Windows 11, the store still allows you to download Windows apps across both operating systems. That includes  UWP apps and Progressive Web Apps. Win32 apps like Firefox, though, are exclusive to Windows 11 for now.

This is part of a larger effort from Microsoft to bring more apps to the Microsoft Store. Even the Epic Games Store is in the Microsoft Store, and Microsoft doesn’t take a cut of sales. In statements, Microsoft has said this is to make the Microsoft Store a one-stop-shop for all of your PC apps.

Compatibility

Unsupported Windows 11 waiver displayed on a laptop.

For many, the difference between Windows 10 and Windows 11 comes down to compatibility. Windows 11 marks the first significant shake-up in supported CPUs since the release of Windows 8.1. If you want the latest OS, you’ll need an Intel Core 8th-generation processor or newer or an AMD Ryzen 2000 processor or newer.

That cuts out a lot of PCs from being officially supported. 8th-gen Intel processors arrived in late 2017, and Ryzen 2000 chips didn’t arrive until 2018. In short, if your computer is more than four years old, there’s a good chance that it’s not supported by Windows 11. That might be the deciding factor between it and Windows 10.

Other system requirements include TPM 2.0 — which is available on the vast majority of recent PCs — as well as UEFI Secure Boot. If you have a supported processor, you shouldn’t need to worry about these two other requirements. Microsoft has required these features from its manufacturing partners for years.

There is a way to install Windows 11 on unsupported hardware, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Although Microsoft hasn’t confirmed it, the company has heavily implied that unsupported users won’t receive critical security updates. If you still want to install, you can do so using the Media Creation Tool, which bypasses hardware checks.

Support and update cycle

A woman in front a Windows 11 PC.

Windows 11 broke from the semi-annual update cadence of Windows 10 in favor of a single annual update. That’s just like MacOS. Microsoft is committed to supporting Windows 10 through 2025, and it recently announced that Windows 10 will only get once-a-year updates as well. The next update is scheduled for release in November 2022.

If you really want the latest and greatest version of Windows, then Windows 11 is where you want to be. You might also want to update to Windows 11 if you want the most secure version of Windows. Microsoft has talked a lot about how Windows 11 is secure due to TPM 2.0 requirements, as well as Secure Boot.

If you’ve made up your mind and want to learn more, check out our full, in-depth Windows 11 review.

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