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Microsoft Slightly Loosens Windows 11 Chip Requirements

Windows 11 isn't even generally available yet, but its strict hardware requirements are already a cause for consternation at many organizations.

Microsoft on Friday attempted to clarify its stance on possible seventh-generation processor support in Windows 11. Originally, Microsoft specified the use of eighth-generation processors as part of the minimum Windows 11 support specs. However, it indicated in June that it was checking to see if some older processors might work. The Friday announcement apparently concludes that investigation.

Windows 11 Processor Support
Microsoft generally won't support upgrades to Windows 11 on machines with seventh-generation processors, except for two processors built by Intel. Those supported processors include:

In a fit of luck, the seventh-generation Intel processor that's used with the Microsoft Surface Studio 2 PC product made Microsoft's short list for Windows 11 support.

Microsoft also indicated that it had checked with AMD on whether Windows 11 could run on first-generation AMD Zen processors, but concluded they weren't supported.

Essentially, just two exceptions on the processor side were added to Microsoft's initial Windows 11 minimum hardware requirements described in June. The other hardware requirements remain the same as Microsoft's initial June description.

Microsoft is going to require that machines have a Trusted Platform Module 2.0 chip installed, which supports "secure boot" processes for checking malware at the boot level. However, TPM 2.0 chips have been required in new PCs since July 28, 2016, according to this Microsoft "TPM Compliance" document, so possibly that requirement won't be an impediment for Windows 11 upgrades.

The general requirement to have an eighth-generation processor to upgrade to Windows 11, though, means that Windows users with 3-year-old PCs may not be able to upgrade to Windows 11. Alternatively, it may be possible to upgrade to Windows 11 using those machines, but it won't be considered supported by Microsoft.

Windows 11 Principles
Microsoft is justifying its stiff hardware requirements for Windows 11 in accordance with its principles for "reliability," "security" and "compatibility."

In terms of reliability, Microsoft wants Windows 11 machines to support a so-called "modern drivers" servicing approach based on "DCH" principles (which stands for "Declarative," "Componentized" and "Hardware Support App"). In Windows Insider Program testing, Microsoft found that PCs not meeting its minimum Windows 11 specs had "52% more kernel mode crashes (blue screens) than those that did meet the requirements."

In terms of security, Microsoft claimed that its Windows 11 hardware requirements arose from its threat signals research, as well as collaboration with government security agencies. Windows 11 has "proven security controls based on industry wide recommendations from global experts like the NSA and NCSC," the announcement indicated.

Microsoft also touted secure boot protections in Windows 11 and described virtualization-based security (VBS) and hypervisor-protected code integrity (HVCI) technologies in supported processors. VBS protects system memory, while HVCI wards off Windows kernel code injection. These sorts of technologies have been highlighted, as well, in currently available Windows 10 Secure-core PCs.

Microsoft is collaborating with partners on the VBS and HVCI support:

In partnership with our OEM and silicon partners, we will be enabling VBS and HVCI on most new PCs over this next year. And we will continue to seek opportunities to expand VBS across more systems over time.

In terms of compatibility, Microsoft is being strict with the hardware requirements because it's been a stumbling block in terms of driver support. It's gotten feedback that "unsupported hardware is more likely to have older drivers that are incompatible with new OS features such as VBS."

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for 1105 Media's Converge360 group.

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