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Windows 11 release date, beta, requirements and all the new features

Windows 11 Start menu
(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows 11 is coming this fall and features a big redesign along with lots of new features. Windows 11 switches up its look with a new Start menu and rounded corners, but it also includes lots of productivity upgrades, including Snap Layouts for running multiple apps at once. 

However, there are also some Windows 11 taskbar changes that have upset Windows fans, including Microsoft's decision to lock the taskbar to the bottom of the screen and prevent users from dragging and dropping apps, shortcuts, or files onto the taskbar.

Windows 11 also features new widgets for keeping you up to date with the latest news, Microsoft Teams integration and a new Windows Store. Plus, Windows 11 can run Android apps.

Gamers will appreciate the addition of Auto HDR for improved visuals, as well as faster performance for Direct Storage-supported PCs. And business users will love being able to undock and dock again without losing their place.

So with that in mind, here's everything you need to know about Windows 11. 

Windows 11 latest news (updated September 17)

Windows 11 release date, price and beta

Microsoft has announced that Windows 11 will officially roll out on October 5. Eligible Windows 10 machines will get a free upgrade to the next-generation operating system, but you'll need to make sure your laptop or desktop has the right CPU and features to support Windows 11. 

You can check if your PC is eligible for the free Windows 11 upgrade by going to Windows.com and downloading the PC Health Check app. But as Microsoft is taking a  "phased and measured process," some Windows 10 users aren't likely to get the upgrade until later on in the year or 2022. That's because, basically, Microsoft will prioritize the Windows 11 roll out over based on hardware eligibility, reliability metrics, age of device and other factors. 

But Microsoft has already introduced a Windows 11 Insider build for those who want to try the new OS early. This isn't a complete build with all the Windows 11 features, but there's enough there to give you a sense of what Windows 11 will look like.

As of late July, Microsoft has also begun releasing beta versions of Windows 11 for public testing. Available to Windows Insiders via the "Beta" channel of Windows 11, these builds should be more stable and more supported than the latest builds in the "Dev" channel, which are meant primarily for developers. If you want to take it for a spin now that the Windows 11 beta is available, here's how to download it — just be aware that it's unfinished software, so you'll likely encounter some bugs. 

In addition to the Oct. 5 launch date for Windows 11, Microsoft is hosting a Surface product event on Sept. 22, where we expect to see laptops and tablets that are ready for Windows 11.

Windows 11 design: New design and Start menu

Windows 11 Start

(Image credit: Microsoft )

Windows 11 has a new look and feel that's designed to be more attractive but also more user-friendly. There's a new Start button that's placed at the center, and pressing it can show you your recent files, docs and apps. 

The Start menu now moves away from the big list of applications, and instead has a grid of select applications, and a second grid of recommended documents. An “All Apps” button likely leads to the traditional list of apps.

The overall goal is to get to where you want to go faster. The new Windows 11 also includes more rounded corners on apps to make it look fresher, and a streamlined taskbar. There's also new colors and transitions, and a new dark mode that makes content stand out. 

Windows 11 Snap Layouts, Snap Groups and docking

Windows 11 Snap Layouts

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows 11 now features Snap Layouts. You can pick the Snap Layout that you want to choose so you can run multiple apps at the same time. For example, you could have two apps side by side or three in columns or four in a grid, and there's six choices in total. 

If you sometimes feel a little lost after having to respond to a notification, Windows 11 includes a new Snap Groups feature in the taskbar. So you can get right back to what you were doing before you had to answer that message.

The same thing applies to the new docking experience. If you unplug a monitor to move rooms, the windows that were on your monitor will minimize. When you go come back and then re-connect to a dock, all of your Windows will re-appear the way they were before.

Windows 11 widgets

Windows 11

(Image credit: Microsoft )

Windows 11 offers a whole new selection of Widgets, which is powered by Microsoft Edge and AI. These widgets can help you check your calendar at a glance, the weather, news, your to-do list, photos and more.

Widgets bring you a feed of info you can personalize, and you can decide how you want it to appear on your desktop. You can have Widgets slide out to cover a portion or all of your desktop, depending on what you want.

Windows 11: Better touch, pen and voice support

windows 11 interface

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows 11 contains a number of tweaks to input, particularly when it comes to touch. For example, there’s more space between icons in the touchbar, making it easier to tap the right thing. To that end, Microsoft is also adding bigger touch targets while inserting visual cues aimed at helping you more easily resize and move windows.

The onscreen keyboard is both redesigned and customizable. If you happen to use a pen or stylus to interact with your Windows 11 machine, you can expect improve haptics that sound and feel like you’re using an actual pen.

Windows 11 also features enhanced voice recognition for text input with Microsoft promising more accurate voice-to-text transcription and automatic punctuation. Voice commands are supported as well, such as "delete that" when you're in a document. 

Windows 11 desktops

Windows 11 event

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows 11 now lets you personalize different desktops with their own wallpapers. So you can have a desktop for work, home, school or gaming, each with their own apps and look and feel. 

Windows 11: New Windows Store and Android Apps

Windows 11

(Image credit: Microsoft)

With Windows 11, Microsoft is redesigning the Microsoft Store, making it faster and easier to find the apps you’re looking for. That’s all well and good, but the announcement that will probably garner the most attention is that Android apps will be directly available for Windows 11.

Later this year, Microsoft says that you’ll be able to find Android apps in Microsoft’s Store and download them through the Amazon Appstore. The process sounds a little convoluted at this point, but Microsoft is promising to reveal more information on the experience in the coming months.

Windows 11 gaming: Auto HDR and DirectStorage

windows 11 games

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Gaming has always been a big part of Windows, so that’s obviously continuing with Windows 11. Microsoft is introducing some new features specifically aimed at improving the gaming experience in its operating system.

Specifically, Auto HDR is coming to Windows 11, bringing improved contrast and color output without requiring app makers to reconfigure their games. During the Windows 11 launch event, Microsoft showed off a split screen of Skyrim — one half of the game appeared in SDR and the other in the new Auto HDR. The Auto HDR image was much brighter and featured greater detail. 

Windows 11 also adds a DirectStorage API. If you’ve already used an Xbox Series X or Series S — both of which feature direct storage — you’ll notice how fast load times improve.

Finally, Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft’s gaming subscription service, will still be built right into Windows 11 via the Xbox app.

Windows 11: Teams integration

windows 11 teams

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Although Windows 11 will no longer include certain Microsoft apps as standard, Microsoft is attempting to make Teams much more mainstream by integrating it directly into Windows 11. Chat from Microsoft Teams lets you connect through video calls but also text or voice. And it will work across Windows, Android and iOS (while FaceTime won't have an app but only work via web links). You can also start presenting directly from the taskbar. 

Windows 11: System requirements and TPM

For Windows 11, all systems will need a TPM 2.0 chip. TPM is short for Trusted Point Module, and it's primarily known as a means for security in PCs. We have a guide to check for how to see if your PC has a TPM chip

Microsoft has started clearing up some of the confusion people had regarding TPMs, pointing out most PCs sold within the past five years will have the modules installed. However they may not all be active, and so Microsoft has published a tutorial with various ways people can do that for themselves. 

The latest pre-release builds have also started locking virtual machine users out of Windows 11, since they obviously don't have a physical TPM module to hand. So if you plan on using a virtual machine, make sure it's one of the ones that can simulate the presence of a TPM. Unfortunately you're likely going to have to pay for the privilege.

Since the TPM requirement doesn't seem to be going away, be sure to check out our what is a TPM guide and find out why it's so important for Windows 11. 

According to Microsoft, these are the system requirements for running Windows 11: 

  • CPU: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with 2 or more cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or System on a Chip (SoC)
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB of larger
  • System firmware: UEFI, Secure Boot capable
  • TPM: Trusted Platform Module (TPM) version 2.0
  • Graphics card: Compatible with DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver
  • Display: High definition (720p) display that is greater than 9” diagonally, 8 bits per color channel
  • Internet: Windows 11 Home edition requires internet connectivity and a Microsoft account to complete device setup on first use.

We've also put together a guide to the CPUs that are compatible with Windows 11. For example, only chips from Intel's 8th generation or newer will run Windows 11. And you can read our guide to the best Windows 11-ready laptops if you're looking for a new system that will work with the software update.

Microsoft has made it clear that there's no getting around the Windows 11 system requirements, such as by tinkering with Windows 10 Group Policy to force the update. If you want to use the new OS, then, you'll need the right hardware, and probably won't be able to cheat-install it. 

Asus is working on new firmware for Intel hardware that would enable Windows 11 to be installed. We've also learned that you can install Windows 11 on older PCs, but there is a catch — you're not going to get any updates.

Windows 11: How to do a clean install

windows 11 release and requirements - clean install

(Image credit: Microsoft)

You don't need to be Windows Insider to try Windows 11 before its public release. And you don't need to upgrade directly from Windows 10.

Follow our guide to learn how to do a clean install of Windows 11 on a spare laptop or a partition on your hard drive. 

Windows 11 outlook

Overall, Windows 11 doesn't necessarily feel like a reinvention of Windows, but it certainly seems like a bigger leap for productivity and for entertainment (especially gaming) than macOS Monterey. We especially like the new multitasking features and the new Start menu. Stay tuned for our hands-on impressions of Windows 11 once the update arrives on Oct. 5.