Windows 11 is far from perfect, but thanks to a steady stream of new features and functionality, it offers some nice improvements over Windows 10. Also, while retail editions of Windows 11 Home/Pro are expensive ($110 $ / $150), there are still several (legal) ways to install Microsoft’s latest operating system for free.
Windows 11 Upgrades – The Good News
You are entitled to a free copy of Windows 11 if you:
- Own a legal copy of Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro (updated to version 2004 or later)
- Buy a new PC
Unlike Windows 10, Microsoft does not have a deadline for free Windows 10 upgrades and I think it is unlikely to introduce one as the company wants users to migrate.
Windows 11 Upgrades – The Bad News
The bad news is twofold:
- Windows 7 and Windows 8 owners don’t get free upgrades to Windows 11
- Windows 11 system requirements are controversial
System requirements for Windows 11
For most users, the biggest potential stumbling block will be security requirements. These even exclude some newer machines, regardless of their performance level. Despite the criticism, Microsoft is steadfast in its position. TPM 2.0 and Secure Boot make a substantial difference in protecting PCs and won’t budge.
- CPU: 1 GHz or faster with two or more cores
- RAM 4GB.
- Storage: 64 GB of available storage.
- Security: Enable TPM 2.0, UEFI firmware and secure boot capability on your PC.
- Graphic card: DirectX 12 compatible with WDDM 2.0 driver.
If you are running Windows 7/8, your computer is very unlikely to meet all of these requirements. But if you have a modern PC and choose to run an older operating system, you can get a free Windows 10 upgrade first and use that to upgrade to Windows 11 afterwards.
Windows 11 can be tricked into working on older PCs, but that seems like a wasteful endeavor because Microsoft refuses to guarantee access to feature and security updates. With that caveat, if your PC is eligible, here’s how you get Windows 11 for free.
Tip: Always back up your PC before upgrading to a new operating system or at least make sure your important files and documents are saved somewhere else, like a cloud service like Google Drive or Dropbox.
Install Windows 11 via Windows 10 Settings
This is the simplest option. Just go to: Start > Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update > Check for updates and Windows 11 should appear, if your PC is compatible. Then follow the on-screen prompts.
Install Windows 11 manually (via wizard)
- Click the Windows 11 download page link here
- For most users I recommend ‘Installation Assistant’ but there is also an option to create a bootable drive for clean installs
- Once downloaded, follow the instructions in the installation guide
- Don’t forget to select the option to Keep personal files and apps
Installation takes a while, involves multiple restarts, and you’ll need a Microsoft account. There are hacks out there but for most users I don’t see that as a big deal.
Last tip: a Windows 11 license is linked to your hardware. So, if you need to format your computer for any reason, Windows 11 will automatically wake up. If you upgrade several components of your PC over time, Windows 11 may think you bought a new PC and refuse to register the license. The good news is that Microsoft has a simple training process you can track if this happens.
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