Windows 11: Should You Upgrade?

Key Points

  • Windows 11 brings back many familiar features from the previous versions but with a new look.

  • The Windows 11 system requirements must be met before upgrading your system.

  • The Windows 11 system requirements are more demanding than previous versions.

  • You learn the pros and cons of upgrading to Windows 11.

The internet jumped for joy in July of 2021 when Microsoft announced the newest iteration of its operating system (OS): Windows 11. This gave PC users something to look forward to after operating on Windows 10 since 2015. However, the Windows 11 system requirements are far more demanding than its predecessor.

Microsoft went as far as creating an app to tell you if your current PC can reliably upgrade or not because the Windows 11 system requirements may prompt you to purchase a newer central processing unit (CPU). CPUs aren't exactly the cheapest computer components.

It’s not every day that a major overhaul of an OS is released, so it’s a pretty exciting event for tech enthusiasts. Just about every PC user has a favorite version of Windows they can wax poetic about. They might gush about the efficiency of Windows ‘98, or they’ll tell you how Windows 8 was a bit of a misstep. Even non-computer people know that a computer’s OS can make or break the user experience.

Hearing about the release of a new OS is like opening a present on Christmas morning: It’s an entirely new computer experience full of new features and (hopefully) free from annoyances that bogged down previous versions. It’s like starting fresh with your PC and exploring all the new possibilities.

Windows devices with app tiles

Key Features

The highlight of anything new is the features. It’s like opening up a present to reveal more presents – especially regarding an operating system. However, some Windows aficionados will be the first to tell you that not every new iteration is as exciting as the previous one. Sometimes it can be like opening a box to find a new t-shirt instead of that gaming system you asked for.

While PC users hope for a new Windows OS to be as optimal as Windows ‘98 or as revolutionary as Windows XP, it is agreed upon that they never want a return of the dreaded Windows Millennium Edition (ME). Luckily, Microsoft has learned from its mistakes and Windows 11 offers features and efficiency that are beneficial to everyone.

The standout feature is the new user interface.

User Interface

Windows 11’s sleek new design takes inspiration from ChromeOS and MacOS. Gone are the days of taskbar icons aligned to the left of your screen. Now, you can enjoy the icons at the center of your monitor like every other modern operating system. However, don’t expect to drag the taskbar anywhere else on the screen as it’s locked at the bottom unless you install third-party software.

The rounded edges on many of its user interface elements give Windows 11 a more modern appearance along with its semi-transparent windows. More and more apps and utilities incorporate this design keeping it consistent across the board. It’s a softer, more streamlined style that contributes to its aesthetic appeal.

The majority of the work put into Windows 11 was the new design, so many of the system's features are familiar.

Widgets

Windows 11’s Widget Panel is not too dissimilar from the “News and Interests” taskbar popup from Windows 10. The Widget Panel shows sports scores, stocks, photos, and weather with the promise of more from third-party developers. This panel offers complete customization.

If you have no interest in stock quotes, feel free to remove that widget. If you’re a frequent user of parental controls because you work on a shared computer, pin the Microsoft Family Safety widget. You can also gain quick access to breaking news with the News widget.

Gaming, Performance, and Biometrics

Gaming was not left out of the decision-making process for Windows 11. If you’re a gamer, you’re going to be quite happy with the improvements from Windows 11. You have access to the Xbox Game Pass collection of video games now that the Xbox app is built into the OS.

Windows 11 also introduces new gaming technology with Auto HDR and DirectStorage. Auto HDR expands a game’s color space and increases its clarity even if the game isn’t an HDR title. DirectStorage accelerates loading times in a game by simply bypassing the CPU in favor of the GPU’s memory. 

Windows 11's improved performance from Windows 10 will excite even the most casual users. Windows 11 is designed to be faster and more efficient than previous versions. This is especially valuable if you use more resource-intensive tasks such as gaming or video editing software. Thanks to the improvements to its underlying architecture, you can expect faster boot times and overall better performance. 

In terms of security, Windows 11 is remarkable. Windows Hello allows you to log into your device using biometric authentication (facial, iris, or fingerprint scan). Knowing that your device is secure from external intrusion gives you peace of mind. Regarding internal intrusion, the 2022 feature update rolled out Smart App Control which prohibits the installation of malicious apps.

Magnifying glass focuses on Window 11 screen

Virtual Desktops and Snap Layouts

Windows 11’s virtual desktop feature is pivotal for those without multiple monitors. With the new “Task View” feature, you can effortlessly switch between virtual desktops like a boss. It’s a handy tool that will make you wonder how you ever existed without it.

A different wallpaper can be set between each of the “desktops” to differentiate one from the other. You can arrange the icons differently on each desktop and create a different desktop for a variety of tasks.

Use one desktop for browsing the internet, another for work-related apps, and a third for social media. It’s a simple way to organize your life while you work from home or get that college essay written. This is something Mac users have been utilizing for years, so it’s about time Microsoft jumped on the bandwagon.

These virtual desktops offer even more functionality when you incorporate Microsoft’s Snap Layout options. Simply hover over any window's “maximize” button to find the options. You’re given several choices: two windows side-by-side, three windows with one large one beside two small stacked ones, or four windows equally sized.

This allows you to simultaneously open multiple windows for different apps and seamlessly jump between them as needed. Multitasking has never been easier.

Linking Windows 11 to Your Phone

Mac and iPhone users and Google enthusiasts have long had their own technological ecosystem where information could easily be shared between devices. Microsoft was on its way to a similar experience with its short-lived Windows phone stint (but you know how that turned out).

However, you no longer have to be the kid left out in the cold with Windows 11’s Phone Link. This is an upgrade from Windows 10’s Your Phone app that instantly shares data between your devices. Phone Link lets you use any app on your computer’s screen – including calling and texting. You can also set up desktop notifications for any app and respond within the notification.

If you use the mobile version of Microsoft Edge, you can send websites between your devices and continue working without delay.

Phone Link is pushed even further when you take into account that Windows 11 supports Android apps. You’ll be required to install them with the Amazon App Store running inside the Microsoft Store, but any app you run on your Android device can now also be used on your computer.

It’s a remarkable app that pushes the technological ecosystem to the next level.

Windows operating system on devices on laptop

Windows 11 System Requirements

Not all PCs are created equal which means that not every computer can run Windows 11. The new Microsoft operating system exclusively runs on newer processing chips. If your CPU wasn’t made in 2018, you will need a new CPU to run Windows 11.

Microsoft tried to make this process easy by creating a compatibility checker tool, but it was quickly removed after causing confusion and frustration among its users. The compatibility checker simply told you whether your PC could run Windows 11, but it failed to list why it couldn’t.

In order to update to Windows 11, you need to have at least a 1GHz CPU, 4GB of RAM, 64GB of available storage, a 64-bit processor — since a 32-bit version of the OS is no longer available — and a graphics processor that is compatible with DirectX12 and Windows Display Driver Model (WDDM) 2.0 or greater.

A few options are available if your system doesn't meet the requirements. One option is to stick with Windows 10 as Microsoft has committed to providing security updates for the operating system until 2025. This is the most cost-effective solution.

Alternatively, if you’re committed to upgrading from your current version of Windows, you could upgrade your system to meet the Windows 11 requirements. Some components such as memory and additional storage are easy and inexpensive to replace.

Your third and most expensive option is buying a new computer that already has Windows 11 installed. It’s not ideal, but the majority of pre-made computers sold with Windows 10 do not meet the Windows 11 requirements.

Can you get Windows 11 without purchasing a whole new rig? Absolutely. Grab the Windows 11 Home version for $139.99 or the Pro edition for $199.99 from the Microsoft Store online. However, you can currently upgrade to the Windows 11 Home version for free if you have a Windows 10 system.

You’re in luck if you install the new OS and absolutely can’t stand it. You have up to 10 days after installing Windows 11 to roll back to Windows 10 if you decide you prefer the older OS. However, this is only available if you upgrade from Windows 10.

Windows 11 screen on tablet

Windows 11 Pros

Windows 11 comes packed with a ton of great features and improvements. Here is a brief list of all the benefits the OS brings to the table:

  • Improved Start menu: The Start menu has been redesigned to be more user-friendly and customizable with the ability to add live tiles for your favorite apps and a search function that shows results from both your device and the web.

  • Virtual desktops: The virtual desktop feature allows you to easily create multiple desktops and switch between them which is great for multitasking and organizing your work.

  • Task View: A new feature that lets you see all your open apps and windows at a glance, making it easy to switch between them or create a new virtual desktop.

  • Snap assist: Snap assist is a handy tool that lets you easily snap apps to the side of your screen making it easier to work with multiple apps at once.

  • Improved security: Windows 11 includes improved security features like Windows Hello — which lets you log in with facial recognition or a fingerprint — and Windows Defender which helps protect against viruses and other threats.

  • Enhanced gaming: Windows 11 includes several enhancements for gamers including the ability to stream games from an Xbox console, improved graphics and performance, and support for new technologies like DirectX 12.

  • Microsoft Edge: Windows 11 includes the new Microsoft Edge browser which is faster and more secure than its predecessor, Internet Explorer. It also includes many useful features like an annotation tool and a reading mode that strips away distractions.

  • Cortana: Microsoft's digital assistant returns built into Windows 11. It can help you set reminders, find information, and even control your smart home devices.

  • Microsoft Store: The Microsoft Store is a one-stop shop for all your apps and games, and it's been redesigned to make it easier to discover new content.

  • Continuum: Continuum is a feature that lets you switch between using your device as a traditional desktop or a tablet depending on your needs.

Windows 11 start-up screen on laptop

Windows 11 Cons

As with any new form of technology — hardware or software — there are bound to be some drawbacks. Here are a few to consider:

  • Compatibility issues: Some older software and hardware may not be compatible with Windows 11 which could cause problems if you rely on these things in your daily workflow.

  • Cost: While Windows 11 is available as a free upgrade for Windows 10, it comes with a cost for users of older versions of Windows. If you're using an older version of Windows and want to upgrade to Windows 11, you'll have to pay for a license.

  • Privacy concerns: Some users have expressed concerns about the amount of data that Windows 11 collects and how it is used by Microsoft. While Microsoft has stated that it uses this data to improve the user experience, some people may not be comfortable with this level of data collection.

  • Forced updates: Windows 11 includes a feature called "Windows Update" which automatically installs updates for the operating system. While this can help ensure that your system is up-to-date and secure, it can also be inconvenient if an update causes problems or takes a long time to install.

  • User interface changes: As with any major update, Windows 11 brings changes to the user interface that may take some getting used to. Some people may find these changes confusing or frustrating especially if they are used to the old interface.

  • Bloatware: Windows 11 comes with many pre-installed apps and features that may be unnecessary or unwanted by the user. This can be frustrating for people who want a clean, streamlined system.

  • Performance issues: As with any new software, bugs and performance issues need to be ironed out over time. Some users have reported issues with slow boot times and other performance issues with Windows 11.

Windows screen checking for operating system updates

Overall

Windows 11 is more than a pretty face. It’s a solid OS update that builds upon many pre-existing features found in Windows 10 while adding a range of new features and improvements that enhance the user experience.

Round edges, a new taskbar, and a plethora of other features make this OS worth the upgrade. Phone Link alone is worth making the leap as it blurs the lines between mobile and desktop. Even Windows XP had issues at first and now it’s regarded as one of the best versions of the OS. Any inconveniences this new OS has shouldn't be judged harshly.

It may not be a must-have for everyone, but it is worth considering for those looking for better security or a fresh new look on their PC. Weigh the pros and cons to decide if upgrading is best for you. Do your research, decide what’s important to you, and ensure Windows 11 meets your needs.

However, if you have the means to upgrade to Windows 11, it's recommended that you do so. It's a great OS that's similar enough to Windows 10 that you'll find yourself navigating the system like you've had it for years.