Windows 11 vs Windows 10

A new Windows is opening up for business: Windows 11. Here’s how it shapes up next to its older sibling, Windows 10.

Microsoft is hoping your support devices will want to marry its latest operating system (OS). That’s why you can expect some things old, some things new, some things borrowed, and still plenty of blue with one of the worst kept software secrets of recent times, Windows 11. But if you’re a PC user, the chances are good that whether you’re on a desktop PC, gaming laptop, 2-in-1 notebook (or any other Windows-supported device), you’re likely running Windows 10, alongside more than one billion other users.

So whether you’re a day-one operating system updater or curious to know what the hullabaloo is all about, here’s how Windows 11 stacks up next to Windows 10.

Wait. Wasn’t Windows 10 supposed to be the last Windows release?

With the shift towards software-as-a-service subscriptions, there was a time when Microsoft devs were saying that Windows 10 would be the last release, assumedly treating Windows 10 as a service that would be updated and monetised in other ways outside of core OS updates. After all, for the first year of release, Microsoft was giving Windows 10 away for free to get users into the latest OS ecosystem.

If the incredibly popular gaming digital platform Steam is any indication, there are a lot of Windows 10 users out there, with a whopping 92.87% of users connecting to the service on PCs via Windows 10.

So, the idea of Windows 10 as the last Windows is no longer part of the plan, but while it looks different on the surface, Windows 10 devotees can still mercifully configure some of Windows 11’s bigger changes to have a user interface that looks familiar. There’s also a chance you can upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 11 for free later this year (more on this below).

Windows 11 chat integration

Windows 11 release date

It may not seem like that long ago, but Windows 10 came out in 2015, and Microsoft recently announced that Windows 10’s end of life would be in 2025, which came before the official confirmation that Windows 11 even existed. Unfortunately for Microsoft’s careful planning, the was out of the bag because of a Windows 11 leak that showcased the default new user interface and some of the features.

At this stage, Windows 11 is due for release “this holiday”, meaning at some point towards the end of the year. Members of the Windows Insider Program will be able to access a preview version from July 2021.

Windows 11 price

Windows 11 will be a free upgrade for anyone with a compatible Windows 10 PC but there’s no word yet on how much the OS will cost for those seeking to buy it outright or separate from a new computer that has Windows 11 preinstalled.

Windows 11 vs Windows 10: User interface

For what feels like the longest time, Windows operating systems have had a taskbar down the bottom that has a Start button on the left. Not anymore. Windows 11 takes a MacOS-like approach to its position with a Start button in the middle of the screen and apps around it. Initially, this design logic was intended for the cancelled Windows 10X, meant to make the interface easier to navigate for dual-screen devices. It also cleans up the entire tray area, removing the toolbar items in the far right.

Live Tiles are gone in favour of a snapshot view of pinned apps, recently accessed files as well as the option to restart or shutdown. Dark mode is also part of Windows 11. The good news is if a Start button in the centre is too much to handle, you can shift it back to the left-hand traditional view. What likely won’t bother Windows traditionalists is that app corners, menus and File Explorer windows have been rounded off in Windows 11 rather than the typical square look of Windows 10.

Windows 11 vs Windows 10: Gaming inclusions

Windows 10 gamers have enjoyed decent OS love care of a bigger focus on games in the Windows Store, the DirectX 12 graphics API (which is capable of some high frame rates), the Xbox Console Companion app for streaming from an in-home Xbox One (or above) console, and the downloadable Xbox app. Windows 11 is going to build on this.

For starters, there’s DirectX 12 Ultimate, which has the potential to make games even prettier with higher frame rates. DirectStorage is designed to get you into games faster with speedier loading times (as long as you’re playing games from an NVMe SSD), while Auto HDR should increase colour vividness (for games on DirectX 11 or higher) as long as you have a compatible HDR monitor. This latter point is a step up from the default SDR approach of older versions of Windows.

As you’d hope, Microsoft is continuing its wide-reaching peripheral support for Windows 11, meaning you should safely expect compatibility for your existing gaming headsets, gaming mice, gaming keyboards as well as Xbox Wireless Controllers and beyond.

Unlike Windows 10, the Xbox app is built into Windows 11, meaning it should be more streamlined and easier to access than before. For those subscribed to Xbox Game Pass for PC or Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, you can access a library of fixed first-party and rotating third-party PC games, some of which can be preloaded months in advance of when a game is releasing.

Xbox Game Pass Ultimate also lets you access Xbox Cloud Gaming via a browser or within the Xbox app, so even an entry-level laptop or desktop can be used to play new releases. Xbox Game Pass will still support cross-play and cross-save for compatible games, meaning you can pick up and play across PC and Xbox devices.

Windows 11 vs Windows 10: Microsoft Store

This is a big one. The Microsoft Store has come a way since its horrendous initial launch (most notably for gamers) in Windows 10 to being okay but still finicky today. For example, the current version of the Microsoft Store has issues downloading games and apps to deferent hard drives, particularly if you’re using a PC with multiple drives where the main drive has been formatted or reset and the older drives have previously had Windows 10 apps from an older installation.

Fingers crossed these sorts of hiccups are fixed for Windows 11, but we’ll have to wait and see if that proves true once it’s available. What we do know is the Microsoft Store has been on the to-upgrade list for a while now, and that’s happening in Windows 11. Microsoft is pitching it as a single location for apps, streaming services as well as work, play and productivity tools. The redesign pledge is that it’s easy to use and easy on the eye. Expect to find more apps than ever (all tested for security and family safety) which, refreshingly, should be easier to find. Some of the bigger apps you can expect to find in the Windows 11 Microsoft Store are Microsoft Teams, Disney Plus, Visual Studio, Creative Cloud, Zoom and Canva.

Surprisingly, Android apps will also be coming to Windows for the first time via the Microsoft Store, which is a step up from the Your Phone feature on Windows 10 that lets you use Android apps today.

Windows 11 Microsoft Store

Windows 11 vs Windows 10: Upgrading

One of the great things about Windows 10 was the offer to upgrade for free from compatible versions of Windows 7 or greater. Despite being free, it still involved an upgrade process that felt more like a fresh installation rather than a straightforward upgrade. That’s set to be more streamlined with the jump between Windows 10 and Windows 11.

Like Windows 10, Windows 11 will be a free upgrade for eligible PCs, but that’s restricted to Windows 10 PCs, and the compatibility requirements may be a bit finicky if my tests are any indication. To check your Windows 10 PC, download the Windows PC Health Check tool, which will then let you check if your computer is Windows 11 compatible. For context, my desktop PC has innards that are mostly a few years old with a very new Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 Ti graphics card, and apparently it doesn’t meet the minimum system requirements for Windows 11.

It was a similar story for my longer-in-the-tooth Dell XPS 13, which also failed eligibility test. Conversely, the recently released Microsoft Surface Laptop 4 received a green compatibility tick, meaning it’s eligible for a free Windows 11 upgrade when it rolls out later in 2021. Minimal internet sleuthing suggests the main compatibility requirement is TPM 2.0, which may need to be enabled within computer BIOS or firmware updated to pass the test.

Here are the Windows 11 system minimum requirements:

Windows 11 minimum system requirements
ComponentRequirement
Processor1GHZ (or faster) 64-bit CPU with two (or more) cores
Memory (RAM)4GB
Storage64GB
System firmwareUEFI, Secure Boot capable
Trusted Platform ModuleVersion 2.0
Graphics cardWDDM 2.0 driver compatible with DX12 (or later)
Display720p (HD) screen larger than 9-inch diagonally, 8 bits per colour channel
Internet and accountsInternet connectivity and a Microsoft account

Microsoft has detailed other key feature-specific requirements as well as feature deprecations and removals on the Windows 11 specifications page.

When Windows 11 is available, compatible PCs should be able to access a streamlined upgrade from Windows 10 to Windows 11 via Windows Update. Expect to see hands-on impressions of Windows 11 crop up in the coming weeks as an official preview build will be available for members of the Windows Insider Program.

Should I consider upgrading from Windows 10 to Windows 11?

At this early stage, it’s hard to see Windows 11 as an essential upgrade. Windows 10 is in a solid and reliable place for work and play, which means if you’re faced with the prospect of keeping Windows 10 or paying for Windows 11, you should probably stick with what you’ve got. That said, compatible Windows 10 PCs that have access to a free upgrade can tap into some of the interesting features and new user interface of Windows 11 without spending a cent.

Windows 11 minimum system requirements
ComponentRequirement
Processor1GHZ (or faster) 64-bit CPU with two (or more) cores
Memory (RAM)4GB
Storage64GB
System firmwareUEFI, Secure Boot capable
Trusted Platform ModuleVersion 2.0
Graphics cardWDDM 2.0 driver compatible with DX12 (or later)
Display720p (HD) screen larger than 9-inch diagonally, 8 bits per colour channel
Internet and accountsInternet connectivity and a Microsoft account