Hear Ye! Hear Ye! The hour is at hand, the time is nigh, and your doom awaits! Tremble O’ Ye IT Professionals for the clock strikes Eleven…
After months of speculation, unhelpful news articles and specification lists, Microsoft, our digital overlords, have delivered the latest iteration of their venerable Operating System to the masses! A security-conscious edition of the Redmond corporation’s software juggernaut, Windows 11 promised to crack down on the malwares, viruses and exploits of our time by keeping an ironclad grip on the systems it is installed on. This new focus would require only the most modern of hardware, and specific security components called Trusted Platform Modules (TPMs).
Now that the fateful day has come and gone, I’ve been able to test these new restrictions on a variety of different devices. And, my friends, the news is not all doom, there’s very little gloom in fact. Read on and I shall reveal all…
Seek the Truth
After many months of anticipation. With many fearing that most, if not their entire PC estate would be unable to run this latest incarnation. We can finally get some definitive answers. Time to dust off my Fedora and get to finding the truth!
I was on the case bright and early. Starting the working day with a 16GB USB drive and the Microsoft Media Creation Tool. My mission? Successfully install the release version of Windows 11 Professional on the oldest hardware at my disposal. The rules? No cheating! I wouldn’t use any hacks, registry edits or pre-release insider copies. This would be by the book. So, if the installer refused to proceed and I’d set everything up as well as possible, I would admit defeat.
I set to my task. Arrayed before me waited a plethora of machines. All desperate to prove their worth under the new order. My test subjects were the following:
- Lenovo ThinkPad T480 – 8th Gen Core i5, 16GB DDR4 RAM, NVMe SSD, TPM 2.0
- Lenovo ThinkPad T430 – 3rd Gen Core i5, 8GB DDR3 RAM, SATA SSD, TPM 1.2
- Custom Desktop PC – Ryzen 3600X, 16GB DDR4, NVMe SSD, fTPM
- Dell Latitude E7470 – 6th Gen Core i5, 8GB DDR4, NVMe SSD, TPM 1.2, Touchscreen
- Microsoft Surface Pro 4 – 6th Gen Core i5, 8GB LPDDR3, NVMe SSD, TPM 2.0
- Fujitsu Lifebook S6510 – Core2Duo T7500, 4GB DDR2, SATA HDD, TPM
My wonderful Lenovo T480 is a gorgeous laptop. It sails through every task I set it with ease, and I was certain I’d have no issues here. Booting up via the USB installer was fast and I was presented with a familiar installation screen. It’s essentially identical to the W10 one. As this was my work device, I didn’t want to do a fresh install, so I chose to upgrade my current installation, keeping files and programs intact. And this is where I hit my first snag… The Installation media Microsoft helps you create doesn’t allow you to do a direct upgrade – though it presents you with the option. Instead, it directs you to the Microsoft upgrade assistant, which should guide you through an in-Windows upgrade process. Switching tack, I took this option and followed the instructions on the MS Windows 11 download page. This was an easy process as everything on the T480 meets with the official Windows 11 requirements. The install process took less than twenty minutes, and I was working again before I knew it. The Windows 10 license on the laptop transferred seamlessly to the new OS. Similarly, files and programs were right where I’d left them.
So far, so good…
Next up, my personal desktop PC. The stakes were far higher here as it serves as a repository for every document, family picture, downloaded games & videos, music production file, piece of work from university and beyond. Losing much of this would have been a disaster. Having learned from my first attempt, I went straight to the in-Windows upgrade process (I didn’t want to lose any files!) and promptly failed the compatibility check! No TPM!
AMD’s Ryzen CPUs come with inbuilt TPM functionality known as fTPM. A brief search of my MSI bios was all it took to enable this feature. The same went for Secure Boot, this requiring that boot was UEFI only with no legacy MBR options to speak of.
The second attempt was a success – although I sat, anxiously biting my nails, until it was complete – Much the same as the T480, my system passed the checks and twenty minutes later I was looking at that rather obvious new Start Menu feeling rather relieved.
Time to try something from scratch this time. I was interested to see how Windows 11 would handle the two touchscreens on our list. Out came the lovely Dell E7470 and Surf Pro 4, premium devices both.
My first impression is that the PixelSense display on the surface is clearly overcomplicated compared to the capacitive touchscreen on the Dell. Once secure boot was enabled, I was able to proceed through a seamless install on the Dell, using the touch functionality throughout. This was not the case with the Surface. Whatever proprietary drivers power the Surface’s display and Type Cover are not included with the Windows 11 install media (nor were they for Windows 10. Come on Microsoft!). I had to dig out an old USB 3 hub and a spare keyboard and mouse to get things moving.
I use the Surface a lot and had first tried to upgrade my Windows 10 installation. However, the device failed compatibility checks due to the CPU not being officially supported. One backup later and I had absolutely no problem installing via USB. Getting the Surface drivers installed took a little more effort. Why drivers for Microsoft’s own hardware aren’t baked into its operating system I don’t know. But after some digging and updating, I had one working Surface Pro 4 with Windows 11.
Long in the Tooth
Up to now I’d been having far more success that I’d anticipated. It was clearly time to see how far things could be pushed…
Not as far as I’d hoped it turns out. Having reached for the Fujitsu, the oldest machine in my pile, I was immediately defeated. Secure Boot requires that a device’s boot sequence be UEFI only, no legacy options at all. Sadly, the S6510 was ALL legacy. Not a whiff of UEFI to be found! It was over before it had begun, the USB wouldn’t boot, let alone load the installer.
Not discouraged by a defeat I reached for my trusty Lenovo ThinkPad T430. This thing is a rock! The T430 and I spent six harmonious years together. It’s helped me sell thousands of refurbished PCs, Servers and Monitors, was the machine I used to build two generations of ICT Direct website. It soldiered on through Photoshop, InDesign, Premiere Pro, Sketchup and more, never failing or complaining. Surely my trusty old steed wouldn’t fail me now…
I connected power, inserted the Windows 11 USB and fired the old girl up. It recognised the USB and booted into the install environment! I tapped “Install”. “Your device is not compatible with Windows 11.” Nooooo! Thwarted! Or was I? I hadn’t checked the bios settings. A swift reboot confirmed that the TPM was active, but secure boot wasn’t as both Legacy and UEFI boot options were enabled! I made the change and tried again. It worked! In just twenty minutes my venerable old ThinkPad was sitting there with the fresh glow of a new OS. Windows update found all the drivers. Well nearly all. I had to manually tack down the touchpad driver, but that was all!
It runs it well too. Everything is responsive and works a treat!
Long Live the Old Ones
So, there we have it. In terms of actually installing and running Windows 11 on a range of older hardware. I’m confident that machines as far back as a 3rd generation Intel Core processor will have no problem installing and running Windows 11 Professional via the ISO. Providing, that is, that they have at least a TPM 1.2 and are capable of UEFI only Secure Boot. Additionally, I was able to activate Each Windows 11 installation using the pre-existing COA or digital license for each machine.
I’ve now successfully installed the new OS on several machines and, back at the warehouse, our engineering team has tried it on several more with similar successes, including our range of 6th and 7th Generation HP desktops. We’ve learned more about imaging W11 over the network. Specifically, you cannot use Windows Deployment Services (WDS) with the Windows 11 image. Microsoft want you to use Endpoint Configurator – formerly System Centre Configuration Manager (SCCM). However, we’ve found that installing Windows 11 via WDS is possible if you use a Windows 10 boot image.
We’re right at the beginning of Windows 11 and we’ll have to wait and see where things lead, things could well change with a future update. But, for now, our investigations have shown us that you can deploy it to a vast array of older hardware with no issues. We’ve found that software and network configurations that worked under Windows 10 will very likely continue to work in the same way under Windows 11.
For now, at least. We can all breathe easy.
Until the next tech apocalypse…