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How to install Windows 11 today for free

You'll need to be a Windows Insider, but signing up is easy

Several laptops sitting next to each other in a group Credit: Microsoft

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Microsoft has finally pulled the veil back on Windows 11 and given the world a sneak peek at what’s in store for its next major operating system. It will be months before the official version releases to the public, but it’s possible to get in on the ground floor today with a few simple steps. If you’re eager to try the new upgrade and all the new features it has to offer, this guide will tell you exactly how to get started.

If this is the first time you’re hearing about Windows 11, there’s a lot to know. We’ve prepared a special guide to get you up to speed with all of the important details. Be sure to give it a look and learn about the biggest new features, system requirements, and dates.

What You Need:
- PC that meets the minimum system requirements
- Internet connection
- Microsoft account

Time Needed
3-4 hours

Difficulty
Easy

Can I run Windows 11?

Windows 11 is posied to be Microsoft’s most advanced operating system yet. With that comes a new slate of system requirements, and they’re a bit more demanding than we’ve seen in the past. The good news is that if your computer has a motherboard and processor released in the last 3-4 years, you’re probably eligible for the upgrade.

The minimum system requirements for Windows 11 are:

  • CPU: 1 GHz, two-core minimum on a supported 64-bit processor or System on a Chip (SoC)
  • RAM: 4 GB
  • Storage: 64 GB
  • System firmware: UEFI, Secure Boot capable
  • TPM: Trusted Platform Module (TPM) v2.0
  • Graphics card: Compatible with DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver
  • Display: High definition (720p) display that is greater than nine inches diagonally, 8 bits per color channel
  • Internet connection and Microsoft accounts: Windows 11 Home edition requires internet connectivity and a Microsoft account to complete device setup on first use; Switching a device out of Windows 11 Home in S mode also requires internet connectivity; For all Windows 11 editions, internet access is required to perform updates and to download and take advantage of some features. A Microsoft account is required for some features.

While most of these requirements are reasonable, the biggest hurdle facing older PCs is TPM 2.0. A TPM, or Trusted Platform Module, is a specialized chip integrated into a motherboard or built into the processor that provides hardware-based encryption to the system. This module will need to be enabled to use Windows 11, even in its early state.

Additionally, Secure Boot, a system-wide setting that offers protection during the boot-up process, will also need to be enabled in the system BIOS. Turning these options on is usually fairly easy but requires a trip into your motherboard’s BIOS settings menu and can vary by manufacturer. Thankfully, we have a simple guide to help you with this process.

When does Windows 11 officially release?

Microsoft hasn’t shared a hard release date yet, but it confirmed plans to begin upgrades this holiday season. That may not mean everyone, however. The official Microsoft Twitter account expanded on this, explaining that eligible devices will begin upgrading in this holiday but that the process will continue through the first half of 2022. The only way to ensure you won’t have to wait to try Windows 11 for yourself is to sign up for the Windows Insider Program to download an early version. This is completely free and can be done today.

Step-by-Step

The following steps will help you to update a system currently running Windows 10.

1. Backup and prepare your PC

Before taking on any kind of major software update, it’s always wise to back up and prepare your PC. Note that System Restore is disabled after a major Windows upgrade, so you’ll need to backup your PC another way to be safe. Backing up your PC can be done the old-fashioned way with an external hard drive or by storing all of your important data to the cloud. Western Digital’s MyBook is our top choice among the Best External Hard Drives of 2021 and includes free backup software that will automatically sync between your selected drives. For an all-digital solution, we recommend iDrive Personal as an easy and affordable cloud-based option for system backups.

Before going further, we also recommend making sure your system is completely up to date with the latest system updates from Microsoft. This can be done by opening the Start menu, clicking the gear icon, selecting Settings. In the window that opens, choose Update & Security, then Windows Update, finally clicking Check for Updates. Allow Windows to download and install any required updates.

With that out of the way, be sure that TPM 2.0 and Secure Boot are both enabled through your system BIOS. If either are not, you will be unable to download Windows 11.

2. Sign up for the Windows Insider Dev Channel

The default Windows Insider screen
Credit: Reviewed/Christopher Coke/Microsoft

How the Windows Insider Program screen appears by default.

Since Windows 11 isn’t officially released yet, the only way to access it is through the Windows Insider Program. This program provides early access to updates, including full operating system versions. To download the Windows Insider Preview, you’ll need to link your Microsoft account to the Dev Channel, opening the door to the earliest updates currently available for download. Windows 11 is not yet available via the other channels.

To sign up, open the Start menu, click the gear icon and choose Settings. Next, click Update & Security, and select Windows Insider Program from the menu on the left. To save time, you can also search “Windows Insider Program Settings” from the Start menu and press Enter. Click “Get Started” and follow the prompts to link your preferred Microsoft account. Reboot your PC to finalize the process.

How the Windows Insider screen appears with Dev Channel selected
Credit: Reviewed/Christopher Coke/Microsoft

Windows Insider Dev Channel selection screen.

Once you’re rebooted, return to the Windows Insider menu and click “Release Preview Channel.” If your PC is compatible and both TPM and Secure Boot are enabled, you should now see options for a Beta Channel and Dev Channel. Select Dev Channel and hit the back button to return to the previous screen.

3. Update your PC with the Windows 11 Insider Preview

Windows 11 Insider Preview is delivered as an update
Credit: Reviewed/Christopher Coke/Microsoft

Windows 11 is delivered as a Windows Update for the Windows Insider Preview version.

Now that you’re signed up for the Dev Channel, you should be able to download Windows 11. Choose Window Update from the menu on the left and click Check For Updates. A new entry should appear titled Windows 11 Insider Preview. Download and install the update.

This process can take several hours depending on your internet connection and PC. When it’s done, your system will prompt you to reboot the PC to continue with the installation process. If you’re running on a laptop, be sure to plug in your AC adapter now.

4. Reboot and complete the installation

Updating to Windows 11 after reboot
Credit: Reviewed/Christopher Coke

Windows will continue the update after rebooting.

Once your PC has rebooted, it will continue with the installation process. You will be presented with a blue screen that will tell you your current installation percentage. This can take 20 minutes or more depending on your PC, so expect it to take a while. Your PC will reboot several times and pick up where it left off. Do not shut down your PC during the installation as this can cause the installation to fail.

5. Enjoy Windows 11!

The Windows 11 desktop after updating
Credit: Reviewed/Christopher Coke/Microsoft

The new Windows 11 desktop.

After your installation percentage has reached 100% and completed its processes, you’re done! You will be presented with a new login screen to access your desktop. If you were upgrading from Windows 10, all of your files, programs, and desktop icons should be intact. If you notice anything is missing, you should find it safe on the backup you created at the beginning. The actual desktop will look different than Windows 10. The Start menu is now centered and the Taskbar has a new frosted glass aesthetic for a fresh, modern look.

There’s lots to enjoy in Windows 11, but remember that you’re currently running an early version that isn’t quite finished yet. It’s normal to experience some bugs or graphical glitches. For example, all of our custom Taskbar shortcuts were missing their icons after installation and needed to be re-pinned to appear again. Be sure to Check For Updates often as Microsoft releases bug fixes. If you experience a major problem, or just decide Windows 11 isn’t for you, you can easily reinstall Windows 10 using Microsoft’s Media Creation Tool to download a free installation file.

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