IT’S GEEK TO ME: In the weeds: Confusing Windows 11 requirements

Question: I just learned that Windows 11 will require a TPM module in the computer before the update can be installed. What is it and how can it be installed in a laptop? I am running an HP Pavillion 64-bit laptop that is probably at least 5 years old. It has 6GB of RAM and a 500GB SSD with about 187GB free.

– David E.

Destin, Florida

Answer: Thanks for your question, David. I’ve been hoping someone would ask a question like this to give me a vehicle to talk about Windows 11. I realize that the very phrase “Windows 11” might come as a surprise to people who don’t follow technology news very closely, but yes, we’re talking about a new version of Windows that will eventually replace Windows 10. Yes, the same “Windows 10” that Microsoft previously had said would be the final version of Windows.

First, some good news. There will be no charge for the upgrade. That’s right – just like Windows 10, the upgrade to Windows 11 will be free, gratis, and without cost. Now the bad news. A huge number of computers out there will not be capable of running the new operating system, including many of those that were built and sold during the launch of Windows 10. This is not because of insufficient computing power, or too little memory (although the hardware requirements have increased above what was required for Windows 10). Rather, it is because many PCs simply cannot pass muster for the (rather confusing) requirements that Microsoft is advertising that are necessary for Windows 11, including the one that David inquired about (and I promise, David, I’m getting to your question).

As one might expect, the revelation that the next version of Windows will transform literally millions of otherwise perfectly functioning PCs into just so much e-waste is not sitting well with the industry. After all, if the machines can never be updated again, they can’t even really be sold off as used equipment, because few people would want to invest in such doomed hardware. Microsoft is scrambling to explain why it must be so.

One of the criteria that many are questioning is Microsoft’s mandating the presence of a Trusted Platform Module or TPM on a machine for it to be able to run Windows 11. This is an arbitrary choice, because the pre-release versions of Windows 11 don’t require TPM. In other words, TPM will be required only because Microsoft says it will be required, not because the software actually needs it in order to function.

So, what is TPM, what does it do, and can it be added to your PC? All good questions, and all at the heart of David’s very timely inquiry. TPM is a somewhat obscure, hardware-based security feature. It’s a tiny little chip, sometimes on the PC’s motherboard, other times not. The chip provides a cryptographic key that unlocks internals on your PC, such as the contents of an encrypted hard drive. Under normal circumstances, it works in the background, and you never know it’s there. But if someone steals your laptop, and tries to tamper with your hard drive, the PC won’t boot. But that’s just one of the things it can do. Software, such as e-mail and web browsers can use TPM to verify that you are you, and not a hacker trying to infiltrate your PC.

The odds of being able to add TPM to any given machine are slim. If a system is capable of TPM, chances are it already has it. You can easily tell if your computer has TPM by hitting [WinKey]+R, and at the Run prompt, enter TPM.msc and click OK. Whether your PC does or doesn’t have TPM, you’ll be told that in no uncertain terms.

Even if you’re properly equipped with TPM, there remain many other criteria that must be met for your PC to run Win11. They are far too numerous for me to list here, so if you’re concerned, I suggest doing some searches on Google for the Win 11 requirements. In the meantime, there’s no need to panic. The release of Windows 11 is a little ways off yet, and the end-of-life for Windows 10 isn’t until late 2025. So, you have plenty of time to plan. Perhaps by then, some of you die-hard Win 7 users will be ready to finally upgrade!

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