While it has its reasons, Microsoft’s decision to enforce new hardware requirements in Windows 11 remains controversial. It’s already affecting users in the Windows Insider program, blocking unsupported hardware from the most recent post-release builds in the Dev channel. While Beta channel users are getting cumulative updates up until next month’s release, they soon will have to decide what to do with their PCs once updates stop. Microsoft has been sending warning emails and displaying banners in Windows Update for devices that will soon lose access to the program.
SEE: Windows 11 cheat sheet: Everything you need to know (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
If you’re running the beta or dev Windows 11 releases on unsupported hardware, you’ll soon have to decide what to do. Unless you only recently decided to try out Windows 11, that’s likely to mean a complete reinstall, either from a recovery partition or using Microsoft’s own tools. While Microsoft is offering an unsupported way (using its Media Creation tool) to install the final release version of Windows 11 on hardware that doesn’t meet its strictest requirements, first make sure to unenroll your device from the Windows Insider program.
Windows’ own rollback and install policies make the decision complex. There’s no supported way to go back to Windows 10 and keep your applications and data (unless you’re in a very tiny window that only applies to recently joined PCs). But if you don’t remove unsupported devices from the program you’re going to be left in an unsupported state, with a build that’s likely to time out in a few months.
That last point is an important one that’s often missed: Windows Insider builds in the Beta and Dev channels are evaluation builds and have a hard-coded expiration date. If you continue using one without upgrading to a new release, it will time out and stop working. Because of that limitation you don’t have the option of staying on the last build you get from the Insider program when builds stop arriving for your processor.
So how do you get your PC back to a supported build of Windows?
If you’ve only just switched to the Beta or Dev channels from Windows 10 you may still be within the short window that lets you roll back to your previous build using the Windows.old file. You can’t roll back without this file, so if you’ve deleted it to save space, there’s no way back without a fresh install. You’ve got 10 days to do this, otherwise Windows will delete the file automatically to avoid using up all your disk space.
Before you attempt to run a roll back, make sure you’ve backed up all files, to a local disk or to OneDrive, and make sure you have a list of all software you need to install. Recovering a PC will only reinstall bundled software, and in many cases only includes the OS files.
SEE: Windows 11: Understanding the system requirements and the security benefits (TechRepublic)
There are two ways to roll back. First open Settings, and in System go to Recovery (you can also get here from the Windows Update section, via Advanced Options). Once here, choose Go Back to uninstall the latest feature update and return to Windows 10. If that doesn’t work, you may have been affected by an early Windows 11 bug.
If this is the case, you can still roll back. First, take a record of your BitLocker Recovery key as you may need to use this to unlock your hard disk. From System go to Recovery and then open Advanced Startup. Click Restart to open Windows Recovery. From here select Reset this PC, and then choose Troubleshoot. In the Troubleshoot menu next find an Uninstall Updates option. Select this and then select Uninstall Latest Feature Update. This will run any available rollback, hopefully returning you to Windows 10.
Resetting your PC
If neither of these options work, then you’ll need to completely reset your device, reinstalling Windows 10. If your device has a recovery partition you can use this, or alternatively you can download directly from Microsoft. Microsoft recently introduced a Cloud Recovery tool which allows you to fetch an install image from its servers. Make sure your copy of Windows is activated and linked to your Microsoft account if you want your fresh install to automatically activate. If not, be sure to have your original Windows key to hand.
Again, use Windows Recovery to get to the Reset this PC option. Choose Cloud Recovery or a local reinstall. Cloud Recovery will warn you that it will require at least 4GB of download, so may not be appropriate if you’re using a metered connection or have limited bandwidth. Even so, it’s worth attempting if your PC doesn’t have recovery data or if it’s corrupted. The Cloud download brings down the latest version of Windows 10, so any additional updates should be relatively small. A local recovery image will be the original version that came with your device, so may require a large set of updates if you have an older PC.
SEE: How to install Windows 11 on a Mac (TechRepublic)
In some cases, your PC will default to resetting and reinstalling Windows 11, so your best option is to use the Windows Media Creation Tool to install Windows 10. You have two ways to install it, using it to download an installation to your PC or make an install image on USB or as an ISO file. This approach will completely wipe any files off your PC, so be sure to back them up before starting. If there’s enough space on your disk, choose to run the MCT directly, downloading and upgrading without having to create an installation device.
This process will take some time, and once it’s complete you have to go through the whole set up process from scratch, working through the out-of-box experience, connecting to Wi-Fi, and configuring your OneDrive. If you’ve moved your files to OneDrive this will simplify getting back to normal, as you’ll be able to use its files-on-demand feature to access all your data, only needing to reinstall applications as and when you need them (helping spring clean your PC!).
If you do want to use Windows 11 once released, most modern PCs which meet the base specifications will be able to upgrade using MCT. All you need is to be sure you have a 64-bit processor, UEFI secure boot, and TPM 2.0. Failing that, Microsoft will be supporting Windows 10 until 2025, giving you several more years with a familiar Windows.