The open beta for Windows 11 is available to try today and there are lots of reasons to be excited for it. It sports a much more modern design, and, if you’re a gamer, Microsoft is bringing a few of their biggest innovations from the Xbox Series X to Windows 11 to make the operating system ready for next-gen gaming. Eventually Windows 11 will be able to run Android apps, but that functionality isn’t yet enabled in the Insider builds.
If you’re eager to check out Windows 11 for yourself and don’t want to wait for its holiday 2021 launch, then lucky for you it’s available right now for Windows Insiders to download. As with any kind of beta software you should expect some bugs, especially with the first build of a new OS. We recommend trying the Preview out in a virtual machine or on a secondary computer, but if you want to throw caution to the wind and install Windows 11 on your primary machine, then more power to you.
How to download and install Windows 11
First, like with any big update and especially with beta software, you’ll want to make sure your data is backed up in case of a catastrophic failure or if you want to go back to Windows 10. You can use Windows 10’s built-in backup function or use a separate app.
Next, make sure your PC is up to spec. This shouldn’t be too difficult as any relatively new PC should meet the minimum requirements listed below. And Microsoft’s own PC health checker app has been updated to be more specific about why your PC can’t be updated, and will also tell you if your system won’t work at all with Windows 11.
- A 64-bit processor with 2 or more cores, 1 GHz or faster
- 4GB of RAM
- 64GB of storage
- A graphics card compatible with DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver
- A 720p display that’s at least 9 inches on the diagonal
- Internet connectivity and a Microsoft account
A small wrinkle worth mentioning is that Windows 11 also requires a TPM 2.0 chip to be enabled. These are included in any Intel 8th-gen chip or newer, or any AMD Ryzen 2000-series chip or newer, and some motherboards may include them as well if you’re using an older CPU like the popular Intel 7700K. However, even if your computer has a TPM 2.0 chip, your BIOS may not have it enabled, so you will need to enable it manually before you update.
Once you’ve confirmed your PC is compatible, now it’s time to enroll as a Windows Insider. This is simple enough as you can either enroll in your system preferences or just use this link. Make sure you set “Fast” as your preview build preference so you can get updates as soon as they’re available. If the preview build doesn’t become available in your System Updates after enrolling, it should after restarting your PC. Be sure to go to Settings> Update & Security> Windows Insider Program to finish set-up.
How to install Windows 11 in a virtual machine
If you don’t have multiple PCs but still want to try out Windows 11, there are a few options for you if you’re comfortable getting your hands dirty.
You could install Windows 11 on a separate partition, but that’s complicated and messy and prone to failure. Installing to a separate drive would be better, but even that’s overkill if you’re just trying to poke around.
The real move is to install Windows 11 in virtual machine like VirtualBox. VirtualBox is free and runs on virtually any host machine, and can run a wide variety of guest operating systems. You’ll have to download a Windows 10 ISO using Microsoft’s media creation tool, install that, then use the steps outlined above to register for and install the Insider Preview. You might want to use a separate Microsoft account so that you don’t accidentally enroll your other machines in Insider Builds.
Once that’s done, you’ll likely have to install the Guest Additions to get 3D acceleration working, which you can read more about here, and I always like to install the Extension Pack to give the VM as much down-to-the-metal access as possible. This won’t give you a totally native feeling Windows 11 install, but it’ll allow you to test Microsoft’s new OS without putting your primary machine at risk.
Can I Switch Back to Windows 10 if the Preview is Unstable?
Yes, but it’s not as simple as opting-out. You can unenroll from Windows Insider at any point from your system preferences, but by default you will continue to receive insider builds until the final version of Windows 11 is available. If you need to go back to Windows 10, you will need to do a full reinstall of Windows 10. A factory reset will still keep you on Windows 11.
If you’re not willing to run unstable software at all but still want to use the preview at some point before the official launch, you can also choose to enroll in the “Slow” preview build track when you sign up for the Insider program. This will still give your system beta software, but they’ll be in a slightly better state than the Preview build out today. It’s also worth noting that the Slow track is known to be much less predictable than the Fast track, so enrolling in the Slow track today means you’ll get your first Windows 11 preview whenever Microsoft deems the build to be stable enough.