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Windows 11 upgrade issues that desktop admins should know

Windows upgrades have caused numerous issues in the past, and the move to Windows 11 is no exception. Learn what problems IT can expect during a migration to Windows 11.

Desktop system upgrades, such as moving to Windows 11, are usually a major challenge for enterprise IT, and no matter how much testing Windows administrators perform, some issues will inevitably occur.

Consider Windows Vista as an example. Vista caused a lot of application compatibility problems because of how the OS limited permissions. Before Vista, application developers worked under the assumption that their applications could run with unlimited permissions. This led to several applications that worked in Windows XP failing in Vista.

Upgrades to Windows 8 were similarly problematic for many organizations. The user interface was so different from previous versions of Windows that help desks were initially swamped with support calls from confused users who did not know how to use the new OS.

Even for the best-designed OSes with the smoothest UI transitions, operating system upgrades can cause many problems for end users, ranging from data loss to desktop personalization settings reverting to default values.

The Windows 11 upgrade process has suffered from various issues ranging from hardware incompatibilities and cryptic error messages to post-upgrade problems with components such as File Explorer.

Windows Update errors

The most common upgrade method from Windows 10 to Windows 11 involves using the native Windows Update utility. However, Windows Update will not allow Windows 11 to install unless the PC adheres to the Windows 11 system requirements. Sometimes PCs falsely report that they lack the minimum required hardware (Figure 1).

Windows Update menu showing a failed system requirement test
Figure 1. The Windows Update utility indicates that the PC does not meet the Windows 11 system requirements.

These notifications are often incorrect. From the beginning of the Windows 11 rollout, Microsoft stated that PCs over a few years old are unlikely to be Windows 11 compatible. However, the PC in this example is only about a year old and contains a tenth-generation Intel Core-i9 processor. It should easily meet the Windows 11 hardware requirements given its component specifications (Figure 2).  

The About section on a Windows Settings menu showing device information
Figure 2. A modern PC with reasonable components should easily meet the Windows 11 hardware requirements.

The warning message stating that the PC is incompatible includes a link to run the PC Health Check. The PC Health Check is a simple application that assesses Windows 11 hardware compatibility.

In some situations, Windows Update is unable to make a decision as to whether or not the system is capable of running Windows 11. In these situations, desktop admins can usually run PC Health Check to test the system. Assuming all is well, Windows Update will allow the PC to move forward with the upgrade. In this case, though, PC Health Check indicates that the system lacks the necessary Trusted Platform Module (TPM) 2.0 hardware (Figure 3).

Windows PC Health Check showing a missing TPM component
Figure 3. The Windows PC Health Check reports that the system lacks a TPM 2.0 chip.

In reality, however, this system does contain the necessary TPM 2.0 chip. The desktop admin needs to enable it through the system's Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) before Windows or PC Health Check can recognize it.

It is worth noting that even though the Windows 11 minimum system requirements list TPM 2.0, it is possible to install Windows 11 on a system that does not include a TPM 2.0 chip. The workaround involves creating a registry key that will allow Windows 11 to install as long as the system includes TPM 1.2 support. Microsoft is quick to point out, however, that installing Windows 11 in this way is not recommended and that there are risks associated with installing Windows 11 on a PC that does not include TPM 2.0 hardware. Microsoft also notes that "serious problems might occur if you modify the registry incorrectly."

Assessment of the Windows 11 migration process

The vast majority of the Windows 11 migration issues I have personally encountered have been related to a Windows 11 installation on systems that either lack the necessary TPM 2.0 hardware or have that hardware disabled.

In the case of Windows 11, problems with the upgrade process have received a disproportionate amount of media attention, but problems with Windows 11 upgrades are no more widespread than when Microsoft released Windows 10. In the grand scheme of things, the Windows 11 upgrade issues seem relatively minor, and Microsoft will likely iron them out as more and more organizations adopt this latest operating system.

Common error messages associated with Windows 11 upgrades

Desktop administrators upgrading PCs to Windows 11 have sometimes reported receiving an error code, such as 0C1900101-0x2000c. There are numerous variations of this error code, but according to Microsoft, any error that starts with the characters 0xC1900101 is typically due to a driver error. As such, Microsoft provides several recommendations for anyone who may be receiving one of these error messages.

Microsoft outlines several steps admins can take to resolve these types of errors. The first thing that Microsoft recommends doing is to make sure that there is enough storage space available on the boot drive. The upgrade process requires a minimum of 16 GB of free space if the PC runs a 32-bit operating system or 20 GB of free space for a 64-bit operating system. In reality, additional storage space may be required. Some admins have trouble installing Windows 11 on low-end devices with 64 GB of storage, even if the device has enough free storage to meet the minimum upgrade requirements.

Microsoft also recommends that anyone experiencing errors runs Windows Update a few times to install any available updates. It is particularly important to install any available firmware updates, security updates and driver updates that Windows Update offers.

Administrators that have upgraded to Windows 11 have found that sometimes the operating system doesn't perform as well as Windows 10.

Error messages during the upgrade process are often due to add-on hardware. Microsoft recommends checking to ensure that all third-party device drivers are up to date. Admins should also check Device Manager to ensure there are no reported hardware errors. If the error message persists, Microsoft recommends unplugging any hardware devices that aren't required for basic functionality.

These tips can't address every potential error message, as that would be impossible to do within a single article, but they should resolve the most common situations. Some other things that admins can do to resolve errors include disabling third-party security software until after the upgrade and checking the hard disk to see if any errors exist. Use the chkdsk /f command for this.

Issues with the Windows 11 File Explorer

Administrators that have upgraded to Windows 11 have found that sometimes the operating system doesn't perform as well as Windows 10. Initially, they attributed this to a memory leak in File Explorer that was known to degrade system performance over time.

Another File Explorer bug causes PCs to experience sluggish performance any time File Explorer is open. Windows 11 users have reported delays after clicking on File Explorer items and menus being slow to open. There are also some reports of the screen flickering in response to right-clicking on an item in File Explorer. Thankfully, these issues have been resolved in a recent preview build -- 22478.

On a similar note, Windows 11 has also experienced performance problems with some solid-state storage devices. This problem stems from the NTFS USN Journal and can become problematic when the system is under a heavy workload, and some Windows 11 users have reported their storage performance being cut nearly in half. Microsoft has acknowledged the issue and is working on a fix at the time this article publishes.

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