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Windows 11 download: How to get the free upgrade (if your device is compatible)

Windows 11 will be free to download if you're already using Windows 10, and you can test an early version of Microsoft's new OS now. But first, make sure to use the PC Health Check app to see if your PC will be able to run it.

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Windows 11 will be free to download for Windows 10 users. 

Microsoft

Windows 11 is on its way in the next few months, and although we don't have an exact date yet, it's expected to roll out during the the 2021 holiday season and into 2022. If you're already a Windows 10 user, the upgrade to Microsoft's redesigned operating system will be free. You'll be able to updated to Windows 11 the same way you typically update Windows 10 as long as your PC meet the minimum requirements. Windows 11 could be coming as soon as October, but in the meantime, you can check out everything you need to know about Microsoft's new software here.

If you're a member of the Windows Insider Program and just can't wait until the final version arrives, you can download the first Windows 11 Insider Preview build today and test out some of the new features, like widgets, snap layouts, virtual desktops and the new Microsoft Store. We'll tell you how below. 

First, to see if your current Windows 10 PC is eligible for the free upgrade to Windows 11, check out Microsoft's site for specifications. And if you buy a new PC between now and the general release, that computer will also be eligible for the free upgrade. 

If you haven't updated to Windows 10 yet, don't worry -- there's a trick for downloading Windows 10 free that still works. Now would be a good time to make the switch to prepare your machine for the Windows 11 upgrade.

Read moreAndroid apps coming to Windows 11: Everything we know right now

How to download the Windows 11 Insider Preview build

If you're a member of the Windows Insider Program (you can sign up now for free), you can download the first Insider Preview build of Windows 11 now. However, it's important to note that beta versions, particularly early ones like this, tend to be buggy. You should never download a beta on your primary device, only on a tester device if you have one. For most people, it's best to wait for the public beta to arrive in July, or better yet, the general release later in the year. This first build also does not include every new feature that will eventually arrive with the general release. 

Still want to try it out? Here's how. 

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Try out new features like widgets in the Windows 11 beta.

Microsoft

1. Make sure you're running a licensed version of Windows 10 on your device, and that you're an administrator on the device. Register to join the Windows Insider Program if you haven't already. Or sign into your Windows Insider account. Click Start flighting

2. Go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Insider Program. Click Get Started

3. Under Pick an account to get started, select + to connect the Microsoft account you registered with and continue.

4. Follow the instructions to choose the experience and channel you want to get Insider Preview builds through: the Dev channel (for developers), the beta channel (for early adopters) or the release preview channel (for those who want to get the latest version just before it's generally released). Note that this build is coming to the Dev channel.

5. Review the Privacy Statement and terms, and click confirm. Click Restart Now

6. After restarting, make sure your data settings are correct so you can download preview builds. To do this, go to Settings > Privacy > Diagnostics & feedback, and make sure the Optional Diagnostic Data switch is flipped to On

7. Go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update. Click the Check for updates button. You should see the latest Insider Preview build based on the settings you selected. 

From there, your device should update the same way it would with any other Windows update, and you'll be good to go. 

How to download Windows 11 once it's generally available

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Here's how you'll download Windows 11.

Stephen Beacham/CNET

Once Windows 11 becomes available to all Windows users with compatible computers this fall, you'll download it the same way you would with any new version of Windows. Most users will go to Settings > Update & Security > Windows Update and click Check for Updates. If available, you'll see Feature update to Windows 11. Click Download and install

Windows 11 features a streamlined new design, with pastel colors, rounded corners, a new startup sound and overall a more Mac-like look. The Windows Start menu has moved from the bottom left of the screen to the middle, with app icons arranged in the center next to it. You'll find lots of new desktop tools, like widgets that can give you at-a-glance information, and easier virtual desktop creation. And Android apps will be integrated into Windows and installable from the Microsoft Store. (Check out all of the best Windows 11 features and how to use them.) 

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The update marks the first major change to Microsoft's operating system since Windows 10 launched back in 2015. Rumors about a major Windows redesign have been circulating for the past year. At the Microsoft Build developers conference on May 25, CEO Satya Nadella said Microsoft was planning "one of the most significant updates of Windows of the past decade," confirming that a major change was on the horizon for the 1.3 billion users of the OS in 2021. And in mid-June, Microsoft quietly announced that it would end support for Windows 10 in 2025 as leaked images of Windows 11 spread.

For more, check out everything we wanted to see in Windows 11 but didn't, and all of the big differences between Windows 10 and Windows 11

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