Microsoft begins blocking updates for older Windows versions on newer hardware

Windows 7 is supported until 2020, and Windows 8.1 will get updates until 2023, right? Not if you're trying to run those older Windows versions on new hardware, as some frustrated customers discovered this week.

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It's the end of the line for Windows 7 on the latest PC designs.

Anyone running an older version of Windows on new hardware received a rude shock this week when the latest Patch Tuesday updates rolled around.

Instead of receiving the latest security updates for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, those customers saw an error message instead.

Unsupported Hardware

Your PC uses a processor that isn't supported on this version of Windows and you won't receive updates.

This issue occurs with newer hardware equipped with 7th-generation Intel processors ("Kaby Lake") and AMD Ryzen ("Bristol Ridge") chips. Systems with the Intel CPUs installed went on sale in late 2016. Devices built using AMD's new chips are just beginning to reach the market.

Although the sudden end of updates might come as a surprise to some PC owners, it isn't unexpected. Microsoft announced the change in its support policy more than a year ago, in January 2016.

Going forward, as new silicon generations are introduced, they will require the latest Windows platform at that time for support... Windows 10 will be the only supported Windows platform on Intel's upcoming "Kaby Lake" silicon, Qualcomm's upcoming "8996" silicon, and AMD's upcoming "Bristol Ridge" silicon.

When Microsoft initially announced the restrictions, they were also intended to impact some PCs that use 6th-generation Intel processors ("Skylake"), which went on sale in late 2015. The company backed off slightly on that plan, releasing a list of Skylake-based systems that will be fully supported. (Microsoft's official list of Skylake systems supported on Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 was last updated in August 2016, shortly before the Kaby Lake launch.)

Skylake-based systems on the supported list will receive updates through the official end of Microsoft's extended support phase for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 (Jan. 14, 2020, and Jan. 10, 2023, respectively). Systems that aren't on the supported list will lose access to updates for older Windows versions as of July 17, 2018.

The change in support policies is a major change for Microsoft, which historically has supported Windows for 10 years regardless of hardware. That support policy made sense in bygone days, when PCs and operating systems evolved at a relatively slow pace. Current generations of hardware and software are much more tightly coupled.

Of course, devices built using pre-2015 chip designed, including Intel's Haswell and Broadwell families, are unaffected. Today, OEMs still have copious quantities of PCs for sale using those 4th- and 5th-generation Intel products; those models make better business for businesses that anticipate staying with older Windows versions beyond 2018.

Although it might be possible to manually download and install updates for older Windows versions using management tools, Microsoft's official solution for owners of affected systems is to upgrade to Windows 10.

For business buyers, this change in support policies shouldn't involve any extra cost. Any business that has a Windows Enterprise license with Software Assurance can install Windows 10 as part of their licensing rights, and the overwhelming majority of Kaby Lake systems in the market were sold with Windows 10 licenses; restoring that operating system won't incur any additional cost.

Even the relative handful of PC owners who built Skylake or Kaby Lake-based systems from scratch and installed Windows 7 or 8.1 should still be able to take advantage of the free upgrade to Windows 10.

For full details on Microsoft's support policies, see the Lifecycle Policy FAQ--Windows products.

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