When Windows 10 support runs out, you have 5 options but only 2 are worth considering

Microsoft will officially end support for its most popular operating system in October 2025. Here's what you should do with your Windows 10 PCs before that day arrives.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor
time running out
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In less than two years, Microsoft will draw the final curtain on Windows 10 after a successful 10-year run.

That news shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The end date is right there on the Microsoft Support document that lists "products retiring or reaching the end of support in 2025." The schedule is defined by Microsoft's Modern Lifecycle Policy, which is documented on the Microsoft Lifecycle page: "Windows 10 will reach end of support on October 14, 2025. The current version, 22H2, will be the final version of Windows 10, and all editions will remain in support with monthly security update releases through that date."

Also: Windows 11 FAQ: ZDNET's upgrade guide and everything else you need to know

When a Windows version reaches its end-of-support date, the software keeps working, but the update channel grinds to a halt:

[There] will be no new security updates, non-security updates, or assisted support. Customers are encouraged to migrate to the latest version of the product or service. Paid programs may be available for applicable products.

That part in the middle sounds encouraging, doesn't it? "Customers are encouraged to migrate to the latest version of the product or service." Unfortunately, that's not a supported option for customers running Windows 10 on hardware that doesn't meet the stringent hardware compatibility requirements of Windows 11. If you try to upgrade one of those PCs to Windows 11, you'll encounter an error message, and Microsoft is adamant that it will not extend the support deadline for Windows 10.

Also: Windows 11: Do these six things right away after you finish setup

If you're responsible for one or more Windows 10 PCs that fail Microsoft's Windows 11 compatibility tests, what should you do? You have five options.

Option 1: Ignore the end-of-support deadline completely

You could do nothing at all -- just continue running your unsupported operating system and hope for the best. That's a bad idea that exposes you to the very real possibility that you'll fall prey to a security exploit. I don't recommend this strategy. If you're intent on doing so, consider installing the free 0patch agent to deal with any security issues that aren't addressed by Microsoft. That option is free for personal use, but for business or enterprise use, you'll need to pay for 0patch support at a rate that equates to a few dollars a month.

Option 2: Buy a new PC

Microsoft and its partners would like you to replace that unsupported hardware with a new PC. You might even be tempted by one of the shiny new AI PCs, with their custom neural processing units, or maybe a powerful gaming PC, but throwing away a perfectly good computer seems wasteful, and it's not an option if you're hanging on to Windows 10 because you have mission-critical software that won't run on the new OS.

Option 3: Ditch Windows completely

You could keep your old hardware and replace Windows 10 with the flavor of Linux you prefer. If you've got the technical know-how and experience to manage the transition, that option is worth considering. For the overwhelming majority of consumers and businesses that have existing investments in Windows software, however, it's not a realistic alternative.

Also: Thinking about switching to Linux? 9 things you need to know

The final two options are more attractive.

Option 4: Pay Microsoft for security updates

Do you remember the official support document that I quoted earlier? The one that says there will be "no new security updates" after Windows 10 reaches its end-of-support date? It turns out that's not exactly true. Microsoft will indeed continue developing security updates for Windows 10, but they won't be free. Microsoft announced in December 2023 that it will offer Extended Security Options (ESUs) for Windows 10; these subscription-based updates will be available for up to three years.

How much are these paid-for updates going to cost? Microsoft finally revealed the price list in April 2024. If you're an administrator at an educational institution with a deployment of Windows 10 Education edition, you're in luck. Those extended updates will cost literally a dollar per machine for the first year, $2 for the second year, and $4 for the third and final year, taking you all the way to 2028.

The rest of us aren't so lucky:

Business customers will need to pay dearly to stick with Windows 10. A license for the Extended Security Updates (ESU) program is sold as a subscription. For the first year, the cost is $61. For year two, the price doubles, and it doubles again for year three. The blog post doesn't do the math on those, probably because the total is uncomfortably high. A three-year ESU subscription will cost $61 + $122 + $244, for a total of $427.

In the original announcement of Extended Security Updates last year, a Microsoft spokesperson said that there will be a version of this program for consumers, but the company has yet to provide any additional details. 

Option 5: Upgrade your old hardware to Windows 11

That pesky compatibility checker might prevent you from upgrading your Windows 10 PC the easy way, but there are indeed officially supported ways to install Windows 11. You just have to jump through a few technical hoops.

Also: The best Windows laptop you can buy: Dell, Samsung, Lenovo, and more

You can find all the details in a Microsoft Support bulletin titled "Installing Windows 11 on devices that don't meet minimum system requirements." That document packs a lot of FUD into just a few paragraphs: 

Installing Windows 11 on a device that does not meet Windows 11 minimum system requirements is not recommended. If you choose to install Windows 11 on ineligible hardware, you should be comfortable assuming the risk of running into compatibility issues.  

Your device might malfunction due to these compatibility or other issues. Devices that do not meet these system requirements will no longer be guaranteed to receive updates, including but not limited to security updates.  

The following disclaimer applies if you install Windows 11 on a device that doesn't meet the minimum system requirements:

This PC doesn't meet the minimum system requirements for running Windows 11 - these requirements help ensure a more reliable and higher quality experience. Installing Windows 11 on this PC is not recommended and may result in compatibility issues. If you proceed with installing Windows 11, your PC will no longer be supported and won't be entitled to receive updates. Damages to your PC due to lack of compatibility aren't covered under the manufacturer warranty.

[emphasis in original]

Don't be fooled by the language in the bulletin. As I've noted before, the document really doesn't say that Microsoft is going to cut off your access to updates; it simply says your PC is no longer supported, and you're no longer "entitled" to those updates. That word is a tell on Microsoft's part, disclaiming legal responsibility without actually saying what it will do.

Also: Here's why Windows PCs are only going to get more annoying

The installation instructions that allow you to bypass the compatibility check are in a separate support article: "Ways to install Windows 11." To perform an upgrade, you need to create the following registry key values:

  • Registry Key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\Setup\MoSetup
  • Name: AllowUpgradesWithUnsupportedTPMOrCPU
  • Type: REG_DWORD
  • Value: 1

You still need a Trusted Platform Module (TPM), but even an old TPM 1.2 chip will do. If your PC doesn't have that hardware, it's probably more than 12 years old, and maybe you should replace it after all.

If you don't want to mess with the registry, and you're willing to do a clean install, just create a bootable Windows 11 installation drive and use that option, which bypasses the compatibility checker completely. You'll need to restore your data files from a backup or from the cloud, and you'll also need to install your software from scratch, but that's no more difficult than setting up a new PC.

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