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Welcome to another installment of Ask ZDNet, where we answer your technology questions.
In the mailbag this week: Can I install Windows 11 on my not-very-old Surface PC even if Microsoft says it's incompatible? And why can't I say no to driver updates from Windows?
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Microsoft officially released the Surface Pro 5 in June 2017 and continued selling it as a current model until its successor was released in October 2018. That means your Surface Pro is probably about four years old and should have plenty of useful life remaining. Alas, its 7th Generation Intel Core CPU isn't on the list of Windows 11 compatible CPUs, which means upgrades via Windows Update are not supported and probably never will be.
There are, however, two workarounds, as I document in ZDNet's Windows 11 FAQ.
If you're willing to perform a clean install of Windows 11, you can boot from installation media and run Windows Setup. That option skips the CPU compatibility check completely.
To upgrade your system, you need to modify the registry, as documented in this Microsoft support document. (The usual warnings apply when working with the registry. Make a complete backup before proceeding.) Open Registry Editor and navigate to the following key:
Create a new DWORD value, AllowUpgradesWithUnsupportedTPMOrCPU, and set it to 1.
You can now perform the upgrade by downloading an ISO file, mounting it as a virtual drive, and running Setup from Windows 10. You'll see a stern warning about compatibility issues, but after you click OK on that dialog box your upgrade should proceed without any serious issues.
Some driver updates are indeed optional, but if you're offered a driver through Windows Update without the option to refuse it, the developer of the driver is the one who made that decision. When the developer submitted that driver to Microsoft, they checked the box that reads Automatic, which means they wanted it delivered to all applicable systems. And before the driver made it to Microsoft's update servers, it also had to go through formal "flighting tests" with PCs in the Windows Insider Program.
(If you're curious about Microsoft's rules for driver developers, see the article "Understanding Windows Update rules for driver distribution" at the Partner Center for Windows Hardware.)
Typically, drivers delivered in this fashion fix hardware issues that have been identified (using telemetry data) as causing problems for a significant group of customers. Delivering those fixes through Windows Update is a much more reliable way of resolving those issues than depending on customers to download and update drivers manually.
In the rare case that a driver delivered as an automatic update causes problems, you can and should take it up with the manufacturer of that hardware.
Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't guarantee a personal reply, but we do promise to read every letter and respond right here to the ones that we think our readers will care about. Be sure to include a working email address in case we have follow-up questions. We promise not to use it for any other purpose.