There are many ways to look at hardware requirements for Windows 10, even at Microsoft. In fact, it’s interesting to examine and compare two different Microsoft takes on this issue to understand what makes sense — and what doesn’t. To begin with, the MS Docs piece “Minimum hardware requirements” (May 1, 2017) sets the floor on what is absolutely mandatory for Windows 10 to run, period. But there’s another, more recent Docs item (June 27, 2019) out there, too. It’s entitled “Standards for a highly secure Windows 10 device.” It attempts to establish something that lets “decision maker[s] purchasing new devices” to “enable the best possible security configuration.” In such cases, this document avers, “your device should meet or exceed” the standards it sets forth. This sets up an interesting tension, between the barest minimum configuration in which Windows 10 will run versus the kind of setup a business might want to acquire for “general purpose laptops, tablets, 2-in-1’s, mobile workstations and desktops.”
[Note: all quotations in the preceding paragraph (except for document titles) come from the newer, more generous and practical “highly secure” docs piece)]. Let’s take a look at a subset of the requirements set forth in both documents for some side-by-side comparison. I’ll label the earlier minimum requirements document as “2017-minimum” and the later highly secure requirements as “2019-secure” to distinguish these two different sets of Windows 10 hardware requirements.
|2017 minimum||2019 secure|
|CPU generation||x86 or x64 processors and SoCs; 1 GHz or faster||Intel 8th generation processors or newer|
|Includes models back to 3rd generation Intel, AMD||AMD 8th generation processors or newer|
|SoCs go back as far as Cherry Trail 32-bit||ARM64 processors (Snapdragon SDM850 or later)|
|Process architecture||32- or 64-bit||Virtualization-based security (VBS) features require Windows hypervisor|
|Supported only on 64-bit Intel & AMD CPUs or ARM v8.2 CPUs or newer|
|Virtualization||Not required||Intel VT-d, AMD-Vi, or ARM64 SMMUs|
|VM extensions with SLAT required|
|TPM||Required||Intel, AMD, Nuvoton, STMicroelectronics, Infineon, Qualcomm, NationZ|
|Platform boot vertification||Not required; UEFI Secure Boot required||Intel Boot Guard, AMD Hardware Verified Boot, or OEM equivalent|
|RAM||1 GB for 32-bit OS, 2 GB for 64-bit OS||Minimum 8 GB RAM (16 GB recommended)|
|Storage||16 GB or greater up to 1809; 32 GB or greater for 1903 and later||SATA or NVMe SSD optimal disk drive config for performance, experience & security|
|No minimum size stipulated, but likely to be 128 GB or larger based on OEM configs|
|Display||SVGA (800×600) or better||Full HDMI (1980×1020) or better|
|Touch or pen devices||Optional||Recommended for laptops, 2-in-1s, all-in-ones|
|Camera||Optional||Recommended for all PCs|
|Audio||Optional||Recommended for all PCs|
|Wireless||Optional*||Recommended for all mobile PCs (additional 1GbE Ethernet ports recommended where feasible)|
|Ethernet||Optional* (at least one NIC is required)||Recommended for all desktop and All-in-One PCs (minimum 1GbE Ethernet)|
Comparison Points Out HUGE Differences
The biggest contrast here is, of course, the difference between what will work at the lowest and slowest levels of performance and capability and the lowest that most people in the workplace will tolerate (which is not a bad metric for those at home, either). All in all, I’m much more inclined to believe that prudence and common sense dictate that people ignore the minimum hardware requirements in favor of the other set. In fact, when I buy PCs these days I usually try to exceed even the more generous (and expensive) set of requirements when and how I can. In practice, this means:
– It’s difficult to find, let alone buy, 32-bit Windows 10 devices nowadays (except for low-end tablets). All PCs I buy are 64-bit without exception (I don’t own any low-end tablets, and have no interest in acquiring same. YMMV.)
– Buy the fastest processor (most cores, biggest cache, and so forth) you can afford for the target PC. High- and highest-end CPUs can be eye-wateringly expensive so financial means will play an important role here.
– All my laptops start at 16 GB RAM these days, with 32 GB for higher-end, heavy-use laptops. Desktops start at 32 GB in general, with 64 GB (or more) for heavy-use machines.
– All new PCs include at least one NVMe M.2 SSD of at least 512 GB size. 1 and 2 TB units are getting more affordable, so I’ll probably make 1 TB my minimum later this year or sometime next year.
– Buy the fastest, most capable wireless NICs you can get for laptops and other mobile computing devices. Right now that means 802.11ac. Only a few laptops and NICs support 802.11ad (and require new routers and WAPs for best results) so this may be a while in taking over.
– I tend to buy 2K or higher resolution screens for all my PCs these days, with touch-enabled screens for all laptops, 2-in-1s and so forth unless the added cost is too hard to swallow. Pen devices ditto.
Ultimately, you need to buy what makes sense for your intended usage, and your budget. That said, I am firmly convinced that the 2019 Secure requirements make sense for nearly everybody, except for those tightly constrained by budget. Even so, for those folks it make make better sense to hew to the 2019-Security requirement, and buy used or refurbished PCs instead (make sure they come with a money-back guarantee, and at least 12 months of support, please).
Author: Ed Tittel
Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.