Welcome to another section of Ask ZDNetwhere we answer your technology questions.
In the mailbag this week: Can I install Windows 11 on my non-old Surface PC even if Microsoft says it’s incompatible? Why should I consider a VPN? And why can’t I say no to driver updates from Windows?
If you have a question about any of the topics ZDNet Covers, maybe one of our team of editors and contributors has an answer. If they don’t, we’ll find an outside expert who can point you in the right direction.
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How do I install Windows 11 on my “incompatible” PC?
I have a perfectly fine Surface Pro 5 with an Intel Core i7-7660U CPU, running Windows 10. It’s only a few years old. When I check Windows Update, I see a message that it’s not compatible with Windows 11. Will this device eventually support Windows 11? Is there any way to overcome this?
Microsoft officially released the Surface Pro 5 in June 2017 and continued to sell it as a current model until its successor was released in October 2018. This means that your Surface Pro is probably around four years old and should have a lot of useful life left. Unfortunately, a 7th generation Intel Core CPU is not on the list of Windows 11 compatible CPUs, which means that upgrades via Windows Update are not supported and probably won’t be at all.
However, there are two solutions, as I documented in ZDNet’s Windows 11 FAQ.
If you want to perform a clean install of Windows 11, you can boot from the installation media and run Windows Setup. This option bypasses the CPU compatibility check completely.
To upgrade your system, you need to modify the registry, as documented in this Microsoft support document. (The usual caveats apply when working with the registry. Make a full backup before continuing.) 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 the ISO file, installing it as a virtual drive, and running the setup program from Windows 10. You will see a stern warning about compatibility issues, but after you click OK in this dialog, the upgrade should continue. without any serious problems.
Will using a VPN help protect me from malware or ransomware?
I continue to read that using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an important security precaution. But I’ve also heard that it won’t protect me from malware or ransomware. If this is true, then what is the point of using a VPN?
Security and privacy are closely related, but they are not the same thing. Understanding the difference is key to understanding what a VPN does and what a VPN does not do.
The basic concept behind a VPN is simple: software running on your computer encrypts every bit of network traffic before it reaches your computer’s network adapter, and then sends that encrypted data to a remote server that is run by the VPN service. This remote server in turn sends data to the public Internet. The encrypted “tunnel” between your device and the VPN server is what makes the network alike virtual And Spread. Many corporate networks only allow remote connections via VPN. However, you can also purchase consumer-grade VPN software to connect to untrusted networks, such as those in airports and coffee shops.
The benefit of this type of network is twofold. First, it prevents anyone on your local network from spying on your internet traffic. This is especially important if you are using a Wi-Fi network that is not under your control.
Secondly, it allows you to hide your location, which prevents some types of tracking and also makes it possible to bypass geo-restrictions on some services. If you are in Europe and want to watch a US-restricted movie, you may be able to cheat the streaming service by connecting to a US VPN
VPNs are resource intensive and can take a huge toll on your network bandwidth, which is why you should only use them when you need them.
When I’m in an airport or hotel, I prefer to hook my mobile phone to my laptop (or bring a device with a built-in cellular connection) so I can avoid the dangers that come with this untrusted network. But if the cellular signal is weak or unavailable and I have no other choice but to connect to public Wi-Fi, I use NameCheap’s paid FastVPN service. My colleague Jason Pirlo uses ExpressVPN. “It is compatible with OpenVPN, which is the open source VPN protocol, which means I can use it with all the devices I own — iOS, Android, Windows, and even on my network firewall,” he says.
But no matter which option you choose, nothing in that VPN looks for threats to your computer. For this type of protection, you need security software specifically designed to detect malware and dangerous communications.
Why do I get new drivers through Windows Update?
When I checked for new updates in Windows Update, one of the updates was a new driver for my great gaming mouse. I’ve always thought driver updates are optional, but that doesn’t give me a choice. I have to install it with all Windows updates. What is happening?
Some driver updates are indeed optional, but if you are offered a driver through Windows Update without the option to decline it, that decision is made by the driver developer. When the developer sent this driver to Microsoft, they checked the box that reads automatically, which means they want it delivered to all applicable systems. Before the driver made it to Microsoft’s update servers, it also had to undergo official “flight tests” with computers in the Windows Insider Program.
(If you are concerned about Microsoft’s rules for driver developers, see the article “Understanding Windows Update Rules for Distributing Drivers” in the Partner Center for Windows Devices.)
Drivers offered in this way usually fix hardware issues that have been identified (using telemetry data) as causing problems for a wide range of customers. Delivering these fixes through Windows Update is a more reliable way to solve these problems than relying 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 deal with the manufacturer of that device.
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