Windows 10 is off to a very impressive start, but there are still an awful lot of holdouts (including yours truly) who are sticking with the tried-and-true Windows 7. (Windows 8, not so much.) But like it or not, the time is coming when an upgrade won't be an option, because Microsoft says that older versions of Windows not be supported on the coming generations of CPUs.
Windows and Devices Group Executive Vice President Terry Myerson's recent post on the Windows Blog, entitled “Windows 10 Embracing Silicon Innovation," begins with a note about how well Windows 10 works on Intel's sixth-gen Skylake CPUs. “Compared to Windows 7 PC’s, Skylake when combined with Windows 10, enables up to 30x better graphics and 3x the battery life—with the unmatched security of Credential Guard utilizing silicon supported virtualization,” he wrote.
Unfortunately for Win7 adherents, the news after that isn't quite so happy. Myerson acknowledged that large numbers of people are still running the older Windows and that transitioning to Windows 10, especially for large-scale businesses, takes time. But he also made it clear that the clock is ticking.
“Windows 7 was designed nearly 10 years ago before any x86/x64 SOCs existed. For Windows 7 to run on any modern silicon, device drivers and firmware need to emulate Windows 7’s expectations for interrupt processing, bus support, and power states—which is challenging for WiFi, graphics, security, and more,” he continued. “As partners make customizations to legacy device drivers, services, and firmware settings, customers are likely to see regressions with Windows 7 ongoing servicing.”
Windows 7 will be supported for “security, reliability, and compatibility” on previous-generation CPUs through January 14, 2020, while Windows 8.1 will get the same treatment through January 10, 2023. But “as new silicon generations are introduced, they will require the latest Windows platform at that time for support,” Myerson wrote. As an example, he said that Intel's upcoming Kirby Lake, Qualcomm's 8996, and AMD's Bristol Ridge will only support Windows 10.
Microsoft will release a list of specific Skylake devices that it will continue to support on Windows 7 and 8.1 next week, to ensure customers can upgrade to new hardware now even if they're not yet prepared to make the move to Windows 10. That list will be maintained until July 17, 2017, after which “the most critical Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 security updates will be addressed for these configurations, and will be released if the update does not risk the reliability or compatibility of the Windows 7/8.1 platform on other devices.”
Update: The report originally stated that older version of Windows will not run on new generations of CPUs. The actual statement in the blog is the somewhat more ambiguous, "Going forward, as new silicon generations are introduced, they will require the latest Windows platform at that time for support." I've updated the post to reflect that wording.