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7 new Windows 11 features we didn’t expect

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7 new Windows 11 features we didn’t expect

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It appears that Windows 11 will have a lot to offer when it ships late this year.

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Windows 11 is almost here, complete with a new look, a new location for your taskbar icons, and a new (and stringent) list of hardware requirements. But a fresh coat of paint is essentially mandatory with a new version of Windows. What we didn’t anticipate was the laundry list of features coming with the new operating system, many of which caught us by surprise.

From Android apps to automatic HDR in games to the glorious return of widgets, here are 7 new Windows 11 features we didn’t expect. You’ll be able to try them out for yourself when the operating system launches on October 5.

Android apps on your Windows 11 PC

Microsoft chief product officer Panos Panay said that he was “pumped” to bring Android apps to the PC, and why wouldn’t he be? Android apps have been one of the advantages of Google’s Chrome OS platform, which powers competing Chromebooks. Their addition to Windows 11 means that the number of apps available to Windows PCs will grow potentially much larger. Microsoft doesn’t frequently break out the number of Windows apps, but in 2018 Microsoft revealed that there were 35 million Windows-capable apps, including legacy software. AppBrain puts the number of Android apps at about 3 million.

android apps on your pc retry Microsoft

Android apps will arrive on Windows 11, but it’s not clear how many Windows 11 will receive.

It’s not clear whether Microsoft will bring every Android app to the PC, as they’ll appear in the Microsoft Store, not a version of the Google Play Store for the PC. And in fact, it’ll be Amazon’s Android app store powering things behind the scenes. Microsoft showed off Khan Academy, Kindle Reader, TikTok, and more in an example screenshot.

To bring Android apps to Windows PCs, Microsoft’s using the Intel Bridge technology, which Intel describes on a high level as a “runtime post-compiler that enables applications to run natively on x86-based devices, including running those applications on Windows.”

It sounds like Windows 11 will be performing that work on your PC, rather than on the Microsoft Store, so that Windows 11 PCs should be able to sideload Android apps and games—eventually, at least. Shortly ahead of Windows 11’s launch, Microsoft announced that Android apps won’t be available on day one.  

Teams Chat in your Taskbar

Like it or not, Microsoft insists that you be able to reach contacts easily from your Windows desktop. It began with the now-defunct People app, then moved to Skype Meet Now in your Taskbar, too. Now it’s moving on to Teams, putting Teams Chat into your Windows 11 taskbar.

teams chat windows 11 microsoft Microsoft

Microsoft is adding Teams Chat to the Taskbar.

“With Windows 11, we’re excited to introduce Chat from Microsoft Teams integrated in the taskbar,” Microsoft said in a blog post introducing Windows 11. “Now you can instantly connect through text, chat, voice or video with all of your personal contacts, anywhere, no matter the platform or device they’re on, across Windows, Android or iOS. If the person you’re connecting to on the other end hasn’t downloaded the Teams app, you can still connect with them via two-way SMS.”

You’ll also be able to instantly mute and unmute people right from the taskbar, and even start presenting during a Teams call.

Welcome to Widgets

We glimpsed Widgets briefly in our Windows 11 hands on, but there’s clearly more to it based on Microsoft’s official presentation. Right now, Widgets is a ginormous card that slides out from the left-hand side of your desktop. It appears to be a combination of Windows 10’s News & Interests, Your Phone, and more, with news, notifications, and personalized information of various types being pushed to your PC. 

windows 11 widgets screen Microsoft Microsoft

What will Windows 11 Widgets look like in a year’s time?

Will there be specialized widget apps? It sounds like there could be. There’s even an interesting feature that Microsoft embedded into the livestream describing the new Widgets feature (noticed by the Verge): the ability to tip local content creators. “Our aspiration is to create a vibrant pipeline for global brands and local creators alike, in a way that both consumers and creators can benefit,” Microsoft said.

An upgraded Microsoft Store

Stop us if you’ve heard this before: The Windows Store needs a makeover. Not only is there back-end functionality that could stand to be improved, but the ability to find new apps isn’t as good as it could be.

Microsoft plans to upgrade the Store—though it’s not saying when—with a new UI and greater curation. “Not only will we bring you more apps than ever before, we’re also making all content – apps, games, shows, movies – easier to search for and discover with curated stories and collections,” Microsoft says.

microsoft store redo windows 11 Microsoft

This is the updated look at the Microsoft Store app.

Microsoft is bringing more apps to the Store, including some of its own apps that have never made an appearance up to now, such as Microsoft Teams and Visual Studio. It’s adding key third-party apps, too, such as Disney+, Adobe Creative Cloud, Zoom, and Canva.

microsoft store adobe Windows 11 Microsoft Microsoft

The individual app pages are receiving an overhaul, too.

We just hope that we can somehow store an app that we’ve downloaded without the need to re-download it every time we want to add it to a new PC.

Faster Windows updates

Some people really, really hate Windows updates—enough that we added a how-to story to help you manage your Windows updates. Microsoft’s promising to help improve Windows updates by making them smaller and faster, presumably making them less obtrusive as well. Historically, Microsoft has accomplished this by “knowing” exactly what code your PC has and then delivering exactly what it needs.

DirectStorage and Auto HDR come to Windows

Microsoft has said previously that DirectStorage, the storage backbone of the Xbox Series X, is coming to PCs —just not when. Now we know it will arrive as part of Windows 11.

DirectStorage is a Windows API that will be used to control what Microsoft calls the Xbox Velocity Architecture. It’s Microsoft’s approach to reducing the storage capacity that an Xbox Series X game requires, loading the game and its assets as quickly as possible. Now it’s coming to Windows.

If you’ve recently read our excellent explainer on what HDR is and how to enable it in Windows 10, you have a head start on what this means for Windows 11: AutoHDR is coming for Windows games. “When enabled on your HDR capable gaming PC, you will automatically get awesome HDR visuals on an additional 1000+ DirectX 11 and DirectX 12 games!” Hannah Fisher, a program manager with Microsoft, noted in a recent blog post explaining the new feature

autohdr heatmap Microsoft

Microsoft shows off how it handles luminance in a PC game when enabled with HDR. It won’t be quite as good as “native” HDR, but it will be close.

Did we expect AutoHDR sometime on PCs? Sure. But it’s being released in conjunction with Windows 11, which is pretty cool.

Windows 11 S is a thing

Microsoft’s simplified Windows 10 S operating system never got much respect—we published instructions on how to switch to Windows 10 Home or Pro instead. Microsoft’s Windows 10X was originally designed to be even simpler as a direct challenge to Chromebooks, and a possible replacement for Windows 10 S. But having cancelled Windows 10X entirely, Microsoft is moving ahead with a simplified Windows 11 Home in S Mode. 

Voice typing with punctuation

We’re sneaking in an eight feature, that Microsoft quietly announced: voice dictation, but with punctuation algorithmically applied. Dictation is always one of those things that’s a bit tricky, but if you can pull it off then it can save gobs of time. (Try it out yourself in Windows 10 by typing WIN+H).

Editor’s note: This article originally published on June 24, 2021, but was updated to include more current info and rewrite the introduction.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

As PCWorld’s senior editor, Mark focuses on Microsoft news and chip technology, among other beats.

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

Here’s what leaked retailer pricing tells us about the performance of Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake S CPUs.

6core vs 8core cpus

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Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors aren’t upon us yet, but another price leak indicates they might indeed compete with AMD’s best CPUs, unlike current top-end Core offerings.

The latest oopsie comes from retail IT vendor Provantage, which puts the top-end Core i9-12900K at $605. The IT vendor also lists the Core i7-12700K at $420, as well as a Core i5-12600K for $283.

After news reports of the part numbers and prices surfaced, Provantage removed the listings. The latest leak follows reports two weeks ago—supposedly from European retailers—that placed the Core i9-12900K at $705, the Core i7-12700K at $495, and the Core i5-12600 at $343.

Before you jump to any conclusions, we want to point out that as reliable as a leaked retail price might seem, they can very unreliable too. Often times stores prep for impending launches by using placeholder prices and specs. Those listings are then updated when the stores receive the final information.

The leaked info itself from Provantage would indicate it’s not quite baked yet. For example, we know the top-end Alder Lake S chip will feature 8 performance cores and 8 efficient cores (Intel’s Alder Lake chips feature a radical new mixture of big and little cores), yet the listing at Provantage lists the top-end chip as an 8-core design. 

alder lake provantage Provantage via Hothardware.com

Hothardware.com snapped this image of Intel’s 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs at retailer Provantage. that has since been removed.

Still, both combined retail leaks reinforce what we’ve already come to conclude so far: Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake S will at least suit up with the intent to take on AMD’s 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X.

That’s a marked change from the $550 8-core 11th gen Rocket Lake CPU, which lost badly to AMD’s $550 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X chip. With the 11th-gen desktop chips, Intel didn’t even try to field a CPU against AMD’s $750 Ryzen 9 5950X.

With its increased core efficiency, newer manufacturing process, and physically more cores than previous Intel consumer desktop CPUs, it’s entirely possible Intel’s 12th Core i9 will actually end up being somewhere between $604 and $705 when it comes out.

intel alder lake performance core benchmark Intel

Intel is touting a marked increase in core efficiency with its 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs.

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One of founding fathers of hardcore tech reporting, Gordon has been covering PCs and components since 1998.

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The best Windows backup software

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The best Windows backup software

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The best programs for keeping your data and Windows safely backed up.

Rob Schultz/IDG

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We need backup software for our PCs because our storage drives won’t last forever. Backup software ensures we’re covered when the day comes that our primary drive up and dies.

It would be nice if Microsoft itself provided Windows users with something like Apple’s Time Machine: an effective, set-it-and-forget-it, total system recovery and backup solution that requires little interaction or thought on the user’s part. 

Instead, Microsoft delivers a mishmash of restore points, recovery discs, file backup, and even the un-retired System Backup (Windows 7), which was probably originally put out to pasture for its propensity to choke on dissimilar hardware. Online backup services are another option, but desktop clients tend to offer far more flexibility. 

Plenty of vendors have stepped in with worthy alternatives, and while none are quite as slick or transparent as Time Machine, some come darn close—and many are free. Read on for our top picks. 

Updated on 9/15/21 to include our review of the newest version of Aomei Backupper 6. It remains our favorite free backup software for Windows because it provides a near-total backup solution, with a generous number of features. As a paid program, however, there are better options. Read more about it below. And scroll to the bottom of this article to see links to all our backup software reviews.

Best overall backup software

There’s a reason True Image is renowned in the world of backup software. It’s capable, flexible, and rock-solid reliable. Indeed, it’s easily the most comprehensive data safety package on the planet.

Besides offering unparalleled backup functionality that’s both robust and easy to navigate, True Image integrates security apps as well, which protect against malware, malicious websites, and other threats using real-time monitoring. Read our full review.

Best free backup software

Among the free programs we tested, Backupper Standard wins primarily because it has the most features, including imaging, file backup, disk cloning, and plain file syncing, plus multiple scheduling options (see our full review). This was the case with Backupper 4, and the latest version has only added more options, making it a surprisingly well-rounded free offering. We hit a few performance snags with less-conventional system setups, but for the average user, it should perform as expected.

What to look for in backup software

As with most things—don’t over-buy. Features you don’t need add complexity and may slow down your system. Additionally, if you intend to back up to a newly purchased external hard drive, check out the software that ships with it. Seagate, WD, and others provide backup utilities that are adequate for the average user.

File backup: If you want to back up only your data (operating systems and programs can be reinstalled, though it’s mildly time- and effort-consuming), a program that backs up just the files you select is a major time-saver. Some programs automatically select the appropriate files if you use the Windows library folders (Documents, Photos, Videos, etc.).

Image backup/Imaging: Images are byte-for-byte snapshots of your entire hard drive (normally without the empty sectors) or partition, and can be used to restore both the operating system and data. Imaging is the most convenient to restore in case of a system crash, and also ensures you don’t miss anything important.

Boot media:  Should your system crash completely, you need an alternate way to boot and run the recovery software. Any backup program should be able to create a bootable optical disc or USB thumb drive. Some will also create a restore partition on your hard drive, which can be used instead if the hard drive is still operational.

Scheduling: If you’re going to back up effectively, you need to do it on a regular basis. Any backup program worth its salt allows you to schedule backups.

Versioning: If you’re overwriting previous files, that’s not backup, it’s one-way syncing or mirroring. Any backup program you use should allow you to retain several previous backups, or with file backup, previous versions of the file. The better software will retain and cull older backups according to criteria you establish.

Optical support: Every backup program supports hard drives, but as obsolescent as they may seem, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are great archive media. If you’re worried about optical media’s reliability, M-Disc claims its discs are reliable for a thousand years, claims that are backed up by Department of Defense testing.

Online support: An offsite copy of your data is a hedge against physical disasters such as flood, fire, and power surges. Online storage services are a great way to maintain an offsite copy of your data. Backup to Dropbox and the like is a nice feature to have.

FTP and SMB/AFP: Backing up to other computers or NAS boxes on your network or in remote locations (say, your parent’s house) is another way of physically safeguarding your data with an offsite, or at least physically discrete copy. FTP can be used for offsite, while SMB (Windows and most OS’s) and AFP (Apple) are good for other PCs or NAS on your local network.

Real time: Real-time backup means that files are backed up whenever they change, usually upon creation or save. It’s also called mirroring and is handy for keeping an immediately available copy of rapidly changing data sets. For less volatile data sets, the payoff doesn’t compensate for the drain on system resources. Instead, scheduling should be used.

Continuous backup: In this case, ‘continuous’ simply means backing up on a tight schedule, generally every 5 to 15 minutes, instead of every day or weekly. Use continuous backup for rapidly changing data sets where transfer rates are too slow, or computing power is too precious for real-time backup.

Performance: Most backups proceed in the background or during dead time, so performance isn’t a huge issue in the consumer space. However, if you’re backing up multiple machines or to multiple destinations, or dealing with very large data sets, speed is a consideration.

How we test

We run each program through the various types of backups it’s capable of. This is largely to test reliability and hardware compatibility, but we time two: an approximately 115GB system image (two partitions), and a roughly 50GB image created from a set of smaller files and folders. We then mount the images and test their integrity via the program’s restore functions. We also test the USB boot drives created by the programs.

All of our reviews

If you’d like to learn more about our top picks as well as other options, you can find links below to all of our backup software reviews. We’ll keep evaluating new programs and re-evaluating existing software on a regular basis, so be sure to check back for our current impressions.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Jon is a Juilliard-trained musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time (late 70s) computer enthusiast living in the San Francisco bay area. [email protected]

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

Or maybe they’re yoga pants for your thumbs?

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Razer has never been afraid to take a shot on products that seem unusual at first glance. Witness its RGB-infused N95 mask, the now-defunct Razer Game Store with its own zVault currency, or the first-gen Firefly mousepad, which has evolved into something special but originally prompted us to review it against a ripped-up piece of cardboard. The company’s latest offering might just take the cake though. This week, Razer introduced gamer thimbles.

Yes, thimbles. You know, like the Monopoly piece (or the sewing accessory for more worldly folks out there). Seriously.

Well, not quite. If you simply can’t abide sweaty palms and greasy fingerprints interfering with your marathon mobile Fortnite sessions, the new Razer gaming finger sleeve may be up your alley. “Slip on and never slip up with Razer Gaming Finger Sleeve that will seal your mobile victory,” Razer’s site breathlessly boasts.  “Woven with high-sensitivity silver fiber for enhanced aim and control, our breathable sleeves keep your fingers deadly cool in the heat of battle, so you’ll always have a grip on the game.”

Razer says the 0.8mm-thick sleeves are sweat absorbent, and that they’re made from nylon and spandex. So maybe they’re more like gamer yoga pants? But you know, for your fingers?

Either way it’s ludicrous. And unlike most of Razer’s gear, the gamer thimbles understandably (yet sadly) lack RGB lighting. But if you want to wear your dedication to the Cult of Razer on your slee…thumb, or maybe just look snazzier when you’re passing Go and collecting $200, you can pick up a pair of Razer gaming finger sleeves on the company’s website for $10. The truly dedicated can double down to look especially gamer:

razer gamer thimbles 2 Razer

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