Analysts have warned Windows 10 end of life plans could spark a global torrent of e-waste, with millions of devices expected to be scrapped in the coming years.
Research from Canalys shows that up to 240 million PCs globally could be terminated as a result of the shift over to Windows 11, raising critical questions about device refreshes and the responsibility of vendors to extend life cycles.
A key concern highlighted by Canalys was Microsoft’s current practices regarding Windows 11 device compatibility.
Minimum system requirements for installing Windows 11 on a PC mean users must have a processor of at least 1 GHz or faster along with a minimum of 4GB RAM. Storage requirements are also set to a minimum of 64GB.
Many of the devices set for scrapping after the Windows 10 support deadline, set for October 2025, won’t meet these requirements despite being in “good condition” and potentially recycled by enterprises.
The consultancy added that many of these 240 million devices will end up in landfill.
“Their incompatibility with the latest supported version of Windows massively reduces their value for refurbishing and reselling,” Canalys said.
“If these were all folded laptops, stacked one on top of another, they would make a pile 600 km taller than the moon.”
In the coming years, Canalys warned this could place significant strain on IT budgets, with many organizations tightening purse strings as a result of challenging economic conditions.
Vendors “have a responsibility to extend lifespans”
Canalys said its research highlights the critical need for device manufacturers and software vendors such as Microsoft to “maximize products’ usable lifespans”.
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The environmental impact of scrapping devices en-masse will be significant, the consultancy warned, and vendors should place a stronger focus on supporting circular economy goals.
“OEMs must embed durability, reparability, and recyclability into the design of their devices, and OS vendors must ensure these devices are usable and secure for as long as possible,” it said.
A lack of robust regulatory standards at present means there is no impetus for vendors to change practices in this regard, Canalys noted.
Windows 10 end of life security support has been extended
In December, Microsoft announced plans to provide extended security updates for Windows 10 until 2028, enabling users to continue to receive critical security patches past the official end-of-support deadline.
To access this, however, users will be required to pay an as-of-yet unspecified fee.
Canalys welcomed the move as a positive step to extending lifespans, but noted these fees could prove prohibitive to some organizations with strained budgets.
“Though the provision of extended support can prolong the lifespans of Windows 11-ineligible PCs, the cost of these security updates will likely be a barrier for many users,” it warned.
Pricing plans for Windows 7’s extended support scheme, for example, began at $25 per PC for the first year of support, but eventually quadrupled to $100 per device on an annual basis.
“If Microsoft pursues a similar pricing structure for Windows 10’s extended support, the more cost-effective option will be migration to newer, Windows 11-capable PCs – forcing older PCs onto the scrapheap.”
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Ross Kelly is ITPro's News & Analysis Editor, responsible for leading the brand's news output and in-depth reporting on the latest stories from across the business technology landscape. Ross was previously a Staff Writer, during which time he developed a keen interest in cyber security, business leadership, and emerging technologies.
He graduated from Edinburgh Napier University in 2016 with a BA (Hons) in Journalism, and joined ITPro in 2022 after four years working in technology conference research.