Windows 10 Update: Sun Valley release date and features are as close as we’ll get to Windows 11 Microsoft Windows 10 background

  • Release date: October/November 2021
  • Update name: Windows 10 21H2
  • Codename: Sun Valley
  • New, softer design
  • New animations
  • Windows 10X Action Center
  • New Disk Management settings screen
  • Less bloatware in fresh installs
  • Per-app multiple GPU management
  • Improved audio device settings

The big Microsoft Windows 10 update for 2021 is probably as close as we're ever going to get to an actual Windows 11 OS. The company has already confirmed that Windows 10 is "the last version of Windows," and with the Microsoft operating system moving to a service model, with twice yearly updates, there is going to be no Windows 11.

But the team is looking to completely refresh the look, feel, and usability of Windows 10 to make it seem like more than just a bunch of little bug-fixing patches. It's also going to give us less bloatware on our own fresh installs. The first of 2021's updates, codenamed Sun Valley, is not going to be as big a behind-the-scenes change as the new Windows 10X release, but it will still be bringing some design elements from the newer PC OS.

Microsoft Windows 10 background

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows 10X? Don't worry, it's not something we need concern ourselves with overmuch as it's not designed for gaming PCs, and won't be an operating system you can buy and download on its own. Win10X is aimed at enterprise and education notebooks, and is a more stripped back setup, initially launching without support for a whole lot of legacy stuff, such as Win32 support. Hence, it's only coming on new machines.

But the Windows 10 Sun Valley update is aiming to breathe a little new life into the OS, as WindowsCentral's Zac Bowden noted in Microsoft job listings, the company is looking to "deliver a sweeping visual rejuvenation of Windows experiences to signal to our customers that Windows is BACK and ensure that Windows is considered the best user OS experience for customers."

So, how is Microsoft going to signal to us that Windows is, indeed, BACK?

Release Date

Microsoft Windows 10X

Windows 10X will come first, highlighting some of Sun Valley’s expected features. (Image credit: Microsoft)

Windows 10 Update – Sun Valley release date

Microsoft has stuck to a pretty solid release cadence for its twice yearly updates for Windows 10 recently. That being a spring and autumn update, with the first of the year coming around April or May time, and the second dropping on to our PCs in either October or November.

Given that the aforementioned job listing is pretty recent the big refresh isn't likely to be in the first flush of Windows 10 updates this year. We are then looking at the Sun Valley update to be the October/November release instead.

Microsoft has let slip the general release date for its first 2021 Windows 10 update, however, with the 21H1 update being given a June 2021 timeframe in a subsequently edited Chromium code commit. The commit originally read: "The Windows Release coming out this June 2021 has a new API that can disable KTM exploits." 

Windows 10 21H1 is going to be more of a slight update, mainly bug fixes, and mild improvements, so we're going to be waiting on Sun Valley for the new features. Windows 10X is launching in the springtime, so it would make sense for Microsoft to marshal its efforts towards the desktop version once that's out in the wild.

New Features

Microsoft Windows 10 UI

A softening of the Windows 10 UI design is expected, and you can already see rounded corners appearing on Win10 apps. (Image credit: Microsoft)

Window 10 Update – Sun Valley new features

Maybe not the most exciting new feature, but the latest news is that Microsoft is promising to ditch the bloatware from fresh installs of its Sun Valley update. Of course, you're still going to find every laptop maker under the sun filling their machines to the brim with useless apps you have to uninstall as soon as you get your notebook out of the box, but your own installs will be mercifully clutter-free.

It is being reported that the Windows 10 21H2 Sun Valley update will remove Skype, the links to Microsoft Office's free webby version, the Cortana app, Paint 3D, and 3D Viewer. Every little helps.

The big user interface refresh is arguably the most important new feature of Microsoft's main Windows 10 update. It's this new visual language which the company will hope signals a more sweeping change to the operating system. Key to the change is an overall softening of the rather boxy, angular design that is the current hallmark of Windows 10.

That means we're going to see a rounding off of the corners on buttons, UI elements, and application windows. Depending on your personal preferences that could be a welcome change, though I have to say I kinda dig the more utilitarian aesthetic of the sharp edges, especially of the frame-free app windows.

We'll also be treated to some shiny new OS animations, such as when a window is opened. Looks like we're getting some of the prettier Linux goodness filtering into our Microsoft operating systems.

Microsoft Windows 10 UI

Soft edges and shadowing. (Image credit: Microsoft)

It's also suggested that Windows 10X's new Action Center could make its way to the Sun Valley Windows 10 update too. Basically it's designed to give you quick access to notifications and quick settings too. That should stop you getting redirected to discrete apps in order to mess around with some simple settings changes, rather than the binary off/on options Windows 10 currently offers.

What ought to be universally well-received is the suggestion that older, legacy screens are likely to be getting a visual overhaul to bring them more inline with the overall Windows 10 aesthetic. That's something Microsoft has been pretty slow to change, with a host of older screens still popping up in obscure places that look like they haven't changed since Windows 2000. 

MS has started pulling some of the functionality of those legacy screens into modern UI elements, with the recent change to advanced display settings where monitor refresh rates have been pulled into the main screen from display adapter properties. 

In Sun Valley we're going to see the old Disk Management application effectively retired and replaced with a modern UI version with the straightforward settings name of Manage Disks and Volumes. The old tool isn't being completely retired and is more just going on gardening leave. You can still access the original version if you prefer the old-school looks and functionality instead.

Microsoft is also introducing some more granular graphics card control within Windows too. It is specifically looking at systems with multiple GPUs inside them, and giving you the option, via the OS itself, to pick and choose which is the low power chip and which the high-performance option.

I'm a little dubious over the utility of such a feature for gaming machines. This isn't something that's going to affect multi-GPU gaming, after all, that is pretty much already dead and buried, but instead it looks to be offering a kind of laptop-style option for desktop PCs. If you wished you could potentially use the integrated graphics of your processor as the low-power, Windows GPU, with your discrete card as the one that kicks into gear when you need it.

Nvidia RTX 3060 cards

(Image credit: Nvidia)

We'll have to do some testing on this when the feature is launched in a 100 percent stable state, but I'm guessing you'll need to have your monitor plumbed into your motherboard (if it has outputs) otherwise you'd likely not be able to run off your CPU. That will also probably preclude using a particularly high refresh rate monitor on the desktop.

It's also set to work on a per-app basis, so you could specify a particular GPU for one application and prioritise another for something else. Maybe there are Nvidia-based features you need in one application, but your AMD GPU is more powerful in-game? I'm not sure if that's really how it's going to work in the end, but I'd be surprised if we got anything but lower gaming performance out of tweaking this new feature.

Microsoft is also said to be improving the sound device settings for your system too, allowing you to set default devices again on a per-app basis from within the Volume Mixer. If Windows can actually sort out not booting up with Nvidia Broadcast flipping around my preferences, or the Oculus Quest 2 deciding that even if it's not enabled really needs to be the primary audio output, I'll be happy. 

Windows 10 has a history of audio strangeness, so it would be good if that side of things could be improved.

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