What Is Windows 11 S Mode and When to Switch to It

What Is Windows 11 S Featured

While you most often hear about Windows Home and Pro editions, Windows 11 S Mode is also an option. However, unlike other editions of Windows, this is a built-in mode that changes how you use your version of Windows. There are a variety of pros and cons that come with switching to S Mode, as you’ll learn about in this guide.

Tip: looking for ways to improve your PC’s performance? Start using Efficiency Mode in Windows 11.

What Is Windows 11 S Mode?

Think of S Mode as Security Mode. It’s essentially the locked-down version of Windows, designed to keep you as safe as possible. In many ways, it’s similar to a Chromebook. Your options for installing apps are limited to just the Microsoft Store. Moreover, resource-hungry apps are frozen to avoid harming your system in any way.

Windows tablet view.
Image source: Unsplash

Windows S Mode is a good thing in many ways. You’ll get optimal performance and improved security. Of course, for many users, it’s far too restrictive to be beneficial.

Please note that Windows S Mode is only available on Windows 10, Windows 11, and Windows Surface systems. In Windows 10, S Mode is available in Home, Pro, Enterprise, and Education editions. However, in Windows 11, it’s only available in the Home edition. You will be required to switch out of S Mode if you’re upgrading Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise, or Education editions to Windows 11.

Windows S Mode Pros

Before you see this mode as too limiting, there are quite a few benefits and reasons to keep your PC in this mode. These include:

1. Extremely Fast and Responsive

Even on PCs with low-end resources, S Mode does a great job of preventing apps from hogging resources, so startup and response times are much faster. Think of it as the closest you can get to an SSD experience with a standard HDD.

2. Reduced Malware Risks

Naturally, an app or a file you download could contain malware. However, since you’re limited to just apps from the Microsoft Store, there’s less chance you will accidentally install a malicious app. No third-party apps are allowed.

3. Enjoy Windows Chromebook-Style

Chromebook view.
Image source: Unsplash

Whether you love it or hate it, Chromebooks are fast, secure, and user-friendly for the most part. But if you’re a die-hard Windows user, switching to a Chromebook probably isn’t going to make you happy. S Mode gives you the best of both worlds.

Tip: learn how you can install Chrome OS Flex on a Windows PC.

4. Ideal to Restrict User Access

If you have kids or guest users who you don’t want making major changes to your PC, S Mode is a good option. Users only have access to Microsoft Store apps, so this limits how much they can install. You can also set up parental controls for improved child safety, but keep in mind that kids are learning how to bypass these controls. Even outside of S Mode, you can still use parental control, such as within Google Chrome.

5. Ideal for Cheaper PCs

If you’re on a tight budget, Windows S Mode lets you get by with fewer system resources. This is perfect if you’re mainly using the system for Internet browsing and a few productivity apps. Of course, make sure the apps you need are available in the Microsoft Store first.

Windows S Mode Cons

As you can imagine, S Mode isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. In fact, if you search for “s mode” in your favorite search engine, you’ll see numerous results asking how to turn it off. As great as it is, there are some major drawbacks:

1. The Microsoft Store Is Limited

Microsoft Store apps overview.

The Microsoft Store isn’t quite like the Apple Store or Google Play Store. The selection is severely limited. Many users won’t be able to find all of the apps they want or even need. For instance, if you’re working remotely, your employer may require apps that are only available via a third-party provider.

Good to know: if you’re experiencing problems with the Microsoft Store, we can help you get to the bottom of it.

2. Forget About Advanced Customization

While you’re able to change your desktop wallpaper, fonts, and other minor customizations, forget about diving into the registry or making changes via the Command Prompt, PowerShell, or Terminal. This is designed to protect Windows from harmful system changes, either by human error or malware. If you’re a power user who wants to use registry hacks to improve your experience, you’re out of luck.

3. Some Hardware May Not Work

Any hardware that requires third-party drivers to function won’t work in Windows 11 S Mode. Windows does offer drivers for many types of hardware. Before you decide to go all in on Windows S Mode, check this compatibility guide. While it’s for Windows 10, the same restrictions apply to Windows 11, according to Microsoft.

4. Limited to Edge Browser

While the Edge browser is a welcome improvement over Internet Explorer, many users still hate it. This is especially true after unwelcome enhancements, such as the new sidebar powered by AI. Users are already trying to figure out how to get rid of it.

If you love using Chrome, Firefox, Brave, etc., you’ll have to give them up to use S Mode. If you’re tired of Windows opening all of your links in Edge and you’re not in S Mode, use these tips to fix it.

Activating Windows S Mode

S Mode isn’t something you can just activate if you’re already running Windows 11 Home Edition. S Mode isn’t even available for higher editions, such as Pro and Enterprise.

Windows S Mode is an option when you first install or activate Windows 11 Home Edition on your PC. If you choose not to use it, you can’t turn it back on. The same is true if you turn off S Mode. You can’t decide to enable it again afterward. It’s a one-way street. If you’re using a Surface device, S Mode is turned on by default. Many cheaper PCs with fewer resources also have S Mode enabled by default to improve performance.

Tip: learn how to easily switch to dark mode and back again on your Windows PC.

Turn Off Windows 11 S Mode

If you’re using a Windows 11 PC that’s currently in S Mode but prefer the full-fledged version of Windows, you can switch out of it. Remember, you can’t go back to S Mode after a while. It may be possible if you make a full system image with S Mode activated, but you’d have to format your PC and reinstall your system from the system image to switch back. Note that this doesn’t always work flawlessly. Follow these steps to turn off Windows 11 S mode.

  1. Open “Settings -> System” on your PC.
Accessing System menu from Settings.
  1. Choose “Activation.”
Going to "Activation" option under System in Settings.
  1. Click the “Go to Store” link in the “Switch to Windows 11 Pro” section. Please note that this isn’t the “Open Store” or “Go to Store” button that appears under “Upgrade your edition of Windows.”
  2. Look for the “Switch out of S Mode” page in the Microsoft Store. It should appear once you click the link in the previous step. Click the “Get” button to switch to the full version of Windows.

Tip: did you know that you can still use Internet Explorer in Windows 11? Read on to find out how.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know if I'm running S Mode?

If you’ve tried downloading and installing third-party apps and can’t, you’re probably running S Mode. You can also go to “Settings -> System -> About.” Check your Edition under “Windows Specifications.”

Can I upgrade to Windows Pro from S Mode?

Yes. As long as your PC meets the system requirements, you can switch out from S Mode using the steps in this article. Then, go to “Settings -> System -> Activation” and enter your Windows Pro activation key or purchase Windows Pro from the Microsoft Store.

Why can't I turn S Mode off?

If you’re not a system administrator or your PC is tied to a company domain, you may not have permission to turn S Mode off. If you absolutely need it off, contact a system administrator to explain why you need this changed.

Image credit: Unsplash. All screenshots by Crystal Crowder.

Crystal Crowder
Crystal Crowder

Crystal Crowder has spent over 15 years working in the tech industry, first as an IT technician and then as a writer. She works to help teach others how to get the most from their devices, systems, and apps. She stays on top of the latest trends and is always finding solutions to common tech problems.

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