What’s New in Windows 10’s 21H1 Update, Coming Spring 2021

The Start menu featuring the new icons in Windows 10's 21H1 update.

Microsoft is working on two Windows 10 updates. The 21H1 update will debut in the first half of 2021 and includes bigger features that need significant testing. It will follow the 20H2 update this fall, which is focused on stability and polish.

This article is up-to-date with the latest changes of of Windows 10 Insider build 20190, which was released on August 12, 2020.

No Guarantees!

First, one quick thing: Microsoft offers no guarantee that these features will appear in the final version of 21H1. They’re currently in the development builds of what will become the 21H1 update, but Microsoft may pull these features and spend more time working on them—or never release them.

Likewise, some of these features may even make it into the 20H2 update coming in Fall 2020. Some of the current features in the 20H2 update may be bumped to the 21H1 update. Windows 10’s development process has become more fluid now that MIcrosoft is working on multiple releases in parallel.

With that in mind, let’s look at what Microsoft is working on. The 21H1 update includes everything added in Windows 10’s 20H2 update plus the below features.

RELATED: What’s New in Windows 10’s 20H2 Update, Arriving Fall 2020

Secure DNS over HTTPS (DoH), System-Wide

Enabling DNS over HTTPS on Windows 10.

Microsoft now lets you enable DNS over HTTPS (DoH) system-wide, for all Windows applications. DNS over HTTPS will boost online privacy and security by encrypting DNS lookups.

In current versions of Windows 10, only a few web browsers like Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, and Mozilla Firefox support this. Once system-wide support is finished, all Windows applications will get the benefits of DoH without any modifications.

RELATED: How DNS Over HTTPS (DoH) Will Boost Privacy Online

DNS Configuration in the Settings App

Windows 10’s Settings app now lets you configure DNS servers—and DoH settings. Previously setting a custom DNS server required visiting the classic Control Panel.

To find DNS (and DNS over HTTPS) settings, head to either Settings > Network & Internet > Status (for wired Ethernet connections) or Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi (for wireless connections.) Click “Properties,” scroll down, and click “Edit” under DNS Settings.

With one of the DoH-enabled DNS servers Microsoft lists here configured, you can enable Encrypted DNS over HTTPS. In the current testing release, it works with Cloudflare, Google, and Quad9’s DNS servers.

Microsoft’s New Icon Theme

The new Settings icon on the app splash screen in Windows 10's 21H1 update.

Various icons have been updated to match Microsoft’s new icon theme, including the Settings, Windows Security, Snip & Sketch, and Sticky Notes icons. The new icons look much better with the new light and dark themed start menu tiles added in Windows 10’s 20H1 update.

Linux GPU Compute and More WSL Improvements

Linux's Tux mascot on Windows 10
Larry Ewing

There are some big improvements for developers who run Linux software on Windows 10 with the Windows Subsystem for Linux. Microsoft is adding the “#1 requested feature”: GPU compete support.

WSL now supports both NVIDIA CUDA (for NVIDIA hardware) and DirectML (for AMD, Intel, and NVIDIA GPUs.) Professionals with workflows involving Linux software that offloads computation to the system’s GPU can now run that Linux software on a Windows 10 PC.

Microsoft is also making WSL easier to install. You can run wsl.exe --install to enable the Windows Subsystem for Linux with a single command—no manually enabling operating system components first.

You can also use wsl.exe --update to update the Linux kernel to the latest version, wsl.exe --update --status to view your current Linux kernel version and when it was last updated, and wsl.exe --update --rollback to roll back to an older version of the Linux kernel.

Read more about the latest improvements on Microsoft’s Command Line blog.

RELATED: How to Install and Use the Linux Bash Shell on Windows 10

Linux Files in File Explorer

Viewing Linux distribution files in File Explorer

Microsoft is also adding Linux files integration in File Explorer. If you use WSL, you’ll see a “Linux” option in the File Explorer’s sidebar where you can access its files in a nice graphical interface.

This was already possible—you just had to plug an address like \wsl$Ubuntu-20.04  into the File Explorer’s address bar to access your Linux files. Now you can access those files in a click or two.

RELATED: Windows 10’s File Explorer Is Getting Linux Files (and Tux)

Improved Graphics Settings for Multiple GPUs

Choosing a default high performance GPU on Windows 10.

If you have a system with multiple high-performance GPUs, the Graphics Settings page in the Settings app now provides much more control of them.

On this page, you can now select a default high-performance GPU. You can also choose a specific GPU for each application. Previously, you could only assign a general “high performance” or “power saving” setting to each application.

To access these settings, head to Settings > System > Display > Graphics Settings or Settings > Gaming > Graphics Settings.

RELATED: How to Choose Which GPU a Game Uses on Windows 10

Architecture in the Task Manager

The Architecture column in Windows 10's Task Manager.

The Windows Task Manager can now show you the architecture of each running process. To view this information, click over to the “Details” tab in the Task Manager, right-click the headers in the list, and click “Select Columns.” Enable the “Architecture” checkbox and click “OK.”

For example, a standard 64-bit process on the 64-bit version of Windows 10 will display “x64”. This would likely be particularly useful on Windows 10 on ARM, as it would show you which applications are native to ARM and which are running through the emulation layer.

RELATED: What Is Windows 10 on ARM, and How Is It Different?

Improved Sound Device Settings

Managing default sound devices in Windows 10's Settings app.

Microsoft is also adding more traditional Control Panel features to the Sound settings panel. The page at Settings > System > Sound > Manage Sound Devices now tells you which sound device is your default and choose your default.

There’s also now a link to the per-app sound output screen where you can control which audio device each application uses on the fly.

RELATED: How to Set Per-App Sound Outputs in Windows 10

Windows Will Tell You What’s New in Updates

Windows 10's new post-update experience, courtesy of Microsoft.

Windows 10 now has a new “post-update experience” that will pop up and tell you about some of the biggest new features and changes in these big every-six-months Windows 10 updates.

That’s a big improvement for the average Windows 10 user who has to sit through a big download followed by a long reboot for the update—only to wonder what changed. Now, Windows will tell you.

We’re sure we’ll always provide more detailed information about the changes here at How-To Geek, though!

Changes for System Administrators

Here are a few interesting changes for administrators:

As usual, there are a lot of bug fixes and security updates, too. Microsoft still has quite a few months to go, so we expect other features to pop up before the final release. We’ll keep updating this article as Microsoft continues work on what will likely be the “Spring 2021 Update.”

It’s good to see that significant changes to Windows, like system-wide DNS over HTTPS, are getting an extended testing period before they’re rolled out to all Windows 10 users.