It has been just over a year since I last shared my own #WindowsInsider testing configuration and now that some major changes have happened in the Windows Insider Program relating to what we used to call rings – I figured it was time to reorganize my own gear for the approaching testing cycle.

So by now you have likely read about the change from Fast, Slow, and Release Preview Rings and morphing those into the Dev (Fast), Beta (Slow), and Release Preview (Release Preview) Channels. One reason for the shift to a channel based approach is to match up with other Microsoft Insider Programs such as those for Office and the new Edge Chromium based web browser.

The second reason is to better align expectations away from the pace of the development build releases, i.e. Fast and Slow, to a quality focused approach.

We are transitioning and converting our current ring model, based on the frequency of builds, to a new channel model that pivots on the quality of builds and better supports parallel coding efforts.

Microsoft has already released new builds into the Dev (Build 20150 for Windows 10 vNext) and Beta (Windows 10 20H2 Build 19042.330) Channels this week. It may be a while before we see the first build in the Release Preview Channel and that should be Windows 10 20H2 as it gets closer to general availability this fall.

So due to a hardware failure and just simply needing to be prepared to install development builds across all three of the new Windows Insider Program channels, I now have a new test bench aligned as detailed below.

Dev Channel (formerly Fast Ring)

This is the ever reliable Lenovo X1 Yoga with one of the best screens ever on a laptop. It has an Intel Core 7th Gen Kaby Lake Dual Core i7 CPU (2.90GHz), 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD.

I also have Dev Channel running on a Surface Laptop 3 with an Intel Core i7 10th Gen Ice Lake Quad Core CPU (1.20 GHz), 8GB of RAM, and a 125GB SSD. This is a device I use quite often so it is a great opportunity to see the early builds in use doing what I routinely do each day.

Beta Channel (formerly Slow Ring)

A new addition to my testing lineup, the 2017 Surface Pro carries an Intel Core i7 7th Gen Kaby Lake Dual Core CPU (2.50 GHz), 16GB of RAM, and a 1 TB SSD. This device is replacing the second generation HP Spectre x360 that was experiencing a bulging battery and had to be retired.

Release Preview Channel (formerly Release Preview Ring)

Remaining in the testing line up is Surface Book 2 running an Intel Core i7 Kaby Lake R Quad Core CPU (2.11 GHz), 16GB of RAM, and a 1 TB SSD.

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I still have a wide variety of other devices that will continue to run production releases of Windows 10, right now that is Version 2004 (pronounced twenty-oh-four).

Related to testing channels, I have opted to not install new Edge on any of these test devices and wait for it to be pushed out to these machines. There is one exception, Beta Channel, which received its first Windows 10 20H2 release, Build 19042.330. It included Edge Stable in this first update because 20H2 will be the first feature update for Windows 10 that will ship with the new Edge rather than legacy Edge.

A couple of other testing notes:

  • I continue to use a separate Microsoft for my test devices. I recommend you do this as well if you can because it prevents sync issues between devices running Windows Insider builds and production releases. When I made this change last year, it was the best decision I made and prevents so many headaches and challenges.
  • Just like last year, these are vanilla installs after resetting the devices back to the Out of Box Experience (OOBE). Best way to begin a new cycle of testing.
  • The only setting change I made on these new testing installs was to turn on Remote Desktop access so that I can access them remotely from my main desktop using the Remote Desktop UWP app.
  • I continue to only test on bare metal devices so no Virtual Machines this cycle either. To be honest, it is also a lot less headaches and a big time saver.

Finally, how do I see testing progressing across these three new Windows Insider Channels?

Dev Channel

For now this is what I choose to call Windows 10 (vNext). Others just see this as the early builds of Windows 10 21H1 – the first feature update of 2021. However you view it, this is the channel that is closes to the code being worked on by software engineers and developers at Microsoft. At some point they will fork this branch for the next major feature update in 2021 – aka Windows 10 21H1.

Beta Channel

Right now this channel is testing Windows 10 20H2 that is the minor feature update expected this fall. Once this update is closer to release it should be pushed into the Release Preview Channel for its final testing phase. Once that happens, expect Windows 10 21H1 to head into this channel for its testing with the feature set and enhancements locked down.

Release Preview Channel

Right now this channel is idle because everything with this new approach is just getting started. As I previously mentioned, the first pre-release build that should make its way into the channel should be Windows 10 20H2 after it finishes testing in the Beta Channel. Until then it is running Windows 10 (Version 2004) and will likely test cumulative updates for the production release of Windows 10 (Version 2004). I suspect it may continue to be an avenue for app updates to be tested across a smaller audience before they are released to production.

Bottom Line

No matter what your own Windows Insider testing configuration is you should always have backups and if possible avoid using Dev Channel on your production devices. Beta Channel is probably a fairly safe option on a spare production machine. If you are really itching for the next feature update on production machines then the Release Preview Channel is your safest bet.

Let me know what your testing scheme looks like in the comments below.

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