Windows Update: Everything You Need To Know

Is Windows Update enabled on your PC? If you don’t know the answer to that, you should — Windows Update keeps Windows, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Office up-to-date with the latest security patches and bug fixes, ensuring your computer is as secure as possible. However, Windows Update can also cause problems — particularly by nagging you to reboot when you’re trying to use your computer and automatically restarting your computer overnight.

While Windows Update can be obnoxious, it keeps your computer secure and is well worth using. It can also be made less obnoxious with a few quick settings changes.

Access Windows Update

To open the Windows Update Control Panel tool, press the Windows key on your computer, type “Update” without quotes, and click the Windows Update shortcut that appears. On Windows 8, you’ll have to click the Settings option before you see the Windows Update shortcut.

open windows update   Windows Update: Everything You Need To Know

If you’ve set updates to not happen automatically, you can click the Check for updates link in the left pane to check for new updates and click the Install updates button to install any available updates.

Microsoft releases most Windows Update patches on “Patch Tuesday” — the second Tuesday of each month. This allows system administrators to schedule updates all at once. However, if a security flaw is being exploited in the wild, important security patches may be released immediately. Patches for Windows could show up at any point in the month.

windows update   Windows Update: Everything You Need To Know

Enable Automatic Updates

To enable automatic updates, click the Change settings link in the left pane of the Windows Update window. Select one of the following options:

  • Install updates automatically: Windows will automatically check for, download, and install updates at the time you choose. You’ll get your PC automatically update without requiring any of your attention, but Windows will start harassing you to reboot your computer after installing the updates. If you want to leave your computer running overnight, you may find that it was automatically rebooted while you were away.
  • Download updates but let me choose when to install them: Windows will check for new updates and download them in the background, displaying a notification in the system tray when new updates are found. When you’re ready to update, you can click the system tray icon, install the updates, and reboot your computer. Windows won’t install updates until you say so, so you can select this option and choose to only install the updates when you’re prepared to reboot.
  • Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them: Windows will only check for updates and display a notification in your system tray. This can be useful if you want to save bandwidth and only download updates when you’re on a specific connection — for example, this could prevent Windows from automatically downloading updates on a tethered Internet connection and consuming your mobile data.
  • Never check for updates: Windows won’t automatically check for updates, forcing you to manually check for updates or not update Windows at all. You shouldn’t use this option, as you’ll miss out on important security updates.

From here, you can also choose whether you want to receive recommended updates (updates that aren’t as critical for security), update other Microsoft products in addition to Windows itself, or see notifications about new Microsoft software, such as Bing Desktop.

windows update change settings   Windows Update: Everything You Need To Know

Stop Windows Update From Nagging You and Rebooting Your Computer

On Windows 7 and previous versions of Windows, Windows will start to nag you after installing most updates. It will pop up and inform you that it’s restarting your computer in fifteen minutes unless you postpone the shutdown. Even more obnoxiously, you can only postpone the shutdown for up to four hours at a time. If you need to use your computer all day without rebooting, you’ll have to keep clicking the Postpone button. If you step away from your computer or leave it running overnight, Windows may automatically restart your computer, halting whatever it was doing.

To fix this, you can change the value of the NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers registry key, forcing Windows to not reboot if a user is logged in. We covered this when we looked at examples of useful registry hacks. You could also just set Windows to “Download updates but let me choose when to install them” and only install updates when you’re ready to reboot.

windows update reboot nag   Windows Update: Everything You Need To Know

Windows 8 improves things by giving you a three-day grace period to restart your computer, although it no longer displays this information on the desktop. After installing updates, you’ll see a notification on your welcome screen asking you to reboot. If you want to see a Windows 7-style notification on your Windows 8 desktop, you could install the free Windows Update Notifier utility. If you don’t reboot in three days after installing updates, the nagging and automatic reboots will start.

You could also change the same registry key or set Windows 8 to only install updates when you choose to work around this, just on Windows 7.

windows update pc will restart to finish installing important updates   Windows Update: Everything You Need To Know

Control What’s Updated

If you’re updating manually, you can click the “updates are available” text in the Windows Update window and see what updates will be applied. Click each update to view more information, if you like. Uncheck an update and it won’t be installed. To have Windows ignore an update in the future, just right-click that specific update and select Hide update.

select windows updates to install   Windows Update: Everything You Need To Know

Troubleshoot Windows Update

In most situations, Windows Update shouldn’t need any troubleshooting. If you’re having problems, ensure your computer is properly connected to the Internet and has some free disk space. If you do run into an odd issue and Windows refuses to install updates, you may want to reboot your computer and try again.

In some rare cases, Windows may install an update that causes an unusual, rare problem with your computer’s software or hardware. You may investigate the problem and find that a Windows update is to blame.

If you notice this, you can uninstall updates from the Windows Control Panel. Open  the standard Uninstall or change a program window that lists all your installed applications. In the sidebar, click View installed updates. Locate the update you need to remove and uninstall it like you would any other program.

You can then open Windows Update again, check for updates, and hide the update to prevent Windows from installing it in the future.

uninstall windows update   Windows Update: Everything You Need To Know

If you’re a Windows user, you should probably have Windows automatically install or at least automatically download updates. The “automatically download updates” option gives you a good combination of automation and manual control, automatically downloading updates and letting you choose when to go through the reboot process.

Whatever you do, don’t disable Windows Update completely — it’s important to have the latest updates to stay secure online.

Do you have any other Windows Update tips? Did we miss something everyone should know? Leave a comment below!

Image Credit: comedy_nose on Flickr

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

24 Comments -

0 votes

Stevie Godson

Having tried to open the Windows Update Control Panel tool by pressing the Windows key, and typing Update, I discover there is NO Windows Update listed at all – only a Samsung Update Plus, whatever that is. Please help – how else can I find it?

1 votes

Bruce E

On Win7 and earlier, click on the Start Orb or Button and go to the top of the list. Windows Update will be listed there (normally the item immediately before the folders start on Win7). Or you could open the Control Panel and if you are using the list view, it will be very close to the last item on the list.

1 votes

Tom S

open control panel -> Seciurity -> type update in search box. I got Samsung, and it’s there

0 votes

Stevie Godson

Thanks so much Bruce E and Tom S. I’ve found it now. Appreciate your help.

0 votes

Zhong J

Sometimes when you’re install drivers from Windows Update, it might cause BSOD which you’ll need to remove the driver or perform complete reinstallation. Also beware of bloatware provided by Microsoft, most notable Bing.

0 votes

Bruce E

The Bing items (desktop and toolbar) only show up if the ‘show recommended software’ option is selected. Even then, they are never automatically selected and installed. It will always require user selection to include them.

0 votes

Bruce E

I can think of a few cases where an individual may want to have Windows Update disabled since it may just end up getting in the way (and both cases apply to my usage patterns).

First, if the are using a multi-boot configuration where Windows is NOT their primary OS. It is easier to keep WU disabled and manually handle the update process. For example, my primary machine is set up with LinuxMint and Windows 7 where Mint is what I am using pretty much every day, all day. I boot into Windows anywhere from twice a month to once every quarter depending on my needs. Because of this, I run the updates myself when I need to use Windows and I can avoid automatic driver updates (which have been known to blow up on some systems) while immediately applying any appropriate security updates before I get to work. It also stops problems with Windows, my AV software, and other elements that try to update themselves in the background without user intervention (and notification in many cases) getting in each other’s way. Once I am ready for the rest of the updates, I can do that before I return to my sane OS.

Second, for many of the same reasons listed previously, if a user is running Windows in a VM, it can be beneficial to turn of WU. If a backup of the VM exists, any data made available to or from it is properly curated, and access to the host OS from the guest is restricted, even security updates become a bit less of a concern.

1 votes

Charlie

Many years ago I realized that MS is:
1.) A giant provider of bloatware !
2.) The main distribution line for malware !!
3.) The world’s greatest supporter of spyware !!!

So, as Bruce mentioned above, I turned to Linux (Mint), running Win in a VM. It always makes me smile when I read about new issues with IE or Outlook (which better should be named as ‘Insight’

0 votes

Stevie Godson

Thank you very much, Bruce E. I have now managed to find it. Appreciate you taking the time to help.

0 votes

Pushkar Y

I don’t really believe in windows update
so as soon as I install windows, I just disable windows update :p

0 votes

Allister

I find that Windows pc’s that are not updated get infected easier with Malware and certain software will not install if your pc is not updated with latest patches and service packs.

0 votes

asa

To”Stop Windows Update From Nagging You and Rebooting Your Computer”,I check “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREPoliciesMicrosoftWindows” in the the registry ,but there are not”WindowsUpdateAU key” :(

0 votes

Samuel

First, if your copy of Windows comes with Local Group Policy Editor, you can use that instead of manually editing your registy (search in your Start Menu/Start Screen for “gpedit.msc” to find out if you have it). If you do have it, run it as administrator and under “Computer Configuration”, navigate to Administrative Templates -> Windows Components -> Windows Update. Double-click on “No auto-restart with logged on users for scheduled installations”, select “Enabled” in the window that pops up, and click “OK”. This will make the necessary registry changes for you.

If you do not have gpedit.msc, you may need to add any keys which are missing. You can create them by right-clicking the parent key and selecting “New -> Key” and naming it accordingly. I believe the “Windows” and “AU” keys have to be created on most installations, so go to “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWAREPoliciesMicrosoft”, right-click the folder “Windows” and create a new key, titled “WindowsUpdate”. Repeat this for “AU” under the newly-created “WindowsUpdate” key, and then create a new DWORD in “AU” called “NoAutoRebootWithLoggedOnUsers”. Set its value to “1″.

0 votes

Kp R

Thank you very much.This article is really use ful to all pc users.

0 votes

Don

I have no problem downloading Windows updates or even rebooting (Check for updates but let me choose) but what infuriates me is the IE 10 updates since I dont even use the Browser but do understand the need to keep it updated its always so much larger than all the other updates.

0 votes

A&L

win 7 SP1
With the latest update i got rid of over 1 gig with a new entry in the disc clean up tool
http://www.ghacks.net/2013/10/09/save-lots-disk-space-microsofts-new-windows-update-cleanup-tool/

0 votes

david

i have a hp windows 7 laptop and the manual windows update will not work because it says that the service is not running. what’s up with that. thank you

0 votes

david

i have a hp windows 7 laptop and the manual windows update will not work because it says that the service is not running. what’s up with that. thank you

0 votes
0 votes

Greg

My laptop recently got the October update. When I turned it on Wednesday morning I got the Blue Screen of Death. It won’t even start in Safe Mode. It gives no indication of a problem with any drivers or anything else. I’m using XP on this machine.

Any advise and help is greatly appreciated.

0 votes

John

The last two (Sept and Oct) updates knocked out my Intel graphics drivers and gave me a “pale blue screen of ….. nothing! Did a restore poked at it for an hour. No reason found. I got a driver off Intel instead of off ASUS. I’m now going to change from auto install to “let me see what you’re messing with this time”. Thanks for the info. Didn’t know you could edit the list.

0 votes

Godel

On Windows XP you can stop the nagging by opening a command line (click Start -> Run) then type “sc stop wuauserv” without quotes. It lasts until the next reboot.

You can also run Windows Update using Internet Explorer. Open IE then select Tools tab, then Windows Update. I usually have Windows Update set to notify me of new downloads, then control the downloads myself. Always use the Custom setting to see what you’re getting first.

If you want to browse the internet while downloads are happening you had better open another browser or application program first, as the Update process tries to lockup your computer a bit.

0 votes

J. N

I have Windows set to notify me when updates are available. I check for any I don’t want, then download the rest. What drives me nuts is that while this is happening, there is no indication of what’s going on. Worse, I have to wait until the ‘little yellow shield’ shows up in my notification area to install the updates I downloaded. Sometimes it takes DAYS before the shield reappears! (I’m running XP Pro) Sure wish there was a way to check the progress of the downloads.

0 votes

Crazie Flawed N

Is despise too weak of a word 4 my feelings towards windowless?