Windows Update: Everything You Need to Know

Chris Hoffman 11-10-2013

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 3 Reasons Why You Should Be Running The Latest Windows Security Patches & Updates The code that makes up the Windows operating system contains security loop holes, errors, incompatibilities, or outdated software elements. In short, Windows isn't perfect, we all know that. Security patches and updates fix the vulnerabilities... Read More , 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.


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.



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 3 Foolproof Ways to Create Your Own Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot for Tethering in North America Do you want to give multiple wireless gadgets on-the-go internet access? Are you sick of getting ripped off by wireless hotspot tethering? There’s a variety of technologies that can help you – the two most... Read More 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.



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 What Is the Windows Registry and How Do I Edit It? If you need to edit the Windows registry, making a few quick changes is easy. Let's learn how to work with the registry. Read More . 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 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 What's Missing From Windows 8? Windows 8 has seen the removal of many features that have been key to Windows over the years, including the Start button, Start menu, and Windows Aero. We tend to focus on the new features... Read More . 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.


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.



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 6 Ways to Free Up Space on Your Windows Computer Clutter can be a big downer on productivity. Over time, files get lost, programs go unused, and suddenly, your once spacious hard drive is packed with useless things and you have to clean it up.... Read More . If you do run into an odd issue and Windows refuses to install updates Why Won’t My Windows 7 Updates Install? Windows Update is one of the key elements of Microsoft’s operating system for keeping your computer working and up to date. Without it, your computer would freely collect malware, unpatched security holes would be exploited... Read More , 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.


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

Related topics: Software Updater, Windows 7, Windows 8.

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  1. Windows Defender Support
    June 13, 2018 at 11:03 pm

    Microsoft routinely releases updates on the second Tuesday of each month and provide whenever a new update is urgently required to prevent a newly discovered or prevalent exploit. System administrators can configure Windows Update to install critical updates automatically, so long as the computer has an Internet connection.

  2. Harry
    June 4, 2017 at 2:43 am

    Interesting article. I checked my Update History and found a lot were marked as "Failed". My comment is not why they might fail, but why - in June 2017 - Microsoft in still sending out patches to Office 2003 (which is what I run, never having accepted that dreadful "ribbon"). Support for the product set stopped _years_ ago. Does anyone have any idea what might be in these updates?

    • Brian
      December 24, 2017 at 4:32 am

      Yes - My Windows 10 stopped downloading in July as well. I tried everything many times - with the same result. I've posted screenshots to the Microsoft community, and so far I haven't solved it. I have version 1607, and trying to download version 1709. I wish Microsoft would either make these things simpler - or make us aware of their mistakes, and fix them!

  3. Candi
    September 20, 2016 at 7:05 pm

    Yes. My son's computer won't update. He has Windows 7. He had turned updates off for a couple weeks when Microsoft was trying to update everyone to windows 10. After he turned it back on it wouldn't update. So he would go into manually run the update. It would start but then shortly after it would stop & give an error 80072efd. I tried looking it up and following a couple fixes that were mentioned. But nothing seemed to fix it. Do you know how to fix windows update if it isn't/won't update?

  4. Alpacas
    August 6, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    Hello, i have this problem: I just yesterday installed clean windows 7 home premium and it installed very fast, in like 20 mins. When i go to windows update to update, it gets stuck in searching for updates.
    It doesn't stop searching, and doesn't find anything. Still when i open windows update, it says that "you have to search for updates and you have never installed any updates." What can i do to update my windows? I'd like any help i can get.

  5. Amshuman G
    March 31, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    I have a Windows 7 Home Basic PC, and I have reserved an upgrade for Windows 10 but I have never received a notification for the update..............pls help

  6. Junebug
    March 27, 2016 at 3:21 pm

    If you enable "let my box allow Microsoft to install anything it wants to", you're gonna end up having MS's spyware on your computer. That, and that idiotic Win 10 crap, too. Then you'll have to hunt down those GWX files & folders and delete them. (btw...if you find those GWX bugs in your box, delete them from Safe Mode. (You'll have to go into "Properties" and gain ownership of each one, and removing them in Sage Mode is much quicker.) But, I digress...

    Why won't the Windows Update links open? I'm trying to get details on the updates MS is "suggesting" I install. But I'm not installing *anything* until I'm certain it has nothing to do with telemetry and/or "customer satisfaction" (or whatever MS calls it). It's a pain having to manually do a search for each one.

  7. 2 Global Nomads
    March 15, 2016 at 10:38 pm

    Are you sure it is a good idea to advise people to enable automatic updates? Eliminating insecure software instead of frantically updating it would be a much better solution.

  8. Cheong
    December 17, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    Let's say i set it to automatically install Windows Update everyday at 3 a.m.
    Even though my pc is not turned on at 3 a.m., can the windows update runs automatically without my pc being turned on?

    • Keith
      January 27, 2016 at 6:49 pm

      Well, ca it? Curious to know ...

    • Luke
      August 29, 2016 at 2:32 pm

      No. It needs to be turned on to update. You can turn off your screen or even set up tasks that will wake your PC at a certain time so that it can update

  9. Clive
    December 4, 2015 at 11:18 am

    I have set update never to install as every time they do the computer plays up, but somehow the computer turns this setting back to downloading and installing the updates. How can I permanently stop the updates?
    Many thanks

  10. Anonymous
    July 8, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    This helped me a lot ,Thank you so much.No I need to know if I should remove these programs from my computer.

    • Anonymous
      August 26, 2015 at 12:56 am

      Hi there,

      Just get rid of:
      PC Scan and Sweep - used to clean viruses/malware from computers
      AVG - A free antivirus.
      Driver Whiz - A software used to help you download missing drivers. This isn't need once you've found the drivers you need.

      Keep the rest of the software and make sure Avast is up to date. This is your antivirus and is very important.

    • Clive
      December 4, 2015 at 11:21 am

      Remove all bar Adobe and AVG Virus software!

  11. Ellen
    May 14, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    Hello, Your advice on this topic was so Awesome, I wonder if you can help with: could not load file or assembly 'MOM implementation....
    Please remember you are speaking to novices, at least i am. Thanks your Awesome. ~ Ellen

  12. Michael Brady
    December 12, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    This is not everything I should know about Windows updates! Why does my Windows 7 desktop list only the last 4 months of my Window updates? What happened to all the previous updates?

    • Anonymous
      August 26, 2015 at 12:53 am

      Microsoft roll preceded updates up so they take less space on your hard drive. The updates are still in the system but you cannot remove them or see previously installed updates.

  13. Crazie Flawed N
    October 18, 2013 at 8:14 am

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

  14. J. N
    October 17, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    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.

  15. Godel
    October 15, 2013 at 4:32 am

    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.

  16. John
    October 15, 2013 at 2:02 am

    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.

  17. Greg
    October 14, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    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.

  18. david
    October 14, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    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

  19. david
    October 14, 2013 at 5:45 pm

    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

  20. A&L
    October 14, 2013 at 3:51 pm

    win 7 SP1
    With the latest update i got rid of over 1 gig with a new entry in the disc clean up tool

  21. Don
    October 13, 2013 at 11:20 am

    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.

  22. Kp R
    October 12, 2013 at 7:45 pm

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

  23. asa
    October 12, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    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" :(

    • Samuel
      October 30, 2013 at 1:10 am

      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".

  24. Allister
    October 12, 2013 at 10:21 am

    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.

  25. Pushkar Y
    October 12, 2013 at 7:30 am

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

  26. Stevie Godson
    October 12, 2013 at 4:54 am

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

  27. Charlie
    October 12, 2013 at 4:48 am

    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'

  28. Bruce E
    October 12, 2013 at 3:38 am

    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.

  29. Zhong J
    October 11, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    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.

    • Bruce E
      October 12, 2013 at 3:21 am

      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.

  30. Stevie Godson
    October 11, 2013 at 5:00 pm

    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?

    • Bruce E
      October 12, 2013 at 3:20 am

      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.

    • Tom S
      October 13, 2013 at 6:49 pm

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

    • Stevie Godson
      October 13, 2013 at 6:52 pm

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