Do This Before Every Windows 10 Update or Installation

Joel Lee 20-10-2017

Updated by Tina Sieber on 26 October 2017.


Ever since Windows 10 hit the scene in 2015, we’ve gotten big updates every 6-8 months plus a bunch of minor updates between each milestone. Some haven’t even upgraded yet, choosing instead to chill on Windows 7 or, God forbid, Windows XP (mitigate the risks of running Windows XP).

Windows Update is a fickle beast. Sometimes it runs so smoothly you don’t notice an update happened. But more often than not, updates occur at the most inopportune of times and/or bring unexpected troubles. We have valid reasons for hating Windows Update This Is Why We Hate Windows Update The way Windows Update currently forces Windows 10 upgrades and updates on you is bad. Gavin examines what makes all of us hate Windows Update and what you can do against it. Read More .

So before you run Windows Update again, here are a few things to do and keep in mind to minimize headaches and frustrations. Ignore at your own peril.

1. Wait for the Right Time

Just because a new update came out doesn’t mean you have to apply it!

If you’re suffering from system instabilities and the new update claims to address them, then yes, go ahead and run Windows Update ASAP. But if your system is working just fine, then ask yourself if you really need whatever the next update wants to add.


Do This Before Every Windows 10 Update or Installation windows update history

Is it a security update? You should probably install it. Is it a patch for printers and you don’t have a printer? Skip it. Look up the KB number of the patch (e.g. KB4041676) to learn more about each update’s intentions. But more importantly, check online to see if early updaters are reporting errors and/or instabilities.

If you decide against it, you can defer non-security updates for up to 365 days, but only if you’re using Windows 10 Pro, Enterprise, or Education. However, you can temporarily disabling Windows Update 7 Ways to Temporarily Turn Off Windows Update in Windows 10 Windows Update keeps your system patched and safe. In Windows 10 you're at the mercy of Microsoft's schedule unless you know hidden settings and tweaks. So, keep Windows Update under control. Read More , even when you’re on Windows Home.

You should also ask yourself if now is the right time to update. If you have a term paper due this week, wait until it’s done — you do NOT want to risk a bad update that renders your system inoperable. If you have a dinner reservation coming up, wait until you get back. Updating can take up to 30 minutes (or several hours if it’s problematic and you need to revert changes).


2. Create a Windows Recovery Drive

The worst-case scenario for any Windows update is a corrupted operating system that won’t boot. If that ever happens, you’ll need to reinstall Windows altogether — and in order to do that with a non-booting system, you’ll need a recovery drive.

How to Create a Recovery Drive in Windows 10

The good news is, Windows 10 comes with a built-in tool for creating recovery drives:

  1. Connect an empty USB drive with at least 8GB of space.
  2. Open the Start Menu and search for recovery drive.
  3. Select Create a recovery drive.
  4. Follow the Recovery Drive Creator Wizard’s instructions.

You might also choose to create an install-from-scratch drive using the Media Creation Tool, which doesn’t come with Windows 10 and must be downloaded. This option allows you to create a USB drive (only 3GB needed) or a DVD. Learn more in our article on creating Windows 10 installation media How to Create Windows 10 Installation Media Regardless of how you arrived at Windows 10, there's a way to create your own installation media. Sooner or later you might need it. Let us show you how to be prepared. Read More .

3. Find and Record Your Product Keys

If you do end up needing to install Windows from scratch, you’ll also need the product keys for your installed software. While your Windows 10 product key is tied to your motherboard Everything You Should Know About Windows Product Keys 25 characters govern your Windows system. Your product key is worth $100 or more, whether or not you upgraded to Windows 10. We explain what you can and can't do with your Windows license. Read More and you should not need it to upgrade or reinstall Windows, we recommend backing it up anyway.


Fortunately, product key recovery is as simple as using a freeware tool: ProduKey. ProduKey is a portable (i.e. no need to install) utility that scans your system for product keys belonging to notable apps, including Microsoft Office 2000 to 2010, Adobe and Autodesk products, and most Windows versions (not all Windows 10 licenses though).

Do This Before Every Windows 10 Update or Installation windows find product keys

If you need something more powerful, try Recover Keys. It costs $30 but can find all kinds of license keys belonging to over 9,000 different apps and products.

4. Enable System Restore

Before Windows applies an update, it backs up various parts of the system, including the Windows Registry. This is a measure of protection against small errors: if the update causes minor instabilities, you can revert back to a pre-update restore point.


Unless the System Restore feature is disabled!

How to Create a Restore Point in Windows 10

Press Windows + Q, type restore, and select Create a restore point to open the System Protection controls. Make Protection is set to On for your system drive. Press Create… to create a fresh restore point.

Do This Before Every Windows 10 Update or Installation System Restore Windows 10

To be fair, System Restore can use up a lot of disk space How to Factory Reset Windows 10 or Use System Restore Learn how System Restore and Factory Reset can help you survive any Windows 10 disasters and recover your system. Read More (up to hundreds of MB per restore point) so disabling it may make sense on systems without much free space. However, we do recommend making a restore point before each update just in case. Afterwards, if you’re satisfied with stability, you can disable it again to free up used space.

5. Back Up Sensitive Data

System Restore won’t save your personal files, so if an update goes awry and your system gets wiped, you could lose a lot of non-backed-up data.

We have an article outlining all the files you should keep backed up Backup 101: Windows Files and Folders You Should Always Back Up What folders should you back up in Windows 10? Here are the files and folders you need to back up, and which you should skip. Read More , as well as files you don’t need to worry about. At the very least, back up your Documents and Downloads folders, plus any media-related files you might have (e.g. music, videos, etc.). Store them on an external drive, or even better, a NAS device. Learn more in our overview of data backup basics 5 Basic Backup Facts Every Windows User Should Know We never tire to remind you to make backups and keep your data safe. If you're wondering what, how often, and where you should back up your files, we have straight forward answers. Read More .

For a more comprehensive solution, consider making an ISO image of your system How to Create an ISO Image of Your Windows System Need to backup and restore Windows without backup tools? It's time to learn how to make an ISO image of your Windows PC. Read More . This lets you restore the entire state of your system at a later time if you need to. This is also how you would, for example, move Windows from HDD to SSD How to Move Windows from HDD to SSD to Improve Performance A Solid State Drive upgrade really improves performance. But how can you squeeze a large Windows installation onto a tiny SSD? Windows users can comfortably migrate from HDD to SSD in very little time. Read More .

Dealing With Windows Update Issues

All of this is necessary because Windows Update is imperfect, so don’t neglect it. But what happens when you want to update but can’t?

First of all, make sure your Windows Update settings are set up properly How to Manage Windows Update in Windows 10 For control freaks, Windows Update is a nightmare. It works in the background, and keeps your system safe and running smoothly. We show you how it works and what you can customize. Read More . If Windows Update is stuck, there are several steps you can try to unstick it When Windows Update Is Stuck, Try This Is Windows Update giving you a headache? We have compiled seven tips to help you get it un-stuck. Read More . If you’re facing general problems, try this guide to resolving Windows Update errors How to Resolve Windows Update Problems in 5 Easy Steps Has Windows Update failed you? Maybe the download got stuck or the update refused to install. We'll show you how to fix the most common issues with Windows Update in Windows 10. Read More .

What does your Windows Update routine look like? Got any tips or tricks to share? Let us know in the comments below!

Related topics: Windows 10, Windows Update, Windows Upgrade.

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  1. Luddite Karl
    October 26, 2017 at 4:12 pm

    There should be six steps and the first should always be pray. This is Microsoft people.

    • Tina Sieber
      October 26, 2017 at 8:37 pm

      LOL You're not wrong. Thanks for the laugh, Karl!

  2. Carl Dean Cox
    October 24, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Well, since the update last year broke BOTH my computers, and it took me hours to roll them back, I've disabled automatic updates, and will not be allowing any further updates on my machines. I know that Microsoft wants everyone to be running the same operating system, but they've screwed up too many times for me to trust them. I've heard people say, "But now your system will be vulnerable!" Too bad: I'd rather have a vulnerable system that actually works than an updated one that doesn't.

  3. Gizmokid2005
    October 21, 2017 at 5:22 pm

    You need to update the deferment periods. You can defer non security updates for far longer than 4 weeks.

    • Tina Sieber
      October 26, 2017 at 8:49 pm

      True, this has changed and it depends on your version of Windows. Home users can't defer at all.

      Business/Enterprise users can defer feature updates for up to 365 days (180 days prior to build 1703).

      • Gizmokid2005
        October 26, 2017 at 8:52 pm

        True. However, that period also applies to Pro versions of Windows 10 as well.

        • Tina Sieber
          October 26, 2017 at 8:55 pm

          Yes, I just updated the article accordingly. Thank you for the feedback!

  4. john h schlierkamp
    October 21, 2017 at 12:50 pm

    Why not leave good enough alone when it works. I get scared when i read update to begin with. I wish the chinese wis come upneith e better os that works windowes 7 worked fine an i am more then sorry to upgraded to windows 10. I am one of many complaining and look forward to trow the pc out the window. I i for sure will never bye a new pc it is nothing but trouble now. I had a pc when radio shack came out with a pc. It was slow then a snail but it at least worked. What are u trying to do??. I will switch over to appel now no matter what they cost they at least are not expiienting like u do. Thaks for putting pc out of busines.

    • Ralph Cramden
      October 22, 2017 at 8:09 pm

      English is apparently not your native language.

      • Tina Sieber
        October 26, 2017 at 8:39 pm

        How many languages do you speak, Ralph?

  5. Frustrated
    October 21, 2017 at 1:08 am

    No input signal on the external monitor seems to be a common update problem. But I have a cracked screen on my laptop. Worked fine before update - useless now. Microsoft needs a recovery CD or DVD , not a USB flash drive to help. HP won't help with recovery DVD since out of warranty. Regret updating is an understatement.

  6. Gus DS
    October 20, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    I've had the "Windows Update stuck" issue and couldn't fix it no matter what. Already installed the Creator Update and luckily all went well and it's updating fine now.

  7. Alex D
    October 20, 2017 at 6:49 pm

    You do NOT need to save your Windows 10 key once it's been activated. Microsoft saves these in the cloud and as long as you don't change motherboards, you should be able to to reinstall without a key and once it connects to the internet it will activate.

    • Tina Sieber
      October 26, 2017 at 8:42 pm

      True. Thank you for the input, Alex!

  8. Nitesh Kumar Debnath
    October 20, 2017 at 5:52 pm

    I just install updates, I am not bothering myself with weird jargons.
    Anyways I never cared enough to be safe, there are 2 Linux distros and a Windows installation, and zero backup.

  9. Idodialog
    October 20, 2017 at 4:02 pm

    I've installed the beta twice. I took no precautions. I made no preparations.
    I didn't time anything but from start to finish it was around 15-20 minutes.

    There were no glitches, failings or anything - I lie - in both cases I had to go to my AMD folder in my C drive root and run the AMD Catalyst exe as the AMD drivers seems not to have come across. (2 minutes and the correct resolution and dual screen setup was back with no fiddling at all).

    For my needs there is little that is new but I did follow the prompts to put Cortana on my Android so Windows can talk to Android and vice versa. That's a nice touch.

    If Windows keeps this up I'll forgive MS all the hassles from the past.

    • Tina Sieber
      October 26, 2017 at 8:41 pm

      I'm with you, Windows 10 has worked great for me for the most part. But many other users are not that lucky. Better to be safe than sorry.