Keeping Windows up to date is a critical part of your system maintenance. Updates don’t just fix problems, they also tighten security and occasionally introduce new features. Windows has a built-in tool called Windows Update to manage this process, and in this Q&A we’ll reveal how it works and what to do when things aren’t working properly.
Windows Update helps protect your PC against security threats as well as bugs.
Where can I find Windows Update?
You can access Windows Update through the Start > All Programs menu in Windows 7 or earlier; Windows 8 users can access it via the Search charm: type “update” into the Search box, then select Windows Update or Update and Recovery under Settings to access it in the Modern User Interface. It’s a rather basic tool in Windows 8, but much improved in Windows 8.1. However, for full functionality we recommend you access it via the desktop. To do so, press [Win] + [X] to open the Quick Access menu, then select Control Panel. Click System and Security and click Windows Update.
Make sure Windows is configured to automatically install critical updates.
What settings should I verify?
It’s best to let Windows automatically install updates as they become available – this will be made clear in the Windows Update window. If it’s not set to install automatically, click Change settings and select Install updates automatically (recommended) under Important updates. Click OK.
What updates does Windows Update install?
By default, Windows Update will offer updates for Windows itself, as well as some limited hardware devices. These appear under Optional Updates. If you’d like to include other Microsoft products – including Microsoft Office – in Windows Update’s search, click Change settings and make sure you tick the box marked “Give me updates for other Microsoft products when I update Windows”.
What are optional updates?
These include driver updates and Windows components such as the .NET Framework, plus optional software plugins like Microsoft Silverlight for viewing selected web content. You’ll see a notification in the main Windows Update window when optional updates are available. Click the link to view them, and tick any you wish to install before clicking the Install button. We recommend installing all outstanding essential and recommended updates separately before attempting to install optional ones.
Hide unwanted updates so Windows Update won’t keep nagging you about them.
I don’t want to install an optional update. How do I stop being notified about it?
To prevent Windows telling you about optional updates you have no interest in, right-click the unwanted update and click Hide update. The update will still appear in this list, but greyed out, and Windows won’t continue to notify you about it.
I’m unable to install updates. Windows Update tells me there’s an error. How do I fix this?
Try clicking the error number to launch an automated troubleshooting wizard. If this doesn’t work – or appear – open the Action Center, select Troubleshooting and click Fix problems with Windows Update to run the same wizard. If this still doesn’t fix your problem, visit the Fix Microsoft Windows Update Issues support page and use its resources to find a solution, or post details of your problem in the Updates, drivers and maintenance section of our user forum.
Use System Restore to undo a catastrophic update that prevents you from restarting Windows.
After installing a raft of updates, Windows keeps crashing after trying to restart. What can I do?
If you’re running Windows 8, it will attempt to detect and repair the problem automatically. If you find yourself at the recovery screen, click Troubleshoot and select Advanced options followed by System Restore to restore your PC to a point in time before the updates were installed.
If you’re running Windows 7, choose Repair Your Computer from the Advanced Boot Options menu when it appears (if it doesn’t appear, tap [F8] as you start your PC). Follow steps 3-6 of our Restore or reinstall Windows 7 guide to attempt to fix the problem, either automatically or through System Restore.