Most of the time, Windows Update takes care of itself with little or no input from us. While we may occasionally check for and install updates manually, most Windows 10 machines are set to apply crucial updates automatically, whereas older versions of Windows, such as Windows 7 and Windows 8, normally apply these patches on Patch Tuesday night. Is your Windows update get stuck also? Let’s dig it out.
When a patch or service pack is deployed during shutdown or startup, however, the update installation can become stuck—it freezes, locks up, stops, hangs, clocks, or whatever you choose to call it. Windows Update takes an eternity, and it’s obvious that something has to be done.
What to Do When Windows Updates Won’t Install
If you observe one of the following warnings continue for a long period, the installation of one or more Windows updates is possibly stalled or frozen:
- Preparing to configure Windows. / Do not turn off your computer.
- Configuring Windows updates / x% complete / Do not turn off your computer.
- Please do not power off or unplug your machine. / Installing update x of x…
- Working on updates / x% complete / Don’t turn off your computer
- Keep your PC on until this is done / Installing update x of x…
- Getting Windows ready / Don’t turn off your computer
Prior to the second example, you might see Stage 1 of 1 or Stage 1 of 3, or a similar message. Sometimes, all you’ll see on the screen is Restart. Depending on whatever version of Windows you’re running, there may be some phrasing discrepancies.
Instead, you need to Fix Problems Caused by the Windows Updates if you don’t see anything at all on screen, especially if you think the updates could have been installed completely but are the source of whatever problem you’re having.
Cause of a Frozen or Stuck Windows Update
There are a number of reasons why one or more Windows updates may stall during installation or completion. During Windows upgrades, any of Microsoft’s operating systems, including Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and others, may freeze.
Most of the time, these issues are caused by a software conflict or a pre-existing issue that wasn’t discovered until the Windows updates were installed. They are much less likely to be triggered by a Microsoft error with the upgrade itself, but they do happen.
There is a known Windows bug that might cause Windows Update installations to freeze, however, it only affects Windows Vista and only if SP1 hasn’t been installed. If your PC fits that criteria, the problem can be fixed by installing Windows Vista SP1 or later.
Make Sure the Updates Are Actually Stuck
Because some Windows updates can take several minutes or more to configure or install, you should double-check that they are actually stuck before proceeding. Attempting to solve a problem that does not exist may result in the creation of a new one.
If nothing happens on the screen for 3 hours or longer, Windows updates are stalled. Take a check at your hard disk activity light if you’re still wondering, after all, that time. Either there will be no activity (stuck) or there will be frequent but brief flashes of light (not stuck).
The updates are likely to stall before the 3-hour mark, but that’s a decent amount of time to wait and longer than we’ve ever seen a Windows update take to install successfully.
How to Fix a Stuck Windows Update Installation
1. Press Ctrl+Alt+Del on your keyboard. In rare cases, the Windows update may become stuck at a specific point during the installation process, and you will be sent to your Windows login screen after pressing the Ctrl+Alt+Del keyboard shortcut.
If this is the case, log on as usual and wait for the updates to finish installing.
Note: If your computer restarts after pressing Ctrl+Alt+Del, proceed to Step 2 and read the second Note. If nothing happens (which is most likely), proceed to Step 2.
2. Restart your computer by pressing the reset button or turning it off and back on again with the power button. Windows will restart normally and complete the update installation.
You have no choice but to hard-reboot if the Windows update installation is actually stalled.
You may need to hold down the power button for many seconds before the machine turns off, depending on how Windows and BIOS/UEFI are configured. Removing the battery from a tablet or laptop may be essential.
Note: If you’re using Windows 10 or Windows 8, and the restart takes you to the sign-in page, tap or click the power symbol in the bottom-right corner and select Update and Restart, if it’s available.
If you’re redirected to the Advanced Boot Options or Startup Settings menu after restarting, select Safe Mode and follow the instructions in Step 3 below.
3. Switch to Safe Mode in Windows. This unique diagnostic mode of Windows simply loads the bare minimum of drivers and services that Windows need, so if another program or service is incompatible with one of the Windows updates, the installation may proceed normally.
If the Windows updates are installed successfully, and you want to exit Safe Mode, simply restart your computer.
4. Run a System Restore to undo any modifications made as a result of the incomplete Windows update installation.
Because you won’t be able to enter Windows normally, consider doing it in Safe Mode. If you’re not sure how to start in Safe Mode, look at the link in Step 3.
Your computer should be restored to the state it was in before the updates started if a restore point was created and System Restore was successful. If this problem occurs after automatic updating, such as on Patch Tuesday, make sure you modify your Windows Update settings so it doesn’t happen again.
5. If you can’t get into Safe Mode or the restore from Safe Mode failed, try System Restore from Advanced Startup Options (Windows 10 & 8) or System Recovery Options (Windows 7 & Vista).
You can attempt this even if Windows is completely unavailable because these tool menus are accessible from “outside” of Windows.
Note: If you’re using Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7, or Windows Vista, System Restore is only accessible from outside of Windows. In Windows XP, this option is not available.
6. Begin the “automatic” repair process on your PC. While a System Restore is a more straightforward manner of erasing changes, in the case of a Windows update, a more thorough repair may be required.
- User of Windows 10 and Windows 8: Try a Startup Repair. If it doesn’t work, try using the Reset This PC option (the non-destructive option, of course).
- Windows 7 and Windows Vista users: Try the Startup Repair process.
- The user of Windows XP: Try the Repair Install process.
7. Run a memory test on your PC. It’s possible that the patch installations are being slowed down by failed RAM. Fortunately, memory is a simple skill to assess.
8. Update BIOS. An outdated BIOS isn’t a common cause for this problem, but it’s possible.
A BIOS update may be necessary if one or more of the changes Windows is attempting to install is related to how Windows interacts with your motherboard or other built-in hardware.
9. Install Windows from scratch. A clean install is deleting the hard drive on which Windows is installed and reinstalling Windows from scratch on the same hard drive. Obviously, you don’t want to do this if you don’t have to, but if the steps before this one failed, it’s a very likely remedy.
It may appear that reinstalling Windows and then installing these identical Windows updates will solve the problem, but this isn’t always the case. Because the majority of Microsoft update-related lockups are actually software conflicts, a fresh install of Windows, followed by the installation of all available updates, usually results in a fully functional PC.
Still Having Stuck/Freezing Issues Related to Windows Update?
If updates are stalled installing on or shortly after Patch Tuesday (the second Tuesday of the month), visit the article for additional information on these specific fixes. You may also be interested in Windows 11 New Features.