How To Change Windows Update Settings

Change How Important Updates to Windows 10, 8, 7, Vista, & XP are Installed

Screenshot of the Advanced Windows Update screen in Windows 10
Windows Update Settings in Windows 10.

Windows Update exists to help make it easy to keep Windows up to date with the latest patches, service packs, and other updates. How easy depends on how Windows Update is configured to download and apply updates.

When you first turned on your new computer, or were finishing your Windows operating system install, you told Windows Update how you wanted it to act - a little more automatic or a little more manual.

If your original decision isn't working out, or you need to change how it works to avoid repeating an auto-update issue, like what happens on some Patch Tuesdays, you can simply adjust how Windows receives and installs updates.

Depending on your version of Windows, this could mean downloading but not installing the updates, notifying but not downloading them, or even disabling Windows Update completely.

Time Required: Changing how Windows updates are downloaded and installed should only take you a few minutes at most.

Note: Microsoft made changes to the location and wording of Windows Update and its settings almost every time a new version of Windows was released. Below are three sets of instructions for changing/disabling Windows Update in Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 7 or Windows Vista, and Windows XP. See What Version of Windows Do I Have? if you're not sure which to pick.

How To Change Windows Update Settings in Windows 10

Beginning in Windows 10, Microsoft simplified the options available to you regarding the Windows Update process but also removed some of the finer control you may have enjoyed in earlier versions.

  1. Tap or click on the Start button, followed by Settings. You'll need to be on the Windows 10 Desktop to do this.
     
  2. From Settings, tap or click on Update & security.
     
  3. Choose Windows Update from the menu on the left, assuming it's not already selected.
     
  4. Tap or click on the Advanced options link on the right, which will open a window headlined Choose how updates are installed.
     
  1. The various settings on this page control how Windows 10 will download and install updates for the operating system, and perhaps other software, from Microsoft.

    Tip: I highly recommend that you do the following: select Automatic (recommended) from the drop-down, check Give me updates for other Microsoft products when I update Windows., and do not check the Defer upgrades option. All things considered, this is the safest way to go.
     
  2. Changes to Windows Update settings in Windows 10 are saved automatically once you make them. Once you're done selecting or deselecting things, you can close the Advanced Options window that's open.

Here are more details on all the "advanced" Windows Update settings that are available to you in Windows 10:

Automatic (recommended): Choose this option to automatically download and install updates of all kind, both important security patches as well as not-as-important non-security updates, like feature improvements and minor bugs.

Notify to schedule restart: Choose this option to automatically download updates of all kind, security and non-security. Updates that don't require a restart will install right away but ones that do won't restart your computer without your permission.

Tip: There is no official way to turn off automatic updating in Windows 10, nor is there a straightforward way to disable Windows Update altogether. You could try setting your Wi-Fi connection as metered, which would prevent update downloading (and of course installing) but I don't recommend that you do that.

Here's what some of that other stuff on the Advanced Options screen is for:

Give me updates for other Microsoft products when I update Windows: This is pretty self explanatory. I recommend checking this option so other Microsoft programs you have installed will get automatic updates too, like Microsoft Office. (Updates for your Windows Store apps are handled in the Store. Open Settings from the Store and then toggle on or off the Update apps automatically option.)

Defer upgrades: Checking this lets you wait several months or more before major non-security updates will automatically install, like the ones that introduce new features to Windows 10. Defer upgrades does not impact security related patches and is not available in Windows 10 Home.

Choose how updates are delivered: These options allow you to enable or disable the downloading, as well as the uploading, of Windows Update related files around your local network or even the entire internet. Participating in the Updates from more than one place program helps speed up the Windows Update process in Windows 10.

Get insider builds: If you see it, it allows you to sign up to get early versions of major updates to Windows 10. When enabled, you'll have Fast or Slow options, indicating how soon after these Windows 10 test versions are made available that you'll get them.

How To Change Windows Update Settings in Windows 8, 7, & Vista

These three versions of Windows have very similar Windows Update settings but I'll call out any differences as we walk through the process.

  1. Open Control Panel. In Windows 8, the WIN+X Menu is the quickest way, and in Windows 7 & Vista, check the Start menu for the link.
     
  2. Tap or click on the System and Security link, or just Security in Windows Vista.

    Note: If you're viewing the Classic View, Large icons, or Small icons view of Control Panel, choose Windows Update instead and then skip to Step 4.
     
  3. From the System and Security window, choose the Windows Update link.
     
  4. Once Windows Update opens, click or tap the Change settings link on the left.
     
  5. The settings you see on the screen right now control how Windows Update will look for, receive, and install updates from Microsoft.

    Tip: I recommend that you choose Install updates automatically (recommended) from the drop-down and then check all the other items on the page. This will make sure your computer receives and installs all the updates it needs.

    Note: You can also customize the time that downloaded updates are installed. In Windows 8, this is behind the Updates will be automatically installed during the maintenance window link and in Windows 7 & Vista, it's right there on the Windows Update screen.
     
  6. Tap or click OK to save the changes. Feel free to close the Windows Update window you were returned to.

Here's a bit more on all of those options you have:

Install updates automatically (recommended): Choose this option to have Windows Update automatically check for, download, and install important security patches.

Download updates but let me choose whether to install them: Choose this to have Windows Update automatically check for and download important updates but not install them. You'll have to explicitly choose to install the updates either from Windows Update or during the next shutdown process.

Check for updates but let me choose whether to download and install them: With this option, Windows Update will check for and notify you of available updates but you'll need to manually approve the download and installation of them.

Never check for updates (not recommended): This option disables Windows Update completely in Windows 8, 7, or Vista. When you choose this, Windows Update won't even check with Microsoft to see if important security patches are available.

Here are what some of those other checkboxes mean, not all of which you'll see, depending on your version of Windows and how your computer is configured:

Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates: This option gives Windows Update permission to treat patches that Microsoft "recommends" the same way as patches thought to be "critical" or "important" and download and install them as you've selected in the drop-down box.

Allow all users to install updates on this computer: Check this if you have other, non-administrator accounts on your computer that actually get used. This will let those users install updates too.

Give me updates for other Microsoft products when I update Windows: Check this option, which is a bit more wordy in Windows 7 & Vista, if you own other Microsoft software and you want Windows Update to handle updating those as well.

Show me detailed notifications when new Microsoft software is available: This is pretty self explanatory - check it if you want to get notifications, via Windows Update, when Microsoft software you don't have installed is available for your computer.

How To Change Windows Update Settings in Windows XP

Windows Update is more an online service than an integrated part of Windows XP, but the update settings can be set from within the operating system.

  1. Open Control Panel, usually via Start, and then its link on the right.
     
  2. Click on the Security Center link.

    Note: If you're viewing Control Panel in the Classic View, you won't see this link. Instead, double-click on Automatic Updates and then skip to Step 4.
     
  3. Click the Automatic Updates link near the bottom of the window.
     
  4. These four options you see in the Automatic Updates window control how Windows XP gets updated.

    Tip: I highly recommend that you choose the Automatic (recommended) option and the Every day choice from the drop-down that appears underneath, along with a time you're not using your computer.

    Important: Windows XP is no longer supported by Microsoft and so they no longer push updates to Windows XP. However, considering that exceptions could be made in the future, I still recommended keeping the "automatic" settings enabled.
     
  5. Click the OK button to save your changes.

Here are more details on what those four choices actually mean for your Windows Update experience in Windows XP:

Automatic (recommended): Windows Update will automatically check for, download, and install updates, with no input from you needed.

Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them: Updates will be checked for, and downloaded, from Microsoft's servers, but they won't be installed until you manually approve them.

Notify me but don't automatically download or install them: Windows Update will check for new updates from Microsoft, and let you know about them, but they won't be downloaded and installed until you say so.

Turn off Automatic Updates: This option completely disables Windows Update in Windows XP. You won't even be told that updates are available. You can, of course, still visit the Windows Update website yourself and check for any new patches.

Disabling Windows Update & Turning Off Automatic Updates

While it is possible, at least prior to Windows 10, I do not recommend completely disabling Windows Update. At very least, make sure you choose an option where you're notified of new updates, even if you choose not to have them automatically download or install.

An on that thought... I also do not recommend turning off automatic updating. Letting Windows Update check, download, and automatically install updates is a very good way to make sure you're protected from being exploited by security issues after they're discovered. Yes, at least in Windows 8, 7, and Vista, you could compromise by making that critical "install" part up to you, but that's just one more thing you have to remember to do.

I say keep it simple by keeping it automatic.

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