How To Prevent Windows Updates From Crashing Your PC

Make Sure Windows Updates Help, Not Harm, With These Preventative Measures

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Let me first preface all of the following with this: updates provided by Microsoft rarely cause problems. This includes those pushed out on Patch Tuesday and others made optionally available in Windows Update.

I said rarely, not never. Ask anyone with a house full of nonworking computers the day after Patch Tuesday and you'll swear that Microsoft deliberately sabotaged the world's computers running Windows.

Again, problems don't occur that often and are rarely widespread, but when they do they hurt.

Luckily there are some really simple things you can do to minimize the chance that a patch from Microsoft will do more harm than good:

Tip: If it's too late and the damage is done, see How To Fix Problems Caused by Windows Updates for help.

One-Time Preventative Steps

  1. Most importantly, make sure your important data is being backed up! When your computer crashes, regardless of the reason, you probably have little emotional attachment to the physical hard drive itself but I bet you're pretty concerned about the stuff you have stored on it.

    There are lots of ways to backup data, from manually copying your saved documents, music, videos, etc. to a disc or a flash drive, all the way up to setting up instantaneous backup with an online backup service.

    Regardless of how you do it, do it. If your only way out of a post-Patch-Tuesday system crash is a full clean install of Windows, you'll be very, very happy that your valuable information is safe.
     
  1. Change Windows Update settings so new patches are no longer automatically installed. In most versions of Windows, this means changing this setting to Download updates but let me choose whether to install them.

    With Windows Update configured this way, important security and other updates are still downloaded, but they won't be installed unless you explicitly tell Windows to install them. This is a one time change so if you've done this before, great. If not, do it now.

    Important: Don't get me wrong: I still recommend that you install all available updates. However, this way you are in complete control, not Microsoft.
     
  1. Check the free space on your main hard drive and make sure it's at least 20% of the total size of the drive. This amount of space is plenty for Windows and other programs to grow as necessary, especially during installation and recovery processes.

    Specifically, System Restore, which is the primary recovery process if a Windows update causes a major problem, can not create restore points if there isn't enough free space on your hard drive.

Just Before Installing Updates

Now that your automatic update settings are changed and you're pretty sure System Restore should be in working order if you need it later, you can actually get these updates installed:

  1. Plug in your computer if it's not already. You desktop users are already covered but laptop, tablet, and other mobile devices should always be plugged in during the Windows update process!

    Along these same lines, avoid applying Windows updates during thunderstorms, hurricanes, and other situations that could lead to a sudden loss of power!

    Why does this matter? If your battery drains during the update process or your computer loses power, there's a significant chance that it will corrupt the files being updated. Important files that get corrupted often lead the very thing you're trying to prevent here - a complete system crash.
     
  1. Restart your computer. Be sure to do so properly, using the restart feature from within Windows, and then make sure your computer starts up again successfully.

    Why should you restart? On some computers, when Windows restarts after Patch Tuesday security updates are applied, it's the first time the computer has been restarted in a month or more. Many issues first appear after a restart, like problems caused by some types of malware, certain hardware problems, etc.

    If your computer does not start properly, see How To Troubleshoot a Computer That Won't Turn On for help. Had you not restarted and found this problem now, you would have been trying to solve the issue as a Windows Update/Patch Tuesday problem instead of the completely unrelated issue that it really is.
     
  2. Create a restore point manually before applying updates. A restore point is created automatically by Windows Update prior to installing any patches you select but if you'd like an extra layer of protection, you can certainly create one yourself.

    If you'd really like to be prepared, you could even try restoring to your manually created restore point. This would prove that the System Restore process is functioning properly in Windows. Unfortunately, some users find out that System Restore was somehow broken exactly when they need it most.
     
  3. Temporarily disable your antivirus program. Disabling your antivirus program while installing a program can often help prevent installation problems. Based on my own experiences, and those of many readers, doing the same prior to updating Windows is also wise.

    Tip: The part of your antivirus program that you want to disable is the part that's always on, constantly watching for malware activity on your computer. This is often referred to as the program's real-time protection, resident shield, auto-protect, etc.

Install Updates One at a Time

Now that you've properly configured your computer and prepared for the updates, it's time to get to the actual installation procedure.

As the heading suggests, install each update by itself, restarting your computer after each one is applied.

While I realize this might be time consuming, this method prevented almost every Patch Tuesday issue I've ever experimented with.

Tip: If you're feeling particularly brave, or have never had problems with Windows updates before, try installing updates together as a group, something that I've also had a lot of success with. For example, install .NET updates of a particular version together, all of the operating system security updates together, etc. The order of installation has never seemed important but let me know if you discover otherwise.

Warning: You may need to disable your antivirus program's real-time feature each time Windows boots again after your post-update-installation restart. Also, be sure to check that your antivirus program is fully enabled once you're done installing updates.

Did I Miss A Valuable Preventative Measure?

Please let me know if you have reason to believe that another step is worthy of inclusion above. I'll consider anything that might help prevent problems caused, or seemingly caused, by Windows Update.

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