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How To Fix Problems Caused by Windows Updates

A Troubleshooting Guide for Problems That Start After Installing Windows Updates

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Windows Update

Windows Update exists to keep Windows and other Microsoft software updated, usually with little intervention from us. This includes security updates that are pushed out on Patch Tuesday.

Unfortunately, sometimes one or more of those patches will cause a problem, ranging from serious ones like error messages preventing Windows from starting, to less serious ones like video or audio problems.

If you're confident that the problem you're experiencing began only after one or more Windows updates, whether manual, automatic, on Patch Tuesday, or otherwise, continue reading for help on what to do next. This might also be a good time to look over my Windows Updates & Patch Tuesday FAQ page if you haven't already.

Important: Please read the How To Use This Troubleshooting Guide and Are You Sure This is an Issue Caused by a Windows Update? sections below before moving on to the troubleshooting steps! To get your computer running again, you need to understand how this troubleshooting is organized, as well as make sure that your problem really was most likely caused by a Windows update.

How To Use This Troubleshooting Guide

I wouldn't normally explain how to use a troubleshooting guide, but since you have the great luck of a theory about the cause of your problem, the help I provide below is structured a bit differently than other tutorials I've created where you work through some other problem with a completely unknown cause.

That said, the first thing you need to do is read the Are You Sure This is an Issue Caused by a Windows Update? section below.

Even if you're 100% certain that an update from Microsoft caused the problem you're having, do me a favor and read it anyway. If you spend the next hour or two trying to fix a problem using the wrong assumption about its cause, it's unlikely that you're going to walk away with a working computer.

Once you're fairly certain that your issue is directly related to the installation of one or more Windows updates, the second thing to do is decide which set of troubleshooting steps to follow, either Windows Starts Successfully, or Windows Does Not Start Successfully.

Just to be clear, here's what I mean:

  • Windows Starts Successfully: You have normal access to your Desktop or Start Screen. Certain programs may not work properly, you may not have access to the Internet, moving around Windows may be slow, etc., but you do get all the way in.
     
  • Windows Does Not Start Successfully: You do not have access to your Desktop or Start Screen. You may receive a Blue Screen of Death, a black screen with nothing on it, a frozen logon screen, a menu of diagnostic options, etc., but you never get all the way into Windows.

To summarize, read the section immediately below this paragraph first and then scroll down and follow the correct set of troubleshooting steps for your problem, determined by how much access to Windows you have right now.

Are You Sure This is an Issue Caused by a Windows Update?

STOP! Don't scroll down past this section because you're beyond sure that these Microsoft updates crashed or broke your computer somehow. You're probably right, considering that you found yourself here, but you're wise to consider a few things first:

  1. Are you sure the updates are fully installed? If the Windows update installation itself is frozen, you might see a "Preparing to configure Windows", "Configuring Windows updates", or similar message for a very long time.

    The troubleshooting in the two sections below is most helpful if your problem is caused by fully installed patches. If Windows is stuck during the update installation process, see instead my How To Recover From a Frozen Windows Update Installation tutorial.
     
  2. Are you sure the update that was installed a Windows update? The help provided below is specific for problems caused by patches made available via Windows Update by Microsoft, for Microsoft products.

    Other software companies often push updates to your computer via their own software and so have nothing to do with Microsoft or Windows Update and would be outside the scope of this troubleshooting guide. Some popular companies that do this include Adobe (Reader, AIR, etc.), Oracle (JAVA), Mozilla (Firefox), Apple (iTunes), among others.
     
  3. Is your problem outside the scope of an operating system? An update to Windows can't possibly impact an area of your computer that no operating system, including Windows, has control over.

    For example, if your computer no longer powers on at all, powers off immediately after powering on, turns on but displays nothing on the screen, or has some other problem prior to the beginning of the Windows boot process, then a recent Windows update was simply a coincidence. See my How To Fix a Computer That Won't Turn On (items 2, 3, 4, or 5) for help working through your problem.

    Tip: If you'd like to settle this question for sure, physically disconnect your hard drive and then turn on your computer. If you see the exact same behavior with your hard drive unplugged, your issue is in no way related to a Windows update.
     
  4. Did something else happen too? While your problem could certainly still be due to an issues caused by a Windows update, you should also at least keep in mind other likely variables if any come to mind.

    For example, around the day you think the update was installed, did you also install a new piece of hardware, or update a driver, or install some new software, or receive a notice about a virus that was just cleaned, etc.?

If none of the above apply to your situation, continue troubleshooting your problem as a Windows Update/Patch Tuesday problem by following either Windows Starts Successfully, or Windows Does Not Start Successfully below.

Windows Starts Successfully

Follow this troubleshooting guide if you're experiencing a problem after one or more Windows updates but you're still able to access Windows.

  1. Restart your computer. Some problems seen after Windows update installations can be corrected with a simple reboot.

    While it was more an issue in older versions of Windows like Windows XP, sometimes one or more updates won't fully install on a single computer restart, especially when a large number of updates are installed simultaneously.
     
  2. Some issues experienced after Windows updates are less "problems" and more annoyances. Before we move on to more complicated steps, here are a few relatively minor issues that I've encountered after some Windows updates, along with their likely solutions:

    Problem: Some websites are inaccessible in IE
    Solution: Reset Internet Explorer's Security Zones to their default levels

    Problem: A hardware device (video, sound, etc.) is no longer working properly or is generating an error code/message
    Solution: Update the drivers for the device

    Problem: Installed antivirus program won't update or produces errors
    Solution: Update the antivirus program's definition files

    Problem: Files are being opened by the wrong program
    Solution: Change the file extension's default program
     
  3. Complete a System Restore to uninstall the Windows update(s). This solution is very likely to work since all the changes made by the updates are reversed.

    Important: During the System Restore process, choose the restore point created just prior to the installation of the Windows updates. If no restore point is available then you won't be able to try this step. System Restore itself must have had some issue prior to the Windows update that prevented a restore point from being automatically created.

    If System Restore fixes the problem you've been experiencing, see my How To Prevent Windows Updates From Crashing Your PC before you do anything else. You'll need to make changes to how Windows Update is configured, as well as follow some best practices in regards to installing the updates again, or you might experience the same exact problem when the patches try to automatically install again.
     
  4. Run the sfc /scannow command to check for issues with, and replace if necessary, important Windows files that may been corrupted or removed.

    System File Checker (the name of the tool run by executing the sfc command) isn't a particularly likely solution to a post-Patch-Tuesday or other Windows update issue but it's the most logical next step if a System Restore doesn't do the trick.
     
  5. Test your memory and test your hard drive. While no update from Microsoft is capable of physically damaging your memory or hard drive, the recent patches, like any software installation from any company, could have been a catalyst that made these hardware issues apparent.

    If either test fails, replace the memory or replace the hard drive and then install Windows again from scratch.
     
  6. If none of the above suggestions worked then it's very likely that the Windows updates left your computer is such a mess that you're going to have a take more drastic, and at least somewhat destructive, measures to get it working again.

    Choose a repair method based on the version of Windows you have. If there is more than one option for a given version of Windows, the first is the least destructive option, followed by the more destructive one. If you try the least destructive one and it doesn't work, you're left only with the more destructive option:

    Windows 8:
     
    • Use Refresh Your PC to reinstall Windows 8, retaining personal files and Windows Store apps only.
    • Use Reset Your PC to reinstall Windows 8, retaining no personal files, apps, or programs.
    • You could also Clean Install Windows 8 if Reset Your PC doesn't work for some reason.
    Windows 7:
      Windows Vista:
      Windows XP:
      At this point, your computer should be working fine. Yes, you should still install everything listed in Windows Update but don't fear the same problems so long as you follow the advice in How To Prevent Windows Updates From Crashing Your PC.

Windows Does Not Start Successfully

Follow this troubleshooting guide if you're unable to access Windows normally after one or more Windows updates were installed.

  1. Restart your computer. Whatever problem the update(s) caused could clear itself up with a simple power off and power on.

    Chances are you've already done this several times but if not, give it a try.

    Tip: If you can tell your computer is "running hot" thanks to all the work its been doing trying to boot, try powering it off for an hour or so before starting it up again.
     
  2. Start Windows using Last Known Good Configuration which will attempt to start Windows using registry and driver data that worked the last time it was successfully started.

    Note: The Last Known Good Configuration option is only available in Windows 7, Vista, and XP.
     
  3. Start Windows in Safe Mode. If you can start in Safe Mode, follow the advice above in the Windows Starts Successfully tutorial.

    If you can't start in Safe Mode, don't worry, just move on to the next troubleshooting step below.
     
  4. Complete an offline System Restore to uninstall the Windows update(s). Be sure to choose the restore point created just prior to the installation of the Windows update(s).

    Note: A typical System Restore is completed from within Windows but since you can't access Windows right now, you'll need to complete an offline System Restore, meaning from outside of Windows. This option is not available in Windows XP.

    Important: Since all of the changes made by the updates are undone during this process, it's likely to fix your problem. However, as soon as you get back into Windows, see How To Prevent Windows Updates From Crashing Your PC before you do anything else. You could experience the same problems again soon unless you make the preventative changes I've outlined in that article.
     
  5. Test your memory and test your hard drive. No Windows update can physically damage your memory or hard drive but their installation, like any software installation, may have been a catalyst that brought these hardware issues to light.

    Replace the memory or replace the hard drive if the memory or hard drive tests fail and then install Windows again.
     
  6. See How To Fix a Blue Screen of Death if your issue is a BSOD.

    There are a few more ideas in that troubleshooting guide that might apply to your situation, especially if you suspect that there might be a non-Windows-update reason for this error.
     
  7. If all previous troubleshooting has failed, you'll have to take some more invasive measures to get your computer back in working order.

    Find your version of Windows below and perform the repair task listed. If your version has more than one option, try the first one first as it's less destructive:

    Windows 8:
     
    • Use Refresh Your PC to reinstall Windows 8, keeping personal data and Windows Store apps (no programs).
    • Use Reset Your PC to reinstall Windows 8, keeping nothing (no personal files, apps, or programs).
    • Try a Clean Install Windows 8 if Reset Your PC doesn't work for any reason.
    Windows 7:
      Windows Vista:
      Windows XP:
      Once Windows is reinstalled, visit Windows Update again but follow the advice in How To Prevent Windows Updates From Crashing Your PC to avoid problems like this in the future.

Applies To

Any of Microsoft's operating systems could experience problems after Windows updates are installed, including Windows 8, Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Windows Server versions.

Still Experiencing Problems After a Windows Update?

See Get More Help for information about contacting me on social networks or via email, posting on tech support forums, and more. Be sure to let me know exactly what's happening, what Windows updates you installed (if you know), and what steps, if any, you've already taken to try to fix the problem.

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