How to update a Microsoft Windows computer

Software updatesSince the introduction of Microsoft Windows 98, Microsoft has greatly improved the way users can update their computer. Below are steps on how to perform these updates, as well as additional recommendations to help update your computer.

Microsoft Windows Update

If you are running Microsoft Windows 98 or a later version of Microsoft Windows, you are eligible to update Microsoft Windows, and in some cases, your computer hardware with the latest drivers through Microsoft's update site. To perform this update, follow the steps below.

Note: Users on a corporate network or running an illegal copy of Microsoft Windows may be unable to perform Microsoft Updates. If you are on a corporate network, contact your administrator if you are concerned about updating your computer. If you are running an illegal copy of Microsoft Windows, we recommend you purchase Microsoft Windows.

  1. Visit http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com.
    * For this page to work, you must view it in Internet Explorer.
  2. On the Microsoft Windows Update page, select the option Scan for updates. If prompted to install a plug-in, click Yes. Not installing this plug-in will prevent you from scanning for updates.
  3. Because this feature must query your computer, Microsoft will gather information from your computer allowing the software to know what it needs to update. There are several urban legends about Microsoft recording all the programs installed on your computer and detecting illegal software, copying the programs on your computer, and copying all your private information. These are all not true. Unless otherwise stated in Microsoft's Privacy statement, Microsoft collects your operating system version, Product Key, Internet Explorer version, Version numbers of other programs Microsoft provides updates for, ID numbers of the hardware devices installed in the computer, and region and language settings.
  4. After Windows Update has completed scanning, you should be able to view the available updates for your computer. It is highly recommended that you first install all critical updates and service packs that are available. In some cases, you may only be able to do a few critical updates or service pack updates each time.
  5. Although Microsoft does provide some driver updates for hardware devices, it is important to realize that they will not have all the latest drivers. You may want to consider updating the drivers directly from your computer manufacturer. See the computer drivers page for a listing of computer hardware manufacturers and a link to their drivers page.

Note: Whenever you are prompted to reboot the computer, reboot the computer. This is an important step and in some cases may be required several times before you have installed all the Windows updates available. After the computer has rebooted, make sure to visit the Windows update page again to make sure all the files you need are downloaded.

Microsoft Windows XP and later users

Users of Microsoft Windows XP and later versions have the ability of having Microsoft Windows automatically update their computer.

Other hardware drivers

To get the best performance from your computer, it is recommended that you make sure you have the latest drivers for the hardware devices in your computer.

Unable to view Windows Update page

Below are some reasons why you may be unable to view the Microsoft Windows Update page.

  • If you've just installed Windows XP, 2000, or another older operating system, the Microsoft Windows update page is no longer compatible with these operating systems unless you're running the latest service pack. See KB 2497281 for additional information and links to the appropriate service packs.
  • Your time, date, or year on your computer is not set properly. See our page for setting date and time on a computer.
  • You are trying to access the Microsoft Windows Update page through a web browser other than Microsoft Internet Explorer.
  • If you are on a Corporate Network, your administrators may have disabled this feature. If this is the case, you should receive a message indicating that the Windows Update feature has been disabled.
  • You are using an illegal copy of Microsoft Windows.

Every time I run the Windows Update my computer has problems

Although Microsoft tests the updates before they are released with numerous computer configurations, you may have issues after running an update. Usually these problems are caused by other software programs, a unique computer or software configuration, or third-party drivers.

If you have already ran an update and are currently experiencing issues that are not documented on Computer Hope or Microsoft's support web page, try uninstalling the updates through the Add/Remove Programs or Programs and Features utility in the Control Panel, then continue with the steps below.

Below are recommendations for helping to prevent problems.

  • Temporarily disable any virus and spyware protection programs.
  • Disable any disk software utilities or performance tools running on the computer.
  • Let the updates run without using the computer. Step away from the computer while updates are being installed.
  • Clear your Internet History and Cache.
  • If you are encountering problems after installing driver updates, we recommend you try updating the drivers from the hardware manufacturer's website instead of through Microsoft. A listing of driver manufacturers can be found on our drivers page.
  • If the update is not a critical update, do not run the update immediately after it has been released. In some rare cases, Microsoft discovers issues with its updates after they are first released that may cause your computer issues.

Although issues may exist after running the Microsoft Windows Update, we highly recommend you still update your software using this valuable service because of the fixes these updates can apply for security issues and software problems in Windows.

How do I know if my computer has all the Windows updates?

If you're uncertain if your computer has all the Microsoft Windows updates installed on your computer, visit http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/ and have your computer scanned for any available updates. If no updates are found, your computer is up-to-date.

Alternatively, you can download software utilities such as Belarc Advisor that will list the updates installed on your computer and any critical updates you may be missing.