How to update a Microsoft Windows computer

Updated: 08/31/2020 by Computer Hope
Software updates

Since 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 and additional recommendations to help update your computer.

Microsoft Windows Update

If you are running Microsoft Windows 98 or later, at least some updates should be available for your computer. In most cases, automatic updates and the latest drivers are available online. To update your software through Windows, 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 a valid copy of Microsoft Windows to download updates.

Windows 10

Windows Update is automatically turned on in Windows 10 and cannot be turned off for home users. Only enterprise users (Windows 10 for business) can delay the installation of Windows updates.

Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 8.1

  1. Open the Control Panel.
  2. If using Small icons view, click the Windows Update option. If using the Category view, click the System and Security option, then click the Windows Update option.
  3. Windows Update checks for any available updates for your computer. If any updates are found, they'll be shown. We recommend you first install all important updates and service packs that are available. In some cases, you may only be able to do a few important updates or service pack updates each time, if some updates are dependent on other updates.

Windows XP and earlier

  1. Read the Windows Update FAQ.
  2. On the Microsoft Windows Update page, select the option Scan for updates. If prompted to install a plugin, click Yes. Not installing this plugin prevents you from scanning for updates.
  3. Because this feature must query your computer, Microsoft gathers information from your computer allowing the software to know what it needs to update. Several urban legends exist about Microsoft attempting to inspect your computer for illegal software, install unwanted the programs, and steal your private information. None of these are true. Unless otherwise stated in Microsoft's Privacy Statement, Microsoft collects information from your computer during this process. Collected information includes the following information.
  • Your operating system version.
  • Your product key.
  • What version of Internet Explorer you are using.
  • Version numbers of any other programs you have installed which Microsoft provides updates.
  • ID numbers of the hardware devices installed in your computer.
  • Your region and language settings.
  1. After Windows Update has completed scanning, any available updates are displayed. We recommend 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.
  2. 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. Rebooting 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 can have Microsoft Windows automatically update their computer.

Other hardware drivers

To get the best performance from your computer, we recommend 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 recently installed Windows XP, 2000, or older version of Windows the update page is no longer compatible unless you're running the latest service pack. See Microsoft's guide to fixing Windows Update errors for more information.
  • Your time, date, or year on your computer is not set properly. See: How to set or change a computer's date and time.
  • 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, a message indicating that the Windows Update feature was disabled is shown.
  • 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 ran an update and are having a problem not documented, try uninstalling the updates through Add/Remove Programs or Programs and Features in the Control Panel.

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.
  • How do I clear my Internet browser history?
  • 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 is on our computer drivers page.
  • If the update is not a critical update, do not run the update immediately after it's released. In some rare cases, Microsoft discovers issues with its updates after they are first released that may cause your computer issues.

Although problems may occur after running the Microsoft Windows Update, it's still highly recommend you always update your software because of the problems and security issues they can fix.

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, read the Windows Update FAQ. It guides you through performing a Windows Update. If no updates are required, it will report the computer is up-to-date.

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