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Troubleshooting Windows Update problems

When it comes to repairing Windows based computers, there seems to be a couple of problems that I get allot of requests for help with. One of them is when a computer cannot get updates to Windows. So here are a few of my favorite resources for fixing Windows Update.

Troubleshooting Windows Update problems

There are several reasons why Windows Update can fail. There could be corrupted files and/or folders, the different services that Windows Update require are not starting, registry errors, etc.. The following is a list of some of the procedures I use in repairing Windows Update.

Note : Remember to always restart your computer after running any of these procedures before try Windows Update again.

Windows Update Troubleshooters

This is probably the easiest and most common way to repair Windows Update. Microsoft has a Windows Update troubleshooter for every version of Windows. The following link is a general page for troubleshooting Windows Update. Just select the version of Windows you are trying to repair and then click on the Windows Update Troubleshooter link. If you are prompted to run or save the file, I recommend saving it to your hard drive. That way if you need to run it again, you will already have it ready to go.

Repair Windows Update

So if the Windows Update Troubleshooter (repair) did not fix the issue, you can try resetting all of the Windows Update components. The following link has both the automatic Microsoft Fixit troubleshooter and manual instructions for resetting Windows Update components. I recommend using an automatic troubleshooter unless you are comfortable with going through all the of manual procedures. Again, when prompted to run or save the troubleshooter, I recommend that you save it to your hard drive, just in case you need to run it again.

Reset Windows Update components

Check your drive for errors

Now, if you have run both of the Windows Update troubleshooters (repair / reset) and Windows Update is still not functioning correctly, it's time to do some general system checks. Sometimes there can be an error(s) with the file system that is not allowing the troubleshooters to fix the issue(s). I have had this problem many times before. Nothing worse than feeling like a dog chasing his own tail. At this point, I recommend checking your hard drive for errors by running checkdisk.

Check your hard disk for errors in Windows Vista

Check your hard disk for errors in Windows 7

Check your hard drive for errors in Windows 8

Check your hard drive for errors in Windows 10

Once you are done with a checkdisk, go ahead and run the Windows Update Troubleshooters again. First run the repair troubleshooter and try checking for updates. If it doesn't fix it, run the reset troubleshooter. If Windows Update still won't work, then it is time to check to system files.

Check system files

SFC

Windows has a built-in program called System File Checker (SFC) that can check system files for corruption and incorrect versions. SFC is run inside of an administrative command prompt. Just follow the link below for your version Windows for instructions on how to bring up an admin command prompt.

Open a Administrative Command Prompt in Windows Vista / Windows 7

Open a Administrative Command Prompt in Windows 8 / Windows 8.1

Open a Administrative Command Prompt in Windows 10

SFC is basically the same in all of the currently supported versions of Windows, Here is the link to the most detailed instructions for SFC (Windows 10).

Check Windows 10 system files with System File Checker

Once you are done running SFC and have corrected any problems it may have found, go ahead try running Windows Update. If it still won't work, try running the troubleshooters (repair / reset) one at time, running Windows Update in between. If you still cannot run Windows Update successfully, it may be time to run the most advanced system corruption repair tools.

DISM (Windows 8/8.1, Windows 10) / SUR (Windows Vista, Windows 7)

Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) and System Update Readiness tool (SUR) are the most complete way of checking for file corruption in Windows. The link to the instructions on how to run both is below. DISM and SUR are meant to be used by advanced users, so if you don't feel comfortable running either one of these programs, please contact a local computer repair technician for assistance.

Fix Windows Update errors by using the DISM or System Update Readiness tool

After running either DISM or SUR check again to see if Windows Update will work. If Windows Update still will not work, it may be time to reset or reinstall Windows. The instructions on how to do this can be found online. If you require assistance with this process, please contact a local computer repair technician.

How to check your drive for errors in Windows 10

Keeping the drive in your Windows 10 computer error free is essential to its performance. If you are experiencing issues opening files or applications, it may be time to check your drive for errors. Here is how to check your drive for errors in Windows 10.

How to check your drive for errors in Windows 10

There are two ways of checking drives for errors in Windows 10, standard and advanced. The standard way is the easiest to use, but the advanced way has more options.

Standard drive error checking in Windows 10

Standard drive error checking in Windows 10

  1. Open File Explorer (left-click the File Explorer icon on the Taskbar or left-click on the Start Menu and select File Explorer).
  2. In the left-side column left-click on This PC.
  3. In the right-side column right-click on the drive you want to check and select Properties.
  4. Left-click on the Tools tab.
  5. Under Error checking left-click on Check.
  6. Left-click on Scan drive.

Advanced drive error checking in Windows 10

Advanced drive error checking in Windows 10

  1. Open a Command Prompt with Administrative privileges (click here for instructions)
  2. Use the following command line syntax(s) and parameter(s) to run CHKDSK:

CHKDSK [volume[[path]filename]]] [/F] [/V] [/R] [/X] [/I] [/C] [/L[:size]] [/B] [/scan] [/spotfix]

volume Specifies the drive letter (followed by a colon), mount point, or volume name.
filename FAT/FAT32 only: Specifies the files to check for fragmentation.
/F Fixes errors on the disk.
/V On FAT/FAT32: Displays the full path and name of every file on the disk. On NTFS: Displays cleanup messages if any.
/R Locates bad sectors and recovers readable information (implies /F, when /scan not specified).
/L:size NTFS only: Changes the log file size to the specified number of kilobytes. If size is not specified, displays current size.
/X Forces the volume to dismount first if necessary. All opened handles to the volume would then be invalid (implies /F).
/I NTFS only: Performs a less vigorous check of index entries.
/C NTFS only: Skips checking of cycles within the folder structure.
/B NTFS only: Re-evaluates bad clusters on the volume (implies /R).
/scan NTFS only: Runs a online scan on the volume.
/forceofflinefix NTFS only: (Must be used with "/scan") Bypass all online repair; all defects found are queued for offline repair (i.e. "chkdsk /spotfix").
/perf NTFS only: (Must be used with "/scan") Uses more system resources to complete a scan as fast as possible. This may have a negative performance impact on other tasks running on the system.
/spotfix NTFS only: Runs spot fixing on the volume.
/sdcleanup NTFS only: Garbage collect unneeded security descriptor data (implies /F).
/offlinescanandfix Runs an offline scan and fix on the volume.
/freeorphanedchains FAT/FAT32/exFAT only: Frees any orphaned cluster chains instead of recovering their contents.
/markclean FAT/FAT32/exFAT only: Marks the volume clean if no corruption was detected, even if /F was not specified.

The /I or /C switch reduces the amount of time required to run Chkdsk by skipping certain checks of the volume.

How to speed up the boot time of your computer

Does it seem like your computer takes forever to boot up? Waiting for your Windows based computer to boot can be quite frustrating. But there are a few things you can do. Here is how to speed up the boot time of your computer.

How to speed up the boot time of your computer

Check the drive for errors

If your computer has a Hard Disk Drive (HDD), this is the first thing you want to do. HDD's are notorious for not writing data back to the exact place where the data was read from. Little known fact, but Microsoft didn't invent the Disk Operating System (DOS). It actually bought Quick and Dirty Operating System (QDOS) in the early '80's and renamed it MS-DOS. If you have a Solid State Drive (SSD), you can bypass this step, as SSD's don't have moving parts.

Check for hardware issues first with the software provided by the manufacturer of your HDD. The Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD) has all of the major drive manufacturer's diagnostics software built-in, so this is always a good place to start.

Diagnose computer hardware issues with the Ultimate Boot CD

Then check for software issues with Windows built-in CHKDSK.

Check your hard disk for errors in Windows Vista
Check your hard disk for errors in Windows 7
Check your hard drive for errors in Windows 8

Uninstall any unwanted programs

This one is kind of a no-brainer. Allot of adware / junkware will load itself up at boot, causing an increase in boot time. It also takes away resources that could be used by programs you really want to run. First thing to do is to go the Control Panel > Programs > Programs and Features. Then go through the list of programs to see which ones can be uninstalled. Remember that you can change the way the programs are listed just by clicking on the column name. I like to see when a program was installed, because you can find allot of unwanted clutter installations that way.

Remove unwanted items from start up

MSCONFIG inside of Windows 8
MSCONFIG inside of Windows 8

You can temporarily disable programs and services that start up with Windows using MSCONFIG. MSCONFIG is a diagnostic tool built into Windows that allows you to troubleshoot boot issues. You can enable and disable various boot settings, including programs and services that start up with Windows. Just open an Administrator Command Prompt and type MSCONFIG.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows Vista and Windows 7
How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 8

Once you have your system fine-tuned with MSCONFIG, you could just leave your system running in diagnostic mode by having MSCONFIG not displayed at start up. To be honest, that's one of the first things I check for on systems I work on. It just too easy to let it go. But if you really want to permanently remove the items you have disabled in MSCONFIG, here's how to do it.

The Everything tab inside of Autoruns
The Everything tab inside of Autoruns

  1. Download and extract the latest version of Autoruns from Microsoft.
  2. Open MSCONFIG and make note of each item you have disabled.
  3. On the General tab of MSCONFIG, select Normal startup, then left-click Apply and OK. When prompted, just close MSCONFIG and do not restart the computer. Yes, this will enable all of the items you have disabled, but we are going to delete them next.
  4. Open the folder where you saved Autoruns.exe, right-click on it and select Run as Administrator.
  5. Once it is done scanning, you just need to find the items you had disabled with MSCONFIG. Check the Services and the Logon tabs first. Remember that you can check the logon items for each user with the User pull-down menu. Once you find your items you can 1) disable it with the checkbox on the left or 2) you can right-click on it and select Delete.

Clean up the drive

It's time to clean up some of the clutter that just seems to pile up. Using Windows built-in Disk Cleanup tool (cleanmgr.exe) will quickly clean out all sorts of crap, like user temp files and temporary Internet files. If you want to go a little further with cleaning your drive, download a copy of CCleaner.

Free up more disk space with Windows 7 Disk Cleanup (same for Vista)
Clean up your hard drive in Windows 8 with Disk Cleanup
Clean up and optimize your computer for free with CCleaner

Defragment your HDD

This is another step that only pertains to HDD's, since SSD's don't get fragmented. If your HDD is fragmented, is takes it longer to find and load files. Optimizing the HDD structure will always you give a little more speed. You can use Windows built-in Optimize and Defragment drive tool or another disk utility like Defraggler from Piriform.

Using Disk Defragmenter in Windows Vista
Using Disk Defragmenter in Windows 7
Defragment and Optimize your hard drive in Windows 8
Perform advanced disk defragmentation with Defraggler from Piriform

If you really want to go the extra mile with optimizing your HDD, just remove the swap file before you defrag and restore it after you're done. And when you restore it, go ahead and use the following calculations.

Minimum pagefile size is one and a half (1.5) x the amount of memory. Maximum pagefile size is three (3) x the minimum pagefile size. Let's say you have 2 Gb (2,048 Mb) of memory. The minimum pagefile size would be 1.5 x 2,048 = 3,072 Mb and the maximum pagefile size would be 3 x 3,072 = 9,216 Mb.

How to keep your hard drive healthy

When it comes to computer repair, hard drive failures are one of the top issues I deal with. A failed hard drive can be disastrous. But with some regular maintenance, you can keep your hard drive spinning like a top. Here's how to keep your hard drive healthy.

How to keep your hard drive healthy

Hard drive failures fall into two (2) classes: Predictable and Unpredictable. Predictable failures arise from mechanical wear and the eventual degrading of the storage surface. Unpredictable failures come from parts becoming defective or sudden mechanical failures. Around 60% of hard drive failures are from gradual wear and tear from daily use. With regular maintenance, you may be able to find, fix and repair problems before they become catastrophic.

CHKDSK (check disk)

CHKDSK running on Windows 10 Tech Preview boot
CHKDSK running on Windows 10 Tech Preview boot

Every operating system has a built-in utility for checking the health of your hard drive. In the early years of Windows (when it ran on top of DOS) there was ScanDisk. Then when Microsoft came out with Windows NT and NTFS, the disk checking utility changed to CHKDSK and is still in use today. The functionally has been expanded but the commands have changed very little. CHKDSK verifies the integrity of the file system and fixes logical file system errors. It can also check for bad sectors and mark them as bad, but it cannot repair them. Cost: Free

Run CHKDSK in Windows XP
Run CHKDSK in Windows Vista
Run CHKDSK in Windows 7
Run CHKDSK in Windows 8 / 8.1

Manufacturer's software

UBCD HHD diagnostics list A thru P
UBCD HDD diagnostics list A thru P

Almost all hard drive manufacturers have utilities to check their drives for errors. Their software can check the SMART (Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology) status and test the physical condition of the hard drive. Best of all, their software can re-map bad sectors to spare sectors. You can find the majority of diagnostics software on the manufactures' website or use the version included in the Ultimate Boot CD (recommended). Cost: Free.

Ultimate Boot CD

SpinRite

Intro screen from GRC SpinRite
Intro screen from GRC SpinRite

SpinRite from Gibson Research Corporation is a magnetic storage data recovery, repair and maintenance utility. The way it works is quite ingenious. It reads the data from each sector, inverts it and then writes it back to the drive. It then reads the same sector, inverts the data and then writes it back to the drive in the original format. If it can read, invert and write to a bad sector, it can clear the bad sector flag and make it usable again. SpinRite also has a feature called DynaStat that can reassemble missing data from bad sectors. Cost: $89.

SpinRite

How to upgrade the hard drive in your computer

Are you running out of free space on your computer's hard drive? You've uninstalled unused programs and cleaned it up, but still cannot free up any more space? Doing computer repair, I've seen this many times and have personally run out of space more times than I care to remember. Here's how to upgrade the hard drive in your computer.

Changing out a hard drive may sound scary, but it's not. If your existing drive is healthy and you have a good backup of the data on it, you should be good to go. The procedure is the same for desktop computers and laptops, with slight differences due to form factor (physical size).

Two different sizes of hard drives side-by-side
Two different sizes of hard drives side-by-side

There are two types of drives, SSD (Solid State Drive) and HDD (Hard Disk Drive), two different types of hard drive interfaces, SATA (7 pin connection cable) and PATA (40 pin ribbon connection cable) and two different form factors (physical size) of drives; 2.5" and 3.5" (the dimension relates to the width of the drive). HHD's come in 3.5" and 2.5" sizes, SSD's come in only the 2.5" form factor. Laptops use the 2.5" form factor and desktop computers can use either size. If you're planning on using an SSD or 2.5" HDD in a desktop computer you'll have to use 2.5" to 3.5" adapter brackets. Also, if you're installing an SSD into a laptop, check the physical dimensions first. Some SSD's are higher (thicker) than standard 2.5" HDD's and may not fit into a laptop.

View of hard drive properties inside of Disk Management
View of hard drive properties inside of Disk Management

The next thing to do is find out what you have for an existing drive. Open Computer Management, expand the Storage section and select Disk Management. Find the disk you want to upgrade, right-click on the disk name (Disk 0, Disk 1, etc.) and select Properties. On the General tab you will find the model number of that drive. Do a Google search for it and find out the specifications (form factor, data capacity and interface). Now it's just a matter of getting a new drive that matches the form factor and interface. Remember that the data capacity of your new drive has to be equal to or larger than your existing drive.

If your existing drive is an HDD, the first thing to do is check the existing drive for errors. Running a Checkdisk will find any errors that might prevent the successful cloning of the drive.

Running Checkdisk in Windows XP
Running Checkdisk in Windows Vista
Running Checkdisk in Windows 7
Running Checkdisk in Windows 8

If errors are found on the existing drive, you will not be able to use the software provided by the new drive's manufacturer. In this case, you will have to use third-party software like R-Drive that can ignore read errors.

Two ways to clone a hard drive

Drive-to-drive cloning

Drive-to-drive is the easiest to do and a few drive manufacturers (Western Digital, Seagate, etc.) have free utilities to do this. There are also a few free disk cloning utilities out there. Check out the UBCD, it has a few. All you have to do is turn off your computer and install the new drive into your computer. If your system is a desktop computer, consult the manufacturer's documentation on how to do this. If it's a laptop, you will have to attach it using either a USB adapter or inside of an external case.

A laptop hard drive connected to a USB adapter
A laptop hard drive connected to a USB adapter

If you plan on reusing your existing laptop drive, an external case might be the way to go. That way when you're done, you can put your existing drive into it, reformat it and use it as an external drive for storage.

Once you have the new drive in place, just start your computer up, install the manufacturer's software and start the disk clone. If you're installing a larger drive, always remember to check and make sure that the new free space is going to partition you want to expand. Once done, just power off the computer and change the drives out. If your system is a laptop, consult the manufacturer's documentation on how to change out the hard drive. If you installed a HDD, first thing you want to do is a Checkdisk. When you clone a drive, you copy everything including the MFT's (Master File Table). SSD's will automatically adjust them, HDD's don't. Run a Checkdisk to fix them.

Drive-to-image / image-to-drive cloning

Drive-to-image / image-to-drive are a bit harder to do but it has an advantage, a full disk backup. This process does require third-party software like R-Drive and an external drive or network drive. Most disk cloning tools allow you to create a boot disk, that way you can boot your system up on it to clone the drive. Once you have created a boot disk, you're ready to go.

Basically the process is the same as drive-to-drive, but instead of cloning to the new drive, you create a file containing an image of the existing hard drive on a removable hard drive or network folder. I prefer the portable (2.5") external hard drive, as they don't require any additional source of power (AC adapter). Boot your computer up on the disk you created. Once it is booted up, attach an external hard drive or configure the network settings and select the location for your drive image.

After you create the drive image, you can shut down your computer and change out the drives. Consult the manufacturer's documentation on how to change out the hard drive. Then you boot your computer back up on the disk you created, reconnect your external drive or network drive and restore the drive from the image file. If you're installing a larger drive, always remember to check and make sure that the new free space is going to partition you want to expand. Once done, just shut the system down, remove the boot disk and start it back up. If you installed a HDD, first thing you want to do is a Checkdisk. When you clone a drive, you copy everything including the Master File Tables. SSD's will automatically adjust them, HDD's don't. Run a checkdisk to fix them.

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