How to fix a stuck Windows update

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Follow these steps in the order they’re provided to try the simpler solutions first.

  • Press Ctrl+Alt+Del. In some situations, the update might be hung at a very particular part of the installation process, and you could be presented with your Windows login screen after executing the Ctrl+Alt+Del keyboard command.
  • If so, log on as you normally would and let the updates continue to install successfully.

Note: If your computer restarts after Ctrl+Alt+Del, read the second Note in Step 2 below. If nothing happens (most likely) then move on to Step 2.

Restart your computer using either the reset button or by powering it off and then back on with the power button. Windows will start normally and finish installing the updates. If the Windows update installation is truly frozen, you have no other choice but to hard-reboot.

Depending on how Windows and BIOS/UEFI are configured, you might have to hold down the power button for several seconds before the computer will turn off. On a tablet or laptop, removing the battery may be necessary. If you’re automatically taken to the Advanced Boot Options or Startup Settings menu after restarting, choose Safe Mode and see the comments in Step 3 below.

If you’re using Windows 11, 10, or 8, and you’re taken to the sign-in screen after the restart, try tapping or clicking the power icon on the bottom-right and choosing Update and Restart, if available.

Start Windows in Safe Mode. This special diagnostic mode of Windows only loads the minimum drivers and services that Windows absolutely needs, so if another program or service is conflicting with one of the Windows updates, the install might finish up just fine. If the Windows updates do install successfully, and you continue to Safe Mode, just restart from there to enter Windows normally.

Startup Settings for Windows PC, including Safe Mode options
  • Complete a System Restore to undo the changes made so far by the incomplete installation of the Windows updates.
  • Since you can’t access Windows normally, try doing this from Safe Mode. See the link in Step 3 if you’re not sure how to start in Safe Mode.
  • During the System Restore, be sure to choose the restore point created by Windows just prior to the update installation.

  • Assuming a restore point was made, and System Restore is successful, your computer should be returned to the state it was in before the updates started. If this problem occurred after automatic updating, like what happens on Patch Tuesday, be sure to change Windows Update settings so this problem doesn’t reoccur on its own.

Try System Restore from Advanced Startup Options (Windows 11, 10 & 8) or System Recovery Options (Windows 7 & Vista) if you’re not able to access Safe Mode or if the restore failed from Safe Mode.

System Restore option for Windows 10 PC

Since these menus of tools are available from “outside” of Windows, you can try this even if Windows is completely unavailable. System Restore is only available from outside of Windows if you’re using Windows 11 through Vista. This option is not available in Windows XP.

Start your computer’s “automatic” repair process. While a System Restore is a more direct way of undoing changes, in this case of a Windows update, sometimes a more comprehensive repair process is in order.

    • Windows 11, 10, and 8: Try a Startup Repair. If that doesn’t do the trick, try the Reset This PC process (the non-destructive option, of course).
    • Windows 7 and Windows Vista: Try the Startup Repair process.
    • Windows XP: Try the Repair Install process.

Test your computer’s memory with a free program. It’s possible that failing RAM could be causing the patch installations to freeze. Fortunately, memory is really easy to test.

Update BIOS. An outdated BIOS isn’t a common cause for this problem, but it’s possible. If one or more of the updates Windows is trying to install is involved with how Windows works with your motherboard or other built-in hardware, a BIOS update could solve the issue.

Do a clean install of Windows. A clean Windows installation involves completely erasing the hard drive that Windows is installed on, and then installing Windows again from scratch on that same hard drive.

You don’t want to do this if you don’t have to, but it’s a very likely fix if the steps prior to this one were unsuccessful. It might seem likely that reinstalling Windows, and then these same exact Windows updates, will cause the same problem, but that isn’t usually what happens. Since most lockup issues caused by updates by Microsoft are actually software conflicts, a clean installation of Windows, followed promptly by the installation of all available updates, typically results in a perfectly working computer.

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