Patching Windows 7 can be painfully slow

Two tech writers suggest four patches to Windows Update

windows 7 default desktop
Credit: Toasty Tech

I have been installing bug fixes on a number of Windows 7 computers lately and it has not gone well. Windows Update found the missing patches and installed them, but it took a loooooooooooooooooooooong time. Even machines with fast SSDs and a fast connection to the Internet, were painfully slow.

Last night one machine was taking so long to determines the missing fixes, I gave up, went to bed and let it run overnight.


Windows Update running on Windows 7

Turns out, it's not just me.

A month ago, Ed Bott wrote that it took him over 24 hours to install the bug fixes needed to bring a virgin copy of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 up to date. Granted, it was in a virtual machine, which has to slow things down a bit, but still. Just getting to the first step, determining that the system needed 216 patches, took more than eight hours. 

Service pack 1 dates back to February 2011, an eon in this field. By not releasing a second service pack for Windows 7, Microsoft has abandoned and antagonized their customers. Who thought that was a good idea? 

Bott researched the problem, and suggested installing two particular bug fixes before installing the rest of them:

Download two updates before starting the installation process, KB3083710 and KB3102810, and copy them to a USB flash drive. Install Windows 7 with SP1 and leave the network cable disconnected. Install those two updates from the flash drive before connecting to the network and running Windows Update for the first time, and you can cut that horrendous delay down to a matter of a few minutes.

Even with the two suggested patches, it still took Bott eight hours to install the rest, including a bunch of restarts that required manual intervention.

The patches Bott recommended were released in October and November of 2015. Windows 7 itself, was released in July 2009. After six years, Microsoft still hadn't gotten the process of installing bug fixes right.

It turns out, that Ed Bott's fixes are not sufficient. A couple weeks ago, Woody Leonhard wrote about people, like me, that were still experiencing slowness with Windows Update:

In the past two days, has been flooded with even more complaints. The complainants aren't engaged in a Marquis de Sade re-enactment of building a new Win7 from scratch. They're people who keep their machines up to date and simply want to see the latest Win7 patches. At one point, it appeared as if installing the latest Windows Update Client -- version 7.6.7601.19161, from KB 3138612 -- would help, but for many people, that doesn't work. The latest kernel patch, KB 3139852, looked like a savior at one point (for reasons unknown), but it fizzled out, too. Instead, would-be updaters are floundering for an hour, two hours, six hours, trying to get a list of available Windows updates.

After six days of experimenting, Leonhard had his own recommendations for a pair of patches to Windows Update. Neither of his suggested patches are the same as those Bott recommended. 

Leonhards first suggested patch, KB3138612, fixes the Windows Update Client software, so, no surprise there. His second patch, KB3145739, applies to a Windows Graphics Component. 

Installing just one of these patches does nothing, but installing both of them seems to work magic. Beats me how Woody came to this discovery, he calls the two necessary patches "an unlikely combination".

UPDATE: April 29, 2016. The day after this was published, Susan Bradley, writing in the Windows Secrets newsletter, also addressed the issue. She reported that numerous users found that one of Woody's patches alone was sufficient to speed things up. The full article is only available to paid subscribers of the newsletter. 

UPDATE: April 29, 2016. To see if you have Woody's patches, open Windows Update and click on "View update history" in the left side column. Sort the list by Name (it usually defaults to date sequence). The first patch appears in the list as "Update for Microsoft Windows (KB3138612)" and the second one is "Security Update for Windows (KB3145739)". 

It goes without saying that Microsoft won't explain anything about this, they have moved on to Windows 10. And, if they haven't moved on, if they still have qualified people working on this, then how come the patch installation process is so problematic after more than six years?

An operating system, like a highway, is supposed to be the road that takes you where you want to go. It seems to me, that Windows users spend far too much time fixing potholes rather than driving.

Is it any wonder that PC sales are declining?

Why is Apple letting Macs rot on the tree?
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