20 fixes for a Windows 10 update meltdown

Latest Win10 update got you fuming? Here’s how to get your PC back on track

If you’re having problems with Windows 10’s forced updates, you’re not alone. Thankfully, with 11 cumulative updates behind us, we’ve accumulated some coping experience.

Each cumulative update is different, but there’s a handful of tricks that can help jolt your system back into consciousness when a troubling cumulative update strikes. If you’re having problems, the following solutions are worth a try. If you can’t get back on course, follow the instructions at the end to find more personalized help -- and the hope to live to fight another day.

I’ve avoided recommendations that seem old-in-the-tooth nowadays. As best I can tell, few recent cumulative update problems are solved by creating a new user account (although there are exceptions). Nor have I hit any mass resets of file associations, which is a problem that plagued earlier cumulative updates. I’m also stepping lightly over Windows Mobile -- sorry, it’s a very different can of worms.

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of problems and solutions. Instead, it tackles the most common problems, offering the most common solutions. And if your Windows 10 updating experience has been stable, consider yourself among the lucky.

For the rest of us, bookmark this page. You may find yourself coming back again and again.

Before you do anything else

Make sure your antivirus software is turned off. That’s the No. 1 source of bad updates -- or no updates.

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Check for mundane hardware problems

Coincidences happen. Sure, your PC went to Hades in a handbasket right after you installed the latest cumulative update, but that doesn’t mean the update caused the problem.

It’s the old post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Consider the possibility that your problem has nothing to do with the cumulative update. At the very least, anyone with a cumulative update problem should right-click Start, choose Command prompt, type chkdsk /f in the box and press Enter. That’ll scan your main drive and fix any errors.

If you’re having problems with a mouse or keyboard, or a monitor or speaker, try plugging them into another computer to see if they’re dead.

It's rudimentary, but it works surprisingly often.

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Recover from a bricked PC

For most people this is the scariest situation. The cumulative update installs itself (possibly overnight, while you aren’t looking), and when you come back to your machine, nothing happens. It’s dead, Jim.

Ninety times (or at least 50, hard to say) out of 100, you can get back to a working machine by booting into Safe Mode, uninstalling the cumulative update, blocking it, then rebooting normally.

My old friend Lincoln Spector has the rundown on booting into Safe Mode in a PC World article from last October. Unfortunately, booting into Safe Mode isn’t as easy in Windows 10 as it was in Windows 8.1 (or any other Windows, for that matter).

Once you’re in Safe Mode, follow the instructions in the section “Make sure your problem is the patch,” below, to uninstall the aberrant cumulative update. Then follow the instructions in the section “Break out of the endless update loop,” below, to make sure you aren’t tossed back into the fire. Reboot and you’ll be back in your previous version of Windows 10.

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Know when to give up

Some people, in some situations, report that going through the update process takes hours -- many hours, with multiple restarts and hangs. My best advice: Let the update run for three or four hours. If you come back to those spinning dots, then it’s time to pull the plug (literally turn the electricity off), reboot, and see if things worked or not.

You can always see what version you’re running. In Cortana’s search box, type winver and press Enter to see which version you’re on. Compare it to Microsoft’s official Win10 update history list.

(See “Walk away and forget it,” below.)

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