Failed Windows Updates Causing Slowdowns?

Category: Windows

Does your Windows system seem to run slower than it should, even after running maintenance programs such as Advanced System Care or Privazer? Does it take “forever” to shut down or restart? Does it stall during a restart, forcing you to shut off power and restart manually? If so, read on for a non-obvious possible cause of these problems and an equally obscure but simple solution…

Deleting Failed Windows Updates Cures System Sluggishness

Windows Update has the job of keeping your computer up to date with the latest security patches and fixes from Microsoft. But for reasons that remain shrouded in mystery, sometimes those updates fail. Do you have failed updates clogging your PC pipes?

The first step is to open Windows Update and check the update history of your computer. Click Start, type Windows Update and press Enter. (On XP systems, click Start, then All Programs then Windows Update.) Next, click "View Update History." (On Windows 10, you need to click "Advanced Options" to see the "View History" option.)

If you see several “failed” updates, that may well be your problem. Update files have been downloaded to your hard drive, but for some reason Windows Update could not install them. In some cases, the patch file may be corrupted during download. I've also heard that overzealous antivirus tools may try to block the installation of certain fixes. Or it could be the phase of the moon, cosmic rays, or even the Fibonacci Sequence. Like I said, shrouded in mystery.
Windows Update Cure

The problem is, Windows Update keeps trying to install these corrupted updates every time you shut down or restart your computer, and at other times when it thinks you won’t be using the machine. That vain struggle consumes system resources and delays shutdowns and restarts.

It’s not just you who has this problem; a Google search on “removing failed Windows updates” yields over 13 million hits. Solutions recommended by self-proclaimed experts and others who have no idea what they’re talking about are equally numerous. They range from “wipe the drive and do a clean installation of Windows” to a set of over a dozen complex commands that must be entered in a cmd window, with multiple reboots in between. I wouldn’t blame anyone who decided to just live with the issues described above.

A Simple Solution

But I found an elegantly simple solution that worked just fine on one of my laptops, buried in a Tom’s Hardware forum thread with the subject, “delete failed update…” Anyone who can navigate WIndows Explorer can do it easily in just a minute. Here is what to do:

  • Click on the folder icon next to the Start button to open Windows Explorer
  • Click on the icon in the lefthand pane that represents your C: drive
  • Navigate to Windows\SoftwareDistribution\Download. The update files are in the “Download” folder.
  • Press Ctrl-A to select all files in the Download folder.
  • Delete all of those files.

Now run Windows Update to get the missing updates. That may take 20-30 minutes if you had a lot of failed updates. Afterwards, check the update history again. If you see any failed updates from the most recent attempt, repeat the steps to delete the failed update files and try to update again.

When I did this on my buggy laptop, it cured all of the problems cited in the first paragraph of this article. The machine reboots without my help, shutdown and restart are faster, and overall performance is satisfyingly snappy again.

Even better: I now have several critical updates installed that keep my laptop secure. So even if you don’t notice any performance issues, I recommend that you check for failed updates and try to correct them.

Give this procedure a try, then post your comment or question below...

 
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This article was posted by on 14 Aug 2015


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Most recent comments on "Failed Windows Updates Causing Slowdowns?"

(See all 74 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

rocketride
17 Aug 2015

My new Win10 system is not suffering the issues described in the article, and has no failed installs listed in the update history, but I looked in the relevant directory and there are dozens of files and (empty) folders in there, all with random hexadecimal strings for filenames.

Are these successful installs that didn't properly get 'garbage collected'?


Posted by:

Sandy
18 Aug 2015

"Finishing the process" unbeknownst to me, included shutting down and rebooting the computer. As my passwords were still behind the locked computer screen, I had a real problem. I hadn't needed a password for Win 7, so didn't expect to need one for Win 10.
I kept following the instructions for retrieving/resetting the password - for 20 hours, with a couple of breaks, before the proper connections FINALLY kicked in, and my screen kitty showed up. After that, I got a good night's sleep, sorely needed.


Posted by:

Tim
18 Aug 2015

Bob,
You responded to a post for this subject by stating that one could rename the folder you cited if the individual was concerned about deleting thousands of files. My understanding is that when you rename a folder, Windows simply re-maps the files using the new folder name so Windows can still find them. If this is indeed the case, wouldn't it be better to copy the files to a removable drive, delete them from the C drive, and then see if there are any problems? If there are problems, simply copy all of the files back to the folder that was emptied. What are your thoughts about this? Thanks!

EDITOR'S NOTE: In my tests, Windows just created a new folder, and ignored the renamed one.


Posted by:

Gerry
19 Aug 2015

Thanks for the great article. Both my XP and W7 systems showed significant improvements in startup and shutdown times. As well, a lot of security updates were installed on both systems. Prior to this article I had bee3n unable to run windows update on my XP system for about 6 months.


Posted by:

Ray Bobo
21 Aug 2015

I had been wondering why my PC had not upgraded to Win10. After reading your post I found over a dozen failed attempts in the update history file. I went to the download file as you instructed, deleted everything, then waited. Within 24 hrs, two more failed attempts to update to Win10 appeared. Then I began poking around on my own (always dangerous). I'm not even sure if I can recall the steps I took, but within the history files I highlighted one of the failed files and right clicked (I think; maybe just highlighting) and a link appeared to tell me what to do or why the update failed. It told me to tweak some settings, which I did. Then the next attempt was successful. It certainly wasn't automatic. And had I not poked around and manually tweaked some settings, I'd still be sitting here waiting.


Posted by:

cliff
22 Aug 2015

I've been searching for this folder for over an hour. It does not exist on my computer!!But thanks anyway.


Posted by:

Bob D
23 Aug 2015

Always love your articles which are often a great help.
Always love your articles which are often a great help.
This one leaves something to be desired though as the instructions seem to only apply to Windows 8.
To get to the folder you mentioned (on Windows 7), I had to:
right-click Start,
left-click computer,
left-click on Drive C
Scroll to and open the windows folder,
Scroll down and open the SoftwareDistribution folder.
When opening the Download folder there is 11 files and 15 folders are we to delete all of them?


Posted by:

Narada
24 Aug 2015

This is extraordinarily useful information. Having lately experienced slowdowns, I found and deleted 6 updates from the last two months. Several updates since also left fails in the folder. Updated a second computer after 16 mos. of no updates with 124 updates, 2/3 of which ended up in the fail folder, which I deleted. I found on both computers that subsequent updates did NOT bring up the deleted failed updates. Thinking that this may be because the updates were still in the Recycle trash, I deleted them from there. Deleted updates still don't come up in a check for updates. Getting fails to download any of attempted updates, I ran the Windows Update troubleshooter (link below), which claimed to fix some errors, but further problems led me to this page: https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/kb/910336, where I also deleted the file and folder in SoftwareDistribution > DataStore as directed. This caused Windows Update to immediately fail to be able to even check for updates with Windows Update error 0x8024402C. I restored the DataStore items from Recycle and Update works again, to what extent the future will tell.


Posted by:

Gary
25 Aug 2015

I'm also guessing this is for Win8?? How do you do this in Win7?

EDITOR'S NOTE: No need to guess. The instructions apply equally to Win7 or Win8.


Posted by:

Rick
25 Aug 2015

Thanks Bob. I have experienced slowdowns on my Win10 systems, and was wondering why. I knew there had been updates failing, particularly Windows Defender updates when I had another AV in place. I uninstalled the other AV and downloads were fine after that. Nevertheless, I had a number of failed downloads in the folder you described, which I deleted, and things seem much better already. Thanks again!


Posted by:

Jerry W
25 Aug 2015

Ditto to Bob D.'s comment. I don't see anything referring to failed updates. Do we delete them anyway?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes.


Posted by:

John
26 Aug 2015

Bob,

This did not solve my problem and Win10 never found any need to update those files that failed to install.

My computer is still hanging up randomly!


Posted by:

Riccardo
27 Aug 2015

I use Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) and I see that the definition updates are stored in the Download folder. I know you don't recommend using MSE from reading your other articles.

If I follow your advice and delete the Download folder contents, do you think I risk damaging my MSE's ability to protect my PC and/or receive updates?


Posted by:

Susan Brown
01 Sep 2015

I tried to use the fix for both my Vista laptop and my windows7 PC, neither could find the file softwaredistribution\download. Is there something else I should be doing?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Look for C:\windows\SoftwareDistribution


Posted by:

Don
01 Sep 2015

I have to agree with Ray Bobo. What are you suggesting I do? Delete every update I've ever gotten? I don't see how to tell what updates are failed.

EDITOR'S NOTE: You can safely delete everything in C:\windows\SoftwareDistribution\downloads
That won't remove all your updates. Think of this folder as a temporary cache that's being cleaned out.


Posted by:

Karen
08 Sep 2015

Windows 7 - I'm trying your suggestion above, but is there any reason why CTRL+A doesn't work for me to select all the files & folders? I had to delete them individually.


Posted by:

Ray
18 Sep 2015

I done this on my wife's PC, which is newer than mine, but hers still takes 3 times as long to shut down. In real time that translates to up to 2 minutes, which is not a lot of time in one's life, but my PC takes less than 30 seconds. What else can be causing this? iDrive backup disk?


Posted by:

Brummagem Flash
07 Oct 2015

I'd like to echo OldGeezer's comment on timely arrival of this article, Bob: just when the refurb'd PC, which I'd recently set up for my nonagenarian Dad, slowed to a crawl.
I had just uninstalled the desperately annoying Win10 nagger, and set updates to “notify only”.
Apparently this left several auto-downloaded, but uninstalled, files jamming the works.
All processes, especially start-up, were slowed; but happily I'd remembered reading your article!

I couldn't find a folder icon by the Start button, on my Dad's Win7Pro PC.
So I modified your instructions; and led Dad's clicking through this version of it: (with beginners' notes in brackets)

MyComputer (click desktop icon; or use MyComp' in Start-button menu)
C: (the hard drive)
Windows (folder for Win7 operating system files)
Software Distribution (folder for additional files, including Win10 crapware)
Download (folder for downloads awaiting installation)
xxxxxx; xxxxxx; xxxxxx (select all these files for deletion)

This process was so effective on Dad's machine; that I repeated it on my own PC: giving me an appreciable speed benefit, too.

Another big thankyou, Bob, from Brummagem in the Midlands of England: or Tolkien's Middle Earth.


Posted by:

4freebird
15 Dec 2015

Step 1 of your Simple Solution for Windows 7 is go to the icon for WINDOWS EXPLORER as there is no File Explorer in Windows 7.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Correct, they changed it to File Explorer in Windows 8 and 10.


Posted by:

Jim
13 Feb 2016

I deleted all the folders ran windows update and it said there where no updates. There were 7 files in this folder 3 of them were empty. The other 4 had about 39 bytes. I was afraid of messing something up and I restored them from the recycle bin. Should I delete them even though there where no new updates?


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