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.

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.

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.

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.

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.)

Make sure your problem is the patch

First, restart your machine at least three times. I don’t know why, but rebooting numerous times sometimes shakes out the gremlins.

Second, try to uninstall the patch and see if the problem goes away. Click Start > Settings > Update & security > Advanced options > View your update history > Uninstall updates. With a bit of luck, the aberrant update will appear at the top of the Microsoft Windows update list, as you can see in the screenshot.

Microsoft Windows 10 update list

Double-click on the update and when Windows asks, “Are you sure you want to uninstall this update?” reply Yes. Windows will take a while -- maybe a long while -- to reboot, and when it comes back, you should be retreated to the previous (presumably functional) version of Win10.

Immediately test to see whether your problem went away. If it did, use Wushowhide (instructions in the next section) to hide the bad patch. If your problem persists, chances are good the cumulative update didn’t cause the problem. In that case, get onto the latest version: Reboot, go to Windows Update (Start > Settings > Update & security > Check for updates) and re-install the patch. Your problem probably doesn’t lie with this particular update. Note the operative term “probably.”

Some patches catch software manufacturers flat-footed. For example, the latest patch (KB 3147458) broke the Interaction Desktop on ININ phone systems; it also broke the desktop version of Pershing’s broker program NetX360. If a program you normally use goes belly-up right after installing the update, get over to the manufacturer’s website quickly and complain loudly. Chances are they will eventually tell you to uninstall the Win 10 patch or apply a new patch of their own.

The sooner you can get them started on a fix, the sooner everybody will get it.

Break out of the endless update loop

It’s like watching a PC bang its head against the wall, over and over and over again.

Sometimes the cumulative update fails -- you see a message saying “Installation failed,” or something similar, followed by “Undoing changes.” When your system comes back to life an hour or two or five or six later, it goes right back to trying to install the same cumulative update. You get the same error. Wash, rinse, repeat.

You might want to let your system go through the full self-mutilation cycle twice to see whether you get lucky, but after that it’s too painful. You need to put Win10 out of its misery.

Fortunately, Microsoft has a tool that’ll do exactly that -- it’ll tell Windows Update to stop looking for the specific cumulative update that’s causing problems. The tool wasn’t built for stopping cumulative updates dead in their tracks, but it works nonetheless.

Here’s how to use it:

Step 1: Go to KB 3073930 and download Microsoft's Wushowhide tool. (Click the link marked "Download the 'Show or hide updates' troubleshooter package now.") Drag the downloaded file, Wushowhide.diagcab, to any convenient location.

Step 2: Double-click on Wushowhide.diagcab to run it.

Wushowhide: Uncheck the box marked

Step 3: This part’s important and easy to miss: Click the link marked Advanced. Uncheck the box marked "Apply repairs automatically" (see screenshot). Click Next.

Step 4: Wait for Wushowhide to look for all of the pending updates on your system. When it comes up for air, click Hide Updates.

Step 5: There should be a box marked "Cumulative Update for Windows 10 Version 1511 for x64-based (or x32-based) Systems (KB xxxxxxx)" or a similar statement. If you’re curious whether you’ve found the wight wascally wabbit, look at Microsoft’s Win10 update history log and compare the KB numbers.

Step 6: Check the box in front of the “Cumulative Update…” line, click Next, and close out of Wushowhide.

Windows will hide the update for you. The Windows Update program won’t even see the update unless you specifically Unhide it. If you’ve found a solution to your problem (see the end of this article for pointers) and want to re-install the cumulative update, try this:

Step 1: Double-click on Wushowhide.diagcab to run it.

Step 2: Uncheck the box marked "Apply repairs automatically" (see screenshot). Click Next.

Step 3: Wait for Wushowhide to look for all of the pending updates on your system. When it comes up for air, click Show Hidden Updates.

Step 4: Check the box marked “Cumulative Update for Windows 10 Version 1511 for x64-based (or x32-based) systems” and click Next.

Step 5: This is weird, but Wushowhide will tell you that it “fixed” the “problems found.” (See, I told you it wasn’t built to hide cumulative updates.) Click Close.

Step 6: Go back into Windows Update (Start > Settings > Update & security, then Check for Updates). Windows will find the Cumulative Update and install it for you.

Although cumulative updates frequently contain security updates, and you don’t want to wait too long to install security patches, sometimes Windows won’t cooperate and you have to put Windows Update out of its misery.

Fix error 0x80070020

Frequently this is the error number that accompanies a failed cumulative update installation and rollback. All too frequently, it’s followed by another automatic attempt to install the cumulative update, then another failure, with the same error code.

See the preceding section for advice on ending the loop. The steps there won’t fix the error, but at least you can get your machine back (usually).

Once you’re back on your feet, you should try to figure out whether any of your files are locked. (Error 0x80070020 generally means a file that the installer needed was locked.) Common culprits include corrupt Windows system files (see the next section), antivirus programs, and some video drivers.

Run SFC and DISM

This seems to be everyone’s go-to suggestion for cumulative update installation problems. In my experience, it works only a small fraction of the time, but when it does, you come back from the brink of disaster with few scars to show.

System File Check (sfc) is a Windows 10 program that scans system files, looking to see if any of them are corrupt. There are ways to run sfc -- switches -- that can tell sfc to replace bad versions of system files.

If sfc can’t fix it, a second utility called Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) digs even deeper. Microsoft recommends that you run both, in order, regardless of the dirt dug up (or missed) by sfc.

Be painfully aware that, in the past, sfc has flagged files as broken, when in fact they aren’t. What you’re looking for is the automatic repair from sfc, not its diagnosis.

Here’s how to run sfc:

Step 1: Right-click Start and choose Command Prompt (Admin)

Step 2: In the Admin (elevated) Command Prompt type sfc /scannow (yes, there’s a space between sfc and /scannow). Press Enter and go have a latte. It can take half an hour or longer.

Step 3: If sfc reports “Windows Resource Protection did not find any integrity violations” then you’re out of luck -- whatever problem you have wasn’t caused by scrambled Windows system files. If sfc reports “Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files and repaired them,” you may be in luck -- the problem may have been fixed. If sfc reports “Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files but was unable to fix some of them,” you’re back in the doghouse.

Step 4: No matter what happened with sfc /scannow, run a DISM. Again, right-click Start and choose Command Prompt (Admin). Gee, it feels like we’re back in the days of DOS, doesn’t it?

Step 5: In the Admin (elevated) Command Prompt, type DISM /Online /Cleanup-Image /RestoreHealth (again, spaces before all the slashes, and note that’s a dash [minus sign] between Cleanup and Image). Press Enter and let it run -- half an hour, an hour, whatever. If DISM finds any corrupt system files, it fixes them.

Step 6: Reboot and see whether your system was fixed. It probably wasn’t, but at least you’ve taken the first step.

If you hit an odd error message or if one of the programs finds a bad file and can’t fix it, refer to Microsoft’s official documentation in KB 929833 for more information. (Don’t feel too complacent: See how the KB article is up to revision 26?)

The result of the scans gets placed in the C:\Windows\Logs\CBS\CBS.log file. (“CBS” stands for “Component Based Servicing.”) You may want to make a Zip of that file, in case one of Microsoft’s helpers needs to take a look. See the final section in this article, “Where to find more help.”

Check the System Event Log

Almost everything gets posted to the System Event log. The biggest problem with the Log? People freak out when they see all the errors. That’s why you won’t see it recommended very often. It’s hard to believe that an Error in a System Event log is a natural occurrence.

Fair warning: Telephone scammers frequently have customers look at their System Event logs to convince them their computer needs repair. It ain’t so.

Here’s how to bring up your System Event log:

Step 1: Promise me you won’t get freaked out.

Step 2: Down in the Cortana search box, type eventvwr and press Enter.

Step 3: On the left, click Windows Logs, then System.

Step 4: Remember Step 1. Don’t get freaked out. In the middle, look at the events list.

Windows 10 System Event Log

This screenshot is from my main Windows 10 machine -- the machine’s perfectly normal and running well.

Step 5: Look at the log and see if you can find anything weird. Generally, an EventID of 10001 is nothing to be concerned about. An EventID of 7 indicates a bad sector on your hard drive -- run chkdsk (see “Check for mundane hardware problems” at the beginning of this article).

If you encounter an Event ID that doesn’t ring a bell, try looking it up on the EventID.net website. Garden-variety events are a dime a dozen. But there’s a tiny chance you’ll stumble into something that will lead to a fix.

Refresh the built-in Windows programs

After the sfc /scannow run, this is the second-most-common general recommendation for fixing a bad Win10 cumulative update. It reaches into your computer, looks at each app installed in your user profile, and re-installs a fresh, supposedly glitch-free copy.

Although it sounds like the process will fix only errant built-in Windows apps, users report it fixes all manner of problems with Win10, including icons that stop responding, Start menu and Cortana problems, balky apps, and halitosis.

The approach uses PowerShell, which is a world unto itself -- a very powerful command-line adjunct to Windows 10. Here’s how to refresh all sorts of apps, possibly knocking the Start menu and Cortana back into shape, in the process:

Step 1: Right-click Start and choose Command Prompt (Admin).

Step 2: In the Admin (elevated) Command Prompt, type powershell and press Enter. That brings up PowerShell. You get a window that looks a lot like a Command Prompt window, except PS appears before the name of the current directory.

Step 3: Copy and paste this text:

Get-AppXPackage -AllUsers | Foreach {Add-AppxPackage -DisableDevelopmentMode -Register "$($_.InstallLocation)\AppXManifest.xml"}

into the PowerShell window and press Enter. It’s all one line. Don’t try to type it.

Step 4: You’ll see a bunch of red error messages. Don’t panic! Ignore them, even the ones that say, “Deployment failed with HRESULT: blah blah. The package could not be installed because resources it modifies are currently in use” or “Unable to install because the following apps need to be closed.”

Step 5: When the Get-AppXPackage loop finishes -- even with all the red warnings -- you’ll be returned to the PS PowerShell prompt. “X” out of the Command Prompt, reboot, and see whether the demons have been driven away.

Surprisingly, that approach seems to clean up some Start, taskbar, and Cortana problems. Even if it doesn’t, you’ve now undertaken the second standard approach (after sfc /scannow) that you’ll find offered nearly everywhere.

Look at Task Manager

If sfc and Get-AppXPackage don’t work, it’s possible that a renegade program is taking over your machine, freezing up the parts that should be running smoothly. Nothing beats a visual check.

Press Ctrl-Shift-Esc to bring up Task Manager (see screenshot).

Windows 10 Task Manager

Take a look at the listed Apps and Background processes. Does anything look totally out of whack?

If you find an app or process that’s taking up 50 percent of your CPU or beating your disk to death, you should focus on that app or process. Check with the software vendor, in particular, to see whether they know of any reason why the latest cumulative update is driving their program bonkers.

Don’t be too surprised if Service Host: DCOM Service Process Launcher has taken over your CPU. If that’s your problem, the current best advice is to run the DirectX Diagnostic Tool to gather information about the problem (see the next section), then roll back the cumulative update and block it with Wushowhide, as described in the sections “Make sure your problem is the patch” and “Break out of the endless updates” earlier in this article.

Run a DirectX Diagnostic test

The most common source of problems with the DCOM Service Process Launcher red-lines (see the preceding section) is DirectX, the set of system calls that Windows uses to run multimedia. If you have reason to suspect DirectX, try dislodging the problem with the DirectX Diagnostic Tool:

Step 1: In the Cortana search box type dxdiag.exe and press Enter. Windows will take a while to examine your system, then toss up a screen like the one in the screenshot.

Step 2: Click on each of the tabs -- Display, Sound 1, Sound 2, Input, and any others -- and look in the Notes box at the bottom to see whether any problems were encountered.

Windows 10 DirectX Diagnostic Tool

Step 3: If you found problems with a specific hardware device, check the manufacturer’s website to see whether there’s a newer version of the driver available. If so, install it and pray. If not, look in the section “Where to get more help” at the end of this article to tell Microsoft all about it.

Run a NetTrace

If you’re having trouble with Wi-Fi or you can’t connect to a network by other means, your first step is to check the router and make sure other devices can still get in.

If that doesn’t solve the problem, you can run a NetTrace, which looks into all sorts of networking nooks and crannies. The problem with a NetTrace is that normal people can’t do much with it. You can run Microsoft’s Network Monitor (download on MSDN) to look inside the file, but most of it’s gibberish to those who don’t speak IP natively.

If you want to try, it’s easy:

Step 1: Right-click Start and choose Command Prompt (Admin).

Step 2: In the Admin (elevated) Command Prompt type:

netsh trace start wireless_dbg capture=yes

Press Enter. NetTrace will do its thing, as you can see in the screenshot.

Windows 10 NetTrace

Step 3: When your system comes back up for air, type:

netsh trace stop

It takes a while, but eventually Netsh packs up all of its report and sticks it in a NetTrace.etl file, in the location noted in the Command listing.

You can try to pry the file open with Microsoft’s Network Monitor. More likely, you’ll end up sending it off to a Microsoft tech, who may be able to parse it. See “Where to get more help” at the end of this article.

Check your Device Manager

Many problems can be traced back to non-Microsoft peripherals with drivers that don’t work right. (Many can be traced back to Microsoft peripherals that don’t work right, too, but I digress.)

First stop for bad devices is the Device Manager, and it hasn’t changed much since Windows XP.

Step 1: Right-click on the Start icon and choose Device Manager.

Step 2: Look for yellow Exclamation! icons.

Step 3: If you find any, double-click on the device that’s causing problems, click the Driver tab, and see whether you can find a newer driver, typically on the manufacturer’s website.

Make sure the new driver works better than the old one -- Google is your friend -- and that it’s specifically designed for Windows 10. Failing that, usually Win 8.1 and Win 7 drivers work, but ya never know for sure.

Troubleshoot printers

If you can’t get a printer to work and everything else looks OK, try removing and re-installing the printer. Sometimes that works, frequently it doesn’t. Here’s how:

Step 1: Click Start > Settings > Devices.

Step 2: In the Printers & scanners section (see screenshot), click on the printer that isn’t behaving.

Windows 10 Printers & Scanners

Step 3: Click Remove device.

Step 4: Let the device manager do its thing and reboot. (The reboot may not be technically necessary, but it won’t hurt.)

Step 5: Add the device back. Click Start > Settings > Devices. In the Printers & scanners group, on the right, click Add a printer or scanner.

Chances are very good Windows will find the printer and install the driver automatically. If it doesn’t, you may have to click the link “The printer that I want isn’t listed” then follow the instructions to specify a shared printer, to use manual settings, or to get help.

Re-install missing programs

The cumulative update installers are notorious for wiping out specific programs that you may rely on -- old versions of Norton Security, Speccy, CPU-Z, even the AMD Catalyst driver control center. It’s boorish behavior, but Microsoft has a reasonable excuse -- the eliminated programs, typically older versions, crash Windows 10. Or so it’s said.

The best solution in every case is to download and install the latest version of the zapped-out program. In every instance I know about (admittedly, a small subset of all known problems), the vendor has updated its program to work with Windows 10.

Re-install the program, and get on with your life.

Roll back to a previous restore point

Lots of people report that installing the latest cumulative update zaps out their restore points. I don’t think anyone has ever gotten to the bottom of that problem. But if you’re ready to throw in the towel and re-install Windows 10, you should first take a minute (or 10 or 20) to see whether your computer can be saved by restoring to an earlier restore point.

Here’s how:

Step 1: In the Cortana search box type restore point and press Enter.

Step 2: In the System Properties dialog box, on the System Protection tab, at the top click System Restore. Windows will show you a dialog like the one in the screenshot.

Windows 10 System Restore

Step 3: System Restore will show you the latest restore point. Don’t be too surprised if it’s from a long time ago -- Windows 10 rarely takes restore points unless you tell it to. (I talked about setting up restore points, File History, and system protection settings, in the original Windows 10 Tour. If you haven’t set up File History, now’s a good time to do so.)

Step 4: If you feel comfortable turning all of your registry settings back to the date and time noted, click Next. Otherwise, click the radio button marked “Choose a different restore point,” and go fish for something more to your liking.

Using a restore point won’t fry any of your data, but it may change file associations, and you may have to re-install programs after you use it. Chris Hoffman at How-To Geek has a good overview.

Re-install Windows 10

Ready to toss the damn computer out the window? Yeah. Been there, hurled that. Figuratively, of course.

Fortunately, as long as you’ve installed Windows 10 once on your computer, and you haven’t changed any major hardware (say, the motherboard), re-installing Windows 10 and making it “genuine” is easy. Keeping your data and programs, that’s not so easy.

Win10 has the ability to nuke itself from afar, and if you decide to toss in the blanket, that should be your first approach, if you can get Win10 to work at all. Click Start > Settings > Update & security > Recovery, and click the button under “Reset this PC” that says “Get Started.” You see the ominous message shown in the screenshot.

Windows 10 Rest this PC

Try the first option first (“Keep my files”) -- it’ll reset the system files, pull your apps, re-install the registry, but leave your data intact. If that doesn’t work, back up everything you can get your hands on, then come back to this point and click “Remove everything.”

If you can’t boot Windows or get it to the “Reset this PC” setting, use a different PC and follow the instructions on the Windows 10 Software Download page to create a file on a USB or DVD that you can use to boot and install Windows 10. The version of Windows 10 that you install may not be the latest, but after you go through one update cycle (Start > Settings > Update & security > Check for updates) you’ll be caught up with the latest.

You won’t get your data or your other programs back, but Win10 should install fine.

Walk away and forget it

It’s good to keep a little bit of perspective. If the latest cumulative update won’t install (or breaks something) and you can get your machine back to a normal state -- using, perhaps the uninstall/Wushowhide sequence described at the beginning of this article -- you should seriously consider doing nothing.

I know it’s heresy, but the most recent cumulative update doesn’t necessarily fix anything you need (or want!) to have fixed immediately.

Yes, there are security patches tossed into the giant cumulative update maw, but Microsoft doesn’t bother to split those out and let you install them separately. You’re stuck with an undifferentiated massive mess of fixes and security patches that may or may not be important for you.

There’s no penalty for sitting out this particular cumulative update. The next one will come along, usually within a month, likely on Patch Tuesday (the anointed second Tuesday of the month) and it may well treat you and your machine better.

Or maybe not.

Get more help

When the April cumulative update, KB 3147458, came out, a Microsoft engineer named John Wink took to the Microsoft Answers forum, the TechNet forum, Twitter, and Reddit, offering to help with any problems. It was a noble effort of unprecedented goodwill that should be lauded, but John was completely overwhelmed from the get-go. My guess, at this point, is that John -- along with his able sidekick Stephanie Anderl -- is drowning under many, many thousands of complaints.

John, and his bosses at Microsoft, simply underestimate the magnitude of the problem. Instead of putting one or two people out there to suffer the slings and arrows of outraged customers, there should be a platoon of Win10 hotshots -- a division, an army. If Microsoft wants to convince people that Windows 10 is ready for prime time, they need to start putting support money where their business plans are.

Why doesn’t Microsoft simply pull a bad cumulative update? Good question -- but I don’t think it can. At least, it's never tried. Pulling a cumulative update leaves Microsoft in the precarious position of supporting multiple builds of Windows 10 when it’s devilishly hard to get a normal user to figure out which build they’re using. There aren’t any catalogued lists of problems associated with a particular build. Most of all, skipped cumulative updates don’t fit in to the one-way-only Windows as a Service vision. Microsoft’s having this precise problem with bugs in Office 365 Click-to-Run. I, for one, don’t see a solution.

After making a laudable entrance, John appears to be missing in action -- at least, I can’t find any recent posts from him in the now-120-page-long complaint in the Microsoft Answers forum. Even the irrepressible jenmsft on the Reddit forum hasn’t posted any update fixes in nearly three weeks.

Right now, your best bet for finding a solution is to log on to the Microsoft Answers forum and post a question about your specific problem. You probably won’t get an answer from a Microsoft employee, but the MVPs are out there (remember, they’re unpaid volunteers who don’t work for Microsoft!) and other people are trying to help.

Someone on the support forums may ask you to send a Windows CBS Log. Here’s how to do it. In Windows Explorer, right-click on c:\windows\logs\cbs and choose Send do / Compressed (zipped) folder. Windows will warn you that it can’t create the zipped folder in the location, but it can put one on the desktop. Click Yes and a new file called CBS.zip appears on your desktop. Rename the file so that your support contact will know who it came from. That’s the file you want to send to Microsoft.

If you’re asked to provide a memory dump for your support person, take a look at NotMyFault, yet another amazing diagnostic tool from Sysinternals. It creates a huge file and takes forever, but it may be what the techies need to get to the bottom of your problem.

When you look for help, keep your sense of humor! I know you’re frustrated, but none of the people you’ll bump up against -- not even the Microsoft engineers you’re likely to encounter -- caused the problem. But if you’re lucky they may help you solve it.

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