How to speed up Windows 7 Update scans—forever

Win7 Update scans got you fuming? Here’s how to make the most of Microsoft’s 'magic' speed-up patch

Microsoft has changed the way it deploys patches, adding a new twist to an old problem. For many folks, Windows 7 Update scans still take hours—even days. How do you knock your Win7 machine upside the head, so it will find new patches in less than glacial time? We have a new Microsoft-sanctioned approach that only needs to be tempered a little.

Note that, in the new patching paradigm, even those who manually download monthly security patches (“Group B”) still need to use Windows Update, if only for .Net patches, Office patches (for those who don’t have Office Click-to-Run), and other patches that don’t arrive as part of the Security-only Update. See, for example, this month’s KB 3200006 and KB 3199375, for Internet Explorer.

I’ve long talked about “magic” speed-up patches—odd combinations of Microsoft patches that make Win7 Update scans run an order of magnitude faster. Drawing on the experiences of Dalai at wu.krelay.de/en and many characters (EP, ch100, NC, abbodi86) at AskWoody.com, we’ve managed to find combinations that solve the problem, which vary from month to month.

Now, it appears as if we have one “magic” patch to rule them all—and Microsoft has officially endorsed it. There are two fatal flaws, though.

The speed-up patch, KB 3172605, is problematic, as I discussed in July. It contains a new version of the Windows Update Agent, which takes minutes instead of hours to figure out which patches are available.

There are two problems with KB 3172605 (“July 2016 update rollup for Windows 7 SP1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 SP1”) that aren’t discussed in the KB article:

  • It includes components that aren’t related to the Windows 7 Update scan slowdown problem. If you want to speed up your scans, you have to take all of the update rollup. You can’t pick out the good part.
  • It crashes a very common set of Intel Bluetooth drivers.

Intel continues to not fix its Bluetooth drivers for the Intel Centrino Wireless 8260/7265/3165/7260/3160/1030 and Centrino Advanced-N 6230/6235/2230 Bluetooth devices—a big swath of Intel Bluetooth systems (see poohsticks’ firsthand report on AskWoody). Last week, Intel confirmed it had fixed the drivers for its other Bluetooth devices. If you’ve experienced otherwise, please hit me in the comments or over on AskWoody.com.

In short, you need KB 3172605 to speed your Windows Update scans, but KB 3172605 contains a lot of extra baggage—including a piece with the unfortunate side effect of knocking out many Intel Bluetooth drivers. Rock, meet bundled hard place.

The easiest method I’ve found for speeding up Windows Update scans for Win7 looks like this:

Step 1. If necessary, fix the bad Intel Bluetooth driver.

If you never use Bluetooth, couldn’t care less about Bluetooth, or know for a fact that you don’t have an Intel Bluetooth driver, skip to Step 2.

Intel’s updated support article 22410 traces through the problems that you may encounter if you install KB 3172605 on a PC with an Intel Bluetooth driver. There’s a very straightforward video that shows you how to identify your Bluetooth adapter. If you have Intel inside, you need to get the driver updated.

There are myriad drivers and complex installation details, but you can cut to the chase. If your wireless adapter came from Intel, run the official Intel Driver Update Utility. That’ll bring your system up to the latest version of all Intel drivers, including the one that conflicts with KB 3172605.

If you have any of the known bad drivers (follow the steps in the video), there’s a complex approach developed by abbodi1406 on the My Digital Life forum that will cure the slow Windows Update scanning problem without zapping your Bluetooth driver. For most folks with bad drivers, abbodi1406’s approach is too complex. Far easier is to install KB 3172605, knowing it will kill your built-in Bluetooth, and buy a new USB-based Bluetooth adapter (assuming you have a free USB slot).

Intel and Microsoft seem to be at odds here, and those with older Intel Bluetooth radios are caught in the crossfire. Intel concedes that its older Bluetooth driver won’t work with KB 3172605, KB 3133977, KB 3161608, or KB 3179573.

Step 2. Try to install KB 3172605.

The speed-up patch you want, KB 3172605, has a prerequisite. It’s KB 3020369, the “April 2015 servicing stack update for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2.” Most people already have KB 3020369 installed (or one of its workalikes, including KB 3177467). If you don’t have 3020369 and try to install 3172605, the installer will bellyache, but no harm is done. That’s why I recommend you install 3172605. Here’s how.

Step 2A. If Windows 7’s Windows Update is in the middle of an update scan, click the “X” to stop the madness. Yes, even if you’ve been waiting for six hours, this will be faster. Trust me.

Step 2B. Download the KB 3172605 MSU installer file. There are different versions for 32-bit and 64-bit.

Step 2C. Turn off the internet. If you’re attached via ethernet cable, pull the cable. Turn off Wi-Fi. Do whatever you need to get off the grid.

Step 2D. Run the installer. Double-click on the MSU file that you downloaded. It should finish in a couple of minutes. If you get the message “This update is not applicable to your computer,” make sure you have the right version (32-bit or 64-bit); if you do, jump down to Step 3.

Step 2E. Turn the internet back on.

Step 2F. Reboot. When your machine comes back up for air, you’re done. Try running Windows Update again and see if life in the fast lane is sweet.

Step 3. Install KB 3020369. If your PC tells you that KB 3172605 is “not applicable to your computer” and you’re sure you have the right version of the patch (32-bit vs. 64-bit), this is the culprit.

Step 3A. Download the KB 3020369 MSU installer file. There are different versions for 32-bit and 64-bit.

Step 3B. Install KB 3020369 by double-clicking on the downloaded file.

Step 3C. That’s all you need—no reboot required, nothing squirrelly. Go back to Step 2.

While you’re thinking about (and maybe swearing at) Windows Update, take a few minutes to decide how you want to proceed, given the massive “patchocalypse” change in Windows 7 (and 8.1) updating, effective in October.

No matter how you expect to handle Windows 7 patches in the future (see my discussion of “Group A” and “Group B”), I think it’s wise to turn off Windows Update. To do so, click Start > Control Panel > System and Security. Under Windows Update, click the “Turn automatic updating on or off” link, then choose “Never check for updates (not recommended).”

Then keep your eye out here in my Woody on Windows columns, or over on AskWoody.com, to see how each month’s patches are shaking out.

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