What to Do When a Windows Update Fails
Updated: Aug 6, 2021
A frequent activity for me when assisting clients in Brisbane, Logan and the Redlands is in upgrading their computers. One of the most useful upgrades you can perform is to upgrade the old hard drive in your computer to a Solid State Drive (SSD). As far as software upgrades go, I often find myself bringing computers up to date with the latest version of Windows 10. This can result from a client having Windows update problems, or it can be a routine operation. If you haven’t been in the habit of keeping your Windows computer up to date, you may find that you’ll begin to encounter issues with software compatibility and security as time goes on.
Windows 10 was released about six years ago and regular updates are provided by Microsoft. Quality updates are applied cumulatively and installed automatically. In addition to these, a major update, known as a feature update, is released about every six months. This means that effectively a new version of Windows 10 is released twice every year, offering new features. The feature updates are not installed automatically. Rather the update is listed as being available in Windows Update, and you can choose when to implement the update on your computer.
If you choose not to install a Windows 10 feature update, or forget to do so, you may find that the functionality of your Windows machine becomes outdated as future feature updates are released. It’s possible to download and install one of these major updates directly from Microsoft and thereby take control of the process yourself. This can be useful if your computer is a number of versions behind.
Windows 10 In-Place Upgrade
When installing a feature update manually, you’re likely to be carrying out what’s called an in-place upgrade of Windows 10. This means that you launch the upgrade from within the Windows 10 environment, rather than by booting from external installation media, such as a flash drive. By performing the upgrade in this way, the applications and files contained in your existing installation are left in place as they were. Having said that, you can choose to have these removed during the process should you prefer to do this.
Whilst these feature updates normally take place without any issues, it is possible that the upgrade will fail at some stage during the process. In the event that obstacles can’t be overcome, it’s necessary to revert to a clean install of Windows 10. The disadvantage of doing this is that, whilst none of your files would be lost, it would be necessary to reinstall your applications afterwards.
Let’s look at how an in-place upgrade should work, and then at a couple of methods for overcoming in-place upgrade failures.
Downloading the Windows 10 Installation File
The first step in the process is to download the ISO file for the Windows 10 upgrade directly from Microsoft. In order to do this, visit the Download Windows 10 page and click on the button entitled Download tool. This will download the media creation tool. You should then run the tool and then accept the applicable notices and license terms in the window which appears.
The tool will then get a few things ready and in the next window you should select Create installation media and click Next.
In the following window you can specify your language, architecture and edition, should you need to change these from the default settings.
In the subsequent window, select ISO file and click Next
You can then select where to save the ISO file. After you do this, the Windows 10 ISO file will be downloaded to your computer.
Normal In-Place Upgrade
To perform a normal in-place upgrade using the
ISO file you’ve just downloaded, begin by double-clicking the downloaded file. In the window which results, double-click the file Setup and then click Yes to allow the app to make changes. When the Install Windows 10 window appears, click Next.
The installation tool will then search the internet for updates, check your PC, and get things ready. You can then accept the applicable notices and licence terms by clicking Accept.
After the tool has downloaded available updates, you can confirm what you would like to keep. In most cases, you would be keeping your personal files and apps.
Click Install and the in-place upgrade will commence. A blue screen will be displayed, entitled Installing Windows 10. If you wish, you can continue to use the computer whilst this part of the process takes place. When the percentage reaches 100% the computer will automatically restart.
Following the restart, another blue screen will be displayed whilst the second phase of the upgrade takes place. You won't be able to use the computer during this stage of the process. If the upgrade is successful, you will eventually be presented with your usual log-in screen for Windows 10.
In the event that the upgrade fails, you’ll receive an error message at some stage during the process. If this does happen, you may want to attempt the upgrade again with the computer offline before proceeding with either of the alternative methods below. By carrying out the upgrade offline, you prevent the download of updates during the process. In order to do this, just disconnect the ethernet cable from your computer, or disable the WiFi temporarily. Then proceed by double-clicking the setup file as above.
If the in-place upgrade fails again, you can attempt it using a clean boot, or from the command line.
Upgrade Using Clean Boot
A clean boot in Windows entails booting the computer with no third-party applications or services running. In other words, only Microsoft services will be running. You need to configure the computer to boot in this manner prior to launching the upgrade so that, when it reboots during the process, no third-party services will be able to interfere with the process.
In order to configure the computer to perform a clean boot, two steps are involved.
1. Click the Windows start button, type msconfig and then click on System Configuration. In the resulting window, select the Services tab, then click on Hide all Microsoft services. Click Disable all and then OK.
You can then select Exit without restart in the window which appears.
2. Right-click on the taskbar and select Task Manager. Then select the Startup tab and set the status of each application to be Disabled.
Once you’ve configured the computer to perform the clean boot, you can restart the upgrade process as described above.
Upgrade From the Command Line
Performing the upgrade from the command line gives you complete control over the upgrade process in a way that is not possible using the Graphical User Interface (GUI).
To launch the upgrade from the command line, first locate the downloaded ISO file and double-click it as above. Then take note of the drive letter on which the install has been mounted as shown here.
In this case it’s the D: drive as you can see in the address bar DVD Drive (D:) ESD-ISO.
Now click on the Windows start button, type cmd, then right-click on Command Prompt and select Run as administrator. In the resulting command prompt window, type the drive letter, for example d: followed by <Enter>.
To run the upgrade from the command line, type start /wait setup.exe as shown here.
Before pressing <Enter> add whichever parameters you require. Following are the most useful options.
/Auto Upgrade – Performs the upgrade keeping your apps and data. This is the option you are likely to require.
/DynamicUpdate Disable – This option means that the upgrade will not search for, download, and install updates during the process. If you do want to install updates during the process you can change this to Enable.
/NoReboot – This is a useful option which means that the computer won’t restart after completion of the first phase of the update. You can continue to use the computer whilst the first phase is underway, and this option means that you can continue to use it until you are ready to reboot. Upon rebooting, the second phase of the upgrade will take place.
/Quiet – This option hides the upgrade wizard dialogue windows.
If you’re interested, check out the full list of Windows setup command line options. The options I’ve listed here are the ones I most often use when performing these upgrades. I must admit that, whilst it may seem rather technical, I prefer using the command line to perform the upgrade as it affords me much more control over the process.
I’ve carried out numerous in-place upgrades of Windows 10, including upgrades from Windows 7 and Windows 8. Usually these have gone according to plan. When they haven’t gone according to plan, I’ve usually been able resolve any issues either using a clean boot, or using a command line upgrade.
If you’re somewhere in Brisbane, Logan or the Redlands and you’ve been having Windows update issues, I’m here to help. You may want to attempt the methods I’ve described here but, if not, feel free to get in touch. Or if you’d just like someone to do it for you, I’d be more than happy to assist. It usually takes less than an hour to upgrade your Windows 10 computer using any of these methods.
Thanks to Clint Patterson for the banner image in this post.