Check for Windows Updates, Learn What They Do & Block Those You Don't Need

Windows Update is an essential part of running Windows, regardless of which version you have. It's the way Microsoft releases not only updates but also bug fixes and security fixes. It was changed substantially in Windows Vista and has remained much the same since then. In this tutorial we will show you how to use Windows Update in both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.

Where to Find Windows Update on the Desktop

In both operating systems, you can check for updates through the Control Panel. The path is "Control Panel -> System and Security -> Windows Update". The illustration here is from Windows 8.1. Windows 7 looks similar; there are just fewer items to choose from.

Both operating systems let you go directly to Windows Update instead of going through the Control Panel. In Windows 8.1 you use the search term windows update and choose "Check for updates".

In Windows 7 also use the search term windows update in the Start Menu search box. Most people will need to type the whole phrase, because there are other programs that have updaters as well. As you can see, this search turns up not only the main Windows Update program, but sub-settings within Windows Update that you can go to directly from the Start Menu search.

How to Check for New Updates in Windows

Whichever way you get there, in both operating systems you will want to click on "Check for updates".

The search may take some time, depending on how many updates are waiting. Windows displays a bar graph that shows your progress.

When the search is finished, you can then see which updates are waiting, and whether Windows considers them to be Important, Recommended or Optional. You can also see when you last checked for updates, and when those updates were installed.

To view more details about the available updates, click the link that says how many updates are available.

How to Install Windows Updates

The important updates (which fix security and stability issues, or install service packs) are selected for installation by default. You may also see recommended updates in this list. Look through those and make sure they apply to Windows components you have installed. You will also want to look through the list of optional updates to see if you want to install any of them. After you've chosen from the lists, click Install.

Once the installation has started, Windows Update will minimize its window. You can keep working while the updates are going on, but you may notice some slowdowns during the process. Once all the updates have been downloaded and installed, you'll be notified. Some updates will require you to reboot your system, some will not. Windows Update will tell you what needs to be done.

Here's what it looks like when Windows 8.1 finishes updates that don't require a restart.

Here's what it looks like when it requires a restart.

How to Postpone a Windows Update Reboot

What if you don't want to restart your computer right then? Just close the window. After some time you'll get a notification that Windows needs to restart. You can restart right then, or postpone the process for ten minutes, one hour, or four hours.

Here's how this prompt looks in Windows 7. In Windows 8.1 you will see something similar.

In both operating systems, if you want to restart right away and you have applications running, use Alt-Tab to switch to them, save your work, and close them down before clicking Restart now. The restart process will show you the progress of your updates while it is shutting down and while it starts up again. You're warned not to turn the computer off while this process is going on.

How to Block Windows Updates from Installing

There are scenarios where you might not want a certain update to be installed on your PC. One of them, which we encountered on several occasions, is when Windows is proposing as an update an outdated or bad driver for a hardware component. Another is when you really don't need an update like Microsoft's browser ballot imposed by the European Union.

In such cases, it is better to review the available updates before installing them. Therefore, check for updates, click on the link that tells you how many updates are available and check the available updates one by one. When you click on an update, Windows Update will also show you some information about what it is & what it does. If you don't want it, right click the update and select Hide update.

You will see that update as being grayed out. It will not get installed and it will not be shown by future update checks.

Conclusion

In both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, checking for updates is easy and straightforward. If you've chosen not to go with the default automatic download and installation, you do need to pay attention to notifications that there are updates to install. Checking for updates on your own schedule doesn't mean putting them off indefinitely. Those updates are offered for very good reasons and the process of getting them is about as painless as can be.

What have your experiences been with Windows Update? Do you think the fully automatic way is the best, or have you decided to do it manually? Please let us know in the comments.