Updating Windows Update when Windows Update Won’t Update

December 21, 2016 at 9:39 pm (computers) (, , , , )

I’ve recently picked up a reconditioned Acer Iconia W510 Windows 8 Tablet PC with a docking keyboard, and to be honest, I actually quite like it.  But it is proving a bit of a trial to get going.

First, I found that it wouldn’t activate or start updating at all.  No matter what I did, it wasn’t happy.  Reading that Windows 8 is no longer supported, and I’d have to update to Windows 8.1, I looked for it in the Windows store.  But it won’t install from there without a pile of recent updates being installed first, but updates were having problems too.  Worried that I might have to reinstall from installation media, I set about looking for the Windows Product Code, but it was nowhere to be found.  Nothing on the box, nothing on the device, nothing with the installation and recovery media.

It turns out that many modern devices just come with a Windows Product Key in the BIOS itself.  There isn’t an obvious way through the standard Windows interface to find out what it is either. It might be in the BIOS, I don’t know I didn’t get that far.  This simple utility from nirsoft will dig out any product keys on a running system and tell you what they are.

Before all the pain of a reinstall though, I wondered if Windows Update might kick the activation off, so tried that a last time.  But that was still failing consistently with error 80072F8F.  Apparently you might get this if your PC clock is too far out of sync with Microsoft’s update servers.  Sure enough, even though the time and date were correct, the year was 2012 not 2016.  Fixing that kicked off both activation and updates, so all was looking good.

Sure enough, post first bought of updates I could now install Windows 8.1 from the Windows Store, which went through successfully.  I did wonder about skipping ahead to Windows 10, but Microsoft now want around £90 for the upgrade, which is a bit mad on a device like this.

At this point though, I soon hit another problem.  Windows Updates kept stalling permanently “checking for updates”.  There isn’t a clear “this is how you fix this” on the Internet, but the general Wisdom seems to be that there is an issue with high CPU usage and hangs of the Windows Update service on Windows 8.1 that needs the Windows Update service components themselves to be updated.

So, in short I tried all the following to no avail:

  1. Just leaving it running.  Some people suggest it might perk up after 20 hours.  Some say leave it 24 hours.  I left it running for around 30 hours (after realising I needed to change the power settings to stop the device auto sleeping after 10 minutes) and still nothing.
  2. Resetting Windows updates by stopping bits, wuauserv, cruptsvr; renaming the c:\windows\SoftwareDistribution directory; running the Troubleshooter to Troubleshoot issues with Windows Updates; then rebooting.  No effect.
  3. Tried booting into safe mode to see if that helps.  Note to self: Before trying Safe Mode for a Windows tablet, check that the docked keyboard and touch screen will still function when in Safe Mode.  For the Acer, they only way to interact with it was via an external USB keyboard (using the micro-USB socket too)!! Doh!
  4. I found that KB3102812 claims to fix it, but this relies on installing KB2919355 which itself seems to rely on KB2919442.  Downloading and running these separately invokes the wusa.exe executable, but this too hangs on the “searching the PC for updates” stage.  I left one of these going for around 6 hours.
  5. During the course of my travels I also stumbled across KB2950153, which describes a problem with wusa.exe freezing, but once again trying to install this isn’t trivial without wusa.exe which itself still hangs.  At this point I was running the Performance Monitor to spot disk activity and sure enough you can see the svchost hosting the Windows Update service trawl through the SoftwareDistribution area, updating logs, caches, db files and so on – but eventually all disk activity just stops and the check is still not complete.
  6. Next on the hitlist was finding a way to install an update manually without relying on the Windows Update GUI or wusa.exe.  One promising avenue is the PSWindowsUpdate module for PowerShell.  This gives  fairly comprehensive access to Windows Update from PowerShell.  Following the instructions here, but using the Get-WUInstall -Verbose command to see what is actually going on, this never seemed to get past the “Trying to connect to Windows Update Server” stage (I tried with both -WindowsUpdate and -MicrosoftUpdate options).

Finally, before seriously considering a reinstall, I looked up any other way possible to install a Windows update without needing wusa.exe.  Eventually I found this site which shows how you can expand a .msu file and use Pkgmgr to install the .cab file directly.  Now this is not without its risks – this is bypassing all the good configuration and dependency management that the Windows Update service does behind the scenes, but things were getting desperate.

To be sure, I started looking at the versions of some of the files on the system, so I could which updates might already be installed.  I was looking at the version of wusa.exe and wups2.dll files in c:\windows\system32.  From what I could see, I think I must have already included the two dependent installs from KB2919422 and KB2919355, so I figured I might be able to get away with installing KB3102812 directly, which is supposed to fix the performance issues.  As I say, this is not without risk, but the chances were looking good that if I could just force the update of the Windows Update Service, I might be on to something.  So the steps eventually were:

  1. Check versions of the files to give some assurance that older, dependent service updates where probably already included in my Windows 8.1 installation.
  2. Download the (in my case) x86 version of KB3102812.
  3. Open a command line (using the “Run as Administrator” option).
  4. run the following commands:
cd \Users\me\Downloads
mkdir temp
expand -f:* “Windows8.1-KB3102812-x86.msu” temp
cd temp
start /w Pkgmgr /ip /m:Windows8.1-KB3102812-x86.cab

This took a few minutes, but eventually looked like it had done something and told me I had to reboot to finish the installation (after also telling me that use of pkgmgr was deprecated).  Sure enough, on rebooting I got the familiar “Configuring Windows” display and once running again, I could see from the dates in the c:\windows\system32 that quite a few Windows Updates related files had been updated.  Curiously not wusa.exe though …

At this point, I ran Windows Update as normal, whilst watching disk activity again using the Performance Monitor, and yes, after quite a few minutes, it finally declared I had 213 updates to install and proceeded to download and install them.


Fingers crossed, this has now got me up and running and past the irritating, Microsoft-acknowledged bug, that exists in Windows Update for Win 8.1 that, infuriatingly, they only seem to provide a fix that requires installing via said problematic Windows Update.  Talk about chicken-and-egg!

Update on the updates: once all 213 were installed successfully, there were 7 additional updates and 10 optional updates. Thought I’d get it fully up to date so selected all 17. Turns out that one of the optional updates causes a perpetual shutdown-reboot cycle.  Also turns out that it is nigh on impossible to use F8 on a Windows 8 PC to enter safe mode – hence I guess why you set it using msconfig.  Thankfully I was able to use the Acer boot menu to start the troubleshooter and restore from a system restore point. Unfortunately it was the restore point prior to the 213 and the manual fix … Off we go one more time then … But really, an update that shuts down before you can even type CTRL-R msconfig?  Really Microsoft??  Moral of the tale-once it’s running ok, create a manual restore point and create a system image backup pretty quickly!

Update on the update on the updates: Of course Microsoft removed the backup and restore options from Windows 8 that let you create a system image so you have to use the command line wbadmin tool …



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