For the past five months, there has been a crescendo of complaints about slow Windows 7 scans. The check for Windows updates -- a simple process that should take a few minutes -- has ballooned to two, three, four, eight, or more hours for many (I'm tempted to say most) Win7 customers. Microsoft claims to have finally solved the problem with speedup patch KB 3161647, but there are a couple of gotchas.
The monthly Win7 patch whack-a-mole has been reaching Keystone Kops proportions. In April, poster EP on AskWoody.com discovered that installing two completely unrelated patches -- KB 3138612 and KB 3145739 -- could reduce Win7 update scan times from hours down to minutes. In May, EP found that installing a totally different patch, KB 3153199, also did the trick. In June, the magic bullet came from KB 3161664. All of these solutions had one thing in common: they involved replacing win32k.sys. Apart from that, they seemed to be completely random.
A German site, wu.krelay.de, issued new speed-up advisories for March, April, May, and June, all with intricate tables of the downloads that could shave hours off Win7 update tasks. Every month there were different patches.
But what really got my goat: Those hours-long waits generally involved the computer just sitting there. There was little activity over the internet, almost no activity on the PC, while "check for updates" kept checking and checking and checking. Millions of people were sitting, hour upon hour, waiting for Microsoft's servers in the sky to get their act together.
Of course, conspiracy theorists took this as one more sign that Microsoft doesn't give a rat's patootie about Windows 7 users. There aren't many companies that would treat half their installed user base to such an experience.
Here are the two gotchas with Microsoft's official fix:
First, you have to install last year's servicing stack update, KB 3020369, before you can install the speedup patch. Microsoft doesn't document that anywhere, but various reports indicate that you need it installed. Note that there were problems with KB 3020369 triggering a "Stage 3 of 3" hang. There's a description and a workaround in my post from a year ago.
Second, Microsoft doesn't have a download for the Win7 scan fix by itself. The only way you can get KB 3161647 is by installing the update rollup KB 3161608. KB 3161647 contains the "fix for a Windows Update error 0x8007000E on some computers while they are updating" as well as "some reliability improvements." The update rollup KB 3161608 includes four fixes that are completely unrelated. Confused yet?
This means Windows 7 users must install six unrelated patches in order to get Microsoft's Win7 updating mess untangled -- seven unrelated patches, if you include KB 3020369. If one of those seven patches isn't to your liking, sorry bucko, you're relegated to the eight-hour-wait list.
KB 3161608 is only starting to roll out to Win7 users, so if you haven't seen it yet, be patient. As best I can tell, there's no analogous patch for Vista customers.
It's still too early to tell if this is a permanent fix, and won't really know if Microsoft actually fixed the problem until July.
Do the math. Half a billion PCs times two or three or four lost hours per machine -- and this from your favorite productivity company. Is it any wonder people are turning off automatic updates?
Many thanks to EP, NC, ch100, and other sleuths on the AskWoody.com fora.