My computer got hit by a truck. Sorta.
June 13, 2014 11:50 AM   Subscribe

Yesterday my PC repeatedly failed to update Windows. My attempts to get things back on track went catastrophically wrong. I have a backup system and am now putting my system back together. What *should* I have done?

Early yesterday morning while I was sipping my first cup of coffee and gradually awakening my computer restarted itself to complete an automatic update process I hadn't even realized was underway. Instead of completing normally the process hung up at the 'Preparing to configure windows, do not turn off' stage. I used my phone to Google the problem and read what I'd suspected, i.e. that I didn't really have a choice but to force a restart. So, I did that. The computer automatically restored itself. The Windows Update history indicated that about 5 important security updates had failed. That seemed bad, so I ran Windows Update again, and again it hung up at the same point. After 15 minutes of staring at the 'Preparing to configure' message I forced it to restart again, and this time it didn't fully restore to its pre-update state. Various features behaved oddly; it became impossible to run Windows Update, impossible to initiate system restoration manually from the control panel, and the Start Menu became unresponsive. I rebooted the computer several times, hoping that would somehow make it functional again, and kept having the same problems. Then after letting it sit for several minutes some of the missing functionality returned, and I found it was possible to run Windows Update again. I thought, maybe it would be a good idea to just install the 5 failed updates one at a time, in case just one of them was causing the whole problem. I selected the smallest update, began the installation process... and it hung again at exactly the same place. This time, however, forcing a restart didn't help at all, because it would simply resume attempting to configure the update and get stuck all over again.

At this point I'd been struggling with the thing for over 3 hours. In desperation I resorted to the One Key Recovery button, misunderstood a particular menu choice, and accidentally wiped my computer clean back into the Stone Age.

Like I wrote up at the top, I have a backup system and didn't really lose much aside from time. But the sudden and profound collapse of my little digital environment has me rather rattled. I don't want this to happen again. What would a more tech-savvy person than myself have done differently?
posted by jon1270 to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Since there were 5 failed updates, I'd've suggested running them one a time; chances are it's a single one that's hanging it up. Once you've eliminated the rest, do a little research to see if anyone else has the same problem, and then disable it from running if you can't ever get it through.

I think you got unlucky and chose the bad one on the first try.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:18 PM on June 13, 2014

You say it hung for 15 minutes at the "preparing..." message. Did you see/hear any hard drive activity? It could be that it was just taking that long, if it had to verify and/or backup a lot of files before processing the update. I've got a pretty decent PC at home, and while most updates run quickly, I've had the occasional update that seems to hang the computer for quite a while before eventually running successfully without any intervention.

After the first forced reboot, I would have immediately run a system restore back to the most recent restore point (probably your last successful boot), backed up any additional files/settings/etc made since your last real backup, then rebooted once or twice to make sure the system was cleared out and running smoothly again. After all that, then run Windows Update - one update at a time - to see if they would all go through.
posted by trivia genius at 12:31 PM on June 13, 2014

You could also be a bit more patient.

After 15 minutes of staring at the 'Preparing to configure' message I forced it to restart again...

I'd have jumped in the car and gotten breakfast, seen where it was at on my return. Of course, I would have done this on the first hang. I'm amazed at how often just waiting a bit will help.

People I support do this all the time. "It was taking too long when running updates and so I forced it to shut off. Now it won't come back up." Some small part of my brain always wants to respond, "Well, that was stupid. Why are you calling me now?" Then I remember it's my job. Anyway, they will say things like, "After I logged in I decided to do a restart, and now it's taking a long time to shut down." I say wait. They say, "It's already been 15 minutes." I try to point out that it's probably rolling back the failed updates and it might take a bit. Never works. They always want me to hard boot it. I try to point out that's how we got here, but that never works either. So I advise that it's against my recommendation, but sure, we can do it their way, but if it fails I am probably taking the box to run diagnostics and to do the updates myself.

Usually I think I am correct. I'm amazed at how often they are. "Huh, it did come right back up. It does survive reboots. Weird."

Don't tell anyone, but I often tell people "Ok, I'll be right there!" Then I go get coffee and by the time I get there (usually about the 10 more minutes I am suggesting they give it) it's finished the boot or shut down or whatever it was trying to do.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:08 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Hmm, well most of this advice seems to be to do things I either did or attempted to do, except for the part about waiting longer for the updates to work themselves through in the first place. If 15-20 minutes at the 'preparing to configure' stage with no changes and no progress indicator at all doesn't mean it's time to give up and try something else, what does? Is it the case that so long as the hard drive is active one should leave it alone indefinitely? If not, then how long is too long?
posted by jon1270 at 2:58 AM on June 14, 2014

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