Windows 7 Update Failures

This page is under construction but for the benefit of Pete, Nial and Provic, this is what you asked for...

Let me start by making it quite clear that the cause and solution to the infamous Windows 7 update failures were discovered by my Son who, upon hearing of the problems I was having trying to do a clean install of Windows 7 on my new PC decided to drill down and discover what is actually going wrong.

Anyone new to this problem has only to be aware that many, many Windows 7 users out there have totally failed to complete a clean install of their favourite operating system. The problem is not new, in fact, it has been around for some years now but, the recent forcing of Windows 10 onto users computers and the subsequent trashing of many builds, failure to install the new OS and the plain dislike, nay, hatred, of the awful Windows 10 GUI is forcing more and more users to reach for the trusty old Windows 7 DVD.

It is when this happens that the Windows Update failure rears its head and users are left trying to figure out why the software that installed some years ago now totally fails to install. I had gone as far as installing Linux and running older versions of Windows as Virtual Machines using VirtualBox just to be able to keep working normally but, issues with certain hardware devices forced me back to Windows 10. I hated it and still hate it with a vengeance! Not because it doesn't work well, it does and it has a lot of useful features that were missing on previous Windows versions but it does have its funny turns, a huge number of useless built-in applications and a bloated opinion of itself that is not worth the hype.

Going back to Windows 7 proved impossible until my Son discovered the cause of the problem. Here is the scenario, Windows 7 installs perfectly normally from the DVD and the initial updates are downloaded and installed perfectly normally up to and including Service Pack 1. Then it all stops working! Nothing will make Windows Update find or download any further updates and believe me, these are numbered in hundreds nowadays.

If you search the Internet there are 1001 solutions, a lot of confusion over what is causing this problem and a total failure on the part of Microsoft to provide any working solution at all. What my Son did was to look at what was exactly happening during the Windows update process and then discover why it is going wrong. The one thing I could be sure about was that Windows updates were failing after the installation of Service Pack 1 so this was the where the investigation started.

The Clues:

The Windows Update system relies primarilly upon a file called "DataStore.edb" which resides in the C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution\DataStore\ folder on a standard Windows installation. This file is an "Exchange Database" file which is used to determine what updates are required and downloaded/installed by Windows Update. This is a very large file and is about 1.12GB on an average Windows 7 installation. What it actually contains and how it is formatted is for some else to explain.

What I can tell you is that immediatelly following the base install of Windows 7 the DataStore.edb file is about 57MB in size but, as soon as you start Windows Update, the file expands to over 1GB as it if filled with the data necessary to perform the update process.

A second file called "WindowsUpdate.log" which is located in the C:\windows\  folder is the actual record of everything that Windows Update does. Even I realised that something was wrong in the WindowsUpdate.log file when an installation failed as a huge number of "warnings" could be seen and "warning" is never a good word. Here is an example: of a few of hundreds of warnign entries

2016-09-20 05:19:05:380 912 af8 DtaStor WARNING: Attempted to add URL http://download.windowsupdate.com/msdownload/update/software/dflt/2010/04/3707286_f41c1bef93d7340f4a4fe6d36d174de67e235342.cab for file 9Bwb75PXNA9KT+bTbRdN5n4jU0I= when file has not been previously added to the datastore

2016-09-20 05:19:05:380 912 af8 DtaStor WARNING: Attempted to add URL http://download.windowsupdate.com/msdownload/update/software/crup/2010/06/windows6.1-kb958488-v6001-x64_a137e4f328f01146dfa75d7b5a576090dee948dc.msu for file oTfk8yjwEUbfp117WldgkN7pSNw= when file has not been previously added to the datastore

2016-09-20 05:19:05:380 912 af8 DtaStor WARNING: Attempted to add URL http://download.windowsupdate.com/msdownload/update/software/dflt/2010/01/3531017_16c63b9a8bcc9de95c876e61f303ccbf661da765.cab for file FsY7movMnelch25h8wPMv2Ydp2U= when file has not been previously added to the datastore

2016-09-20 05:19:05:380 912 af8 DtaStor WARNING: Attempted to add URL http://download.windowsupdate.com/msdownload/update/software/updt/2010/04/windows6.1-kb976422-x64_f6fa2a37732ccfc9368bd7a58aec355cf10d9db1.msu for file 9voqN3Msz8k2i9eliuw1XPENnbE= when file has not been previously added to the datastore

2016-09-20 05:19:05:380 912 af8 DtaStor WARNING: Attempted to add URL http://download.windowsupdate.com/msdownload/update/software/dflt/2010/02/3589853_0c7dd8eb8880f5e6370f2650959b14002e59ec3a.cab for file DH3Y64iA9eY3DyZQlZsUAC5Z7Do= when file has not been previously added to the datastore

What my Son discovered is that the warnings are actually indicating that the DataStore.edb datbase has been corrupted and the data it contains is worthless to the Windows Update system. This is why Windows Update just sits there saying "Checking for updates" and does nothing else.

The cause:

OK, so now we know what is happening but why? My Son was able to narrow the search down to a single element in the Windows Update system, namely, the actual Windows Update Agent itself. Suddenly, even I could see what was happening. Remember that I said that the initial windows update process worked perfectly up to and including service Pack 1? Well, the very next windows update action is to install an updated version of itself. It is this updated Windows Update Agent that appears to be the culprit.

Windows Update Agent version 7.6.7600.320  which is installed immediatelly after Service Pack 1 is corrupting the database and it will be a cold day in Hell before it will ever work.

The solution:

Believe it or not, the solution that my Son came up with is so obvious that you wonder why the mighty Microsoft seem unable to suggest it. What is the solution? install a later Windows Update Agent in place of the faulty one! OK, my Son is a guru when it comes to Microsoft software, amongst other things but, having read so many, so called, experts suggest so many solutions which never worked consistantly, it is obvious that none of them actually sat down and looked for the cause as my Son did.

So, here is the short, should work, fix that I have tried in various forms on multiple installs of Windows 7 over that past 4 or 5 days:

The simple fix:

For a PC that is stuck checking for updates after Service Pack 1 has successfully installed:

You need Internet Explorer 11 or a suitable browser such as Chrome or Firefox to be able to download the following file from Microsoft so you will probably need access to a second, working PC.

Download "KB3138612" from Microsoft. This is a Standalone Update Package containing Windows Update Agent version 7.6.7601.19161 (March 2016). Put it onto a USB stick for use on the affected PC.

If all goes well, you should see updates available for installation within a few minutes

The better fix:

Start Again! Yes, I really do mean start again with a fresh install.

The primary aim of the procedure presented here is to install a clean build of Windows 7 up to and including Service Pack 1
and allow the installation of Windows updates without the infamous stalling and failure to download updates.

You are strongly advised to download the "Windows 7 SP1" iso image from Microsoft. The iso image can be burned to a DVD
or placed on a USB stick using a utility such as Rufus. You will save a lot of time by doing this but, if you want to do
it the hard way, here's how. Be aware this could take well over an hour, even up to 2 hours to complete. That is why it
is better to use the Windows 7 SP1 ISO image.

Download the Windows 7 SPI ISO image from Microsoft. Do not download from anywhere else unless you know the image will be genuine and free of malware!

You will be asked to enter a valid Product Activation Key and this presents the available ISO that your key is valid for. Once you have downloaded the Windows 7 SP1 ISO, download the following update packages:

Make sure that you download the correct flavour of ISO and update package e.g. 32bit or 64bit!

The Windows 7 SP1 ISO image can be put onto a DVD or a USB Flash drive using Rufus.

Sart the fresh install of Windows 7 in the usual way and when it is fully installed, install the roll-up packages one at a time. This will still take some time but nowhere near as long as Windows Update.

Download KB3138612 which is a Standalone Update Installer. Put this on a USB stick or other media which you will be able to access

Insert your Windows 7 media and start the Windows 7 installation.

  1. Choose Custom (Advanced = Clean) Install or Upgrade (Clean installation is best)
  2. Select installation disk/partition (Don't try and create a dual-boot or anything complicated)

Windows 7 will now unpack, install its files and complete the installation. After the final installation reboot, you should proceed as follows:

  1. Provide a name for your computer or leave it at the default choice for now
  2. DO NOT create a password at this point (Just click Next)
  3. Uncheck "Automatically activate Windows when I'm online"
  4. You will be given 3 choices of how to update Windows:

DO NOT INSTALL ANYTHING THAT MIGHT INTERFERE WITH WINDOWS UPDATE SUCH AS ANTI-VIRUS SOFTWARE YET!

  1. If you are installing to a VM in VirtualBox, you can install the Guest Additions now and reboot when prompted
  2. Go to Windows Update (Start Menu/ All Programs) which should say "Turn on automatic updating"
  3. Go to "Change settings" and select "Never check for updates" this puts you in control
  4. Return to the Main Windows Update page and click on "Check for updates"
  5. You will be told that you need to install a new Windows Update Agent, click "OK" and let the update proceed. Click "Check for updates"

Windows will now look for updates and should advise what updates are available within a couple of minutes at most.

  1.  Choose which updates you wish to install, Important updates only or Important and Optional updates. Windows will download and install the chosen updates. This should only take a few minutes. Reboot when complete.
  2.  Windows will nag you about Windows 10, click "Don't ask me again"
  3.  Open Windows Update and click on "View update history", you should see a list containing these updates. If you also chose Optional Updates,

Installed updates view 1

  1.  Go back to the Main Windows Update window and click "Check for updates" and 1 important update should become available
    This should be a second installation of Service Pack 1 (KB976932). This is OK and you can install it. Regardless of the KB number
    Service Pack 1 is fine to install but nothing else at this stage!

Be warned, this second installation of Service Pack 1 may take some time to download and install. Don't worry if it seems to get stuck, just be patient! When completed, Windows will restart and complete the SP1 installation.

Installed updates view 2

You should now see the second installation of Service Pack 1.

  1. "Check for updates" again and you should be told that you need to install new Windows Update software, DON'T! Close the Windows Update window
  2. Open a command prompt with Administrator privileges and stop the Windows Update service and BITS
  3. When both services have been stopped, Install KB3138612 which you previously downloaded and when finished, allow the computer to restart.
  4. Open Windows Update and check "View update history" which should now show these important updates. KB3138612, the revised Windows Update Agent


Installed updates view 3

Check for updates and the available list will become available within a few minutes.

Continue to download and install updates manually until the first, quite large, list of updates has been installed and then you can choose your preferred update

BE PATIENT, THIS WILL TAKE SOME TIME!