Windows XP slow during Windows Update (svchost.exe 100% CPU)

That one day was generally great until someone – let’s call him John – called.
“My program is so slow, do something!” he complained. Do something… OK, I’ll take another cup of coffee, will that make it better? 😛

When I logged on the Windows XP PC, it really was slow as a sleepy snail trying to take a left turn. On ice, covered with water. Against a tornado.
Opening Task Manager revealed that svchost.exe was using all CPU power there was – constantly at 99% or 100%. Dough! OK, let’s kill it (insert evil smile here). Good, much more processing power became available. Until… the freakin’ process started up and happily consumed all resources again. Please note that there are always several Service Host processes running and you should not terminate them just like that.

Fine, Winnie Ex-Pennie (that means “Windows XP” in certain IT dialect)! I’ll just restart and resolve all problems. After all, this is the first step you should take in case of any Windows trouble. Yup, the simple restart thingie.
But that was no solution for this particular issue. So I fired up Process Explorer by SysInternals and found out that the darn svchost.exe was a wrapper for wuauclt.exe, aka Windows Update. Really, automatic updates using up all resources? Come on, Winnie, you can do better than that!

John was speechless by that time – it all looked like black magic to him. To be honest, that did not make me feel better.

And then it appeared that John had turned Automatic Updates off quite some time ago. “It was annoying, so I disabled it and now I want to apply the latest updates,” he stated self-consciously.
<Begin fiery sarcasm> Right… <End of sarcasm>

So I tried a few time-consuming things, such as resetting Windows Update, running Disk Check and System File Scanner, searching for malware, etc. None of these worked.
In fact, stopping and disabling Automatic Updates service seemed to be the only solution. But I couldn’t do that with John! You know, the dude who likes to click on every “I-will-make-your-PC-run-better” ad and then click Yes and Accept everywhere. Guess what he does when security software screams: “Help, something is trying to switch me off! Are you sure you want to do this?” All those who thought he would disable anti-virus were right. After all, the ad promised to make his good old Celeron processor run like some top-notch i7. The last sentence was pure sarcasm again. 😉

Insert some taboo words here.

Online search results turned out that this PC was far from being alone with such problems. All other victims were running Windows XP, too. Some users had automatic updates turned off, and some had clean installs of Windows XP Service Pack 3.
After reading a bunch of forums, it was clear that this was Microsoft’s blunder sometime back in June 2013. Luckily, they released a fix for this in October 2013 (wow, that’s a quickie!). And you’ll have to apply it manually because your PC is so slow.
Insert Steve Ballmer’s evil smile and random ad for Windows 8.1 here. 😀

OK, let’s get to the solution. First, open Internet Explorer and verify its version by opening Help menu and clicking About Internet Explorer. If necessary, press Alt key once to reveal menus. Then download and apply the correct patch:

Those who have Windows XP x64 Edition (the rare 64-bit one) should use these links instead:

Restart your computer if prompted. Now the problem with svchost.exe taking 100% CPU during Windows Update should be resolved. The same applies to multi-core PC-s with svchost.exe consuming about 50% CPU while searching for updates.

In the worst-case scenario, you might still have some trouble after applying this patch (Microsoft is working on another fix). But here’s another solution that works with the patch installed: do not run Windows Update (or Microsoft Update) via Start menu links or from Internet Explorer menus. Just enable Automatic Updates in Control Panel and sometime later a yellow shield icon will appear in Taskbar Notification Area (aka System Tray) and download updates quickly and silently. All you have to do then is to click the notification (or the icon) that appears.
Yippee-ki-yay, Winnie Ex-Pennie! 😀

Here are a few things to know about Windows Update:

  • Never turn automatic updates off. If you did just that and ended up here, it’s your fault. 😛 Those who applied updates as intended, do not experience such trouble. However, those with clean installs of Windows XP are not to blame in this case (psst, it’s Microsoft quality control’s fault).
  • Configure Windows Update properly.
  • Learn to troubleshoot or reset Windows Update.

What should we learn from John’s mistakes:

  • Do not believe those stupid “three gazillion problems detected, fix your PC now?” and “do you want to make your PC faster?” ads. No online ad is able to scan (or fix) your computer. And for heaven’s sake, do not turn your security software off!
  • Stop clicking Yes and Accept everywhere. You’ll overload your PC with useless toolbars and potentially unwanted programs.