Windows Update is Bullshit – Part 2

See Part 1 here.

Oh boy, do I fucking HATE Windows Update. Of everything that exists within Windows, WUpdate has to be perhaps the most fucking useless of all the services. I’m sure there’s some obscure service that is equally as useless (or worse), but if so, it’s unobtrusive and its failure doesn’t bother me too much. But Windows Update? God fucking damn, it’s shit.

Back when the first Creators Update came out, I had big issues getting it to work. See Part 1 for the saga there. In short: it wouldn’t install, no matter what I did. Boot loops, rollbacks, nothing I did worked. I ended up getting around it by wiping the partition and installing a brand new install – after which the bootloader promptly got fucked, so I had to fix that problem first (incidentally, it’s still a little bit fucked). But after that updates started to install like they should – at least, until now.

The release of the Fall Creators Update has seen a return to form for Windows Update. Curiously enough, I didn’t have any issues with my Surface 3 – my ageing, mostly outclassed Surface 3. It just installed the update (slowly) and that was it. My girlfriend’s Dell Inspiron piece of shit laptop also didn’t complain. My Asus gaming laptop? That’s a whole lot of NOPE right there. Fucking thing simply would not accept it.

So what actually happens? The update will download perfectly fine. It effectively destroys my home network in the process as WUpdater sucks every last bit of bandwidth available, but it does download. It then starts the install process. After the first reboot, one of three things will happen:

  1. It gets stuck post-EFI boot and stops installing
  2. It continues to the next step, but then reboots and rolls back
  3. It boots into recovery mode for some reason

In every case, there’s no explanation of what went wrong. In the first instance, I can sort of understand that – it just freezes up and probably can’t write an error. In the second two cases, I have no idea why it doesn’t give any feedback other than “There was a problem installing updates” with no error message. Sometimes, WUpdater will give you an error code when an install fails. Emphasis on the “sometimes” – and usually that error code is completely fucking useless. But this time, as it was last time, there’s no log trail for me to follow. I’m staring at a blank screen, the blackness mocking me. “You wanted to install an update? Well fuck you, Officer Soldant – fuck you.”

At first, I thought maybe my second SSD was causing the problem. I did salvage that from my old desktop machine, and although it only ever existed as a secondary drive, maybe in a previous install it had a boot loader written to it… or maybe some sort of entry referencing it, or some other ghost in the machine. Who the fuck knows? Either way, it couldn’t hurt to remove it, just in case, right?

It didn’t change a single. Fucking. Thing.

The old standby is to use the Media Creation Tool to download a fully updated Windows 10 ISO and shove it onto a USB stick. This mostly worked last time – I did end up with a fully updated Windows install – but it’s a pain in the arse.

This time, I ended up getting stuck with the download. Within 30 minutes, on a 30Mbit connection, I’d achieved a staggering 2% of the download. I did check my internal network to make sure it was working fine – and yes, it most certainly was. The laptop was just downloading at the insane speed of 0.4Mbps.

So what did I do? Gave up. Literally, I just gave up. What else can I do? I can’t get the updater to work, I can’t download the ISO to do a fresh install, and I can’t figure out why the update hangs. So I’m stuck in this annoying limbo of being completely incapable of fixing anything to do with the update. Nothing else to do except to give up for now.

It’s really sad that this sort of ridiculous issue persists even unto today. I can remember having issues with Windows XP SP2 – this is over a decade ago now – wherein I had to completely reinstall Windows to get it to work. Even Windows 7, the venerable Windows 7, had issues with getting major updates to install. This is in a long line of successive machines, mostly custom built. I’ve even had issues getting updates to install on Surface units – this Surface 3 I’m using now actually ended up having its audio device disabled and no Type Cover support after the first Creators Update was installed. The dramas continue!

I like Windows. I really do, it’s probably my favourite OS. But why the fuck do I have to sit here, screwing around with bullshit, just to get it to update properly? The various Mac devices I’ve owned have been able to successfully update without issue. The Chromebook that languishes in a back room can update itself without issues. My old iOS devices don’t whinge when a new update gets pushed. My fucking S8+ doesn’t even have issues – that is to say when Samsung, in their infinite wisdom, decides to push an update fucking months after Android gets updated.

I don’t underestimate the difficulty of pushing OS updates to such a wide variety of hardware platforms – it’s no easy task. But to consistently have such significant fuck ups that the end user has to format and start again – and to provide pretty much zero feedback on why updates fail – is starting to get really fucking old. I’ve been a Windows user since 3.11 – but I’m getting really sick and tired of this bullshit. And I’m not the only one – the various MS support forums are littered with similar complaints, with unhelpful cut and paste advice being dished out by forum staff. It’s like watching bots try to offer tech support. The solutions? Almost never posted – because “format and start again” is hardly a solution these days.

In a world where comparatively simple devices like iPads or Chromebooks are now approaching the point where they can truly replace a desktop for a significant majority of home users, user tolerance for problems like updates failing to install properly is rapidly running out. To quote Apple (as much as I hate to do so), “It just works” is really the way things should be today. I shouldn’t have to fight the update client to get my system updated. I shouldn’t have to go the nuclear option to get updates to install – only to have them fail again the next time a major update is released.

Until I can get a fix, I guess my gaming laptop is stuck on an old build. If I end up finding a solution, I’ll update the post.

Update – It’s still bullshit, but not the culprit

So I’ve finally fixed the issue. Turns out that it’s actually not Windows Update that’s causing this insufferable shitstorm of boot loops and failed installs. Turns out it’s a somewhat lesser known bug with the Asus ROG GL502VS laptop that I happen to own. You wouldn’t know this though unless you went searching for the BCD error and happened to stumble upon the thread. If you’re somewhat tech savvy like me, you look at the error, go “The fucking boot loader is fucked!” and try to repair it. But this won’t work, as we will see below. Oh and incidentally, the Media Creation Tool refused to work too – because it’s also a piece of shit.

What’s the problem? The biggest issue I’ve had is that Windows will occasionally fail to boot properly. Usually it boots fine from a cold boot, but waking it from sleep, or rebooting it, will sometimes cause it to hang at the UEFI loading screen. Infrequently, but usually during an attempt at Windows updating or installs, you’ll get a full on BCD error – 0xc0000454. This error indicates that the UEFI couldn’t load the boot configuration data, causing the system to be unable to boot. As a result, attempting to install any updates will invariably fail, because the system won’t boot – and because Windows Update is a pain in the arse, it’ll just error out and won’t even attempt to install, causing the system to roll back.

What did I try? Like any reasonable human, I assumed that the boot records were hosed or otherwise damaged. I tried a combination of fix commands and recovery options – but none of them ever seemed to find an error. I even looked at it manually, and it all seemed to be in perfectly good order. Out of desperation, I just hosed all of the data on the boot drive – and the problem still fucking persisted. For reference, the primary boot drive for this laptop is a NVMe drive supplied by Samsung.

What actually fixes it? Disabling SMART Self Test and Secure Boot in BIOS. The actual issue seems to be related to the BIOS power cycling too quickly and failing to recognise the NVMe drive in time – installing onto the secondary drive port (e.g. a SATA drive) will avoid this issue. This is why powering the laptop down entirely and restarting it will work – it takes longer for the system to boot, thus the drive comes on in time for it to boot. But for a quick restart? It’ll fail. I’m not 100% sure why this works – it’s most probably a BIOS bug but some commentors in the threat suggest it’s an issue with the NVMe drive Samsung supplied and ASUS’ BIOS implementation. Either way – neither ASUS nor Samsung are in a hurry to investigate or fix it.

So after following this advice, I can actually update it and reliably reboot. For a $2500 laptop though, that’s pretty piss-fucking-poor support. ASUS aren’t interested in fixing the problem either. If you’ve got one of these laptops, this is your only method of reliably installing major updates like the new Creators Update. Actually, I’ve had a really bad run of issues with ASUS devices over the years – mostly motherboards having weird BIOS incompatibility issues. Apparently the tradition continues. They’re great when they work – but they’re fucking awful when they don’t. (Surface 3 is still going great, BTW).

So there you go – a red herring of an error message indicative of a totally different hardware-firmware issue. If you’ve got this laptop (or a similar ASUS laptop) give it a try. Incidentally, what is SMART Self Test? SMART is a method of monitoring drive health to identify potential or actual errors or failures. It’s predominately used for HDDs and less so for SSDs. Will you notice a difference with it disabled? Maybe not. Secure Boot, on the other hand, should really be enabled if possible to avoid malicious bootloader code taking control of the boot manager. However, enabling secure boot sometimes stops Windows 10 from entering recovery mode, because the UEFI implementation in this laptop seems to be all kinds of fucked up.

So yeah, well done, ASUS. Well FUCKING done.

Update 3 – Yeah, nah, still not working

Now it just doesn’t download it properly, or downloads it then just doesn’t install it. Still no error message. Well done to you too, Microsoft. For fuck’s sake.

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