Your computer is more vulnerable when its operating system is out of date.
While system updates don’t protect you in the same way an antivirus does, updates help keep your computer safe from the latest malware and other internet security threats, which often target vulnerabilities in outdated software.
Windows 8 and 10 have made installing updates fast and user-friendly, and our step-by-step guides below will walk you through the process of updating your PC to keep your system as secure as possible.
Why Operating System Updates Are Important
There are good reasons why Microsoft and other OS developers push for updates, though. Taking the time to perfect your system’s update settings is worth doing for the following reasons:
- Updates reinforce system security. Malware evolves, and your operating system has to keep up. Older versions of Windows may not be supported by Microsoft, increasing your risk of contracting viruses and other malicious programs. Some updates patch security holes, making it harder for cybercriminals to perform exploit attacks and steal your personal information.
- Updates facilitate compatibility with new software. Technology evolves and new software is released every day, and these new programs—especially hardware drivers, like printer software—work better with up-to-date versions of Windows.
- Updates make your computer run faster. Finally, Microsoft occasionally makes improvements to Windows through updates. You might find that your system is more responsive and efficient after an update.
How to Update Windows 8.1
- Click on the Start button.
- Click on Control Panel on the right-hand side. You should see a window like the one below.
- Click System and Security.
- Then click Windows Update. The window below should appear.
- Click Check for Updates on the left-hand sidebar to search for new updates. Your computer must be connected to the Internet for this step.
- Windows Update will either let you know your system is up-to-date or give you a few updates to install. Click Install updates if directed.
- Allow the updates to finish. Feel free to use your computer while they are downloading.
- Restart the machine to finish the installation.
Viewing Previous Updates
On the left side of the Update window, you have the option to view your update history. Recently installed updates are shown here organized by status, importance, and date installed. If a rogue update is causing issues, you can uninstall it from this window.
Configuring Update Settings
Select Change settings on the left-hand sidebar in the Windows Update section and you’ll see the option to schedule automatic updates.
Here, you can configure Windows to update itself automatically. In addition, you can:
- Choose an ideal time to check for updates. Choose a time when you’re unlikely to use your computer since updates generally require restarts.
- Decide whether or not to automatically install optional updates.
- Allow trusted users to install updates on the machine. However, be careful not to provide children with administrator privileges.
How to Update Windows 10
Windows 10 will automatically download and install updates in the background. When a restart is required, Windows will warn you beforehand and let you decide whether to restart immediately or later. Keep in mind that if you postpone the restart too long, Windows will eventually require one.
That being said, you can still manually check for new changes.
- Open the Windows 10 settings menu from the Start button or flag icon in the lower left of the taskbar.
- Click the Update & Security icon.
- Click Windows Update, which should lead to the following screen.
- Click the Check for updates button.
Viewing Previous Updates
The “View update history” link functions the same way as it did in previous versions of Windows.
From here, you can view recently installed updates and uninstall any problematic ones. Uninstalled updates will eventually reappear later, though.
Customizing Update Settings
By clicking Change active hours in the Update window, you can set an interval of time during the day when you’re most likely using your computer. Windows will avoid restarting itself between those times.
There’s also the comprehensive “Advanced options” link which lets you:
- Choose whether you want to download updates over metered connections (e.g. mobile data where usage is capped).
- Enable or disable a reminder for when Windows will restart for an update.
- Configure Delivery Optimization. This feature speeds up the update process if there are other machines on your network. It’s safe to use but may use more system resources.
- And finally, if you’re worried about data usage on a limited network, the Advanced options link in the window above lets you customize download and upload caps.
Updating Windows 8 & 10 — Frequently Asked Questions
Do I really need to update Windows?
Yes. It’s incredibly important to keep your Windows system updated.
Windows firmware updates include important bug fixes and security patches that prevent hackers from exploiting your system, accessing your private information, or deploying hidden malware to track your activity.
Thankfully, Microsoft has made updating your PC or laptop pretty easy, but you can follow our step-by-step guide to ensure you’ve properly updated your system.
Do I have to pay for Windows updates?
No, you don’t have to pay for Windows updates. If you already have Windows 10 installed, you don’t have to pay for Windows 10-related updates.
However, if you want to upgrade to a newer version of Windows (e.g. from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10), then you’ll have to pay for the upgraded version.
How do I know if I need to update my PC?
To check for Windows 8.1 updates, click Start > Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Update > Check for Updates. The window will show any available updates. If there are available updates, click on Install updates and follow the instructions.
While Windows 10 systems are set to update automatically, you can check for Windows 10 updates accessing the Windows settings from the Start menu, then click Updates & Security > Windows Update > Check for updates.
Does Microsoft still provide Windows 7 updates?
No. In January 2020, Microsoft discontinued Windows 7 software updates, including system security patches.
While it’s still possible to use Windows 7, users will become increasingly vulnerable to malware and other cyberattacks.
If you still use Windows 7, I highly recommend you to upgrade to a newer version of Windows, such as Windows 10, which provides regular software and system security updates.