Away From My Computer For A Long Period Of Time

by on October 26, 2007

Q: My PC was off for 6 months while I was away. I turned it on, and updates will not download. I click the icon, it says it is, but the update # is always the same. I have Windows XP Home.

A: A computer hard drive is a magnetically based storage medium. One negative consequence of this property is that if a hard drive remains unused for a long enough period of time, the data on that drive can become somewhat difficult for a computer to access. Except for very extreme circumstances, this is something that can be fixed rather easily by running some routine maintenance in Windows XP. A procedure for your particular problem follows:

  1. Disconnect your computer from the internet so that you don’t risk getting a computer virus during the maintenance. This can be accomplished by unplugging the cable that brings internet to your computer or by going Control Panel -> Network and Internet Connections -> right click on all active connections -> Disable.
  2. Disable automatic updates by right clicking on the My Computer icon -> Properties -> Automatic Updates. Select the option with the red symbol.
  3. Deactivate all of the programs running in your system tray, which is probably located in the lower right hand corner of your screen. To disable a program in your system tray, right click on the program’s icon and choose Exit or a similar option. The icon should then disappear or change to signify that it has been turned off.
  4. Run the Disk Cleanup utility by going My Computer -> right click on your hard drive (probably drive letter C) -> Properties -> Disk Cleanup. A window with tabs should appear. You will want to check all of the boxes in the Disk Cleanup tab except “Compress old files” when you run this utility. Don’t worry about any of the other tabs in the window. Among other things, running Disk Cleanup forces Windows to erase any half-downloaded updates that may be failing to install.
  5. Return to My Computer -> right click on the same hard drive again -> Properties -> Tools tab. Go into Error-checking and check both boxes. Clicking Start should prompt you to schedule an error-check for the next time your computer restarts. Accept the message.
  6. Go into defragmentation and defragment your main hard drive. This will help Windows to locate any data that became difficult to access during the 6 months you were away.
  7. When Windows reports that your hard drive has been successfully defragmented, restart your computer.
  8. Repeat steps 1 through 7 for all other hard drives in your computer, if you have more than one hard drive that is.
  9. Enable your internet connection by doing the opposite of step 1.
  10. Then go to Start -> All Programs -> Windows Update (probably at the top of the list). This will allow you to manually update Windows XP. While in Windows Update you may wish to install Microsoft Update. Microsoft Update allows Windows to update other Microsoft products, such as Office.
  11. Reactivate Automatic Updates by returning to the Automatic Updates tab described in step 2. I recommend the setting that asks for your permission before downloading and installing the updates.

Your computer should now be in good working order!