Windows Update High CPU Usage on Windows XP

I got in to work this morning, set on getting some stuff done in a hurry, and was greeted with a computer that was running slower than molasses. Just terrrible. It turns out that a process called svchost.exe was consuming between 95% and 99% of my CPU, (somtimes as high as 100%,) which makes it pretty difficult to do any work.

Sadly, I've seen this before on my wife's old Win XP PC, and spent a few hours trying to figure it out. After downloading some tools to analyze what services make up svchost.exe, it became evident that it was Microsoft Update that was consuming everything. I'm not sure what bug they introduced, when, or why it only affects some PC's and not others. (I haven't had any issues until today, but my wife's started about 2 months ago.)

The only thing we seemed to be able to do to on Deanna's machine to get past it was to walk away for a couple of hours. (Never timed exactly how long it took as I don't enjoy watching Windows do nothing.) Needless to say, I don't have that luxury at work. In fact, even reformatting her PC and starting again from a fresh WindowsXP install did not help!

After the reformat, I went hunting and did see some advice to uninstall Microsoft Update and resume using regular Windows Update. That, unfortunately, didn't make a lick of difference when I tried it on my wife's PC. What finally worked? I turned off Window Automatic Update.
Be aware that this must be set to Off, and not the setting to download/notify of updates. That leaves the process running, so doesn't help. For the record, I'm not saying that doing this is the most secure thing to do, I just said it was effective. (In fact, as a system admin resonsible for managing 50 workstations, turning this off makes me feel a bit ill!)

At any rate, upon seeing the issue here, I again shut off Automatic updates. The problem immediately dissappeared, with the svchost.exe process dropping back down to 0% CPU use.

So if your Windows XP box suddenly starts running very slow, check the task manager and see what svchost.exe is doing. It may be much cheaper to try shutting of your automatic updates than upgrading to a new Vista machine.

And if anyone knows a way to fix this without turning off the automatic updates completely, I'd like to know about it. 🙂

4 thoughts on “Windows Update High CPU Usage on Windows XP

  1. Yikes, Rob. 7 pages! I'll have to keep playing with that one as there is a lot to read.

    Madhava, I appreciate the post. Unfortunately no luck on that hotfix for me. 🙁

  2. I too have been a victum of the Automatic updates process casing 100% CPU usage,

    I have yet to find another way of stopping this but I will say the best fix so far is to turn off automatic updates.

    Ithink this has been caused by a widnows update, As I never had this issue since 12 months ago.

    Running windows xp pro SP2. 1gb memory 200gb HD and AMD 3100 Sepron, processor.

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