Windows update literally took over a week to check for updates last time I checked (pegging one of the processors that whole time). The lazy route would be to buy a new computer, and I looked into that. But I'm not happy with my options (long story), and otherwise, this laptop is great.
So I decided it was time for a hard drive upgrade for added speed and extra space, and re-install of the OS. As a benchmark, it took 3:30 to boot before I started (ouch!), with a 7200rpm hard drive.
After installing a fresh FireCuda 2TB hybrid SSHD drive at a very reasonable price (also in 1TB capacity), it was time to build the most lean Windows I could. (In my machine installing the drive was as easy as literally unscrewing one screw and swapping them out; google for your laptop's "service manual" if you're unsure of the procedure). If you're wondering why not install Windows 10, see below.
Start with the laptop's recovery media -- reinstall as it came, with Windows 7 pre-SP1. In my case, most drivers were not installed, and neither was Internet Explorer. I needed to manually copy over a Firefox installer in order to get going. And I attached an ethernet cable for internet, since ethernet worked out of the box (unlike wifi).
One of the main keys to keeping your install fast is to install as many updates as possible in as few steps as possible. The problem I had with windows update previously was because Windows Update performs a brute-force comparison of available updates against installed updates, and this gets massively slower as the number of installed updates increases. Here is what I did to keep things slim (links are for 64-bit Windows 7):
- Delete unnecessary and obsolete programs that came with your computer image (using uninstall tool, or removing the installers for things that you won't install).
- Install Windows 7 Service Pack 1 (KB976932) (if your image was from pre-SP1).
- Install the latest .NET framework (4.6.2 as of this writing).
- Install IE11.
- Update Windows Update in order to install the rollups below (KB3020369)
- * NOTE, I did not do this, but at this point it may be wise to install the "enterprise hotfix rollup" (KB2775511) and associated fixes mentioned at the bottom of this article, in order to avoid even more updates later *
- Install the rollup including almost all fixes to Windows from SP1 up until May 2016 (KB3125574) - this is "almost SP2"
- Google to install the latest "Security Monthly Quality Rollup" released either this month or last. For me I installed the January 2017 rollup (KB3212646) (you could install this even if you're doing it later; windows update can take it from here).
- Now install the latest drivers for your machine from the vendor's website. (If you have a Lenovo laptop like me, install only their System Update tool, which may also require you to install the .NET framework first, and then use it to update all of your drivers at once).
- Install Microsoft Security Essentials (or another antivirus software)
- Perform a few cycles of Windows Update and reboot; you'll still have maybe 40-100 security and optional updates.
- Delete installation files and do a Disk Cleanup (as administrator) to remove backups.
- Clone the machine from here to be able to recover more quickly next time, starting from this point. I used EASEUS TODO backup; EASEUS disk copy is another potential option.
And you're set. Reinstall the software you use, and copy your data back on.
For comparison's sake, I improved from booting in 3:30 to booting in 45 seconds, an almost 80% reduction (this is AFTER I re-installed all similar software). Nice!
* So why not Windows 10? A few reasons -- one I'm completely happy with Windows 7. Don't fix what ain't broke. Next, I don't like that with windows 10 I'm at the mercy of upgrades from microsoft that I might not want but cannot decline, and which may break things. I also don't want many of the new features. And finally, I don't like the serious lack of privacy in windows 10 -- microsoft sends lots of data from your computer all the time. It's possible to lock it down somewhat, but it's tricky and always shifting (see above updates). Thanks but no thanks. Plus I missed the free upgrade window and definitely don't want to pay.
** If you buy the same great hard drive that I did from the link above, I'll get a small commission at no charge to you. Win-win!