Windows XP Windows Update issue (i.e. the svchost.exe 100% CPU issue)

Posted by Dan on Dec 12, 2013 @ 3:41 PM

While I left Windows XP behind a long time ago as my main operating system, I still run numerous virtual machines running Windows XP in order to test with older versions of Internet Explorer. One problem I've been running into with my VMs is when the Windows Update was running, the CPU would get pegged at 99% – 100% usage, which makes Windows unusable.

I tried a number of things to work around the problem to no avail and finally just decided to shut down Windows Update in order to make the VMs usable. However, that leaves my unable to patch my VMs to make sure they're completely up-to-date.

Today I finally had to update one of my VMs, so I really needed to resolve the problem. After some reading, I found that Microsoft is aware of the problem and that it relates to parsing the update tree to find out which updates are needed. The good news is I found a fix that seems to work for me. The trick is to manually update 2 different Security Updates.

Here's how I finally resolved the problem:

  1. Disable automatic Windows Updates
  2. If your CPU is pegged, open the Windows Task Manager (CTLR+ALT+DEL) and kill the svchost.exe pegging the CPU
  3. Install the following updates, rebooting after each one:
  4. Manually run the Windows Update, it should now run normally
  5. If you wish, enable automatic Windows Updates

Hope that helps someone!

Categories: Technology


  • Thanks for pointing out the conversation on infoworld. We have a couple of ripe XP systems that are running very old (10-year?) software for which the license or the underlying company are no longer "valid".

    My take away from this is we should all be moving to some other platform than Windows.

    Now how much support will we get from a 10-year old version of MacOS, or Linux?
  • If you're worried about the support you're going to get from your OS in 10+ years, I suggest sticking with Microsoft. They tend to support their OSes the longest.

    You just can't expect to stay on any operating system forever.
  • I am running XP SP3 on VMware on mac (yes, I'm in need of an old version of matlab and some other stuff). XP stalled two days ago due to the update issues. I read IE had to do something with it but ended up disabling the automatic update procedure. The above did actually work for me, thanks a bunch for sorting this one out!
  • Hi. I am having this problem on my laptop at home. One day I noticed svchost.exe was using almost 100% of my cpu. I finally killed it. I tried to running Window update manually, but it just runs continuously with svchost.exe using 100% of the cpu. I searched the Internet for a solution and found your blog.

    Can you please tell me how you downloaded the individual updates? On the pages you provided links to for MS13-088 and -097, it just says, "For administrators and enterprise installations, or end users who want to install this security update manually, Microsoft recommends that customers apply the update immediately using update management software, or by checking for updates using the Microsoft Update service." Well, obviously Microsoft update is not working, and I don't know what the "update management service" is. Is there somewhere I can just download the updates manually, or can you explain how to do it? Thanks.
  • I figured out how to find the individual update files. I installed them according to your instructions, and that fixed the problem! In fact, right after installing the second update and rebooting my laptop I noticed in Task Manager that Windows Update (wuauclt.exe) begin running on its own. A few minutes later an "Updates are available for you computer" popped up from my system tray.

    For those who, like me, are not used to reading the security bulletin update pages, here is how you find the proper update file for your system:

    1. Go to the security bulletin update page by clicking on the link Dan provided.
    2. About two-thirds the way down the page there is a section titled "Update Information". Expand the "Security Update Deployment" section, then expand the "Windows XP (all editions)" section.
    3. The first part of the "table" is called "Security update file names". Find the security update file name that applies to the version of IE you are using and the version of XP you are using (32 or 64 bit). In my case, the file name is IE8-WindowsXP-KB2898785-x86-ENU.exe.

    I "googled" that file name. The top search result was "Cumulative Security Update for Internet Explorer 8 for Windows XP". That link took me to the Microsoft Download Center for that specific update file. I downloaded the update file from there.

    Thanks Dan!
  • VeryThankfulReader's Gravatar
    Brilliant, simply brilliant!
    Searched for 'win xp svchost.exe high cpu usage' and the other numerous results were either from around 2008 or they just simply didn't work.
    HOWEVER! ...Dan's solution was spot on!
    Kudos sir for you not only taking the time to find the solution(not to mention the intelligence to same), but to also make a detailed post with the working solution.

    I only hope someone at Microsoft takes notice and provides YOUR solution on their support site.

    To others proceeding to attempt this fix, basically all you need is the proper version of OS and the proper version of IE. Then the matrix on the pages Dan cites above will provide you with the proper MS downloads.

    Thank you again sir!
  • Where to download?
  • Fernando da Silva Trevisan's Gravatar
    Fernando da Silva Trevisan
    Thanks Dan and Chuck, you saved the day! :D
  • Thanks Dan , stumbled across your page when searching for a fix for the Win update it all started for me when i tried to upgrade to Explorer 8 after that back in November its been 100% CPU all of the time , tried so many fixes of the net and none worked , almost gave up and scrapped the PC , but after getting the right version of explorer upgraded 6 to 7 then to 8 and did the updates as you suggested , worked a treat , why Microsoft cant come lean with a fix I never know, thanks a million , Eddie
  • Thank you!!! I lost a lot of time with other proposed solutions until I found this one. Many thanks.

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