Recovering from a failed Windows 8.1 update

hp 8.1Today I had a little challenge to repair a friend’s laptop where Windows had got stuck into an infinite loading \ reboot loop. Typically it decided to do it just as the user had some important end-of-course documents to complete so needed a quick turnaround. With a couple of hours to spare waiting for the World Cup games to start I gave it a shot.

The laptop itself was pretty new, an HP Pavillion 14 “Sleekbook” – upon firing it up the HP branded loading screen spinner gave it away as Windows 8.x

The startup process didn’t last long before it rebooted but there was just enough time to spot an error message along the lines of “attempting to recover previous installation” before it fell over.

Gut instinct suspected a failed 8.1 update as the error message seemed to suggest it was trying to roll back to a previous OS rather than your average Windows Update. With that in mind I wanted to get into some sort of recovery environment…

“Joys” of UEFI

At this point I soon remembered that the old-school F8 Safe Mode methods are pretty useless on UEFI \ Windows 8 so needed to look elsewhere for diagnostics.

None of the classic keystrokes (F2, Delete)  seemed to do anything so quickly hunted down the HP service manual which tells me Esc is now the magic key. Hit that then F11 to get to Recovery to get into the Windows Recovery Environment.

I didn’t want to do anything drastic with the machine (i.e. the usual MS advice to Reset \ Refresh) so went in with the idea to use the Advanced Tools to dig a bit deeper. However before I got that far I noticed something rather odd…

boot another

I was pretty certain the owner of the laptop wouldn’t have installed a dual boot system and after clicking the option above I got some evidence to back up my initial corrupted update theory. A list of three operating systems appeared:

  • Windows Setup
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 8

The Windows 8 option appeared with the usual logo but the other two looked generic. With that in mind I tried booting the Windows 8 option but that failed in the same style as what I first saw. Went back in again and tried the Windows 8.1 option instead, to my surprise the system got a bit further and started running a chkdsk.

That took quite a while as the laptop is an odd mismatch of a (fast) i5 CPU with a (painfully slow) HDD but eventually got to a Windows GUI where it started rolling back \ restoring the previous version of the OS. Once that process completed I was back into a working Windows 8.0 environment with a message stating that the 8.1 update had failed and that the previous install had been restored.

I suspect the laptop may have either ran out of battery or been turned off during the 8.1 update, somehow leaving the boot loader a bit confused about which OS to load and resulting in the infinite reboot.

We’re not out the woods yet

I wanted to give the laptop back completely sorted so ran the 8.1 update myself, only to find it refused to install from the Windows Store with this very helpful error…

something“Something happened” – maybe aliens…

Fortunately someone on TechNet has already found a more sensible explanation and suggested clearing out the C:\Windows\SoftwareDistribution folder, which worked a treat.

Once the HDD had slowwwwwllly chugged its way through the install I was left with a clean 8.1 Update 1 install. Jumping back into the Recovery Environment then “use another operating system” option had gone, confirming everything had been cleaned up.

All that was left was to sort out some working AV protection (usual expired trialware) and the laptop was ready to go back home to its happy owner 🙂

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4 Responses to Recovering from a failed Windows 8.1 update

  1. Sarah Galloway says:

    Hi – my parents are experiencing this right now and I will be following your lead on this one and getting them up and running Quick Question though – when do completed the steps for selecting Windows 8.1 option and let the chkdsk run and was able to get back into Windows 8 – were all the users’ files still on the system? Thanks for providing the info on this. I don’t usually work with HP products and wasn’t sure.

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