Even Microsoft has acknowledged this problem. They have started packaging bunches of updates as "rollups" to try to tame the Windows Update problem. But, if you're installing Windows 7 from scratch, the rollups may not work for you. Attempting to install one might result in "this update is not applicable to your computer." #frustration!
This is what worked for me, starting with a refurbished Dell with bare Windows 7 - no service pack installed:
- Boot the computer. Check the System control panel to see whether it's 32-bit or 64-bit. Check to see if Service Pack 1 is already installed.
- Turn off Windows Update. Go into Windows Update and set it to never check. Turn off optional updates too, just to simplify the problem.
- Restart computer to make sure Windows Update is not running.
- If the computer doesn't say it's Service Pack 1, install Windows 7 Service Pack 1. It's KB976932, either x86 (500+ MB) or x64 version (900+ MB). It should install pretty quick (15 minutes, more or less) if you run it from the computer's hard drive or SSD. It will restart the computer and announce it's done.
- Check Internet Explorer. the base Windows 7 comes with IE8, which Microsoft disavows. Install IE11 using the "live" installer or the offline installer.
- Reboot the computer again, just to be sure.
- Download KB3020369, the April 2015 servicing stack fix. Install it. This is needed to avoid the "not applicable" problem in the rollup.
- Install the latest rollup, for example KB3172605, the July 2016 rollup.
- Turn on Windows Update. This will initiate a check for updates.
- For me today, it took somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half for Windows Update to find it had to 164 important updates to do. These downloaded and installed at reasonable speed.
I hope you have similar or better results.
Thanks to the members of the Oregon Computer Consultants Association and to HowToGeek.com for help with this sequence.