Q: I have a Dell XPS-8900 desktop computer with 24 GB of memory and an i7-6700 CPU running Windows 10. This week I was encouraged to run quite a few Windows updates, so I rebooted.

Many times when I reboot for any reason the computer will hang up and the only way I can bring it up is to do a cold restart. Going through the restart, the Dell logo comes up with the circle dots spinning at the bottom on a black screen.

I’ve left it running overnight and it continues to hang without the Dell logo and just the circle dots spinning at the bottom of the screen.

After at least two cold starts I finally get the computer to start up, but get the message the updates didn’t complete after it comes back up. I do run the Norton Security provided by Comcast and periodically run Malware Bytes free version.

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I suspect, due to the problems restarting, that other updates haven’t been completed in the past and now I’m a bit behind with updates Microsoft has provided.

— Richard Hergert

A: Operating systems are complex and can be tripped up by conflicts in any of the applications you have installed. And a conflict may not appear until the operating system is updated.

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While the update may “follow the rules” of the operating system, it may also expose a conflict with a third-party application or driver that had until that point not been triggered. Such conflicts are the most common cause of OS updates hanging.

So what to do? You’ve already done the right first moves. First, make sure the update is actually hanging by leaving the computer alone for up at least two hours. Next, do a hard reboot — which means powering down the computer — and seeing if the update is able to resume.

Since those steps haven’t resolved the problem, here’s what to try next.

First, when you’re able to get Windows restarted, start it in Safe Mode. This will prevent drivers and applets that may be conflicting from loading, and may allow the update to proceed.

A commuter on her cellphone at Penn Station. (Joshua Bright/The New York Times, 2018) data
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If that doesn’t resolve the issue, it may be that the incomplete updates may have themselves introduced problems. If that’s the case, you can perform a system restore to return the OS configuration to an earlier state.

To access System Restore, go to the Control Panel and select System. When the System window opens select System Protection. You’ll then be able to access System Restore and select a restore date.

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System Restore is, unfortunately, not enabled by default so if you haven’t configured Windows to save restore points you’ll need to try Windows’ automatic recovery options.

You’ll find these by clicking on the Start button, then the Settings icon (the gear-shaped icon), then Update & Security, and finally Recovery.

Some of the recovery options are nondestructive. That is, your data won’t be affected nor will the applications you have installed. But be aware that if you need to resort to the final option — that of reinstalling Windows itself — your data will be erased, so make sure to back up your data first.

Finally, there are two other possible causes of your problem with updating. First, there may be a conflict with your computer’s BIOS (Basic Input-Output System), so make sure you have the latest version. You can check with your computer’s manufacturer and install any updates from their website.

Secondly, your computer may have memory that has gone bad. This is rare, but it is a possibility. You can use Windows 10’s built-in memory diagnostic tool to find out. You’ll find it by going to the Control Panel and selecting Administrative Tools, then Windows Memory Diagnostic.