If I turn on my Windows 10 PC, but don't log on, does Windows still check for and install latest updates?

I am particularly interested in a default clean installation of Windows 10 Professional (Creator's Update or later), not joined to a domain. The PC is connected to the internet via ethernet cable to a router. The network connection is active even when no user is logged on.

The reason I ask is because this PC spends most of its time logged off. I have created a number of non-admin users who each log on as required, do their thing (10-15 minutes), and log off again. I have always assumed that Windows can and does update itself when no interactive user is logged on, but someone told me I might be wrong so I need to know for sure.

  • No; It does not – Ramhound Jul 19 '17 at 2:46
  • I think a more accurate answer here is that "it depends" on various factors in your environment and setup. Is this machine joined to a with Windows Updates Group Policies applied to it, and/or do you have it connected to a WSUS server getting its updates from it? Are you asking strictly from a "by default" in a home based environment with the machine using the default Windows Updates method getting updates from the Internet? This is a nice big bounty that will surely draw attention but I think you need to put your context in better perspective to get an accurate answer. – Pillsbury IT Doughboy Jul 25 '17 at 1:29
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    @McDonald's Good point I'll update my question – misha256 Jul 25 '17 at 2:47

It depends, but usually Windows downloads all available updates that do not require user interaction automatically, and installs them when the computer is shut down and restarted. There are some updates like OS upgrades that get only installed when a logged on (admin) user has opted in.

Citing from "Windows Server 2012 R2 Pocket Consultant Volume 2: Storage, Security, & Networking" p. 199:

Generally, most automatic updates are installed only when a computer is shut down and restarted. Some automatic updates can be installed immediately without interrupting system services or requiring system restart. To ensure that some updates can be installed immediately, follow these steps:
1. In the GPMC, press and hold or right-click the GPO with which you want to work, and then tap or click Edit.
2. In the policy editor, access Computer Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Windows Update.
3. Double-tap or double-click Allow Automatic Updates Immediate Installation. In the Properties dialog box, select Enabled, and then tap or click OK

(In Windows 10, since the November update I believe, there is also an option that allows you to install even those opt-in updates that require (several) reboots unattended. "Under Settings, Updates, on the Advanced options page look for the "Use my sign in info to automatically finish setting up my device after an update". But this does not solve your described problem as pointed out in the comments. Source: https://support.microsoft.com/en-sg/instantanswers/96bdf9fd-06c1-0c4d-ee6a-e77d02fa831e/automatically-finish-setting-up-pc-after-update
See also: http://winsupersite.com/windows-10/quick-tip-how-complete-upgrades-without-logging-windows-10-anniversary-update)

On Windows 10 Pro and corporate managed system the update settings can be tweaked through Group Policies, e.g. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows/deployment/update/waas-restart You can run gpresult /h C:\gpreport.html as admin to check the applied Windows Updates setting of Windows 10.

So, generally Windows 10 keeps itself up-to-date when you reboot the computer regularly. You can refer to the GPO restart options above. It might be also useful in your situation to configure to show update notifications to regular users via GPO.

By default, only users with local administrator privileges receive notifications about updates. You can enable any user logged on to a computer to receive update notifications by following these steps:
1. In the GPMC, press and hold or right-click the GPO with which you want to work, and then tap or click Edit.
2. In the policy editor, access Computer Configuration\Policies\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Windows Update.
3. Double-tap or double-click Allow Non-Administrators To Receive Update Notifications. In the Properties dialog box, select Enabled, and then click OK.

You may also find this answer, recommending WuInstall for quiet updates, from nog helpful https://superuser.com/a/381869/748438

  • It seems that the "Use my sign in info" option only works if you're already logged in. Only then, after an update, Windows can restart and use your login details to log you back in. If you're logged out, I don't think this option does anything at all. – misha256 Jul 27 '17 at 23:25
  • Well, you can let run an upgrade without further interaction and come back to your pc fully updated. – wp78de Jul 27 '17 at 23:58
  • Yes I know that but none of this actually answers my original question, which is "does windows check for and install updates when i'm logged off". The key thing here is can a Windows 10 PC keep itself fully up-to-date when no user is logged on. I can't find any documentation from MS whether it does or not. – misha256 Jul 28 '17 at 0:47
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    @misha256 The answer to your question isn't this answer, the answer to your question, is still "no". The feature that is referenced still requires the user be logged in, and is meant to return the state of your machine, to how it was before the machine was automatically restarted – Ramhound Jul 28 '17 at 3:01
  • I've updated my answer. Not much to add now. – wp78de Jul 30 '17 at 21:15

According to usage pattern of my friend - No. I don't think that Windows updates itself when the user is logged off. He often keeps his laptop logged off or in sleep mode while he's at work. He has complained several times about updates and slow browsing. Usually when he logs in to his computer at night. While I experience slow browsing due to updates at random times.

Just an observation over several months. Nothing conclusive. Our connection is slow (2 Mbps). It becomes painfully slow during updates. So if his laptop is updating while his account is logged off, I'd experience it.

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    I have some different observations. I have got updates delivered to one of my rarely used my laptops even when put to sleep with the power cord attached. Next day when I touched the device it was running and updated. But this is maybe just another edge case. – wp78de Jul 31 '17 at 17:26
  • @wp78de Now I am curious about this. I will try to test this on home computer when next update rolls out. – knight Aug 1 '17 at 13:39

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