Some patches are vital; others are a waste of time. Update your PC wisely and stay secure with PC Advisor.

Beyond having security software installed, the best way to keep malware off your PC is to maintain a fully patched Windows system. The same applies to apps that don't come from Microsoft.

However, simply accepting the default update settings can often leave your PC hobbled by bad drivers, software glitches or unwelcome new features such as Windows Genuine Advantage. It's also important to note that updates for various programs are handled differently. Here's our guide to smart updating.

PC security news and advice

Windows 1: auto updates

Microsoft issues security updates for Windows, Office and Internet Explorer on the second Tuesday of each month, known as ‘Patch Tuesday'. The firm will occasionally issue emergency out-of-cycle patches too. The best way to receive these is to set your Windows PC to download and install them automatically upon release.

First, check the current status of Automatic Updates. Click Start, Control Panel. In Classic view, click Automatic Updates or System, Automatic Updates. In Category view, click Performance and Maintenance, System, Automatic Updates.

Windows 2: custom auto updates

If you don't want Windows Updates to install automatically, select the second Automatic Update option offered. This will download updates but install them at a time to suit.

This choice results in a yellow shield bearing an exclamation mark appearing in the system tray whenever your PC downloads a new update. The icon will remain there until you take action.

The updates will sit on your PC until you click the yellow shield icon or until the next time you reboot your PC. A dialog box will then ask you to choose an Express or a Custom install. The Express option installs the updates exactly as Microsoft provides them, while the Custom option enables you to pick and choose elements to install (a good choice when you want to avoid a problematic new service pack, for example).

Another option is to have Windows notify you when new patches are available, but not download those updates. In this case you'll see a listing for each available patch, along with its title and Knowledgebase article number, enabling you to find additional information on Microsoft's website.

You can deselect any update you don't want to download and install. Microsoft will suggest these bypassed patches again the next time it has an update or when you check for one yourself.

A final option is simply to turn off Automatic Updates. Doing so puts the burden of obtaining crucial security updates entirely on you; this option is appropriate only for the most disciplined users.

Windows 3: manual updates

Microsoft maintains two sites where you can find the latest patches if you choose to update manually. The first site, Microsoft Update (, covers Windows, Office and Internet Explorer (IE). When viewed in IE, the website takes inventory of your system via an ActiveX component. It then displays the recommended updates and invites you to choose an Express or Custom install.

To use this site with Firefox you need a browser add-on that lets you open a session of IE. Get IE Tab from

If you don't want to open IE, or if you use a different browser, go to the Microsoft Download Center instead. Click Download Categories in the top toolbar, then select Windows Security & Updates from the drop-down menu.

Many of the updates will not be specific to your machine but, provided you know what you're looking for, you should be able to find it in the list.

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