A driver update cures slow Windows 7 shutdowns

There are as many potential solutions for interminable PC shutdowns as there are potential causes, so it's best to start simple before resorting to Registry tweaks and complex diagnostics.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
3 min read

This week I cleared Vista out of my home office by upgrading a 6-year-old PC to Windows 7. The machine was in dire need of a tune-up. I figured the money spent on a Win 7 upgrade would extend the desktop PC's life span and save me hours of system maintenance time.

When I ran the Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor, the program warned me that the machine's ATI Radeon Xpress 200 display driver and Realtek Audio Manager utility were out-of-date. The PC was otherwise good to go, which was a pleasant surprise considering it shipped in 2005 with XP Pro installed.

A smooth upgrade--until shutdown
I had previously updated two Vista Home Premium PCs to Windows 7 Home Premium, which retails for $120 and is available online for less than that. Because this machine ran Vista Ultimate, it could be upgraded only to the $220 Windows 7 Ultimate. (No use beating that dead horse.)

Before making the switch I did a full malware scan that came up clean. I had an image backup that was just over a week old and had recently copied my iTunes library to DVDs. After recording my router's network settings, I felt prepared to start over in case the Win 7 upgrade fizzled.

Upgrading the workhorse PC to Windows 7 took about 3 hours and two restarts, but post-upgrade shutdowns were taking several minutes. Several other people have reported this problem on various Windows 7 forums. The posts propose at least a half-dozen solutions, many of which involved a Registry tweak.

Many PC users wouldn't worry about a slow shutdown--they simply walk away from the machine after clicking the shutdown button, or they don't shut it down at all, relying on Windows' hibernate or standby mode instead.

But there are plenty of reasons to make sure a PC quits without hesitation, as several comments noted when I described techniques for hastening the shutdown process in a post back in 2008. Topping the list is the need to sit through the restarts required by certain Windows updates.

Unfortunately, the Registry changes described in my earlier post don't apply to Windows 7. I looked for a simpler solution in Win 7's Action Center: to open it, click the flag icon in the taskbar's notification area and choose Open Action Center.

The shutdown problem wasn't noted there, so I clicked the Troubleshooting link at the bottom of the window and selected "Check for performance issues" under System Security. The applet warned about unnecessary start-up items but made no mention of the slow shutdown.

Windows 7 Action Center performance troubleshooter
Windows 7's performance troubleshooter identified unnecessary start-up items but didn't address the machine's slow shutdowns. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

Display driver refresh does the trick
The forum posts indicated that some people solved the slow-shutdown problem by updating the PC's display driver. Since Windows 7 had warned me that my PC's ATI driver was old, I ran Device Manager's updater:

Microsoft Device Manager Update Driver option
Device Manager's Update Driver function will search for a more recent version of your system's device drivers. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

  • Click the Start button
  • Type "device manager" in the search box
  • Select Device Manager
  • Right-click the device's entry under "Display adapters"
  • Choose Update Driver Software
  • Click "Search automatically for updated driver software"

In my case, Windows found and installed a more recent version of the display driver. After restarting the PC, shutdowns took only a few seconds. Note that you may need to manually find and download the driver update, and then choose "Browse my computer for driver software" and navigate to the downloaded file.

Updating the display software was much simpler than the solutions recommended on the Microsoft Answers site, which entailed a clean boot and selective disabling of processes and services in Task Manager. The driver update was also safer than editing the Registry, as other comments in that post suggested.

Even though I appreciate being able to breathe new life into a well-worn PC, it's time for a truly new version of Windows. The operating system is overdue for a total revamp, similar to Apple's approach with Mac OS X.

Truly successful software is invisible and effortless. Traditional operating systems are becoming less important. To stay relevant, Microsoft has to come up with a system that automates updates (and rollbacks, if necessary) and generally makes fewer demands on users.