So I had to reset my Toshiba laptop to factory specs (Windows 7)...

… had to do this to get the computer to boot at all (not even Safe Mode was coming up) after having a new optical drive put in… so, updates are going to take all night, aren’t they?

A side question; if it turns out that the optical drive’s driver was causing the problem, is there a suitable generic driver that I might try?

don’t know about that, but you might want to create a bootable windows repair disk (or USB disk in your case !)
before you do anything else.

In general, Windows will just apply the generic driver by default if you don’t try to give it a special driver. I would test this before you bother with updates.

If you have another computer, and it’s not too late, I very much recommend the WSUS offline installer that will download all your updates ahead of time onto a flash drive or something, and then apply them. It made my reinstall of Windows (onto an SD) entirely painless.

Waiting on Windows Update was a lot slower the first time (and there were much fewer of them), with it constantly restarting, and having to go back and check for updates again and again.

I also recommend using to know when it’s safe to apply the next update. December updates are the current ones, and are safe, but January updates will be coming soon and won’t be. (Safe means that people have tested them and ironed out all the problems. Basically, you wait a few weeks.)

What I would have tried is booting the computer without the optical drive installed. (On some laptop computers, it’s easy to remove it, and I don’t think it’s necessary for Windows to start.)

There’s a ‘Convenience rollup update for Windows 7’. The Microsoft webpage is here.

Note that it requires SP1 (linked on the page near the bottom).

Thanks for all the replies! Until I figure out the best update strategy, I’ve redone the factory-spec restore and the optical drive works fine. Updates can wait, I need my movies first!