How to troubleshoot pcalua.exe error in Windows 10?

April 22, 2020 |

greater than 13 minutes

These days, being developed and distributed by Microsoft is no barricade against bugs and glitches. For proof, see Windows 10. Microsoft’s premier OS is no doubt an excellent platform with hundreds of useful features and an ever-improving interface that many users have grown to love. It is also home to a myriad of annoying processes and bugs that have caused loud and long complaints in the Windows user fraternity.

For further proof, see Windows processes like Pcalua.exe. If you’re reading this article, chances are you have come across an error that has something to do with this file. Pcalua.exe is, of course, the file process for the Program Compatibility Assistant. Such a fine function; it is a shame that it is often undermined by blatantly annoying errors that seem to literally pop out of nowhere.

Not to worry, however. If you’re here in search of solutions to the Pcalua.exe error, you have come to the right place. This guide will explain what the error is for those who may not know or may not realize that this is what they are dealing with. We will also enumerate some of the symptoms of the error so everyone can be on the lookout. Finally, we will dive into the solutions that would make problems related to pcalua.exe a thing of the past.

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What Is Pcalua.exe?

Pcalua.exe is the Program Compatibility Assistant process file on Windows 10 and older versions of Windows. It has been around as far back as the days of Windows XP. This file is created and distributed by Microsoft Corporation. It has basically occupied the same location in every iteration of Windows.

Pcalua.exe runs in Task Manager a lot of the time. Really, it is designed to be launched automatically when the need arises. This is accomplished when the process registers itself in the Windows Task Scheduler.

But what does the Program Compatibility Assistant actually do on Windows? Since the file is a creation of Microsoft, it is better to hear the explanation of its function from the horse’s mouth:

The Program Compatibility Assistant detects known compatibility issues in older programs. After you have run an older program in this version of Windows, it notifies you if there is a problem and offers to fix it the next time you run the program. If the compatibility issue is serious, the Program Compatibility Assistant might warn you or block the program from running. If that happens, you’ll have the option to check online for possible solutions.

Basically, pcalua.exe plays a coordinating role between the operating system and all the programs the user installs on the system. Obviously, different programs will be developed in different ways and require different things to be in place to run smoothly. While developers typically create editions of their applications and games to work on every new OS installed, some programs, especially the older ones, continue to work best on an older version of Windows.

The idea behind pcalua.exe is to ensure that these programs are given the best possible environment to function. After all, it is in Microsoft’s best interests to ensure that any application downloaded over the web onto the machine meets their compatibility standards. If not, the internet will be awash with claims that Windows is a broken OS not fit for purpose.

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Generally, pcalua.exe will sometimes modify the rules and environments under which an application works to give the user the smoothest experience when using the app in question. For example, many of us still play some classic games from time to time. When we launch these games, pcalua.exe goes into action, optimizing Windows and the game settings so the old software can work on both newer hardware and a new platform.

What about recently installed apps? If you download and install a program meant to be used on Windows XP, Vista or 7, for example, the Program Compatibility Assistant comes into action when you launch that program. It will run checks on the program’s compatibility. If it determines that the program can’t run well on Windows 10, it will automatically run that program in compatibility mode for Windows XP, Vista or 7. Sometimes, instead of doing things automatically, it will ask the user whether they wish to run the program in whichever mode it has decided is best.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that the Program Compatibility Assistant is really important to how Windows works. Thus, any issues related to it can cause more than surface annoyance for the user. Imagine having loads of golden oldie programs and games on your system and being unable to use them because pcalua.exe has encountered an error.

What Are the Causes of the Pcalua.exe Error in Windows 10?

In Windows, from time immemorial, bugs have been a frequent companion of every useful thing. The Windows Compatibility Assistant is no different. The process is famously prone to issues that interfere with its core functionality. This has carried over into Windows 10. Many users have been complaining about pcalua.exe errors that stop their favourite apps from running in compatibility mode.

Let’s take a look at the different reasons why the Program Compatibility Assistant may stop working on Windows 10:

  1. Malware Infection. “Good” developers fashion useful programs and applications that allow the user to get things done on Windows. Bad ones create malicious software and code designed to bypass system defenses and either steal user information or do other kinds of damage. Some system files are more vulnerable to malware than others. In particular, the presence of a Trojan or another form of malware in the system can interfere with the smooth running of pcalua.exe. For example, the dependencies can be tampered with or the file could be corrupted. If this happens, the Program Compatibility Assistant might no longer work when required to.
  2. Deletion or Corruption of DLL Files. DLL files are an important component of how Windows works. These files contain information and other settings that many applications, programs and services call upon. If the DLL files that the pcalua.exe process requires are missing or become corrupted, you can imagine the consequence. The Program Compatibility Assistant might stop working altogether.
  3. Random Shutdowns and Reboots. In Windows 10, random and frequent reboots are uncalled for. It is fine to reboot the machine once or twice a day, but any more than that and it might become counterproductive. Also, if there is an ongoing issue that causes the PC to shut down and reboot itself frequently, it can cause any number of processes, including pcalua.exe, to stop working as well.
  4. Changing Application Settings Manually. Windows 10 is an “install and play” system. This means that the user doesn’t have to do anything else after installing a program. Once launched, the program starts working immediately. However, some die-hard users like to tweak stuff to their heart’s content. If the modification conflicts with the automatic settings for the Program Compatibility Assistant, pcalua.exe may stop working until the changes are reversed or the program is reinstalled cleanly.
  5. Outdated OS. Everything on Windows works best when it’s up to date. Otherwise, issues that have been fixed in the latest version will still be a source of bother on the current one. Oftentimes, the pcalua.exe error is nothing more than the result of a dated operating system.
  6. Outdated Drivers. Drivers are files that allow the OS to communicate with the hardware. This might seem like they have nothing to do with pcalua.exe, but that isn’t totally true. You see, one of the parameters used by the Program Compatibility Assistant to determine the best settings for an app is the hardware. The lower the system and hardware requirements for a program, the easier it is for the Program Compatibility Assistant to select a compatibility mode. Out-of-date drivers can interfere with pcalua.exe’s reading of hardware configuration.

Symptoms of Errors Related to Pcalua.exe

When dealing with an error, identifying the system process causing it can be an arduous task. Unlike normal programs, most of them don’t even have a visible window the user can interact with. Nonetheless, these are the common symptoms and consequences of pcalua.exe errors in Windows 10:

  • Startup and Runtime Errors. A runtime error causes whatever is being loaded or launched to stop working immediately. These are errors with the “runtime”, that is, the period spanning the beginning and end of a program’s running. If pcalua.exe has issues, programs that run in compatibility mode might stop working.
  • High CPU and Memory Usage. exe might be a very important process in Windows 10, but it is no Svchost.exe. Under normal circumstances, pcalua.exe uses, at most, moderate amounts of system memory and processor resources. However, abnormal spikes in either RAM or CPU usage from pcalua.exe can be a symptom of an underlying bug with the process.
  • Endless System Warning Messages. These are messages that inform the user that something drastic, such as an unexpected shutdown, might occur because of an issue. These warning messages obviously don’t just appear from thin air. They are caused by issues with system files like pcalua.exe. The OS springs into error prevention mode and shuts down the system before the files become more affected.
  • Compatibility Mode Applications and Games Stop Working. When older programs suddenly stop working in Windows 10, it might be related to an issue with the Program Compatibility Assistant. If the pcalua.exe process isn’t running, stops working or becomes corrupted, the apps and games that depend on its compatibility configuration won’t have the correct settings to run anymore. This can result in game screens not loading, programs not launching and similar errors.

How to Get Rid of the Pcalua.exe Error in Windows 10

Pcalua.exe errors can be a pain. They won’t let you run older programs or test out different compatibility modes. The Program Compatibility Assistant may not even show up at all with the option to run a certain app in the best mode possible. In such scenarios, you might be at a loss for what to do to make the program work on your system.

Don’t worry too much, though. You can follow the methods given here to solve pcalua.exe issues. It is best to follow the solutions as they are presented. You can still jump straight to the fix you believe will solve your problem the quickest.

Fix 1: Verify That the Pcalua.exe File Is Genuine

Needless to say, hackers see the names of system files as one more tool in their bid to infiltrate your system. They can create a virus and name it “pcalua.exe” to deceive the OS and you into believing the malware is the real thing.

Therefore, any pcalua.exe issue should give you pause before you reach for the panic button. The issue might not even have anything to do with the genuine file. It is not unheard of for high disk, CPU or RAM usage attributed to a system process to actually be caused by a virus.

Therefore, the first thing to do is to verify the authenticity of the pcalua.exe file. Luckily, Microsoft made this somewhat easy by placing most system files in the same directory. As long as you find pcalua.exe in that directory, then you should be confident it is the real thing.

Here is what you need to do:

  1. Open Task Manager. Press the Windows key, then type “Task Manager” in Search and choose the top result.
  2. In the Processes tab, scroll down to the Windows Processes section and look for Pcalua.exe. You might find it at the top of the list of apps as the Program Compatibility Assistant process.
  3. Wherever you find it, right-click the process and select Open File Location.
  4. Note the location of the file in the path bar of File Explorer. The path for the Program Compatibility Assistant process file is C:/Windows/System32/pcalua.exe.

If the location checks out, you can breathe a bit more easily. However, finding the file here isn’t a complete guarantee it isn’t a virus. You should also check for a digital signature. A digital signature is basically the file’s developer stamp that guarantees the authenticity of the file. Right-click the file and select the Digital Signature tab. Check that it is signed by Microsoft Corporation.

If anything during this process suggests that the file is actually malware, it is time to let the security dogs of war out. Windows Defender does a pretty good job these days, but any longtime user of Windows knows it is not the be-all and end-all of computer security. Not even close. Your best bet is to have a very good antivirus tool to protect your data and remove illegal software from your computer.

There are a thousand and one security programs out there, but it is better to go for one that combines simplicity, adaptability, efficiency, and effectiveness. Auslogics Anti-Malware fits the bill to a tee. It is relatively lightweight, has a nice, clean interface, and doesn’t require dozens of steps to set up or get to work. Once you download and install it, you can be assured of maximum protection from Trojans, viruses, ransomware, and the likes. Even malware that you never even knew existed will be fished out and quarantined by Auslogics Anti-Malware.

Once you have downloaded the software from this link, installed and launched it, choose the full scan option to give your PC a thorough security scrub. After a reboot, you won’t have to deal with annoying pcalua.exe errors anymore.

Fix 2: Run a Scan with DISM and SFC

The Disk Image Servicing and Management tool and System File Checker utility are twin programs used to repair corrupted system files on Windows. The former helps to repair the system image, while the latter is useful for fixing individual corrupted, missing or damaged system files.

There is no need to start searching for these tools on the web. Both are already part of Windows 10 and can be activated through an elevated Command Prompt. Using them is easy as ABC, provided the instructions below are adhered to.

  1. Microsoft recommends that on Windows 10, a DISM scan should take place first and be followed immediately by an SFC scan.
  2. Open an elevated Command Prompt, which implies running Command Prompt as an administrator. Move your cursor down to the bottom left-hand side of the screen to hover over the Start Menu icon. Right-click that icon to display the Windows Tools menu.
  3. You will see a list of important system tools and applets. Select Command Prompt (Admin) from that list.
  4. Now, you’re in an elevated Command Prompt. Paste or type the following into the window and press Enter:

DISM.exe /Online /Cleanup-image /Restorehealth

  1. Wait for as long as it takes for the operation to be completed. It generally won’t be more than 30 minutes at most.
  2. You’re now ready to run a scan with System File Checker. In the elevated CMD window, which should still be open, type the following and press Enter:

sfc /scannow

  1. System File Checker will scan everything directly related to your OS. It will attempt to identify bad files and corrupted ones and replace any it finds with clean but identical versions.
  2. Do not interrupt the operation at this point. Doing so can cause more harm than you’re able to deal with. Just let it run until the operation is 100% completed. This might take up to an hour on systems with slower, older hardware.
  3. Make sure you pay attention to the results of the scan upon completion. It will tell you whether your troubleshooting ends here or you need to try something else.

Here are the four messages you can get upon scan completion. You will receive one of them. What each means for your pcalua.exe error troubleshooting is in brackets:

Windows Resource Protection did not find any integrity violations. (The issue you’re trying to resolve isn’t due to a corrupt file. This means you have the original pcalua.exe and it isn’t corrupt. The solution lies elsewhere.)

Windows Resource Protection could not perform the requested operation (For some reason, the SFC scan couldn’t be successfully carried out. You’ll have to try another fix.)

Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files and successfully repaired them. Details are included in the CBS.Log %WinDir%\Logs\CBS\CBS.log. (This is a success message. The corrupt files, perhaps including pcalua.exe, were found and fixed. After a reboot, everything should be working fine like before.)

Windows Resource Protection found corrupt files but was unable to fix some of them. Details are included in the CBS.Log %WinDir%\Logs\CBS\CBS.log. (Windows only repaired some, but not all, the corrupt files found by the SFC scan. If a reboot doesn’t get rid of the pcalua.exe error, use another solution.)

Fix 3: Disable the Program Compatibility Assistant

Sometimes, runtime errors instigated by pcalua.exe occur while you’re doing something else, interfering with your work. As long as you aren’t running any old applications and don’t plan on doing so in the future, you can put an end to the issue by disabling the Windows Program Compatibility Assistant.

  1. Open the Services window in Windows 10. Type “services.msc” (without quotes) in the Run box and click OK.
  2. Scroll down the Services list a bit until you find the Program Compatibility Assistant Service.
  3. Either right-click the service and select Properties or double-click it to open the Properties window straightway.
  4. In the General tab of the Program Compatibility Assistant Service Properties window, expand the “Startup type” option and choose Disabled.
  5. Click the Stop button under “Service Status”.
  6. Click Apply.
  7. Click OK.
  8. Reboot the PC.

Fix 4: Use System Restore

If you’re unsure about the origin of the pcalua.exe errors plaguing your system and if other methods aren’t working, simply restoring the machine to an earlier state should do the trick.

There is no hard and fast rule about System Restore. Provided you already enabled the functionality, going back to an earlier state prior to the onset of the pcalua.exe errors should be a breeze.

Luckily, Windows automatically creates a restore point when you install updates, applications and drivers. Perhaps one of these is the cause of your issue. Going back in time via a restore point should help. If you have manual restore points as well, even better!

Here’s what you need to do:

  1. Press the Windows key and X button at the same time to bring up the Windows Tools menu.
  2. Select Control Panel from the list of system tools.
  3. Find the recovery option in Control Panel. The fastest way is to type “recovery” in the search box at the top of the Control Panel window.
  4. Select Recovery from the search results.
  5. In the System Recovery window, select Open System Restore.
  6. Click Next when the “Restore system files and settings” dialog shows up.
  7. You will see a window with different restore points sorted in descending order of newness. Choose one that predates the pcalua.exe issue. If you don’t see one, click the “Show more restore points” checkbox to view older restore points.
  8. When you’re ready, select the “Scan for affected programs” option to see the changes that will be made after reverting to the earlier state.
  9. If you’re comfortable with everything, proceed to the restore process by clicking the Close, Next, and Finish buttons, in that order.

After the restore is completed and you log in, every issue like pcalua.exe that was bugging the Windows 10 PC should have disappeared.


The Program Compatibility Assistant Service doubtless does important work in Windows 10. It is also the source of bugs and errors. This guide should have helped you stop random errors caused by pcalua.exe so you can resume using your PC without interruptions, crashes and annoying system error notifications.

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