I guess I could have stated it better.
We installed a new machine with XP home.
The first manual windows update ran OK.
Subsequent manual updates either took a very long time or would not load at all
Trying to access the microsoft knowledge base also took a long time.
We disabled the firewall and that resulted in no change.
However, accessing any other site from that machine was fine - fast load and no problems.
During the same time the new machine was having problems, we checked out 2 other machines and ms update and the ms knowledge base pages loaded perfectly.
It seems crazy, but it appears that the new machine has trouble loading MS update but is ok with other sites. It would appear that the problem is not firewall related because it still happened with mcafee disabled.
Ibe other thing... The automatic updates appear to be downloading and running OK on the new machine. That was how I finally got it fully patched.