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Guidance on Installing XP Service Pack 3

One of the many questions that we get nowadays is the question of whether to install XP Service Pack 3 (XPSP3). Under normal circumstances and based on past updates and service packs, you could take the view that this service pack is no different than previous service packs. However from those of us who have taken the plunge, this service pack is different from previous XP service packs. It introduces a number of new issues taking technology from Vista and marries it with patches for XP and new enhancements that will allow XP to work in the new Windows 2008 server environment.

Let’s start off by saying up front that you have at least a 50-50 chance of implementing this service pack with no problems. We are finding that newer systems built in the last several years before Vista came to market are handling the service pack without any difficulty. However with older systems, this has not been the case.

Since we run older systems in-house, we are seeing a problem rate of 66% in which we have applied XPSP3.  Primarily we are seeing problems coming from older third party drivers. Principally, the driver problems we are seeing are with some video drivers, sound and sound card drivers, and NIC (network interface cards and embedded network hardware). It has made no difference whether the hardware is on the motherboard or is a separate card. However, we do see higher instances with separate cards having a higher rate of problems.

As for the enhancements and fixes themselves, we are not seeing any significant issues which mean that drivers continue to be the main source of problems with this service pack and the Vista service pack.


First and foremost, Microsoft has not made XSPS3 a mandatory download as XPSP2 is now. However given time, that will change. For now, you can decide to take the plunge now or delay the decision until it becomes mandatory.

Second, if you decide to install the service pack, have nearby your video, sound, and network drivers nearby in case you have to reinstall these drivers. It would be a good idea to check the third party vendor websites for updated drivers first and then copy them either to your hard drive, a rewriteable CD or a floppy drive if you are still using those.

Third, be sure to defrag your hard drive and run the file system checker before running the installation program. These utilities will clean up and fix any problems you may have with data and will mark any bad spots on the drive itself moving the data to a better spot.

Fourth, if you have problems with the installation of XPSP3, you can uninstall the service pack. However keep in mind that your problems could continue. We have seen instances where XPSP3 was uninstalled and the fallback failed to correct any of the problems that we encountered during the upgrade. We found, for instance, that in one case, we had a hard drive going bad. In another case and after reinstalling a vendor’s wireless card driver, that the wireless card would not work. In both these cases, we had to reinstall XP back to SP2 with all current updates and did not attempt to install SP3 until we have confirmation from the vendor that they had a solution for the problems we saw,

Finally, keep in mind that even at this late date as with Vista SP1, vendors are still slow to provide updated drivers for hardware. In particular, we are having many problems with Linksys and Netgear hardware where the hardware is several years old and out of warranty. While we have not done so yet, we are close to either replacing the hardware which is still operating and in good shape, or finding another vendor who will be more forthcoming in keeping their hardware drivers up-to-date.

XPSP3 is not a bad service pack by any means. We’ve seen a more responsive system with faster performance. We also like the fact that the technology updates are keeping XP closely linked to the rest of the Windows family. However if we had better hardware support in the way of current drivers, nearly all of the issues we’ve seen in XPSP3 would probably not be present.

Coastalan, Inc. 14 August 2008

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