Should I Install XP Service Pack 3?

Windows XP Service Pack 3 is to about to be released… should we download it right away? –Ray

For those not familiar with a Service Pack (SP), think of it as a collection of updates, patches, and enhancements for a software program all rolled into one download.

Service Pack 3 is the long awaited major update for Windows XP (SP2 was released in August of 2004) that is mainly the collection of all previous downloads along with some minor enhancements.

Most of the enhancements are designed to assist those that manage large numbers of computers on business networks; however, some of the security enhancements will be beneficial for all users.

Various entities on the Internet that have tested Service Pack 3 claim that they have seen performance improvements (as much as 10%) on their test systems after installing the update (your mileage may vary).

Microsoft is making no claims of improved performance for Windows XP systems, but then again, anything that could cause consumers to stick with XP over Vista is not something Microsoft would want to promote.

The real concern with major updates of this nature is that we don’t know what we don’t know. More important, history has shown that Microsoft doesn’t know what it doesn’t know until it releases a Service Pack. To that end, the safe money will sit on the sidelines for a month or so to let all of the potential issues surface before taking the plunge.

Microsoft planned to make SP3 available on April 29th, but halted its release when it found a compatibility issue with one of its own fairly obscure software programs called RMS (Retail Management System), which oddly enough is what we use in our stores across the country.

They plan to release the update once they either have a fix for the RMS issue or an automatic block for systems that are running RMS.

If you keep your systems updated on a regular basis, you probably have most of the fixes that are in SP3 already, so rushing out and installing it as soon as it’s available isn’t that critical.

If your computer is running “mission critical” applications, being cautious about installing any major update to your operating system is always the way to go. If you have more than one Windows XP computer, installing the update on a system that isn’t relied upon as heavily is a good way to understand how the update might impact your computers, especially in a business environment.

For those that want to control when Service Pack 3 is installed on their Windows XP systems, a simple change to the way Windows handles updates will do the trick.

To access the Automatic Update configuration interface, right-click on My Computer and then select Properties to open the System Properties window. Next, click on the “Automatic Updates” tab and select the “Download updates for me, but let me choose when to install them” option.

This will tell Windows to download updates as they become available and notify you so you can decide when or if you want to install them.

A yellow shield will appear in your Systray (lower right hand corner next to the clock) to notify you that new updates are available for installation (so don’t ignore the yellow shield)!

When you double-click the yellow shield, a screen will appear with an Express Install or Custom Install option for the updates. Choose the Custom Install update if you want to decide what does and does not get installed in your system.

Ken Colburn
President of Data Doctors Computer Services, Host of the award-winning Computer Corner radio show, and Author of Computer Q&A in the East Valley Tribune newspapers.

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  • CivilHuman

    Well I was waiting for this to come out. I haven’t herd any super great news about it , But I like many other people Enjoy updates. I will probably wait a little bit and see if there’s any major issues with the updates, Can we trust Microsoft when they wanna discontinue Xp :-) Just joking but since the squabble, I think it would be better safe them sorry. Well long live XP. Don’t see why they would want to discontinue it, I know for a fact they made plenty of money. Well it’s there business but I think its a little more important to friendly with the current Xp user’s.

  • zacktabler

    i have sp3 and its awesome!!! it speeds up by 10%

    • Bennie Bez

      Installed SP 3 without any major issues. Dlink wireless adapters had a file conflict. Renaming the file since DLINK kept quiet resolved the startup error and kept all wireless functionality.

      I think issues experienced are caused by “worn” systems that requires a fresh install anyway.

  • Jeff

    I would upgrade from SP2 to SP3 if I could, but the installation fails everytime while looking for something in Office that isn’t there.

  • Steve Milner

    I would avoid SP3.
    Since installing it on my laptop networking has become very flaky, but worst is the way MS Excel just ‘encounters problems, and must shut down’.

  • Lee C

    I installed service pack 3 and lost my broadband connection, it disabled my ethernet connection and wouldn’t let me switch it back on. Un-installed it and everything was back to normal, so on this occasion, I think I’ll give it a miss.

  • Jay Dee

    Regarding post SP3 broadband issues, just had to fix my sons and sisters internet connection after they updated. They both use ZoneAlarm as a firewall and changing the trusted and internet security from “high” to “medium” fixed them both. After a connection on my sons comp was re-established, changing back to high security fritzed it again, back to medium and it is fine. Both use a cable connection via router with the built in MS security disabled. I wonder about the need to lower firewall security.

    I was going to wait to update since I’m not a bleeding edge type of guy anyway.

    • Gene O

      Jay Dee, you’re a lifesaver. After I read your comment about ZoneAlarm (since I have it too) my internet connection is working again. Thank you for your input!!!

  • Gene O

    Even though lower the security level with ZoneAlarm helped my cable connection, it didn’t fix my wireless connection. Any ideas on how to fix my WiFi? I badly need my WiFi!

  • Tony Sunshine

    Zone Alarm is definitely the program responsible for the connection issues post-SP3. I uninstalled it, and all problems were solved.

  • AV8R

    Zone alarm has a new version that fixed my Inet not working

  • Lyra

    I installed SP3 after a reformat and wish I hadn’t. Of course, numerous people told me not to take SP3 but I just had to click “install”. I’m now considering reformatting….. unless there’s a way to uninstall SP3….. Learned my lesson… wait awhile before installing SP updates!

  • Kerry Marshall

    I have a testbed machine I use for trying out new software ( actually it’s just a second hard drive ).
    I did a reformat & fesh XP SP2 install, added AVG, Zone Alarm, & Firefox 3. Worked fine with my cable braodband.
    Downloaded SP3 on my main machine, copied it to CD, then installed it on the test machine.
    No problems with my Internet connection, ZoneA notwithstanding, but the machine has slowed to SNAIL’s PACE!

    I have always kept Updates switched off up to now, because of all the bloat, & the fact I’ve never had security breaches, apart from a single virus & the usual spyware stuff, which gets cleared regularly. Thought I’d “get up to date at last” with SP3.

    Big mistake.

  • M.T.B.

    I installed SP3 two days ago and since then my computer has been operating at 10% of the speed that it had with SP2. My CPU usage is running at a constant 95-100%. Not happy at all. Leave it to Microsoft to gum up their own works!

    • Dan

      I was prompted to install SP3 last week during Microsoft’s weekly Tuesday updates.

      Only problems I have had is that I now cannnot access my work’s webmail from home. It’s a “https://” secure address and IE can’t find it.

      Also I can’t access my remote surveillance cameras at my side business. it’s got a special URL and I had to modify security settings in IE and SP3 wiped them out! Great, now I can’t remember what the settings were to allow access.

  • Flip

    I have taken my decision after having problems with SP3. I will switch to Mac and forget all the time that I have lost with Windows. Never again.

  • charlie

    My step-mum computer screwed up a few days ago, and obviously i had a quick look… the computer went into continual reboot whenever you turned the computer on. She said that she installed SP3 a few days before and that the computer was throwing up errors and as she put it “chucking up” all the time. Well we took it to a computer repair shop and they ended up loosing ALL her personal data and windows unistalled. Why? Because apparently SP3 screws up your computers registery system of programs. And so all the data was lost when the computer went into a Manufacturers resinstall!!
    my advice DO NOT update until Microsoft sorts this bloody mess out.

  • mike

    i have SP2 cant I just custom install the “new” files of SP3

  • Susan Drilling

    After installing SP3, I lost my internet connection, the firewall was removed, and the automatic virus protection feature was missing.

    Wasted seven hours trying to fix it (reboot modem for internet, fix virus protection, insure firewall was running, and more) and to no avail.

    I uninstalled SP3 and the computer works great. I have a Dell with XP Windows. Just a heads up in case you have problems like mine.

  • Dom

    XP Service Pack 3 downloaded automatically, screwed up Modem connection. Also updated to Service Pack 1 on Vista on my laptop, which I eventually resolved by setting to Auto Detect IP Address, haven’t yet been able to resolve connection on XP. Growl.

  • Judi Pillsbury

    I’ve installed SP3 on both my laptop and my desktop – and they both seem to be much slower booting, slower loading software, and take forever shutting down. Is SP3 to blame?

  • Bob Fazakerly

    I have three computers on a wireless network. SP 3 installed fine on my desktops and I have had no problems, though I really don’t notice any difference in performance. I have tried twice to install SP 3 on my laptop and installation failed both times.

  • steve

    Simple…..just DON’T do it, it screws you up completly, it’s just microsofts way of getting you to buy a new computer (Vista).be warned.

    • Richard Goss

      I had the same problem that others have had with the automatic downloading–I didn’t ask for it, it just downloaded itself. I then figured (very stupidly, it now appears) that I should just go ahead and install it, and so I did. After that, I had MAJOR problems with my screen and had to do a system restore. I thought that might have been a weird fluke, so I tried it again–and the same thing happened.

      Since then, I have left the icon in my bottom right corner, where it will remain till I figure out how to remove this intrusive and unhelpful thing from my computer. (It’s not listed as a downloaded program or an update, and it doesn’t show up when I do a search of my computer–almost like Microsoft is TRYING not to let you find it.) As the writer of the article above plainly stated, Microsoft doesn’t seem to have any clue what will happen when it unleashs these things upon the world. But one thing I do know: when I typed “Service Pack 3 problems” into Google this morning, the number of hits already was shown as an astonishing 28,000,000. If that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what does.

  • Donna

    I started to install SP3 and cancelled. I read posts and other information. My system is pretty up to date. I think I will wait. Dont have the time or patience to deal with possible issues. Im still ticked off at all the flashing when I close my browser since IE7 installed itself on my computer. Nice. I definitely have trust issues.

  • ServiceCrap3

    I hear lots of talk about people re-installing Windows, installing Windows XP SP3, having problems and then having to reformat, reinstall, uninstall etc etc.

    It makes me wonder whether half of you have heard of computer backups.

    Specifically, disk imaging for example Acronis True Image, Drive Snapshot etc.

    If you do disk images, you have no need to worry about problems created due to installing Service Packs because you can go right back to exactly how it was down to the sector level.

    It takes me about 40 mins to restore 40GB as opposed to hours reinstalling Windows along with all of the necessary drivers.

    For anyone who does not do any backups or disk images, I suggest you start doing this now, it will save you a lot of grief in the long run.


    I agree with Servicecrap3 about images they are the best way of fixing installation issues. However, most “common” PC users don’t know about them or don’t use them.

    However, I build brand new systems and the biggest issue I have had with my PC’s is a USB problem. Up until SP3 came out we had no issues with our images. We set up a new PC with our fully functional image and when we updated our brand new PC that was fully tested the USB broke on it. XP would recognize that a device was inserted into a USB port, device manager even recognized this “Unknown Device”, and saw the ports as functioning. That is as far as it would go. It would not install the device at all. Flash drives, USB printers, USB to IDE adapters, external HDD’s, nothing would work.

    We originally thought that it would be an easy fix only to find that it was not. We have since had a sporatic issue with some of the laptops that we have, and they are ordered from a major manufacturer. I have yet to find a fix for this problem.

    I have SP3 installed on my machines at home and some of my families with no issues. It seems to be a bigger issue on newer machines than older.

    Install at your own risk but consider this. The day after SP3 came out there were other updates to this all encompassing SP update. There is no golden band aid, there will always be problems and updates with Windows OS’s. I learned on it, I live with it, I will use it despite the problems. I also use others though.

  • Joe Bedale

    Ater installing SP3 my computer will reboot imeaditely after loadind Windows. I have tried to use the rollback feature but it will not work.

    I have loaded Windows XP Pro on an old hard drive and can start the computer using new drive and look into the old drive.

    Any suggestions?

  • Trevor

    I installed SP3 and my computer went into a continual reboot like charlies mum. However, there is a fix. In the recovery console you can remove the last service pack update. CHARLIE if they had to reformat your mum’s computer its not because it did it itself. Its because they couldn’t figure out how to fix it and reformatted it. They lied to you. The fix is posted right on microsoft’s wesite. If you paid for that you got ripped off.

  • Roland

    Installed SP3 today and now my laptop won’t start; the lights come on and … nothing. Now what?

  • Amanda

    My son has an Alienware desktop computer. We recently had to replace the video board, followed by the power supply. Prior to the power supply replacement, SP3 was automatically installed. All of the USB ports no longer work and the USB ports don’t even show up in Device Manager. We can no longer use the USB mouse or the USB printer with the pc which is really causing a problem. Any idea on how I can get the 6 USB port back and working? Thank you so much for your help.

  • http://none Matt

    Don’t you need SP3 in order to use an iPod (according to the Apple website)?

  • Russ

    SP3 hung up on me during the attempted install this morning. Luckily, when I ctrl-alt-del to the task mgr and ended it the reboot removed the install and got me back where I began. Whew! Sometimes MS is such a pain in the butt.

  • lesley

    service pack 3 is a nightmare 4 times have installed it and 4 times it has messed my whole pc up continual reboots leading to having to do a full system restore each time so the yellow shield can stay but I am NOT putting service pack 3 on my c again lost too much time already doing the 4 restores

  • CJ McAuley

    XP has NEVER totally frozen on me until after installing SP3! After 10+ years of dealing with Windows’ BS, I expect my next computer to be a Mac (probably a laptop). I am SO fed up with the hoops they put one though!!!

  • Piyush

    After reading SP3 users, I’m not installing it on my machine. Thanks for the responses.

  • commalot

    After a system crash I did a clean install of XP including SP3. A couple of my applications would not install after this and were asking for SP2. We had to uninstall SP3 and put in SP2. This created a host of problems which are now fixed. Bottom line, I’m leaving SP3 alone.

  • M. C.

    Thanks to those who took the time to post about their misfortune with SP3. It’s a great help to folks like me who don’t know as much about computers, and who’d have to pay serious money to fix the problems that are likely to result from installing SP3.

  • Victor

    can I remove Service Pack 3 from an XP computer and put on Servcie Pack 2? Have USB communications problems with a specific device with SP3.

  • notsotechie

    woah this is scary

  • nishw

    I upgaraded xp to Sp 3 and didnt face any problem till now.

    Infact SP 3 contains protection from latest threats and viruses.

    Go for it guys!!!!!!!!!!

  • Anamitra Majumar

    I need to install SP3 to run my game-GTA 4-but I am reading many problems about it!