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Last Updated December 10, 2003

Surviving a Service Pack

Every time a service pack is released we're flooded with e-mail relating tales of systems that refused to boot, lost data, performance problems, and other issues. Before you install the next service pack on your workstation or server, you may want to take a minute and consider the following practices. This article focuses on best practices for installing a service pack on a single computer or small group of computers. If you're deploying a service pack on a larger scale, check out out article on Successfully Deploying Service Packs
HomeService Pack > Installing and Managing Service Packs

Service Pack Installation Tips

Don't be an early adopter
There is very little benefit to downloading and installing a service pack the first day it's released, especially if you've been keeping up with the various hotfixes. Microsoft test service packs more rigorously than hotfixes, but a number of service packs have been disastrous nightmares. Ideally, you should wait 30 - 90 days to allow these issues to be identified and reported
Read the documentation
I know almost nobody reads the drab and dry documentation that comes with every service pack, but you should at least review it. Especially the release notes, which list any bugs that were discovered during testing that weren't fixed before the release.  
Check for known issues 
In addition to checking the release notes for bugs that were discovered during testing, you'll want to check Microsoft Support Knowledge Base for bugs that have been reported after the release. We've tried to make this process easier for you by collecting all of the documentation for Windows 2000/XP Service Packs into our resource centers. Look for any issues that affect your specific hardware or third party applications. 
Backup your system 
If you care about your data, don't take shortcuts here. Perform a full backup of your system, and if you have the time and space, create an additional backup of just your system state and an an Emergency Repair Disk.
Shut down unnecessary services
Microsoft recommends that you disable ALL third party services, especially any service that accesses the file system. This includes virus scanners, quota managers, and scheduling programs. In addition, you should set all Microsoft services to manual. This includes SQL Services, Exchange Services, and Spooler on dedicated print servers.
Perform a clean reboot before installing the service pack
If you haven't rebooted your server or workstation in a while, you'll want to restart it before installing a service pack. This will close any persistent errant process or memory leaks, and allows you to check for startup errors or other issues. It will also rebuild the systems "last known good configuration" in the event your service pack install fails. 
Create an uninstall directory 
All operating system service packs since Windows 2000 Service Pack 1 automatically prompt you to create an uninstall directory. You should let the installation create this directory and leave it intact even after the service pack is up and running. If you install programs or drivers that may not be compatible with the Service Pack, you may need to uninstall the Service Pack.
Update the ERD 
If your installation was successful, you'll need to update your Emergency Repair Disk for each server to make sure you can recover the system if it becomes unstable. 


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Original publication date: October 22, 2002

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