The value of installing XP SP3 vs. SP2 + updates

By LookinAround · 27 replies
Jul 25, 2008
  1. The need (and value) of updating to XP SP3 has come up in a couple different threads (vs. just keeping SP2 + and getting all updates). So, started this thread to offer some info as well as personal opinion and solicit same from others.
    1. Is SP3 equivalent to SP2 + current Windows updates?
      • I’ve read several sites (not blogs) i find reputable and knowledgeable about XP which indicate there are differences.
      • As i understand it, SP3 includes "updates and hotfixes" that were available in SP2 but aren't hotfixes those updates you only got from MS if you contacted them to say you really need it???
      • Finally, Overview of Windows XP Service Pack 3 from Microsoft summarizes some possible differences you may find as well as a few "new" features unique to SP3
        • Some updates/features available in SP2 were optional. In SP3 they're all installed by default
        • A few features are new to SP3. Period. They don't change the user interface (i.e. the customer's experience as Microsoft calls it) but do affect XP's behavior.
    2. Is there other value to having users with problems update to SP3?
      I believe so. I’ve found it’s not rare to find newbies or those just less "computer savvy" who believe they're current with SP2 when, in fact, a look at their installation history shows that’s not true (update install failures that are ignored, sometimes ignored to the point of being turned off). As my own rule of thumb i feel much more confident that someone is running on a known and fixed software base when they say they’re running SP3 vs. simply saying "SP2 and all current updates since"
    3. Are there any problems with installing SP3?
      You might experience some. SP3 (like prior major service pack releases and even some updates) is known to have some bugs. But if someone is having crashes and/or other major problems with their computer they want to report and ask for help I still believe it best to see they’re updated to SP3 first.
  2. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    Many programs such as Belarc Advisor will inventory and list all the service packs and updates installed... and tell you if you are missing any.
    I recommend just the opposite if your computer has some significant age or an older cpu, and OS... SP3 raises havoc with some HP AMD machines, some Gateway, and some eMachines... by test. Which don't show up until SP3 is installed.
    ZoneAlarm, Comodo, and SunBelt have had connection and detection problems with some conflicts between Microsoft and their install.
    Bottom line. Don't install it if you do not know that you need it. That can always be done later. Most of those items in SP3 benefit Microsoft... not the user.
  3. kimsland

    kimsland Ex-TechSpotter Posts: 14,523

    Note: All bugs are fixed. Absolutely, comprehensibly, fixed.

    Agreed, all security updates and Service Packs slow down computers.
    ie. Windows Service Pack 2 came with a Security Centre service (among other things) it was a big slowdown, for low spec computers.

    What absolute rubbish!
    All those firewalls presently work perfectly with SP3, and many (and most members on this board) even recommend these firewalls to SP3 users

    MS has made this a user decision to download the SP3 (to eliminate innitial errors actually - now gone!)
    But SP3 is now fully trusted and there have been ZERO faults in recent times
    Note: This is in relation to a clean computer installing SP3
    Thankfully MS offer a full read-up on what's required before installing SP3 (ie no Virus etc etc)

    But the absolute fact of the matter, is that SP3 is Safe


    I forgot to keep with the theme

    The benefit in installing SP3, is to confirm that you are up to date of all SP2 updates (at least)
  4. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,491   +184

    Some comments in no particular order
    An important point in my original post is being lost. I agree that “geeks like us” know how to use Belarc Advisor to compare installations. And we know Windows and the update/install process well enough to understand what to do when updates fail (vs. some who may ignore installation failures to the point of is-easier-to-just-turn-the-darn-update-off)

    Some of my position on the value of installing SP3 focuses on a specific target audience: the newbies and less savvy who happen to write to the forum for help with system crashes or other significant software problems, i personally prefer first see them install SP3 to resolve one big unknown before dealing with all the remaining variables behind their issue.
    I’m not so sure “most” updates benefit Microsoft, but you do raise a valid point. I always choose do Custom (rather then Automatic) updates. One can can always install all critical updates and decide on the Software and Optional updates on a case-by-case basis to distinguish between: an update which may improve your network driver vs. another update just trying to get Microsoft’f Silverlight product onto to your machine.

    But still, for noobs and/or those not that familiar with computers… just install the service packs sometime after they’re released if you’re having computer issues.​

    Finally, and aside from the points above, let’s still not forget there a some unique changes in XP SP3 which may affect the user's use of XP's networking and security.

    The bottom line: I still maintain SP3 helps
    • The average user make sure they’re current on updates
    • Every user get the network and security changes unique to SP3
    • The TechSpot member about to help diagnose a more junior user’s problem by confidently knowing SP3 is installed vs SP2 and not really certain about what was/was not/maybe failed to install after SP2
  5. kimsland

    kimsland Ex-TechSpotter Posts: 14,523

    I've just realized this thread is one sided (bias towards SP3)
    Although the heading didn't imply that.

    One user stated to me that they were presently happy with their SP2 (and all known updates)
    I wasn't able to argue with that. Seeming SP3 is still not forced upon us.
    Without a doubt though, MS will make it inevitably so in the future. ie Update scheduled for SP3 only (Minimum requirement SP3) ;)
  6. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,491   +184

    yes. MS will inevitably require SP3. As an aside, i also understand from reading (not personal knowledge) there are some software product which themselves require SP2 and have had problems recognizing what SP3 was until they themselves were updated!

    just to note: My intention isn't to encourage everyone to install SP3 ASAP but rather a user installing SP3 on their computer if they are experiencing crashes and/or other software issues. Typically, the issue of equivalence and install or not install has been raised in threads where people have written in for help with computer issues AND were still running SP2.
  7. Bobbye

    Bobbye Helper on the Fringe Posts: 16,334   +36

    One fact about SP3 that I have not seen explored is the fact that it contains "all" the updates.

    During the Windows Updating experiences, some of us declined some of the updates- in some cases, we didn't need it, in other caese, we didn't want it and in yet another category, some users were sent updates for program they actually did not have on their systems. Therefore, the potential for problems is greatly increased by accepting SP3, thus ALL the updates!

    I have tried to encourage that users choose either 'download but don't install' or 'don't download or install, notify me' for the update option instead of Automatic. This gives the user the ability to choose the Custom install option over Express, allowing them to learn what the update is for and what it is suppose to do.

    Some prefer to let Microsoft remain in control of what goes on their system. IF that is the case, then they' re going to have to deal with any conflicts and problems, whether the update is a Service Pack or an individual update.
  8. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,491   +184

    /*** Edit ***/ Just to be clear, my point about the value and "if and when" to install SP3 never targeted users who were "geeks like us" or those not currently experiencing a problem. My points have been:
    1. When noobs or those just less "computer savvy" post to the forums because of crashes and/or other software problems and state they’re “running XP SP2 + all updates” there’s value to suggest they first upgrade to SP3 to have more confidence in their true software base and update installation status before trying to delve into their problem
    2. SP3 is not simply equivalent to “SP2 + current updates” (some SP2 options now install by default and there are a few fixes unique to SP3). I’ve provided a link to Microsoft's document on differences. (Seems one time when I simply stated “they weren’t equivalent” in a different thread it was summarily discarded as debatable Internet hearsay. Just thought readers might find the link helpful)

    /**** Edit *****/
    Bobbye, in re-reading your last post am not sure if i mis-read its intent. I'd still stick to my opinion that (for most) people posting to TechSpot for help with crashes is best suggest they first update to SP3 to be assured of their software base before trying to tackle their problme. But am happy to explore your question, in general, within the thread. just need be back later w/reply after thinking it through
  9. kimsland

    kimsland Ex-TechSpotter Posts: 14,523

    Sorry where exactly?
    I don't mean a page of literature, just the exact differences.

    Also here's an excellent page on all the Hotfixes included in SP3:
  10. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,491   +184

    Here ya go. (Sorry, link was still back in original post. Forgot to copy it over to last post as well.)

    Note the tables they provide to highlight differences.
  11. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,491   +184

    Updated summary of info on SP3

    Bobbye, i address your topic in #3 below.

    And want to point out Gaming Performance: Windows Vista SP1 vs. XP SP3 now as i thought it an interesting link for several reasons and some readers might only be glancing at the start of this post.

    So my intentions are clear to anyone reading: I’m not trying to encourage everyone to install XP SP3 right away but I am trying to separate fact from fiction and faulty assumptions so choices/decisions about XP SP3 are, at least, based on evidence, if not fact. (Tho, I do think for the specific case of noobs writing to the forums about system crashes should first try updating to SP3).

    This post summarizes my understanding of what's in (and not in!) SP3 and cites documentation/evidence where i can.
    1. What fixes are included in Service Pack 3 (SP3)?
      (I copied MS's list of SP3 fixes into a spreadsheet then sorted by category to get the statistics below)

      As mentioned in an earlier post, MS provides a detailed list of fixes in MS KB94680. MS categorizes them as either a Hotfix or Security Update. To pass along the statistics, i found
      1,027 Hotfixes
      ...141 Security Updates
      1,168 Total Updates listed in SP3​
    2. Is there functionality in SP3 you won’t get by running Windows Update on SP2?
      (I installed a virgin XP Pro SP2 with IE6 onto a test machine and then ran Windows Update. After a couple Active X and Windows Genuine Advantage updates for Windows Update itself, it returned a total 94 High Priority and 11 Software Optional updates. See the two attachments in this post.)

      Yes. The SP3 update package includes some new functionality unique to SP3 as well as a number of fixes that are now installed by default in SP3 but which were not installed by simply running Windows Update on SP2 (rather, these hotfixes required they be installed manually).

      You can get a summary of functional differences between SP2 and SP3 in this MS document: Overview of Windows XP Service Pack 3. Also see the link i provided on Gaming Performance. Some examples of differences:
      • Unique to SP3: Improved cryptography which now meets higher federal standards (FIPS 140-1 and 140-2)
      • Unique to SP3: "Black hole" router detection helps your PC detect and avoid routers that drop packets
      • Installed by default in SP3 but manually in SP2: (see if KB893357 is currently installed in your SP2) Improved security by providing support for Wi-Fi Protected Access 2 (WPA2).

    3. I choose Custom for Windows Update. What about those updates I didn’t install in SP2? Do I end up getting them in SP3 now?
      A Custom Windows Update provides three types of updates: High Priority, Software Optional and Hardware Optional.

      From what I’ve seen SP3 does not install any optional software products nor any hardware updates. (Use the earlier link to look through the list of fixes included in SP3.) SP3 does contain fixes for some optional products but these are only fixes and are only applied if you have the product installed. It doesn’t result in an installation if the product isn’t already there.

      So the real question comes down to “Do you not install any High Priority Updates? Or you talking about the Optional ones? As the optional installs aren’t in SP3.

    4. Is there a performance difference between XP SP2 and SP3?
      I can only comment on what I’ve read (screening those online articles to those I thought credible sources and/or ones providing sufficient detail to support their conclusions). Before the official SP3 release was available, I saw a number of articles suggesting SP3 had up to a 10% performance improvement. HOWEVER, I haven’t found those claims in articles since SP3 has actually been released. Here’s some interesting and well documented reading that actually compares game performance between different Vista and XP releases as well as highlight some info about XP SP3. Gaming Performance: Windows Vista SP1 vs. XP SP3

    5. Using Belarc Advisor (freeware version) to identify differences
      Heard about this tool often before tho never used it (the freeware version) before now to see if it could help denote the differences in SP3. From what I could see (but maybe I didn’t have set right?) it tells me:
      • The Security Updates which are missing (which can help identify some differences between SP2 and SP3)
      • But it only tells me the Hotfixes which are installed but not what’s installed vs. those possible 1,027 hotfixes MS identifies are installed as part of SP3

    Attached Files:

  12. kimsland

    kimsland Ex-TechSpotter Posts: 14,523

    Yes I agree SP3 does not include many of those manually installed Hotfixes
    But then again, under default condition, users do not need it.
    What's default?: Windows installed only!

    By the way, I'd say one of the best posts I've seen LookinAround :grinthumb
    Extremely clear (although I ignored Vista info) and well resourced.

    I noticed that you were going to post yesterday, glad you didn't, because the above is excellent :)
  13. Bobbye

    Bobbye Helper on the Fringe Posts: 16,334   +36

    No, Looking Around, you didn't address my comment: the sole purpose of my comment is to advise users that they have choices for getting updates. They can and should assume some responsibility for what goes on their system. The primary way to do this is to examine each update- what it's for, what it does, is it necessary-and then, based on that information, make the decision to or not to put that update on their system.

    I think the whole SP3 matter has been beaten to death and all the references I've read about those 'extra' updates that are included in SP3 consistently say they will make no appreciable change to the system.
  14. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    But they do. Anybody who works on consumer machines daily knows that they do. Try to get a consumer which a computer problem to tell you what "appreciable change" means to them. The 94 percent who get not problems have nothing useful to say to the 6 percent who have stops and blue screens and installs that stop at 84%.

    You do not need all the updates. Microsoft needs you to have all the updates because it helps Microsoft.
  15. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,491   +184

    Bobbye, I’d be happy to agree to disagree on facts and personal opinion and leave the ultimate decision up to the reader. But after haven taken great effort to provide readers with links (they can review and assess for themselves) to online documentation as well as the details of my own testing with:
    • Links to online supporting documentation describing SP3, its content and its differences (and note, they’re not links to unsubstantiated statements made in personal blogs), and
    • Attachments detailing the specific 94 Windows Updates returned when run against a virgin XP SP2 Pro installation (vs. the 1,100+ updates in SP3)
    I find it incredulous to see a simple, sweeping generalization that “all you read” indicates “unappreciable” differences. Now you may have just misread a subtlety I found in many SP3 articles: that SP3 makes “no appreciable change” to XP’s user interface. However, the system is a different matter.

    A few functional differences that, in my own opinion, are far from inappreciable and are excerpted below from an article published by CNET (also see earlier earlier posts for other links to articles, MS’s document summarizing functional changes or their document detailing the 1,100+ fixes). I include the bullets here for others to draw their own conclusions as to whether or not (this partial list for SP3) is unappreciable or not
    • Support for WPA2, the latest standards-based wireless security solution derived from the IEEE 802.11i standard.
    • Improvements to black-hole router detection (detecting routers that are silently discarding packets). Windows XP SP3 turns this protection on by default.
    • BITS 2.5, which is required by Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007 and Windows Live OneCare
    • Peer Name Resolution Protocol (PNRP), which allows Windows XP applications to communicate with Windows Vista programs that use PNRP.
    • Windows Installer 3.1, which contains new and enhanced functionality and addresses some issues that Microsoft found in Windows Installer 3.0.
    • Digital Identity Management Service (DIMS), which allows users who log on to any domain-joined computer to silently access all of their certificates and private keys for applications and services.
    • The Security Options control panel includes more descriptive text to explain settings and prevent incorrect settings configuration.
    • Network Access Protection (NAP), which is a policy enforcement platform built into Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, and Windows XP SP3 to better protect network assets by enforcing compliance with system health requirements.
    I’ll reiterate that none of the 11 Software Optional Windows Updates are included in SP3.

    If it wasn’t clear earlier, readers should note that just running Windows Update (Custom or Express) never even returns all SP2 updates possible for you to evaluate (which is the reason for the vast difference between 94 and 1,100+). However, these 1,100+ disparate fixes have been integrated and included in the new SP3 software base for XP. (You don’t see all those fixes in SP2 as most are categorized as “hotfixes”. Generally, hotfixes are applied by sys admins on an “as needed basis”. One need know how to search for most hotfixes and then manually request them from MS)
    So it’s kinda funny and ironic that after promoting “responsibility for what goes on in their system” and “examine each update for what it’s for” you follow up with summarily discarding 1,100 updates with a simpe wave-of-the-hand and generalization. So let’s mutually agree to let the reader decide for themselves? :) (And certainly before a time when their system is crashing so they have both the time and luxury to decide)

    Oh. And one gotcha about SP3 some might want to know: If you are running IE7 and install SP3 you cannot uninstall IE7 to revert back to IE6. If you want to keep that option, MS recommends you uninstall IE7, then install SP3 and finally reinstall IE7
  16. kimsland

    kimsland Ex-TechSpotter Posts: 14,523

    Hey today someone asked me to set up their brand new Dell Vostro (received yesterday, from Dell) which had SP2 pre-installed (obviously with no other security updates (other than the 1 or 2 required by Dell, for the computer to work)

    Anyway, thank God, I had previously ordered and received the genuine MS SP3 update CD.
    I just popped it in, and let the SP update do the rest.

    Thank-you MS for providing this long waited Service Pack CD :)
    I was able to cut the time down to updating Windows by at least an hour (possibly 2 with downloading)

    SP3 is the best
  17. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    Anyone who does a great deal of repairs or service calls knows that 4 to 5 percent of SP3 installs cause trouble. Of course that is not a big number. But not many can point out what adding SP3 did to make things better.
    SP3 has no use for most people, and trouble for some. If you don't need them, why do them?
  18. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,491   +184

    Hi Raybay
    1. Just curious where you get your 4% - 5% statistic from (or has that number been based on your own personal best guess?)
    2. At what point in time since SP3's release in April were these statisics gathered? Many (if not most) of the original problems have been corrected in the SP3 release you can find for download today.
    3. Some of the SP3 problems, like the AMD processor issue, were actually problems traced back to HP and the way they had built their XP image for some of their AMD based computers. . In fact it was HP, not MS, that needed to release a fix for this problem.
    4. 4.As mentioned previously, SP3 makes no appreciable change to the XP user interface which is what most users see and notice right away. I can only refer to all the "behind the scenes" improvements to be to indicate what people will discover down the line as it may suddenly dawn on them
      • Their network runs better (less packet drop), ((or is one of those things that improves behind the scenes but the user doesn't really know why their ISP and network just seem to be working better)
      • Their XP wireless config has better security support in WPA2 (not just WPA)
      • etc. you can look through the functional changes already posted earlier

    Raybay, this time you didn't state that SP3 helps MS more then the user, last 2 posts you did state so. Don't know if you still are of that opinion? And if so, if you could provide more detail behind your conclusion (would be helpful to better understand where you're coming from as i found no software optional products installed and most of those 1,100 fixes were needed to
    • Provide a more stable product base for the user
    • Provide a more stable product base for the vendor needing to support current products for the user and who also want a more stable OS base and perhaps some of that new functionality to create new products for their users.
    • Allow MS to better support users as well and help fix existing products to work better together. (but even this latter point is a minority (certainly <50% of those 1,100) And many of those fixes are just simple fixes intended to make the user product work better
    So was just curious as to what you mean by that statement about SP3 helping MS more then the user
  19. raybay

    raybay TS Evangelist Posts: 7,241   +10

    That comes from our five shops in three states and about 9 machines a day.
  20. Bobbye

    Bobbye Helper on the Fringe Posts: 16,334   +36

    LookinAround, we will have to agree to disagree because neither one of us is going to change our 'opinion'. Since you are a System Software Engineer, possibly that is where you are coming from. I am "just" a user and I am basing my 'opinion' on both what I have read and the problems SP3 has caused.
  21. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,491   +184

    well, regardless of our points view (or better said "because of them") i've enjoyed having a good healthy debate with you in the forums :grinthumb

    And a totally unrelated question you or someone else might know (so i needn't look into it myself). And, yes, I know it should be in it's own thread but figured i'd first ask here among some knowledgeable TS compatriots

    I recently bought a 120GB internal PATA drive for my old, trusty laptop. Now i know there's issues with losing some disk space due to overhead, some bad sectors, etc. but when i create a partition on the drive i'm informed max size is 111.6GB. Over 8GB of space loss??? Alot more then i had guessed. Any comments?
  22. kimsland

    kimsland Ex-TechSpotter Posts: 14,523

    Unrelated, but that's just the loss caused through cluster size. There is a lot of info about this.
    I've eventually accepted that Windows should just automatically set up Windows partition (using NTFS on an unpartitioned drive) ie just let Windows setup do this.

    I still can't believe that both raybay and Bobbye will possibly not be stating to users to install SP3 on an Xp computer (even with the un-wanted extras)
    MS should not have allowed the user choice to do this. (Both SP1 and SP2 are required through any Security update) But SP3 (presently) is via user choice. We can only hope this will change, to stop the argument once and for good.

    Please confirm all MS Security updates are completed
    SP3 in general, will confirm that all SP2 (~1000) updates are at least completed
    Which, in around 50% (of computers I see) are not

    Any brand new install of Windows, should include installing SP3 as mandatory.
    Unless (in the extreme few cases) where SP3 must be removed if found not compatible. Thankfully new XP CDs are selling the disc with SP3 inclusive.

    Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition SP3 English for System Builders 1 Pack CD - OEM
    Microsoft Windows XP Professional SP3 English 3 Pack for System Builders CD - OEM
  23. gbhall

    gbhall TechSpot Chancellor Posts: 2,431   +77

    What about WGA coming to XP?

    I have understood from the first mention of SP3 that MS intended to include the WGA 'bomb' secretly in SP3, and recent industry comment seems to support that this has happened.

    This must be a strong argument to resist deploying SP3 until MS finally accept the fact that a built-in bomb ia a stupid idea. It is just software and certain to be sabotaged by hackers within days. Do you really want your perfectly legal XP to be accidently hobbled because MS want to discourage illegal copies of Windows?

    Hear from TechSpot itself
  24. kimsland

    kimsland Ex-TechSpotter Posts: 14,523

    Hmm. Now you do realize that you can preview a post before submitting it
    It's just that these replies seem to be happening more and more from you.
    Although you are undoubtedly working on the best format and info for your replies, posting like this will inevitably cause some concern from Moderators (ie Delete)
    These types of (quoted) posts are not helpful, not supportive and not required, and may constitute as "Spam"

    Good luck with the information replies too. If you're like me, I like getting things perfect too.
  25. LookinAround

    LookinAround Ex Tech Spotter Topic Starter Posts: 6,491   +184

    of course i know i can preview a post (what button you think i othwerwise hit when i said i hit the wrong one?)

    point was on a long and involved post (which also requires alot of formatting just to make it easier to read and follow) it requires ALOT of hitting Preview Post button. And that large a number of times doin it plus trying to finally get thru the darn format post process and multi-tasking and things at same time... point is sometimes have hit the wrong button. i said i was sorry.

    Which brings me to a though i had for a suggestion (tho not posted to Julio yet) that TS provide an area just for formatting (or newbies to use to try creating posts)
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