Service Packs are collections of security updates and stability enhancements from Microsoft. For Windows XP, every new Service Pack includes all fixes from previous Service Pack so that you don't need to download and install them one by one. Just grab the latest one and you're good.
Service Pack 3 is the last service pack for Windows XP because XP is really old by now. Remember, XP was launched in 2001 and it will reach end-of-life by the middle of April, 2014?
How do I know which Service Pack I have on my computer?
Right-click My Computer icon on Desktop or in Start menu and choose Properties. Or use keyboard shortcut Windows Key+PAUSE to open System Properties window.
Open General tab and see what's written in the System section.
If you have Service Pack 1 or Service Pack 2 or no line about Service Pack at all, continue reading this article. Close System Properties window by clicking OK.
If you already have Service Pack 3 installed, you can safely skip this article.
Steps to take before installing Service Pack 3 for Windows XP
Before applying Windows XP Service Pack 3, please follow steps in the following articles - otherwise the installation might fail because of some trivial reason such as messed up files on system drive or not enough free space on disk, or some malware blocking installation:
- Check disks in Windows;
- Free up disk space in Windows (you need 1500 megabytes [1.5 gigabytes] of free space to install Windows XP Service Pack 3);
- Full anti-virus scan, such as avast! Free Antivirus on-demand scan or Microsoft Security Essentials on-demand scan;
- Full anti-malware scan, such as Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware on-demand scan;
- Optionally, create a disk image backup, as described in the Configure EaseUS Todo Backup Free in Windows article.
Downloading and installing Service Pack 3 for Windows XP
First, close all open programs and documents.
You cannot apply it via Windows Update / Microsoft Update anymore because this requires SP3 to be installed already.
Full download (aka Network Installation Package) of Service Pack 3 for Windows XP is available in Microsoft Download Center.
Click Download and save the package (do not use the Run option yet!). You do not need to select additional downloads or install Microsoft Download Manager if prompted.
If you see some error before or during the update, try restarting your computer first. If this does not help, use this Fix It tool for repairing Microsoft Update problems.
After the download is complete, click Run to open Service Pack 3 Installation Wizard. Click Next.
The installing process will take quite a while. It could consume up to an hour or more on slower computers. Have a nice glass of juice and do some exercise while the Service Pack is being installed.
When it gets to the point where you see "Finishing installation" screen, it will still take several minutes to complete.
After successful completion, click Finish to restart your computer.
After restarting, your computer will do some post-install configuration and you will see screens like this. Starting Windows will also take a little more time. This is normal and it happens only once. But after all this you are done applying Service Pack 3!
Please apply all security updates after installing SP3 for Windows XP. If you have not yet configured Windows Update, read the Configure Automatic Updates in Windows article.
Don't forget to install these free security tools:
- Free anti-virus programs
- Free anti-malware programs
- WOT Safe Surfing Tool
- Secunia PSI
- Microsoft EMET
And last, but not least: do set up automatic backups just in case something goes wrong in the future.