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Windows is constantly being updated, and that means that after you've installed from CD there's a lot to download. We'll look at a few alternatives.

It was recommended I do a win XP SP2 repair install from disc. It's actually the second time in 4 months this has been recommended by my computer manufacturer's support techs. Each time I have lost my security updates, so I go to Windows Update and each time it downloads all however many security updates, there are, rebooting repeatedly and taking forever.

Is there a way to avoid that?

Naturally the image of Windows XP you have on your installation CD is a snapshot of Windows XP frozen in time. Most CDs have SP2 pre-loaded, but I know I have a couple that are the original release. The installation process using those is even worse, since it must first download and install SP2 before I can even get to the more recent updates.

There are several approaches to avoiding this problem if you reinstall repeatedly.

Windows XP SP3

The first solution, of course, is Windows XP SP3. At this writing, it is supposed to be released almost any day now. That will bundle most of those security updates and more into a single download and install.

It's unclear though if we'll ever see Windows XP CDs with SP3 pre-installed, simply because Microsoft keeps threatening to stop selling XP.

If you do plan to reinstall periodically, or on multiple machines, I would recommend finding and downloading what's called the "network install". This is a single large file containing all of the service packs that you download once and then use on as many machines as you need, and as often as you need.

"If you do plan to reinstall periodically, or on multiple machines, I would recommend finding and downloading what's called the 'network install'."

SP3 isn't a permanent solution, since no doubt there will be additional patches and fixes post-SP3 that will begin to accumulate just as they have post-SP2.

Slipstreaming

Slipstreaming is the process of creating a Windows XP Installation CD with a service pack pre-loaded. Typically you'll see instructions pop up on the internet after a major service pack is released, so after SP3 is released I fully expect that to be the case. It takes a bit of work, an original XP Installation CD and the network install version of the service pack, but the result is a single CD that just has everything up to date as of that service pack.

If you find yourself installing Windows XP a lot on different machines, creating a slipstreamed disk might well be worth the effort. Just remember that each machine you install on will, of course, need their own unique Windows XP product key to be legal.

Snapshotting

If you find yourself reinstalling to the same machine periodically, it might be wise to simply use a disk imaging tool to take a snapshot of the machine after you've updated it completely. Even if you don't plan to do it frequently, it can often be a helpful safety net.

For example you might install Windows XP with SP2, and then go through the pain of installing all the updates available from Windows Update. Once you're done, create an image of the system drive.

Now, later, when it's time to reinstall, instead of actually going through the reinstallation process you simply restore the drive image. That brings the machine to the same state it was in when you took the image: installed and up to date as of that time.

Be sure to then visit Windows Update anyway, since there may well be additional updates that were released after you took that snapshot. If you foresee repeating this process in the future, it might even be worth taking an updated snapshot at this point as well, before you further modify the system.

The "problem" with snapshotting is that it typically only works reliably on the same machine that the snapshot was taken from. Remember that Windows configures itself for the hardware that it's installed on. Once you take a snapshot of that configuration to another machine with different hardware, the results are unpredictable. Similarly, if Windows has been activated at the time the snapshot was taken, the activation will likely not apply to the changed hardware.

Windows Update Alternatives

One alternative that I've not played with personally are services that provide all the Windows updates bundled into a single install. Discussed on the Security Now! podcast, episode 124 with Steve Gibson and Leo Laporte (the "other Leo" Smile), this script for "offline-update" apparently builds a CD image with all the current patches ready for installation.

Article C3350 - April 14, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
Aaron
April 14, 2008 9:30 PM

Been using this for a long time and is invaluable in my IT position. It basically downloads all the updates (various windows versions, office, tweaks etc.) and provides a method to offline update. Once you try it you will never use Windows Update again.

http://www.autopatcher.com

(download link can be found in the announcements forum thread)

levasta
May 16, 2009 7:44 PM

will updates be down loaded and installed while
my pc is off?

No, your computer must be on and connected to the internet.
- Leo
17-May-2009

Bunny Rodwell
February 16, 2010 12:48 PM

We are now in 2010 and gone from xp sp3 to Vista, but alas my old pc is still xp sp2 and refuses to update to sp3. Being a 6 year old computer could be the problem why it won't do that. My laptop is sp3 but doesn't seem to be any faster than the old girl. I have a little icon in the taskbar that keeps reminding me that updates are ready to install...to sp3 but it still won't oblige. Any ideas.

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