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Problems installing XP's service pack 3 could be coming from either hardware or software. Getting that machine cleaned up is the first step.

During setup of Windows XP, I get a blue screen. My Pentium 4 CPU is not accepting Windows SP3.

In this excerpt from Answercast #50, I look at a case where SP3 is giving installation troubles. The solution is going to depend on how and when the problem manifests.

Initial setup failure

So, it's a little unclear here exactly which process you're talking about.

If you're talking about installing Windows XP (setting it up from an installation disc) and you get a blue screen during that, then either:

  • The hardware is simply not compatible with Windows XP,

  • Or there's a problem with your hardware.

It's really difficult to identify exactly where that's going to be, especially during the setup process. I'd certainly run things like memory test software or do other diagnostics to try and figure out exactly what part of your hardware may or may not be working properly such that the XP setup would fail.

In general, if setup fails with a blue screen specifically, it's almost certain to be hardware related:

  • Hardware incompatibility or hardware failure.

Upgrade installation failure

If instead you're talking about installing SP3 on top of an existing Windows XP installation, then we end up looking at a couple of different things.

One is simply what I'll call the cleanliness of your system:

  • The XP Service Packs typically fail if there's a problem with the software on your machine.

Malware check

The most obvious scenario is when there's malware on your machine. In fact, specifically rootkits have been known to cause exactly the behavior that you're seeing.

  • XP's Service Pack 3 can fail (and for that matter so can SP2) to install if there's malware on your machine.

So the very first thing that I would do is:

  • Make a thorough and complete scan using anti-malware tools - anti-virus and anti-spyware.

  • And then, also, consider running the free anti-malware tool from

If that resolves the problem, great!

Reinstall XP

If it doesn't, then in all honesty, I think you're looking at a scenario where the right thing to do is to:

  • Backup your system completely so that you don't lose any data;

  • And then reinstall Windows XP from scratch.

Take all the updates, and take SP3 that way. That guarantees that you're installing to a clean system. That basically gets most all of the issues that might get in the way of a service pack install out of the way.

Resolving SP3 problems

So, those are my recommendations.

If it's truly a Windows XP setup problem on an initial install that you're experiencing:

  • Sounds like a hardware problem to me.

If it's a problem while you're installing SP3 on top of an existing install:

  • Then either you're looking at malware and you may be able to clean that up;

  • Or you may end up needing to backup, reformat, and reinstall Windows XP from scratch so as to have a clean install on top of which you can then install SP3.

Article C5774 - September 5, 2012 « »

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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.

Not what you needed?

September 7, 2012 11:35 AM

If you installed I.E. 7 or above uninstall it. Run the updates (saying no to any I.E update). Once the updates are installed you can go ahead and update I.E.

Discovered this after five hours of fruitless searching/swearing and messing with everything I could think of.

Terry Hollett
September 8, 2012 4:11 AM

Delete all partitions during setup and do a full format.

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