How-To Geek

From the Tips Box: Pre-installation Prep Work Makes Service Pack Upgrades Smoother


Last month Microsoft rolled out Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and, like many SP releases, quite a few people are hanging back to see what happens. If you want to update but still error on the side of caution, reader Ron Troy  offers a step-by-step guide.

Ron’s cautious approach does an excellent job minimizing the number of issues that could crop up in a Service Pack upgrade by doing a thorough job updating your driver sets and clearing out old junk before you roll out the update. Read on to see how he does it:

Just wanted to pass on a suggestion for people worried about installing Service Packs.  I came up with a ‘method’ a couple years back that seems to work well.

  • Run Windows / Microsoft Update to get all updates EXCEPT the Service Pack.
  • Use Secunia PSI to find any other updates you need.
  • Use CCleaner or the Windows disk cleanup tools to get rid of all the old garbage out there.  Make sure that you include old system updates.
  • Obviously, back up anything you really care about.  An image backup can be real nice to have if things go wrong.
  • Download the correct SP version from; do not use Windows / Microsoft Update to get it.  Make sure you have the 64 bit version if that’s what you have installed on your PC.
  • Make sure that EVERYTHING that affects the OS is up to date.  That includes all sorts of drivers, starting with video and audio.  And if you have an Intel chipset, use the Intel Driver Utility to update those drivers.  It’s very quick and easy.  For the video and audio drivers, some can be updated by Intel, some by utilities on the vendor web sites, and some you just have to figure out yourself.  But don’t be lazy here; old drivers and Windows Service Packs are a poor mix.
  • If you have 3rd party software, check to see if they have any updates for you.  They might not say that they are for the Service Pack but you cut your risk of things not working if you do this.
  • Shut off the Antivirus software (especially if 3rd party).
  • Reboot, hitting F8 to get the SafeMode menu.  Choose SafeMode with Networking.
  • Log into the Administrator account to ensure that you have the right to install the SP.
  • Run the SP.  It won’t be very fancy this way.  Maybe 45 minutes later it will reboot and then finish configuring itself, finally letting you log in. Total installation time on most of my PC’s was about 1 hour but that followed hours of preparation on each.

On a separate note, I recently got on the Nvidia web site and their utility told me I had a new driver available for my GeForce 8600M GS.  This laptop had come with Vista, now has Win 7 SP1.  I had a big surprise from this driver update; the Windows Experience Score on the graphics side went way up.  Kudo’s to Nvidia for doing a driver update that actually helps day to day usage.  And unlike ATI’s updates (which I need for my AGP based system), this update was fairly quick and very easy.  Also, Nvidia drivers have never, as I can recall, given me BSOD’s, many of which I’ve gotten from ATI (TDR errors).

The only way to play it safer would be to wait for a month or two and then follow Ron’s guide, downloading the SP1 release and any minor tweaks that follow. Have a service pack upgrade tip or two to share? Let’s hear about it in the comments. Have a tip of another sort that you’d like to see featured in the From the Tips Box series? Shoot us an email at and we’ll see what we can do to get your tip in the limelight.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 03/17/11

Comments (13)

  1. Phil

    Sorry if this is a dumb question, but why boot in Safe mode?

  2. Stephen Character

    Phil, Over-paranoid people tell you to do this stuff from safe mode. I have never had a problem installing service packs without jumping through all the hoops this article tells you too. And if any problems arise, just use good ole system restore.

  3. Seasider

    I would hazard a guess booting into Safe mode would be to keep the number of things running down to a minimum.

  4. Anomaly

    Would it be a good idea to update IE to version 9 before installing the service pack or after?

    I remember with XP SP3 if you installed IE8 before the service pack you could not uninstall IE8. You had to install SP3 first then install IE8 if you wanted the to be able to uninstall IE8.

  5. flinx

    Running in safe mode will actually just slow the process down, since a lot of advanced driver features and buffering of HDDs will be disabled.

  6. Jenny

    Imagine how long it will take when the time comes to do the inevitable clean Win 7 install (ie, Install Win 7, go through all this again for SP1, install current fixes, etc…)

  7. TheGift73

    @Anomaly has a point. I remember that issue and wonder if it has been resolved. If so/ not, is it an OS specific issue?

  8. steve

    I’ve tried this stuff and a bunch of other things and SP1 still won’t install, neither will IE9. My laptop still works great so I guess I’ll worry about it some other time.

  9. Dogbone

    I also have the same problems as Steve.

  10. Kevalin

    @Jason Fitzpatrick- grammar geek says: “That would be, ‘… but still ERR on the side of caution…'”

  11. Phil

    I have always installed service packs without all of these precautions with no problems. I just finished this one and then installed the new version of Internet Explorer. All went smoothly. I did notice that my computer slowed down for a day and now it is running just fine. After the installations, I used CClean to clean up the mess.

  12. denis

    I downloaded SP1 as soon as it was available. No problem whatsoever. When IE9 RC appeared I downloaded that followed a few days by the full version. Quite simply I can not see what all the fuss is about.

  13. Anomaly

    Has anybody installed IE9 Before SP1? If so can you check if you still have the option to remove IE9.

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