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SP3 behaves much better than the previous service packs did, but nobody can guarantee it 100%. If you do run into trouble, odds are very high someone's run into it before and can help.
A couple things that will help the odds a bit:
1) Use the downloadable stand-alone update package instead of Windows Update. Don't worry about it saying "only for network" - it still works fine for one PC (and MS's own articles recommend it if Windows Update acts up).
2) Make sure any background software is turned off before you install it - real-time antivirus software, any monitoring or update programs (like Dell Support Center or the like), things like instant messaging, etc.
Long-time member Joe53 compiled a nice list of guides from MS and elsewhere (hopefully the links still work - haven't checked them all):
Something to be aware of - if you're using this PC on the internet, likely you haven't had any security or other updates at all for a long time (MS stopped supporting SP2 over a year ago). Hopefully you haven't had any security issues, but after installing SP3, you will likely have a TON of updates left to do.
Thank you very much for your response. The issue of updates post SP3 had not occured to me. Thankfully I haven't had any security issues, but I agree, I'm probably in for one hell of a long session downloading updates. I think I'll leave this whole thing until the weekend. Thanks again.
Thanks for your response. I'll have a go this weekend. If I come back into the forum screaming for help then it probably didn't work!
Just a comment or two that might be useful: First, be patient. I installed Service Pack 3 onto three computers, two that were already up and running, one that needed a fresh installation of Windows XP. The two computers that were already running Windows XP SP-2 required nearly two hours for the installation using the downloaded version of the update package for Network Managers. I suspect that this was because I was running Norton Anti-Virus which insists on inspecting every file before it is extracted and installed. I had disabled the auto-protect prior to beginning execution, but I didn't set it for a long enough period. By the time the installation finally completed I was beginning to wonder if something was wrong.
The computer that required a fresh installation was just about an hour as I was able to apply the Service Pack 3 update to a new installation of Windows XP SP-2 and had no anti-virus installed at that point.