Installing Service Pack 3 on Windows XP without taking a few minutes to prepare the process might be time consuming in some cases and can also lead to a failed process and a bugged installation as you will notice in the end. Of course,this also could happen with a little help from misguided users who give their unverified solutions for SP3 stuck on performing cleanup.

What the installer is actually trying to do at this step is to install all the missing hot-fixes until current date, which in some cases might take longer depending on whether you had latest updates installed or not and how far back your latest Windows Updates go.

One thing is for sure, in 99% of the cases facing this “problem”, the process did not complete yet and your computer is still doing something. You can confirm this by checking your HDD led for activity and also by checking the log files.

Log files can be found in your C:\Windows (if you have C: as root drive for your Windows installation), usually with the names of the patches, security patches, hot-fixes or any other related software downloaded during the update. You will see the names with a .log or .txt extension if you order all the files in there by date and hour. You will also notice that the computer is still working on the update as you will see new files created if you refresh (F5) the folder few seconds/minutes later.

For example, you can have new KB file logs created which means that the specific patch has been installed, the SP3 installation is still running and it is NOT stuck and this logic continues for the rest of the files too.

Another way to see that the process is not stopped is to use Windows Update log file. To open it, just go to your start – run and type “windowsupdate.log” without the quotes and you will see any new action added to the report. Just close and open it again to see new info if you are more skeptic. You can also access manually this file by going to C:\Windows but I like the run method, it’s more technical.

You can see below the files newly created when updating. Similar files will be created when you install Service Pack 3 too, so you can monitor the continuous activity of the software against hang up times. You will have to ignore the fact that in below picture I am not installing SP3, in fact I am installing all the available updates from a WSUS server, but the same files that get downloaded and installed at this step will be created and installed in “performing cleanup” step for SP3 install, with the only exception that for you it will probably be all Windows updates until that moment, while for me only those tested and accepted by company standards, policies and tests made on different systems.

Windows XP SP3 stuck on performing cleanup

Wrong solution for Windows XP SP3 stuck on performing cleanup

This is the worst method and I am actually mentioning it to make you think before using it to fix your problem.

Many people recommend you to stop “Automatic Updates” service or “Software Update Installation Wizard” from Task Manager – Applications and wait a few minutes so the performing cleanup step finishes successfully and the SP3 installation too.

I’ve used this solution in desperate cases too such as when I had to give the computer to the user really fast and he couldn’t wait more but I’ve also used it because I knew it will not affect its performance (user using basic functions of the computer like reading email or opening documents with Office applications like Excel), or when I knew that computer will be used for a short period of time due to several reasons. Even if the process would be complete and some files wouldn’t exist in terms of installed patches, this can be partially fixed later with a manual Windows update BUT it will not fix the main problem, the fact that several applications will still see your computer as running Service Pack 2.

The thing is, if later on you will be trying to install some software that has as request SP3 like for example some Adobe products, you will get errors saying that you don’t have SP3 installed, even if you check in sysdm.cpl and see Service Pack 3. Probably when the “performing cleanup” step is successfully completed it adds a registry key or some parameter somewhere that these programs ask for it, they search them, and when not found you get the error saying that the SP3 is not installed.

Note: I will try to resume everything I said until this point in this one paragraph so you understand how important it is to continue with performing the cleanup and let it finish without interrupting it with a fake belief that nothing will go wrong and it won’t impact future use of the computer for the user. What I can assure you is that the cleanup will be successfully completed in most of the cases but you should know it can last from 20 minutes to 6 hours and a bit more sometimes, depending on how much time has passed since the last update and also depending on computer’s performance.

Try to avoid stopping Automatic Updates service or killing the Application/Process that handles the update process in background of the SP3 installation but if you have to do it, for whatever reasons and with above explained details in mind, set the Automatic Updates service to stopped and wait for a few minutes and it will finish. Now you have to reboot the computer. You will have to run Windows Update again to add the missing updates that you just skipped by disabling the service and so skipping a step in the whole process.

How to optimize the process

Download the Windows Service Pack 3 package from the web, I would recommend using trustful websites like Microsoft, not just any download link you find. Don’t use the Service Pack 3 feature installation from Windows Updates.

If you have any software that might scan/delay/check this process, like filter, firewall, antivirus and so on, disable them or add this program as exception when installing, else you will face possible errors due to blocked information or delay due to the scan. This is the reason why I encourage you to download from trustful websites because to speed up the process you will have to run the installation without protection.

Set a High or at least Above Normal priority for the installation and update process.

Optional: Make sure that the computer is running fine, without errors and that the current operating system is healthy and it will be great if the configuration is somewhere close to our days and not a wooden PC, else you will have to pay with your time.

Wait or find something else to do while the process is running as in less than optimal conditions, it will take a while so find a good movie or hug your girlfriend if you are not wasting your looks at work like me.

Treat with Caution

If you search the web you will have multiple people saying that if the process hangs for more than 2 hours you should close the process/application/service and restart the computer and when it starts again you should see the Service Pack 3 installed even on Computer Properties.

What they don’t say and that’s because they haven’t found out by now or they are just ignorant is that these actions can cause Blue Screens (better known as BSOD). They can also cause problems in the computer’s operating system files that will make impossible for Windows to normally start again, which will leave you with an option to repair the OS from recovery console or to try a system restore.

I will also add the fact that doing what those people say can cause future software installations to fail, as they might see your computer still running SP2 and not SP3 due to that step of bypassing by shutting it down and rebooting the computer. As I said above, a good example are some Adobe applications like Adobe Professional 10 and later editions that will not let you install it after such a process, saying that you need Service Pack 3 installed even if you can see it in sysdm.cpl .

When you have no hope and you feel Windows is a pain in the ass, it is probably true but remember a thing: “Patience is a virtue” and find something else to do.

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