Should you install Windows 7 Service Pack 1?

Last week, Microsoft released Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. Since then, I've been monitoring the release. As with any major update, there are some issues, but are they widespread or isolated? And how can you ensure a trouble-free SP1 install? I've got the answers.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

Last week, Microsoft released Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2. I’ve been monitoring the release in online forums and via individual reports since then. I’ve also talked, unofficially, with some people who have access to Microsoft’s customer support database.

At that time, I noted that this “looks like a successful rollout.” Everything I’ve seen since then suggests that there are no widespread issues with Service Pack 1. Microsoft representatives who have looked into the release have also confirmed for me that they are not seeing any indication of significant issues with the update on Windows 7.

That doesn’t mean 100% of installations will be trouble-free. SP1 doesn’t add any new features, but it is a major update. Given the complexity of the PC ecosystem, it’s inevitable that there will be some hiccups in the process. For example, one reader pointed me to this lengthy thread on Microsoft’s TechNet forums, which highlights a troublesome issue that arises when all language packs are installed on Windows 7 Ultimate or Enterprise. If that describes your setup, I strongly recommend reading this thread before starting an SP1 update.

Fortunately, that type of error seems to be extremely rare. The more common (and still rare) outcome is an SP1 installation that fails to complete, leaving the system unchanged and still usable. This happened to one of my readers, who noted that she received error 0x800f0826 at the end of the installation process. A quick search of the TechNet forums finds other reports of this specific error, which has been associated with Vista service packs as well. This error reportedly occurs on some systems where the third-party DriverSweeper utility has been used. If you encounter this issue you might be able to fix it by running the System Update Readiness Tool and then reattempting the SP1 installation. According to Microsoft, this tool is automatically offered to machines where the Service Pack installer detects inconsistencies such as store corruption.

Should you avoid Service Pack 1? That’s certainly the most conservative approach. Given that SP1 is primarily a rollup of previously issued updates and hotfixes, there’s no compelling reason to install it today. If you’re cautious, feel free to wait a little longer. For network administrators who want to continue testing before deploying SP1, use the official SP1 Blocker toolkit from Microsoft to prevent SP1 from being delivered through Windows Update. (Note that this toolkit blocks the SP1 files from being offered through Windows Update until February 22, 2012. It does not prevent the installation of the service pack from CD/DVD, or from the stand-alone download package.)

Update: It's worth emphasizing that these comments apply to Windows 7 and not to Windows Server 2008 R2. In general, I strongly recommend that anyone running a Windows server should wait and install a service pack only after they have fully tested it in their environment, with their applications. It's relatively easy to recover from a problem with a single workstation, but much more difficult to do so with a server.

If you decide to press ahead with an SP1 installation, some basic precautions are in order, the same ones you should use with any important upgrade:

  • Create a manual System Restore point first. That gives you the option to roll back to the current configuration in the event of a problem. (Click Start and type restore point in the search box to see the Create a restore point option.)
  • Perform a manual image backup of your system drive before starting the SP1 install. Every version of Windows 7 offers the option to create a system image that can be saved on an external hard drive and restored from a repair disk. The process is quick and easy, and it provides a foolproof recovery option even from a worst-case failure. To create a backup image, type backup in the Start menu search box and use the Backup and Restore utility.

In the event you do encounter an SP1 installation issue, you can find excellent support resources at Microsoft’s TechNet forums. That should be your first stop if you need help with any SP1 issue.

If you have other reports to share, please feel free to leave them in the TalkBack section or use the comment link to send them to me via email. I’m continuing to monitor these reports.

Update: If you use Microsoft's Remote Server Administration Tools, there's a known issue with SP1 that prevents you from installing the RSAT utilities after SP1. (If the tools are installed first, they will work just fine.) Details here.

Also, a reader points to this discussion on VMWare's forums, which documents a workaround for a possible performance-related issue with VMWare Workstation.

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