How To Save an Hour (Or More) On XP Installs

Pre-patch your XP Setup CD once; never have to install SP2 again. Fred Langa walks you through a 16-step process.

September 20, 2004

12 Min Read
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Our recent discussions about Windows XP's SP2 show that the huge patch is working fine for most users; and that with caution (make a full backup or image beforehand; read and follow all of Microsoft's pre-SP2 installation tips), even potentially troublesome installations can be handled smoothly.

But not swiftly: The update process can take a considerable chunk of your workday, even if you don't count the download time or install from the free SP2 CD. Twenty to 40 minutes seems about the norm for installs on faster PCs; older, slower systems can take well over an hour.

There's not a lot that can be done about that, but you can achieve a huge time savings on future installations and reinstallations of XP by integrating SP2's files with those of your original XP setup CD. Your hybrid install CD will work exactly as the original one did, even to the point of using the same 25-character Product Key, but it will be completely up to date with all patches and updates, up to and including SP2. Any system you set up with the hybrid CD will be pre-patched to current levels, in one step. You'll be totally up to date from the start, rather than facing maybe an hour or more of additional downloads to bring the new installation or reinstallation to SP2 levels.

Creating a new hybrid installation CD is surprisingly easy--a point and click exercise with only a few geeky parts. And it works very well. In fact, in most ways, this method of pre-patching an installation CD is basically the same process software vendors use to produce an updated version of their installation software; indeed, starting this fall, Microsoft will offer for sale fully prepatched versions of XP on CD. But you don't have to wait: You can create your own totally legitimate prepatched copy of XP on CD today.

Before you begin, you'll need the following:1) A legitimate XP setup CD (almost any variation will work: Pro or Home; retail or OEM; full install CD or upgrade CD; etc.)

2) A CD burner, blank CD, and software capable of creating a bootable CD (eg. Nero, Roxio, etc.)

3) About a gigabyte of free space on your hard drive for temporary file storage. (This space can be recovered after you've made your new CD.)

Ready? Let's dig in, step by step.The Steps Required

Step One: Using Windows Explorer, navigate to the top level of your hard drive, or to some other suitable location that's easy to get back to.

Step Two: Create a new folder. We'll use this new folder to hold the components of your CD project. You can give it any name, but for clarity, let's call it XPSP2 in this working example.Step Three: Open the newly created XPSP2 folder. Inside, create three new (empty) folders; name them Root, Boot, and SP2. These folders will house various components that later will be combined into a new, pre-patched setup CD.

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(click image for larger view)

Create a working folder for your CD project in a convenient location (e.g. c:) and with an obvious name. The disk you select to host the project should have at least about one gigabyte free.

Create these three empty folders inside your main project folder. These subfolders will be used to store the working pieces of the new CD you're building.

Copying Files, Folders
Step Four: Put your original, unpatched XP installation CD in the CD drive; copy all of its files and folders to the new "Root" folder you just created in Step Three. (i.e. C:XPSP2ROOT )

Step Five: Open the Root folder; you'll see the files that have just been copied from the installation CD. Click to open the Support folder; then click to open the Tools folder inside that. Delete the file named "" inside the Tools folder. (In other words, delete: C:XPSP2ROOTSUPPORTTOOLSDEPLOY.CAB )

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(click image for larger view)

Copying the contents of your original read-only setup CD to a normal read/writable hard drive makes the setup files patchable. Getting the files off the CD can take a long time on older, slower systems, but isn't too onerous on newer PCs.

The original Deploy.Cab, in the ROOTSUPPORTTOOLS folder, must be deleted. Later, we'll replace it with an updated Deploy.Cab.

Step Six: Download the (free) "Windows XP Service Pack 2 Deployment Tools" from Microsoft.

Download an Install Package
Step Seven: The file you download In Step Six will have a name like "". Rename this to "" and copy it into the C:XPSP2ROOTSUPPORTTOOLS folder, replacing the "" you previously deleted there.

(click image for larger view)

(click image for larger view)

Microsoft's free "Windows XP Service Pack 2 Deployment Tools" can be downloaded for free, and will become the basis of the new "Deploy.Cab" you'll need for your prepatched setup CD.

Rename the Deployment Tools to "" and copy them to the ROOTSUPPORTTOOLS folder.

Step Eight: Download the (free) "Windows XP Service Pack 2 Network Installation Package for IT Professionals and Developers" from Microsoft. Download the file to the C:XPSP2 folder; or if you downloaded it elsewhere, copy it into the C:XPSP2 folder. Once it's there, rename the downloaded file (which is named something like WindowsXP-KB835935-SP2-ENU.exe ) to "SP2.EXE"

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(click image for larger view)

Download a (free) copy of the complete SP2 patch from Microsoft.

Rename the downloaded SP2 file to "SP2.EXE" and place it in the C:XPSP2 folder.

Step Nine: Extract the Service pack files to the SP2 folder: Click Start/Run, and then type this command in the Run box: C:XPSP2SP2.EXE /U /X:C:XPSP2SP2

Click OK, and the self-extracting SP2.exe file will unpack its contents into the SP2 folder.

Step Ten: Use XP's built-in "Update" tool to apply the SP2 patches to the original XP setup files. Click Start/Run and type the following command in the Run box:


Windows will open an "Updating Your Windows Share" dialog, and will show you the progress of the patching. When it's done, the SP2 patches will be seamlessly integrated with the original XP setup files.

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(click image for larger view)

The SP2 patch will self-extract to the folder of your choice. See the Step Nine text for specifics on how to get the files ready for integration with the original setup files.

A single command typed on the "Run" line (see Step Ten) merges the SP2 files with those on the original setup CD, making the setup files fully up to date and ready for use.

Most original XP setup CDs are bootable; and your new patched setup files will be most useful if they likewise reside on a bootable CD. Then, you can use the prepatched setup CD on any PC--- even one where the hard drive is completely unformatted. (Of course, the PC must be capable of booting from a CD in the first place; we'll assume that's a given.)

Different CD-burning tools have different ways of setting up a bootable CD. I'll walk you through using Roxio's CD Creator, as it's one of the most widely used CD-burning tools. Many of the concepts will apply to other tools, although the menu items and dialog names will be different. (I'll also link to additional step-by-step guides for other CD tools at the end of this article.)

Step 11: In addition to the content files, which you created in steps 1-10 above, you also need the actual boot code. The good folks at TackTech, in addition to offering a wealth of information, also make available, free, CD boot code files. Grab a copy at . It's a standard ZIP file; open the file and copy the compressed file inside, called "boot.ima" to the folder C:XPSP2BOOT you previously created.

Step 12: Start your CD burner utility--- in this example, Roxio's CD Creator:

Step 13: Select File/New Project/Bootable Disc. When the dialog opens, set Bootable Disc Type: to No Emulation. Click the ">>Advanced" button, and set the Load Segment: to 0x000 and the Sector Count: to 4. Now click "Browse" where the dialog asks you to "locate the image file that contains the bootable image." Browse/navigate to C:XPSP2BOOT. Click on the "boot.ima" file you placed there in Step Eleven, and then click "Open" and "OK."Step 14: Click to File/Project Properties. This opens one dialog with several tabs, and many choices and sub choices. Basically, you use this dialog to set up the new CD to match the characteristics of your original XP setup CD. For example, if your original XP setup CD is an unpatched, retail, full-install version, its volume label is probably "WXPFPP_EN," so that's what you'd enter in the "Volume Label" portion of the dialog box. You can simply check your original CD with Windows Explorer to see the volume label, or you can figure it out from the comprehensive list at

Likewise, set the other features in this dialog to match that of the original setup CD:

File System = Joliet
Physical format of CD = Mode 1: CDROM

Click Advanced, and enter the following:

Prepared By = MICROSOFT_CORPORATIONThe remaining default settings are probably OK, but to be sure:

Select "Use original file date."
Select "All Files" under the "File Filter" tab.
Uncheck "Do not add Hidden files" and "Do not add System files."

When you're done, click OK.

Step 15: You're almost ready to burn. You already added the boot image files to the project in Step thirteen; now select and add all the files and folders in the C:XPSP2ROOT folder to the burn project, and click "Burn to disc."

Step 16: The final dialog then opens, and offers a few last choices. If they're not already selected, select "Record CD" under "Record Options," and "Disc-at-Once" under "Record Methods." Click OK, and you're done!Note that the burning software may complain about the "folder depth" being too many levels deep--ignore this warning, as it has no effect on the usability of this CD.

Of course, there are many variations on the process, and these sites cover most of them:

Other ways to produce a prepatched ("slipstreamed") setup CD:

Create a Bootable CD:

What ways have you used to "slipstream" or prepatch a CD? What pitfalls have you encountered that you might share with the rest of us? What sites have given you the best advice on the process? Join in the discussion!

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Fred Langa's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Fred Langa, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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