Windows 7 SP1 Install Error

Having problems with ERROR_FILE_NOT_FOUND or other odd issues with your SP1 install? Take a look.

Whenever I’ve tried to do anything with service packs, they’re invariably failed. Normally I just get the full ISO with SP1 from TechNet and use that, because it saves a load of trouble, and if I try to do a normal update they tend to fail anyway. Ah, the joy of updates. Service Pack 1 for Windows 7 contains pretty much nothing of interest. Remember SP2 for Windows XP (aka “When XP Stopped Being Shit”) was a one off, service packs are most frequently just a collection of previous fixes plus a few minor new additions, and aren’t intended to add lots of new, overt functionality. But I digress.

When I first tried to install this bastard through Windows Update, it failed. Actually quite a few updates fail with “Unknown Error”, but the error code leads you to a KB article asking you to delete the temp files used by Windows Update. In my case, it would download say 30% or something and then simply give up, installing nothing (and possibly downloading nothing for all I know). I followed the instructions, but it didn’t change anything.

So the first thing I did was get the EXE installer for my x64 platform. If you’ve having trouble with Windows Update, you should do the same.

They’re available from the Microsoft website, just Google for SP1 Windows 7. There are a lot of files that show up (and you’ll need to pass the WGA check). The first is an ISO that can be used to deploy SP1 to x86 or x64 platforms and is close to 2GB. There are a few other little files, plus two sizable packages, one for an x86 system, and one for x64. Grab the one which matches your platform, and try to install it.

I did this, and initially it looked like it was working. Then it stopped and gave me the error “ERROR_FILE_NOT_FOUND”. This isn’t particularly descriptive. There are a bunch of other possible errors as well which appear in various threads, but they all seem to have one common fix. I tried to avoid that common fix because, quite frankly, it’s a pain in the arse, but there isn’t much in the way of alternatives. But first…

Disable all non-essential background processes, especially anti-virus software. I shouldn’t need to remind you to do that since it’s best practice anyway, but just in case you’re losing your shit over this and have forgotten, there’s your reminder. Of course this didn’t work for me, not that I have an AV package installed. If it’s still not working, you need the PITA fix…

To fix it, I had to do an “in place” upgrade of Windows 7. Basically all this means is that you run the installer from your Windows 7 DVD while inside Win7 and select Upgrade. It’s ridiculous. After that you should be able to install SP1 without any problems. Note that this upgrade repair path also happens to reset all environmental variables (which is a bitch for me, because I have all the TEMP folders and the near-useless swapfile directed to a second HDD so it stays off my SSD RAID0 array) and breaks a few apps in the process. Since it’s an upgrade path it also takes ages to perform, because it ‘transfers’ all your settings and files. No idea exactly what that means or why it has to be done (let alone why it’s upgrading an install of Windows 7 in the first place) but there you go. That fixes it.

If you’re still having issues, format. It’s probably the easiest method to deal with it in the long run. There are a few hotfixes which might conflict with SP1, and if your system hasn’t been formatted in a while, it’s probably not a bad idea to do so anyway. Yeah, it’s a pain, but there’s not much else to suggest.


The rationale behind the fix makes sense. The weird errors that pop up can often be more accurately traced by using the sfc /scannow option from the cmd prompt. Usually it’ll return a bunch of errors about missing or invalid files, registry keys, and a bunch of other stuff. In my case I didn’t actually see any errors in the log (or nothing that looked like errors) even though the tool said that there were errors. Sometimes these issues can be fixed, but not in this case. One of the common links seems to be the use of DriverSweeper and similar applications, which appear to remove references or files that Windows, for whatever reason, expects to remain. SP1 throws a fit in these cases and refuses to install. I don’t remember using DriverSweeper so I can only assume that my issue is a random failure brought on by an install that should probably be formatted. Since the repair path more or less resets Windows to a default state, these errors are resolved, and SP1 installs without problem.

There are a lot of solutions about this on Microsoft’s message boards, most of which consists of cut-and-paste responses giving people ridiculously basic advice in a condescending way. Most of them boil down to “in place upgrade” in the end once the posters finally decide that PEBKAC != true. So, if you want a fairly good chance of installing, just do the in-place upgrade method. If it’s still not working, you’ll probably need to format.


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