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Is it necessary to back up data before installing Windows Vista Service Pack 2 (SP2) from online updates?

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No, it is not necessary, but it is recommended.

Service Packs are many updates all packaged together, and it only installs the updates in the SP that are not already installed or up-to-date. However, there is always the chance that an update can mess up your computer, etc, and with a SP, you should backup, just in case.

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You should always back up important data before critical system updates. That's what they tell you anyway. It's better to make a complete system backup in case you are left with an unstable system rather than backing up just single files.

That said, I think that 99% of people do their service pack updates without backups and it should be fine.

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Good answer. Think broader - you should ALWAYS back up important data, certainly before a major system update but really you should do it on a regular basis anyway! – Shinrai Feb 22 '11 at 15:57

Yes, this site and other forums are full of posts about lost data for one reason or another.

You should Always have a recent backup of your important data.

In addition to a backup of your data you could make a system image of the hard drive before you install a Service Pack as suggested by member slhck.

Vista Business and Ultimate have this ability to make a System Image built in, otherwise you would need to install software to make a system image, something like This Software

When windows installs a service pack it automatically creates a Windows Restore Point, which can be useful to roll back the service pack install if things go wrong, but should not to be relied on as a replacement for data backups or system images.

System Restore in Windows Vista

System Restore from a Vista Install disc or by using F8 at boot time

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