Performance Results Mixed with Vista Service Pack 1

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(Updated with formal PC World benchmark results on 2/12/08.)

Microsoft's newly released Service Pack 1 may solve some of the performance glitches that have annoyed Windows Vista users and discouraged others from adopting the OS, but it doesn't appear from our tests to be a panacea--at least with respect to performance.

In our first tests of the service pack, file copying, one of the main performance-related complaints from Vista users, was significantly faster. But other tests showed little improvement and in two tests, our experience was actually a little better without the service pack installed than with it.

Service Pack 1 was recently released to manufacturing, and officially sent out to reviewers on Feb. 6. (Service Pack 1 was also unofficially unleashed on Feb. 6 on BitTorrent, too).

Service Pack 1 will be available to users in March, as a download; Microsoft plans to have SP1 integrated into Windows Vista at retail as well, but could not give a timeline on how quickly the update will be included in the retail version of Vista.

We've already covered many aspects of SP1 in previous looks at the initial SP1 beta last fall, and the more recent SP1 Release Candidate that became available in January. A quick recap: Though many of SP1's benefits lie hidden within the bowels of the OS (such as support for standards like Extensible Firmware Interface and Extended File Allocation Table), SP1 is packed with performance enhancements as well. According to Microsoft, more tangible improvements include improved performance when copying, compressing, and extracting files, improved boot and power down times, improved network performance, and other performance-related fixes. Microsoft says Windows Vista SP1 will be about 60MB when delivered over Windows Update.

I took the RTM of Vista Service Pack SP1 down to the PC World Test Center this afternoon and unleashed it across a variety of systems to see how it performed. These tests are preliminary and informal ones; the PC World Test Center is working on additional testing, and we'll post additional information--and update this story--as it comes available.

Service Pack 1: Installation

For my installation and file copy tests, I installed Service Pack 1 on a fairly high-end system: Polywell's $4000 Poly P3503-3DT, a model packed with a 3-GHz Core 2 Extreme QX6850 CPU, 4GB of memory, and Windows Vista Ultimate Edition.

The first thing I noticed during the installation process was Windows Vista's friendly warning that the installation might take an hour or more. My experience was, pleasantly, far from that: The installation process required just 27 minutes, less than half of what I experienced with the first beta of SP1 back in September 2007. Your experience may vary greatly, depending upon your system's configuration, though: A Dell Inspiron 1420 notebook (with 2.2-GHz Core 2 Duo T7500 CPU and 2GB of memory) required just 30 minutes to complete; but two other, less powerful systems took far longer to complete the installation.

SP1 required three reboots in all. During a good portion of the installation time, about 18 minutes, Vista reported it was just preparing the configuration, before actually proceeding with the installation.

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