SP1 for Windows Vista shines in some areas and introduces inconsistencies in others

Many Windows customers are excited about finally getting their hands on Windows Vista's first service pack, SP1, which promised to deliver not only bugfixes, but performance upgrades.  After a slow release schedule, Microsoft picked up the pace and made plans to ship early to select customers.  The service pack already went out to testers; volume English-language customers will be receiving it before the end of the week, and MSDN and TechNet subscribers will receive it by the end of the month.

One key question on Windows Vista users' minds is exactly how does Windows post SP1 measure up against the initial copy of Windows Vista in terms of performance.  In initial testing at CNET Labs, the results are in, and they are rather mixed.  Testers found that while SP1 improves performance under some condition, it actually decreases performance under others.  For the most part, testers concluded, few will notice the difference between the base installation and an SP1 installed system.

Vista does offer bundled updated third party drivers which do upgrade performance significantly, but most of these were already available.  Customers who have kept current with Window's Updates and their third party driver updates will find little new here, and thus will see no real performance change.  Microsoft definitely can take credit in a big picture sense for providing improved performance, though, as it has been devoting considerable resources to helping third party vendors make their products better compatible with Windows, gradually improving performance over the last year.

Probably the single biggest changes in performance have to do with file copying.  Windows XP used an cached I/O mode to improve write times.  Windows Vista on the other hand used a slower predominately uncached I/O system.  The upgrade to SP1 adds caching back into the mix, which in most cases, testers discovered, improves results.

Another CNET blogger, Adrian Kingsley-Hughes, claims just the opposite: that Vista file transfers increase dramatically with the new service pack. Some of his file transfer tests demonstrated performance increases of up to 63% in benchmarks.

Mark Russinovich, a technical fellow for Microsoft, explains the inconsistencies in another post on Microsoft's TechNet forum.  He summarizes, "You’ll see the biggest improvements over older versions of Windows when copying files on high-latency, high-bandwidth networks where the large I/Os, SMB2’s I/O pipelining, and Vista’s TCP/IP stack receive-window auto-tuning can literally deliver what would be a ten minute copy on Windows XP or Server 2003 in one minute."

On the other side of things, CNET reports the SP1 update has somehow created a performance degradation in copy times to external USB 2.0 hard drives.  Something is going wrong in Windows Vista SP1 during USB copies, and the issue is currently under investigation.  Meanwhile Windows Vista SP1 takes a 40 to 50 percent performance hit in this type of file copies, when compared to base Windows Vista.

Testers did comment on SP1's rather good job in delivering bug fixes.  This leads to a more stable environment.  Still, feelings towards SP1 will probably depend heavily on users' expectations as it delivers a mixed bag of performance changes.

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