A Second Shot: Windows Vista SP1

by Ryan Smith on February 27, 2008 12:00 AM EST

Observations and Closing Thoughts

As far as the Vista user experience is concerned, users shouldn’t expect any significant changes with SP1. In this respect Vista SP1 is much like any other Windows service pack, rather than being another XP SP2. To that extent if you threw a pre-SP1 system and a post-SP1 system in front of us, we’d need to do some low-level benchmarking to identify which one was using SP1. In day-to-day use, the difference is not obvious outside of the specific improvements we’ve talked about.

For those curious about how long the SP1 installation process takes, Microsoft has said it will take anywhere between 20 minutes to over an hour. Some of this boils down to simple hard drive performance, with slower drives taking longer to update all of the files SP1 patches. Given our own installation efforts, we suspect that there are other factors that are non-obvious - in other words, your mileage may vary. In general Vista x64 will take longer to patch than Vista x32 due to the additional files that need to be patched under Vista x64 (e.g. there are a number of files and libraries that come in 32-bit and 64-bit versions). On our official test system we clocked Vista x64 at 33.5 minutes to install from start to finish, while a laptop took just shy of an hour. You’ll definitely want to go find something else to do for a bit while Vista is patching, and if you're running an ultraportable laptop with a 1.8" hard drive you will very likely break the one hour threshold.

One thing that is unfortunate for Microsoft with SP1 is that there is a good chance that system performance immediately following the patching process will be lower than it was prior to patching. As part of the installation process the SuperFetch and ReadyBoost subsystems are purged of all caches and learned behaviors, effectively reverting a patched system to that of a brand-new untrained system. Vista does not take long to retrain itself, and Microsoft notes the process can take a couple of days (we were back to perceived normal within a day), but nevertheless a lot of people are going to be thrown off by things such as longer application load times immediately following the patch.

Finally, coming into SP1 we heard some concerns about application and driver compatibility. While we cannot test everything, we have not run into any new issues with SP1. We have heard within the last day that a small number of systems are having an issue with one of the SP1 pre-patches (patches that are required prior to installing SP1) causing an infinite reboot sequence, but we have not experienced this first hand, nor do we have an accurate idea of how large the affected “small” group of users is, given the echo chamber effect on the Internet. We cannot recall a Windows service pack that didn’t break at least a handful of Windows installations, so this could simply be par for the course; it’s hard to say at this point.

At the end of the day, we don’t have much of anything bad to say about SP1 outside of the “fix” for displaying the amount of installed memory on 32-bit systems, so our recommendation is that all Vista users to install SP1 once it becomes available to the public at large. It won’t knock most people’s socks off, but the file and network performance improvements are long overdue and will be noticeable for most users. Ultimately, any user who has felt slighted by the poor copy performance of Vista will find relief in SP1, as will anyone whose pet-issue has specifically been fixed in Vista SP1. Anyone else who didn’t like Vista for other reasons will be no more impressed by SP1 than they were by the original version; there are a few quirks that should have been resolved in SP1 that were not.

Compared to where we were a year ago, our general recommendation for Vista is unchanged. We are however impressed with the progress of the x64 versions of Vista over the past year, after feeling like it was lagging behind Vista x86 from beta up through the release version of Vista. Vista x64 is now clearly on par with Vista x86 and we have no concerns about its compatibility or performance. There are still good reasons to stick with Vista x86, such as compatibility with specific applications and Vista x64’s higher memory usage due to WoW64, but these are the only reasons. A year ago we recommended using Vista x86 unless you specifically needed Vista x64; now we’re comfortable making the opposite recommendation of running Vista x64 unless you have a specific reason to stick with Vista x86.

Finally, for those Windows users still sticking with XP, they too will be getting Microsoft's long-overdue XP SP3 in the very near future. We’ll be bringing a review of that to you as soon as it goes gold later this quarter, along with a fully up to date performance comparison between Vista and XP to better illustrate what little gap remains between the two operating systems. The list of changes isn’t nearly as far-reaching as Vista SP1, but there are a couple of interesting items on the list. (Ed: It will also be nice to not install over 100 patches/updates/etc. after a clean XP SP2 install.) Stay tuned for that in the coming weeks.

Vista vs. Vista SP1
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  • siniranji - Saturday, April 26, 2008 - link

    when i apply service pack 1 to my licensed Vista, it turns to
    evoluation version and due date is june 2008
  • siniranji - Saturday, April 26, 2008 - link

    when i apply service pack 1 to my licensed Vista, it turns to
    evoluation version and due date is june 2008
  • shinomen - Saturday, March 8, 2008 - link

    When Vista was first about to hit shelves I was all for upgrading to the new OS. But once I started using it in real world environments, I found that my productivity started to suffer due to the revamped interface, lack of support for some older hardware and software, and added security.

    I understand anything new is going to be a learning experience, but it doesn't help when every move I make is preceeded with an extra step or message of confirmation (are you sure you want to continue, how about now, do you want to continue).

    For example, I'm trying to troublshoot networking issues with a client of mine. I'm use to window key + R , type cmd, press enter, ipconfig /release and the computer does what I want. But with Vista, I have to take the extra step of right clicking the cmd program and running with elevated privilages (I have now found a keyboard shortcut to do the same)

    Or for the same scenario, I need to telnet into the dsl modem. So again, I hit Window Key + R, cmd, telnet. But with windows vista, this is not installed. Ok, now I have to go to add remove programs, windows components, and install the telnet. (I hope I remembered to bring my DVD!)

    I understand that hardware support is largely due to manufacturers writing new drivers to be compatible with the new OS, but there were so many times I would install a peice of hardware (or printer specifically) and there would be no driver support. But because the manufacturer is making no real money off updating the driver and would in fact lose money by going back and writing the driver, they take their time realeasing it in hopes that the consumer will purcahse a newer model that already is supported in Vista. Again, not specifically Windows fault, but windows did change the way drivers are installed or supported (I don't know the techical details why it doesn't work, but I know it doesn't work).

    Software support, you're lucky if you can get the older software to work, (i.e. quickbooks 2006) otherwise just go out and purchase new software. No one likes to have to drop money to upgrade their line of business software just to get back to a functioning state that they were in with Windows XP. (Might not be a big deal with one computer, but when you're talking 5 to 10 computers, the money adds up)

    Performance. If your going to buy a new machine that has higher end hardware, then vista most likely will perform well (not as well as the same machine running xp, but well). But if you're going to take a machine running xp and upgrade it to vista just to take a performance hit, then it is not wise to upgrade. (Also, don't forget that now that you upgraded the old machine to vista, you may need to purchase more ram, and also update any software that is not compatible with vista)

    So, those are my gripes for the people that say Vista is a better operating system, or for the people that say they have had no problems with their vista computers.

    (side note: many times when I ask my pro vista customers what they think about vista, their response is "Oh, I love it, I don't know why people say they have problems, I haven't had any trouble with it". So my response is "Yeah, alot of people with older hardware and software were have compatibility issues", and my customer says, "Oh yeah, I couldn't get my printer to install, so I just bought a new one" ----great if you have the money to "just buy a new one")
  • ufoall - Monday, March 3, 2008 - link

    I was running vista on my E4400 with 2g memory and PCi e .. vista runs very slow after install couples of software.. if i install same software on my xp it runs much faster than vista... vista is a crap compare to oldies windows os...
  • Beartwo - Monday, March 3, 2008 - link

    Since buying a new pc just before christmas I have been plagued with Messenger, Windows mail, Explorer and other internal applications crashing.
    The system is based on an Asus P5K-E mb with Core 2 Quad cpu, 3 Gb of RAM, Nvidia GeForce 8800GT gfx.
    From the first moment I turned the pc on I kept getting these errors. I flashed the bios and installed all the latest drivers (certified ones), but the problems persisted.
    It got to the point where Vista was simply not usable, the error reports I got from Vista were about as useful as a bicycle would be to a fish...
    I am back to Windows XP, with a few less dollars in my pocket and a useless OS sitting in a drawer.

    As far as I am concerned Vista has been a waste of time and money... kinda reminds me of a friend who bought a pc with Millenium preinstalled... sheesh.

  • just4U - Sunday, March 2, 2008 - link

    I've been using Vista64 for 2 weeks now and I must say .. I am very happy with it. I was so leary about moving to a 64bit os and then adding Vista on top of it .. but it worked out fine. It accually seems to be more responsive in windows aplications and load times. Not sure if that's just because it's a fresh install or not yet. Anyway...

    That's without SP1 installed by the way. I've been waiting for the official launch of it instead of beta versions and release candidates.
  • jkantor - Sunday, March 2, 2008 - link

    I don't know what's worse: settling for a world in which software "development" means shipping it before it works - or excusing a monopoly for forcing us to purchase an overpriced upgrade that offers no real improvements over the previous version.
  • Mark Huson - Sunday, March 2, 2008 - link

    I have read somewhere that with SP1, Vista allows the user to install Windows XP from within Vista, and automatically adding the Windows XP install to the bootloader. Is this true?
  • hoelder - Friday, February 29, 2008 - link

    I beta tested Vista and was very dismayed about it's resource hungry attitude and the money I would have to fork over to upgrade hardware so I would not lose any performance. It was not worth it with the enormous sticker price of Vista Ultimate. I still insist that Vista needs 4 GB of RAM (people were laughing at me then) and a SCSI RAID controller with 4 74GB drives RAID 5. And then something amazing happened. I was contracted by a company that used Linux. First, Linux is for geeks, second I get everything I need to do everyday business work. I discovered that for a business solution Linux was a more reliable solution if you looked at Enterprise Linux Desktop by SUSE or Red Hat and has a lot to offer to developers or administrators. So forget Vista, get Linux.
  • mczak - Thursday, February 28, 2008 - link

    This is really lame to just show 4GB even if only 3GB or so are usable. Ok maybe some users got confused if it didn't show all ram installed, but now make them believe all ram is available is better? Now it will be even harder to convince people that 32bit windows CAN'T use 4GB ram... Come on it can't be that difficult to show something like "4GB ram installed, 3GB addressable" instead.
    And the multimedia scheduler is still pathetic. Almost looks like MS didn't want to admit the concept is fundamentally broken, instead they offer some way for powerusers to make its behaviour acceptable...

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