Windows Vista SP1 review

The first Service Pack for Vista has taken just over a year to arrive, and will appear automatically in Windows Update starting in March. We got hold of the standalone install code ahead of time to see how it affects 32-bit Vista in everyday use.

The first thing to note is that Windows XP SP2 skewed many people’s notions of what a service pack should be. Service Pack 2, bringing with it major new features like the Security Center applet, was more like an operating system upgrade.


Back to basics

Vista SP1 takes things back to the more prosaic days when a service pack was primarily a bug-fix and general reliability polish, bringing no great reworking of the OS and no terribly significant new features.

Even though it’s not a total overhaul, installation is still a pretty major affair; you won’t able to use your machine for a good while once you kick things off. On our test desktop – a Core 2 Q6600 machine with 2GB RAM, a two-disk RAID array and a 32-bit Vista installation – it took around 45 minutes.

A more realistic test installing on a laptop we use every day – another Core 2 machine, with 1GB RAM – took a painful 1hr 15mins.

After all this work don’t expect any dramatic changes, though. In fact, the only obvious way to tell that SP1 is running is to click the Start button and look hard at the default menu. Where once there was a ‘Search’ item above Recent Items, there’s now just a dividing line – it’s been expunged in an attempt to level the playing field for other search engines.


Performance improvements

The single most persistent complaint about Vista has been its sluggish performance with simple everyday operations, in particular copying files to and from external devices and over the network. We’re glad to say that under SP1 these problems have been addressed, if not completely solved.

Network copy speed has been significantly improved. When copying large files over a gigabit network we found speed nearly tripled: sending the same 1.9GB of data to an XP machine took 3mins 55secs before installing SP1, but just 1min 33secs afterwards. Copying the files back was faster too: 1min 3secs before and almost twice as fast after, at 37 seconds.


In practise the “Calculating time remaining…” notification still seems to spend a strangely long time doing its calculating before file transfers start, but it’s not as protracted as before.

One thing that hasn’t changed, however, is slow read performance from external drives. Copying the 550MB SP1 EXE file from a USB thumbdrive to an XP machine took 17s. Even after installing SP1, Vista took 41s for exactly the same operation.

Microsoft claims that the speed of resumption from Sleep mode has been increased, but this will depend on your hardware. We measured no difference on our test laptop: it remained unchanged at 11 seconds, and same was true for resuming from Hibernate.

There’s no significant change in application performance either. On our desktop machine, the application benchmark result was in fact slower, with a score of 1.39 overall compared to 1.42 before installation. That’s a slowdown of only around 2% though, which is close to the bounds of experimental error.

It’s still the case, however, that if you want the fastest application performance you should stick to XP – previous tests indicate that Vista is 8% slower.



Software subcategory Operating system


Processor requirement N/A

Operating system support

Operating system Windows Vista supported? yes
Operating system Windows XP supported? no
Operating system Linux supported? no
Operating system Mac OS X supported? no
Other operating system support None

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