Hands-on Vista SP1: Better but slower?

We've tested the final version of SP1, and we found some improvements and a potential holdup

Installation

Installation of SP1 was straightforward and took a little over an hour. My PC rebooted multiple times and required no action on my part. At various points during installation, you'll be told that you're at Stage 1, Stage 2 or Stage 3 of a three-stage process, and you'll be told the percentage of that stage that still remains. In my installation, however, I found that I was given misleading information. For example, after I was told Stage 3 was complete, I got a message telling me that Stage 3 was 0 per cent complete. Still, given that you don't need to take any action on them, these misleading messages are no more than minor irritants.

One more minor irritant may happen when the installation is complete and you log in. You may be greeted, as I was, by a warning that there are "Multiple Security Problems with your Computer," even though I had no such problems before the SP1 install. Click the Security Center icon, and you'll be able to find out the source of the security problems. In my case, SP1 had shut off Windows Defender and User Account Control (no great loss, of course). From the Security Center, you can turn Windows Defender and User Account Control back on, if you'd like.

Right after installation, you may notice that your PC appears more sluggish than it had previously. That's because when you install SP1, all your SuperFetch data, which is used to speed up your PC, is cleared from your system. Over time, though, as you use SP1, your system will speed up as it begins to regather SuperFetch data.

Slower copying?

A persistent complaint many people have had about Vista has been the speed with which it copies files, both to a local machine and across a network. One of Microsoft's goals for SP1 was to speed up that copying. Tests on my PC, though, shows that (for one machine at least) copying appears to have slowed down compared to pre-SP1 and remains significantly slower than XP.

I created four test benchmarks using a dual-boot XP-Vista laptop with a 1.83-GHz Duo Core processor and 1GB of RAM. First, in XP, I copied one 256MB folder filled with 63 files and subfolders to a local disk and then to a network disk on another machine. Then, still in XP, I copied one 2.49GB file to a local disk and to a network disk on another machine. After that, I did the same tests for pre-SP1.

I then upgraded Vista to SP1 on the dual-boot machine, and performed the same tests. In all instances, I did the test several times before recording results, in case any caching was going on, or in case Vista's SuperFetch technology came into play. And I did each test at least three times to make sure the results were accurate.

I found that copying a large file -- 2.49GB -- to a local folder under SP1 was 20 per cent slower than performing the same operation in pre-SP1. Copying that same file to a network folder took essentially the same amount of time in pre-SP1 and Vista SP1. And copying a 256MB folder full of files to a local disk and to a network folder took essentially the same amount of time in each as well.

XP was three times as fast as both versions of Vista copying a folder of files to a local disk, and more than twice as fast as both versions of Vista when copying a folder of files to a network folder. XP was slightly slower than pre-SP1 when it came to copying a single 2.49GB file to a local folder, and slightly faster than Vista SP1. And XP was slower than both versions of Vista when it came to copying a single 2.49GB file to a network folder.

What numbers are we talking about here? Vista SP1 took 193 seconds to copy a 2.49GB file from one folder to another on a local machine; pre-SP1 took 161 seconds; and XP took 178 seconds. The following graph shows details.

Copying the single 2.49GB file to a network folder took essentially the same amount of time in SP1 and pre-SP1: 233 seconds in SP1 versus 237 seconds in pre-SP1. Both versions of Vista beat XP, which came in at 296 seconds -- the only test in which XP was slower than both SP1 and pre-SP1. The following graph shows details.

When it came to copying the 256MB folder (which was full of lots of smaller files, including multiple subfolders) Vista SP1 and pre-SP1 performed just about identically and dramatically slower than XP. Copying the folder to a local disk took 36 seconds in both versions of Vista, and only 12 seconds in XP. The following graph shows details.

Copying the folder to another machine on the network took 101 seconds in Vista SP1, 98 seconds in pre-SP1 and only 39 seconds in XP, as you can see in the following graph.

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