Windows Vista SP1 review: Windows Vista SP1

For performance, Microsoft says SP1 uses less bandwidth when browsing network shares, and automatically selects between wireless and wired when more than one is offered. There are also many tweaks and improvements in ReadyDrive (requires the use of special hybrid drives) and ReadyBoost (requires special USB drives), and SuperFetch (requires a specific amount of RAM). As a result, users currently running Windows SuperFetch will notice, after installing Windows Vista SP1, their system is slower. Microsoft says that's because SP1 erases the existing SuperFetch data. As new data is collected, the system will respond "within a few days," Microsoft says.

There are many new standards introduced with SP1. For example, there's a new Unified Extensible Firmware Interface, x64 Extensible Firmware Interface network boot, Direct3D 10.1 for 3D gaming, new flash based xFAT, identifies HD-DVD and Blu-ray drives as HD drives, supports SD Advanced Direct Memory Access, second-generation Windows Media Center Extenders, enhances the MPEG-2 decoder, and enhances support for Windows Network Projector.

For security, SP1 improves the Bitlocker encryption in Windows Vista Enterprise and Windows Ultimate by adding multifunction authentication methods; moreover, Microsoft now allows encryption support for volumes other than the bootable volume. SP1 also includes some Smart Card enhancements, and allows for biometric, as opposed to PIN, access to Smart Cards. Within Vista, SP1 creates a more secure PIN channel for authentication.

For most home users, the new features will have little or no effect on the day-to-day use of their systems.

Performance
In general, CNET Labs found that Windows Vista SP1 offered a mixed bag of improvements. For example, Microsoft says that reading and writing files will be much faster within Windows Vista SP1. Tests performed by CNET Labs on a Dell XPS M1530 laptop showed that performance did improve in one scenario, remained steady in another, and even deteriorated in a third scenario. When transferring files from one folder to another on the same drive volume, the transfer time did somewhat improve. However, when reading those same files from an external drive, or writing them to the external drive, performance was the same or worse.

File copy times (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Write to external HDD  
Read from external HDD  
Copy files on same internal HDD  
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1
75 
52 
61 
Windows Vista Home Premium
52 
51 
65 

CNET Labs did find that common application tasks performed in Windows Vista improved after installing SP1.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1
217 
Windows Vista Home Premium
273 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1
183 
Windows Vista Home Premium
186 

Boot and shutdown times (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Boot time  
Shutdown time  
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1
43 
30 
Windows Vista Home Premium
40 
30 

Those looking for enhanced battery life under Windows Vista SP1 will be disappointed. Although Microsoft touts its own internal study showing that in 14 out of 16 randomly-chosen laptops battery life did improve, CNET Labs was unable to support that in it's own testing.

DVD battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1
130 
Windows Vista Home Premium
129 

Support
We found that Microsoft offers a reasonable amount of support for the SP1 upgrade. For example, before you start there is a link to a Read Me page called "What you should know before installing Service Pack 1" which covers what to do before installing, during, and after installation. Also, Microsoft has improved the upgrade process itself so that if the installation of one update fails, it tries another while preparing to rerun the failed update. This should speed installation for most users. But if users do run into trouble, they can always uninstall the upgrade.

Conclusion
Do you need Windows Vista SP1? Yes and no. It's always good to install the latest (read: patched) code for any operating system. But downloading and installing the update will take some users a few hours without any visible or tangible improvements to their systems.

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    About The Author

    As CNET's resident security expert, Robert Vamosi has been interviewed on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, and other outlets to share his knowledge about the latest online threats and to offer advice on personal and corporate security. Listen to his podcast at securitybites.cnet.com or e-mail Robert with your questions and comments.