Microsoft’s Windows Vista Service Pack 1 has hit the RTM milestone, so if you’ve been waiting for SP1 to begin your organization’s move to Vista, now is the time to start turning over your upgrade engines. On the other hand, if the conventional wisdom around the SP1 marker isn’t enough to get your Vista testing efforts in gear, Microsoft’s planned June 30 halt to sales of shrink-wrapped or OEM copies of Windows XP means that if your company is going to get ahead of Vista, it’s now or never.
On the whole, Vista Service Pack 1, which becomes generally available in mid-March, is a fairly staid update with very little in the way of new features or cosmetic changes. SP1 consists of a rollup of Vista’s first year of security and bug fixes, new support for a handful of emerging hardware and software standards, and an update to Vista’s kernel and core systems that brings the operating system in line with Windows Server 2008, which was also recently released to manufacturing. SP1 also features a handful of performance improvements around file copy operations, which I was able to confirm during my tests in our lab.
While the faster file copy operations are welcome, they’re not going to radically change your Windows Vista user experience. What’s more, while Vista SP1 addresses some of the performance shortcomings from Vista’s initial RTM release, the new operating system will still be a bit slower than Windows XP on the same hardware.
Whether Windows Vista is ready for use at your organization will depend most heavily on whether your hardware and software providers have embraced Vista. For most new hardware and software products, it’s safe to assume Vista support. However, among products first sold before Vista hit the shelves just over a year ago, the status of Vista support depends largely upon how willing these vendors have been to extend the life of already sold products at the potential cost of new sales.
In any case, while Windows XP still has life left in it (SP3 for XP should be shipping fairly soon), the fact that Microsoft will soon be turning off the tap for certain XP license sources means that if your company intends to continue running Windows, you’re going to have to deal with Vista. I recommend that sites that have yet to kick off their Vista tests make plans to do so soon.
SP1 to the Test
SP1 to the Test
I tested Windows Vista SP1 on a pair of identical Lenovo ThinkPad T60 notebook computers, each equipped with 1GB of RAM, a 2GHz Intel T2500 processor and a 93GB hard drive split into 68GB NTFS and 25GB FAT32 partitions. On one notebook, I installed the original RTM copy of Windows Vista and applied all available updates (save for SP1). On the second system, I installed Vista from an installation disk with SP1 slipstreamed in.
To test the file copy performance improvements that Microsoft is touting for SP1, I took a set of 724 software packages totaling 476MB from the install disk for Red Hat Enterprise Server and carried out a group of file copy operations. I took note of how long it took to copy the files from the RHEL disk onto my Vista systems; how long it took to copy the files between the FAT32 and NTFS partitions of my test machines; how long it took to copy the files from one folder on a notebook to another folder on the same notebook; how long it took to compress the files into a ZIP archive on each system; and how long it took to decompress those files back to a folder on each desktop.
I ran each test five times and used the average of the five runs to compare the Vista iterations. Once I completed my round of tests, I installed Windows XP SP2 on one of the ThinkPads and ran the same tests to weigh the two Vista flavors against XP.
For all the detail on the file copy changes that you might ever wish to digest (and then some), Microsoft’s Mark Russinovich has written an expansive blog post.
Briefly, however, the original RTM version of Vista scaled back heavily on its use of cached I/O for file copy operations. This negatively affected performance in certain situations. In Vista SP1, the Windows team reversed course on cached I/O, a move that yields performance gains over the initial Vista release.
During my tests, the 476MB set of test files took a minute to copy from one partition to another on the original Vista RTM; the same operation took 50 seconds on Vista SP1. On the same hardware running Windows XP SP2, the operation took 43 seconds. Copying the same set of files from one folder on a notebook to another folder on the same notebook took 49 seconds on Vista RTM, 43 seconds on Vista SP1 and 38 seconds on XP SP2.
Microsoft has cited much larger performance differences copying files into and extracting them out of ZIP archives using the Windows Compressed Folders tool, and my tests bore out these differences. It took Vista RTM 1 minute and 44 seconds to compress the test 476MB file set into a ZIP file, compared to 1 minute and 7 seconds on Vista SP1. With Windows XP SP2, the same operation took 1 minute.
I recorded the greatest disparities between Vista RTM, Vista SP1 and XP SP2 while measuring the time it took Windows to decompress my test archives. Vista RTM averaged 3 minutes and 39 seconds, Vista SP1 averaged 2 minutes and 49 seconds, and XP SP2 averaged a much lower 46 seconds to decompress the test files.
I suspect that at least some measure of the difference between the XP SP2 and Vista results is tied to differences in the user interface that the two iterations of the Compressed Folders tools presents to users. It’s possible that XP’s utility appears outwardly to have finished its work, while cached I/O operations may be continuing in the background.
I also tested out the stand-alone SP1 installer, which Microsoft provided to eWEEK Labs along with the Vista SP1 install disc. Microsoft has reported that some Vista SP1 testers have experienced driver problems after having installed the service pack. I did not experience any performance degradation or driver malfunctions with SP1 and the ThinkPad model I tested.