Saturday, December 8, 2007

Vista SP1 Test Drive

Earlier today, I've installed the Vista SP1 on my real machine (as opposed to my VM, where it was installed a while ago).

SP1 Release Candidate is now available to MSDN subscribers, having passed the beta phase. Some say it's Microsoft's last chance in redeeming this much maligned operating system.

SP1 does not add any new features. It's main purpose is to deliver reliability and performance improvements, as well as some hardware compatibility. Along the way, Microsoft closes some security holes, and boosts the performance of IE 7. For the full list of "features", read this blog post, or the Microsoft Official change log. Here's a description of my personal experience:

Prepare to spend a little over an hour, with 3-4 restarts. If your machine, like mine, is a dual boot (XP is still my main OS), you'll need to be in attendance of every reboot to make sure it comes back to Vista. Prepare to spend 30 minutes staring at the phrase: "Now updating: step 2 of 3: 23% done".

The result

As you can see, the version now shows Service Pack 1, with the RC version 668. The good news is that memory now finally shows 4GB of RAM instead of 3.32GB it showed so far (oh, really? more later). The bad is that even with a Dual Core 2 and 4GB of Ram, my computer is only rated 3.1 (out of the 5.9 available) on performance. (Sorry Microsoft, I promise that my next installation of Vista will be on a Cray supercomputer - maybe then I'll manage to get to 4 smile).

Going in and out of hibernation used to be one of my main pet peeves with Vista so far. Since Vista is installed on my laptop, I sometimes want to preserve the current state, turn off the laptop, and carry on in a couple of minutes (e.g. when the plane finally gets to 10,000 feet). But the time it took Vista to wake up was longer than a full restart!
Now going into hibernation takes the same amount of time it takes on my XP (probably due to the memory size) - but the biggest improvement is coming out of hibernation - major speed improvement! Well, one problem solved.

Overall performance looks better. I've originally set Firefox to be my default browser (due to IE's pale performance and lack of add-ons), but will give IE 7 a chance - it certainly takes less memory than Firefox.

Speaking of memory, although the main properties page shows 4GB,
it seems like the OS is still reporting a lower number. Task Manager still reports 3.317GB. And the Multi Meter gadget shows 32% of memory consumed - 1GB - with no application running!
This means you have to have at the very least 1GB of memory to survive and at least 2GB to work. Talk about a resource-hungry OS (compare to Leopard and Ubuntu - both can run on 512MB machines and deliver the same features).

Unlike earlier RC versions of service packs, this one can be uninstalled when the GA version arrives (so you do not need to reinstall the system).

All in all, a performance improvement can be felt throughout the system - bringing Vista up close to an XP level. And that's saying a lot - if the best you could do is avoid regression.
I do recommend this SP1 to any Vista user, but I wouldn't recommend Vista on the whole.

Note: together with SP1 for Vista, Microsoft released SP3 RC for XP. I've yet to test it on my main machine, but it seems to be doing quite well on an XP VM. Which brings to mind the following question:
  • assume Vista + SP1 == XP + SP2
  • and XP + SP3 > XP +SP2 (performance wise)
than what needs to happen for Vista to get it to XP + SP3 level?
And why would Microsoft shoot themselves in the foot by releasing a service pack for an older OS? Could it be a hint? Read item 4 in this post to see what IT professionals think.

Update 1/14/2008:
Read about the newer SP1 version, Refresh, here. The article also contains a download link.

Update 2/20/2008:
Look at some SP1 updates here.

Update 3/18/2008:
Finally! 7 months after this post was originally published - the final version was released today and made available through Windows Update.

There's also a standalone version of it (about 660MB download) and even a Vista version with SP1 integrated (available to MSDN subscribers).

If your Windows Update doesn't pick it, remove any beta version of the SP and reboot. It took me 3 restarts and a lot of patience until the SP appeared in my Windows Update applet.

This is what the final result looks like:

As you can see, it now just states "Service Pack 1" - no version number, and no annoying "Evaluation Version" label on the desktop.

No other differences in behavior than the beta versions. It's still faster on startups, shutdowns, and hibernation, but overall still slower than XP.

It won't recognize all the functionalities of my All-In-One printer (Dell AIO 926) - it has drivers available for download, but the installation fails time and again. I'll check with Dell to see if they have a solution.


Damian Rochman said...

Finally they fixed the 4GB RAM issue on the 32bit OS! When Vista came out and I saw that it couldn't read all the memory on my desktop, I decided to switch to the 64bit version so I can fully take advantage of the RAM I purchased. I was lucky that I found 64bit drivers for all the hardware I had.

Traveling Tech Guy said...

You need to read all the way through :)

While the computer properties screen shows 4GB, the rest of the system still sees 3.3GB. And lossing almost a full GB is critical in Vista *try runnig Visual Studio 2008).

And I'd be glad to run a 64bit OS, but it's hard enough to find drivers for regular Vista. If I switch to 64, I can say goodbye to my printer, webcam and gamepad :)

Anonymous said...

A 32 bit operating system just CANT allocate more then 3,x GB of memory. That's why they came up with 64 bit systems to overcome this limitation to 32 bit addresses.
You can find more information on:

So as Vista might show that you've got 4 GB of memory, you won't be able to use it :)
So move to a 64 bit OS if you really need that much of memory ;)

Zach said...

You are technically correct, but with 32-bit versions of Windows Server 2003 Enterprise, up to 2TB of memory can be addressed. I'm no expert on how it works, but my understanding is that it creates a larger address register by using some of the existing RAM. My understanding is the Vista Business and Ultimate were originally slated to come with this ability but saw it removed due to technical reasons. I'm happy to see that they are at least moving toward adding that functionality.

Anonymous said...

Or you can just use Linux, as this addresses all your ram, and all your hdd space. im running 4 500gb sata, and windows says theyre worth 465gb each. er, no, windows. whereas linux shows the full 500gb. im also on 8gb ram, so had to install 64bit vista. whereas, linux will show this anyhow. havent installed the sp1, cus i dont want the hassle, thanks.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous: I've got to correct you there. Windows DOES use the so called 500 GB, but this is a notation misunderstanding.
Like many HDD manufacturers like to advertise with the biggest number (ofcourse) but when you right click on your HDD in Windows and click properties you will see that Windows uses ALL the bytes available on your HDD but your HDD is 500 GB as it is 465 GiB (just like Linux uses the notation)
Your HDD has 500.000.000.000 bytes or (/1024) 488281250 kilobytes or 476837,158203125 megabytes or 465,6612873077392578125 gigabytes.
Windows should alter it's notation to GiB to be correct. But from my understanding that's something the HDD manufacturers misused.

More information:

So don't tell windows doesn't address all your hdd because it does!

What the memory stands for, I stand corrected by Zach. As he is right with software hacks you can alter your OS memory tables, to support more memory. Just as Linux does. Although this won't improve your performance as using an 64 bit OS as your hardware will then use the processors 64 bit instructions to use the memory.

@Anonymous: You really should install SP1 as it has many improvements.
And I run both Windows Vista SP1 and Ubuntu Linux, they both got their up and downs, as every OS has... Everyone needs to make up for themeselves what they like most. You like Linux most, I like Windows most, so what?

Anonymous said...

read up: 32bit OSs use PAE to address more than 4GB of ram. PAE is a 36-bit physical addressing mode Introduced by Intel starting with the Intel Pentium Pro processor.

Anonymous said...

i have a compaq computer and only read 2.685 gb of ram when i have 4 gb, i don't understand beacuse my laptop have a presario v6000 board and it's the same as a pavilion dv 6000, but the pavilion read 3.3gb

sorry, my english no it's so good

Anonymous said...

I have 5.9 score in win vista sp1 and i don't have a supercomputer. i have a q6600, 4GB ram and ati radeon 3870x2....