A Vista SP1 FAQ

Summary:I’ve been working with Windows Vista Service Pack 1 for several months now, in beta releases and, for the last two weeks, in the final released code. I’ve put together this post to answer some questions I’m frequently asked about this long-awaited update. And if you're frustrated at the thought of waiting until March to get your own copy, skip to the end, for some good news about a possible change in the release schedule.

I’ve been working with Windows Vista Service Pack 1 for several months now, in beta releases and, for the last two weeks, in the final released code. I’ve put together this post to answer some questions I’m frequently asked about this long-awaited update. If you have a question that isn't in this list, ask in the Talkback section.

Update: I've answered more questions in a follow-up post: More Vista SP1 answers.

How big is SP1?

That depends on how you get it. The standalone updater for the five-language version weighs in at 434MB (455,562,200 bytes) for the x86 version, and 726MB (761,740,600 bytes) for the x64 version. If you download the installer via Windows Update, however, the package is much smaller, typically over 50 MB but well under 100 MB. The updater uses Remote Differential Compression to compare the currently installed OS files with the SP1 files on the server, downloads the changed portions from the Windows Update server, and then combines the updates with the unchanged contents on the computer being upgraded.

The 32–bit standalone installer is approximately 60% larger than Windows XP Service Pack 2. Delivered via Windows Update, Vista SP1 is slightly smaller than the Windows Update version of XP SP2.

Will SP1 install on my copy of Windows Vista?

Yes, as long as you have a retail, OEM, or Enterprise edition in English, German, French, Spanish, or Japanese. If you have any other language packs installed (in Vista Ultimate or Enterprise), you'll have to uninstall them first. A standalone updater for all worldwide languages will be available in April.

What are the file names and MD5 hashes of the standalone updaters?

The following information applies to the standalone 5-language packages:

  • x86 (32-bit): Windows6.0-KB936330-X86-wave0.exe MD5 checksum: d597866e93bc8f80ecca234c4e9ce5a2
  • x64 (64-bit): Windows6.0-KB936330-X64-wave0.exe MD5 checksum: 983308426e8ee7649f53b41f4e5c42d4

How long does the SP1 installation take?

Usually under an hour, assuming you have reasonably modern hardware. Some people claim to have completed an install in less than a half-hour; an upgrade that takes significantly longer might indicate problems with installed hardware or software.

Why does the updater restart so many times?

If you install SP1 using the standalone installer today, several prerequisite packages must be installed first. If you allow Windows Update to do this automatically, the prequisite packages will be installed over a period of several days. If you force the update process by manually checking the Windows Update server after installing each update, you'll have to reboot as needed. If you use the standalone installer, each prerequisite is downloaded and installed automatically, and the system is restarted if necessary. [Update: After some testing I have determined that the prerequisite packages are included in the standalone installer. If you use this method to install SP1, you'll see each of these necessary updates installed first, but no downloading is necessary.]

The SP1 prerequisites are as follows:

  • All updates marked as 'Important' in Windows Update must be installed before the SP1 upgrade begins. One or more of these updates may require a reboot. [Update: This condition applies only when you choose to install SP1 via Windows Update. If you use the standalone SP1 package, all updates are included in the installer and no downloads are required at all. I have confirmed this with testing on both x86 and x64 installations of Windows Vista.]
  • For systems running Vista Ultimate Enterprise, the 935509 update is installed. This package, available on Windows Update now, updates BitLocker components. It requires a reboot and cannot be removed.
  • Next, update 938371 is installed. This package requires a reboot after installation. Its official description is as follows:

...updates several internal components that Windows Vista requires in order to install or to uninstall Service Pack 1 more reliably. This update must be applied separately before you install Windows Vista SP1 to make sure that Windows Vista SP1 can be installed or removed from the computer. This update is necessary to install and to uninstall Windows Vista SP1 on all editions of Windows Vista. This update will be available on the Windows Update Web site soon after the release of update 935509 and before the release of Vista SP1.

  • Update 937287 is the "installer” code for the service pack, also called the servicing stack. It does not require a reboot. Its official description is:

...a prerequisite package that contains updates to the Windows Vista installation software. The installation software is the component that handles the installation and removal of software updates, language packs, optional Windows features, and service packs. This update is necessary to successfully install and uninstall Windows Vista SP1 on all editions of Windows Vista. This update will be available on the Windows Update Web site soon after the release of update 935509 and before the release of Windows Vista SP1.

After all those packages are installed, the system begins installation of Windows Vista Service Pack 1, which is officially designated as update 936330. This requires one reboot in the middle of the installation and another after the installation is complete.

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Why does it take longer to install a service pack than it did to install the operating system in the first place?

It doesn't, actually. The total installation time using the standalone installer today was 49 minutes on one test PC here, but more than 11 minutes of that time was actually spent on downloading and installing the prerequisite updates. The time actually spent installing SP1 is roughly the same or less than the time to do a clean installation.

Are there any visible changes?

Most of the changes in SP1 are under the hood. The handful of visible changes include the following:

  • The Search menu option is no longer on the Start menu, and when you kick off a search from the Search box on the Start menu, the text at the bottom of the results has changed (from "See all results" to "Search Everywhere"). [Update: There's also a new Pause button on the Indexing Options dialog box, which allows you to suspend indexing for 15 minutes.]
  • The Remote Desktop client has a redesigned user interface.
  • The disk defragmenter command allows you to specify a volume to defrag.
  • There's a new version number in the About box. SP1 uses the same kernel and has the same version number as the newly released Windows Server 2008.
  • If you have a copy of Windows that was activated using the Grace Timer or OEM Bios exploits, you'll be asked to activate, presumably within three days. If you can’t supply a valid product key and activate online or over the phone, you’ll be unable to continue using Windows Vista.
  • If you have a system that fails a WGA validation check, you'll see a black background instead of your regular desktop wallpaper. You’ll also see some messages warning you that your copy of Windows Vista is "not genuine." You will lose no functionality.

Will SP1 make my computer run faster?

That depends. If you're expecting a magic "make rocket ship go fast" button, you'll probably be disappointed. If a third-party program or driver is causing performance issues, SP1 won't fix that. And at least initially, the system might even feel a bit slower at some tasks, because all the optimizations from Superfetch and ReadyBoost are wiped out and the system has to rebuild those pattern files as you use the OS and installed applications.

Why is file copying so slow, and is this problem fixed in SP1?

Vista's designers changed some key behaviors in file copying compared to previous Windows versions, trying to optimize performance in some scenarios, most of them common to larger businesses. Most notably, they enabled non-caching I/O for most operations. That improves copying speeds on high-latency network connections such as wireless LANs, and it reduces pressure on memory and CPU resources. An unfortunate side effect of those changes was to torpedo performance in some other scenarios that an enthusiast with high-performance hardware might encounter on a home or business network.

SP1 tweaks those changes and should make noticeable differences in file copying, both locally and over a network. Most of those changes are for the better, but in some scenarios (such as copying large files across a single local volume or copying a group of files to Windows Server 2003 over a slow network) performance can actually be slower than in the original release of Vista.

Sysinternals founder Mark Russinovich, now a Microsoft Distinguished Fellow, has the best explanation I've seen of the reasons for the changes and the SP1 tweaks.

I've downloaded every update for the past year. Does that mean I already have most of what's in SP1?

No. The official list of changes for SP1 incorporates all the updates you downloaded, including 23 security updates. But it also includes more than 550 hotfixes, many of them obscure, some of them quite useful. Most of these hotfixes had previously been released only to OEMs, corporate customers, and users who had specifically requested the hotfix after contacting Microsoft support. Some of the performance improvements in SP1 were delivered in earlier Important (non-security) updates, but other changes are found only in SP1.

When will SP1 be available?

According to Microsoft’s official announcement earlier this week:

  • Mid-March: Release to Windows Update (in English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese) and to the download center on microsoft.com.
  • Mid-April: Begin delivery to to Windows Vista customers who have chosen to have updates downloaded automatically.
  • April: Remaining languages RTM.

Another Microsoft blog includes some more specific dates (link via Robert McLaws):

Feb 4: Available to OEM and Retail Channel

Early March: Volume Licensing Availability

Mid-March: Availability through Windows Update/MSDN/TechNet

April: Pushed via Automatic Update

If you’re a beta tester, you can download the standalone installers from Microsoft’s Connect website (password required). If you’re not an official beta tester, you can take your chances with many unofficial download sites and BitTorrent distributions.

Blogger Keith Combs, another Microsoft employee, hints that SP1 is coming “sooner than you think.” In a somewhat cryptic post yesterday, he said:

It goes without saying that there has been a considerable amount of feedback around our release schedule for Windows Vista SP1. … The good news is that there are some changes coming to the release schedule I think you will like. Keep an eye on the Windows Vista Product Group Blog for the update. It should be coming pretty soon.

Update: The Windows Vista Team Blog has indeed been updated with a new announcement that includes these details:

We've heard the feedback and I want to update you on our plans and progress for making SP1 available to our beta participants, our Volume Licensing customers, and our MSDN/TechNet Plus subscribers:

  • Late Friday we made SP1 RTM available to individuals and companies who participated in the SP1 beta program
  • At the end of this week we will be making the English version of Windows Vista SP1 available to Volume Licensing customers.  Other languages will follow soon after
  • Later this month, SP1 will be available to MSDN and TechNet Plus subscribers 

For broad availability, we are still planning to release in mid-March, since we want to be sure that everyone has the smoothest experience possible.

So, do you have any questions? Leave 'em in the Talkback section and I'll get to them in a follow-up post.

Topics: Operating Systems, Microsoft, Software, Windows

About

Ed Bott is an award-winning technology writer with more than two decades' experience writing for mainstream media outlets and online publications. He has served as editor of the U.S. edition of PC Computing and managing editor of PC World; both publications had monthly paid circulation in excess of 1 million during his tenure. He is the a... Full Bio

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