XP SP3 performance gains - Nothing to write home about

XP SP3 performance gains - Nothing to write home about

Summary: Those who believed that Windows XP Service Pack 3 would provide the aging OS with a performance boost may well be disappointed. My benchmark tests show that the application of XP SP3 makes negligible difference to system performance.


Those who believed that Windows XP Service Pack 3 would provide the aging OS with a performance boost may well be disappointed. My benchmark tests show that the application of XP SP3 makes negligible difference to system performance.

The Test Systems

For this round of benchmarking I turned to two vastly different systems. At high end of the spectrum AMD Phenom-based system:

  • Phenom 9700 quad-core processor
  • ATi Radeon 3850 graphics card with 256MB RAM
  • ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe motherboard
  • 2GB (2 x 1GB) Corsair Dominator CM2X1024-8500C5D RAM
  • Western Digital Raptor 10,000RPM 150GB primary hard drive
  • Western Digital Caviar 7,200RPM 500GB secondary hard drive

At the low-end of the spectrum, I have a system that dates back to the Flintstone era, otherwise known as mid-2001:

  • Intel Pentium III 800MHz
  • SIS 6326 AGP card with 8MB RAM
  • Gigabyte GA-6VX7-4X motherboard
  • 512MB of no-name RAM
  • 60GB Western Digital 5,400RPM primary hard drive
  • 60GB Western Digital 5,400RPM secondary hard drive

Up until a few weeks ago this system was in daily use (albeit with 1.25GB of RAM installed) and it has performed flawlessly over the years (the PSU, motherboard and CPU are all the original parts, while the RAM and hard drives are newer).

The Tests -->

The Tests

Seven benchmark tests were carried out:

  • Boot time Start the clock the moment POST hands over to the OS and stop the clock at a usable Start Menu.
  • File copy - 1 Copy 1,676 files, 2.3GB from one drive to another.
  • File copy - 2 Copy a single 2.5GB file from one drive to another.
  • Compress Using Windows Compress tool, compress 1,676 files (2.3GB) of files.
  • Extract Using Windows Compress tool, extract 1,676 files (2.3GB) of files.
  • PassMark PerformanceTest Run PassMark PerformanceTest 6.1 to get a system score.
  • PassMark PerformanceTest under load Run PassMark PerformanceTest 6.1 while the system is copying files from one drive to another (simulating load) to get a system score.

The OS

Both systems were wiped and then XP RTM was installed, along with a minimum set of additional drivers to get the system working (these drivers would be the latest available, which could skew the results a little). No optimizations were carried out other than to reboot the system several times, allowing the system to stand for 30 minutes at the desktop, process idle tasks and defrag the hard drive between each test.

After running the tests five times, XP SP2 was then installed and the process repeated.

After collecting a second set of results, all XP updates up to present were installed and the process repeated.

Finally, SP3 was installed and the final set of benchmarks run.

The Results -->

The Results

After all the tests were run the results were collected and the averages taken for each test. The results are presented below:

Boot time:

Time measured in seconds, lower is better.

File copy - 1:

Time measured in seconds, lower is better.

File copy - 2:

Time measured in seconds, lower is better.


Time measured in seconds, lower is better.


Time measured in seconds, lower is better.

PassMark PerformanceTest - No load:

Note: 3D graphics tests not carried out on the Pentium III system.

PassMark score, higher is better.

PassMark PerformanceTest - Under load:

Note: 3D graphics tests not carried out on the Pentium II system.

PassMark score, higher is better.

Conclusions -->


I could try to bring significance to the small variations in some of the times and scores that we've seen above, but to be honest there's only one real conclusion to come to - performance variations seen after applying service packs is small. Sometimes there are small gains (notice how compressing files becomes faster with each application) while other times there are performance losses (check out file copy - 2 on the Phenom system). Overall, the losses and gains seen are not significant.

SP3 isn't going to be a magic turbo boost button for XP systems. When SP3 was in beta (and the releasing of benchmark numbers without written permission was prohibited by Microsoft) many made bold claims that SP3 would bring with it huge performance gains. I never saw this in in-house testing that I carried out and the figures above for RTM SP3 reflect what I saw during the beta and release candidate phases of SP3 development.

So, why might some people be seeing their systems speed up after installing SP3? Well, I can think of two reasons:

  • The first is that applying a service pack does refresh the OS installation. If a system is clogged up with detritus then a service pack can help tidy things up a little. Think of it as a mini-reinstall.
  • The second reason is that people take the opportunity to refresh drivers, something that can have a significant effect.

What's true for XP SP3 is also true for Vista SP1. While Vista SP1 did fix certain performance issues, taking the system as a whole you don't really see these gains unless you are looking for them.


<< Home >>

Topics: Operating Systems, CXO, Hardware, Microsoft, Software, IT Employment, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Hello?

    Adrian, how about a comparison of XP SP3 vs Vista SP1? Oui? C'est possible?
    D T Schmitz
    • Well, in a way I have ...

      ... although it deserves a post.

      See, the Phenom system I used is the same one as I used for testing Vista SP1.


      Vista 32-bit RTM
      PassMark rating: 1002.4
      Vista 32-bit SP1
      PassMark rating: 972.3
      Vista 64-bit RTM
      PassMark rating: 1183.1
      Vista 64-bit SP1
      PassMark rating: 1128.8

      You can comparew these directly to XP SP3:

      XP RTM
      PassMark rating: 1001.4
      XP SP2
      PassMark rating: 891
      XP SP3
      PassMark rating: 990.8

      I'll put together a post later comparing the differences ...
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Fantastique!

        D T Schmitz
  • Actually.....

    .... the cynics amongst us expect XPSP3 to produce a performance *downgrade* - Vista needs all the help it can get.

    • You took the words right outta my mouth...

      ...er, off of my keyboard. I half expected the same thing. But Microsloth did themselves one better. They can still "claim" a performance gain, but they never claimed how much. Even still, the lack of a performance gain isn't enough to get me to downgrade to Vista.
      • Playing with words....

        ... is an MS speciality. I suppose that a decrease in performance could be classed as a "performance gain", it is just a [i]negative[/i] performance gain....

  • Windows XP- What's that?

    I stopped using XP a year ago. In any case, as you said, Windows service packs have never been intended as a performance enhancement. They are cumulative bug fixes and sometimes functionality upgrades. MS knew businesses would hold onto XP for years to come and therefore needed to get XP inline with Server 2008. Thus, XP SP3. I'm sure MS would rather everyone upgrade to Vista, but they know that will not happen.
    • agreed but....

      agree with everything you said, most of the comments before yours. however, just remember that as people upgrade to newer machines (hardware does get replaced at some point) Vista adoption will increase even more/.
      • maybe but...

        When I upgraded the hardware, it came with Mac OS-X, not Vista. I then bought a full retaill FPP XP Pro package and license. It installed to Boot Camp where I run it as host or a Fusion guest. That's what I am using right now. Works great for me!

        I won't buy a Vista anything.

        Thanks but you guys can keep it.

        • upgrading to sp3?

          But will you be upgrading your xp to sp3?
          After all, that's what this blog is about!
  • RE: XP SP3 performance gains - Nothing to write home about

    DAH !!! MS has to force Vista on new customers by blackmailing the OEM to install it. XP has been the thorn in their sales because it is so good. Make it better, I don't think so. Vista will never close the performance gap, IF XP is faster . . .
  • RE: XP SP3 performance gains - Nothing to write home about

    Was speed an issue? Sorry, I might have missed that.

    My gripes with all Windows platforms are here:
    a) accumulation of "gunk" over time make a clean install necessary every 1/2 year
    b) security (fixable, but only with external software, should really be part of the system)
    c) licence bound to a physical machine, not a person / account

    Speed was not my problem, really. (other than IE, but then there is firefox). None of those are addressed by SP3, right?

    Disclaimer: I am a power user, not developer or IT guy. It just want the thing to work
  • XP RTM???

    Where are you getting a "Released to Manufacturing" version of XP that doen't include SP2? Is the RTM you're using the original XP release sans any SP?
    • XP RTM - Performance

      Good question, and btw, is it just me, or does it look like the RTM scores better on most of the benchmarks?

      Maybe we should all go back to SP1 or SP0 for better performance!
      • Hang on

        Most of these service packs are security related so yer get bit more speed and weaken security,just what everyone wants.
      • It's not just you...

        I replied to the original post asking the same thing :)
      • XP Pro SP/1

        Has performed flawlessly for the past year, since I pulled the internet connection plug. If I need anything from the internet, I simply download it on a Linux machine and transfer it to XP.

        Before that, it was "reactivate", call Microsoft India and grovel to them to get my system activated, time after time, sometimes for no reason at all, other times because I changed a hard drive, video card, or some other hardware, or, as Microsoft's man in India put it, installed "strange" software.

        Unless Microsoft does a complete flip-flop on their EULA's and business practices (and believe you me, I aint holding my breath), XP will be the last Microsoft malware I will ever own...oooops! license, nobody "OWNS" anything that has their malware on it.
        Ole Man
        • I agree and took the same pledge 4 years ago

          XP was the last MS OS I bought, or will likely ever buy.
          I bought a laptop with Vista on it, scrubbed it and put Ubuntu on it instead, I just don't need MS any longer. For my needs Ubuntu has all my basis covered, and my back side is covered as well.
        • You could compromise...

          ...try deactivating the Windows Update features built into XP.

          By modifying via <gpedit.msc> you will be able to disable MSU as well as its availability from the Control Panel and taskbar.

          That way you will not be tied down by the MSU feature nor be hindered by seemingly endless update notifications.

          It is, as i have already alluded to, a compromise - not a complete solution. Though the solution has worked a treat on my PC for over a year (and i still get to surf the Net).

          Give it a try, what's the most you stand to lose ... except a perfectly working system partition.

          • No compromise with evil

            Compromise with Microsoft is a sorta like being a little bit pregnant....... aint no such thing.

            Either you are or you aint. You try to compromise and you wake up with a knife in your back.

            Thanks for the suggestion, though. I tried that, and much much more. The unsurmountable problem is, activation, WGA, and DRM, while the nasty little secret forced updates are just the straw that broke the camel's back.
            Ole Man