Vista SP1 benefit will be stability and reliability, not performance

Will Vista SP1 and how this won't bring any relief to those who find Vista a bit slow or sluggish? Not really, but then again service packs aren't about performance increases; they're about reliability and stability.

Will Vista SP1 and how this won't bring any relief to those who find Vista a bit slow or sluggish?  Not really, but then again service packs aren't about performance increases; they're about reliability and stability.

I've seen a lot of service packs in my time.  Windows 95 and ME 98 (Win 98 actually got what's called a "Customer Service Pack") both got one service pack, NT 4.0 saw six, Windows 2000 had four and XP has so far seen two.  But what I don't remember regarding any of these service packs is installing it onto a system and then seeing any significant boost in performance.  Service packs don't really work that way.  Sure, you'll feel specific improvements as a result of some of the tweaks and fixes contained in the service pack, and you might feel the benefit of having your operating system refreshed by loading the service pack onto it, but a service pack should not be looked upon as a performance upgrade.  If your system can't run an OS, what it needs is upgrading or replacing, not the application of a service pack.

With Windows Vista SP1 on the horizon it's time to cut through the hyperbole, speculation and myth and get down to reality.  Now that Microsoft has released a preview of the release candidate of SP1 we no longer need to make wild guesses.  By marking this preview as a release candidate we know that barring any last minute bug fixes, this is what SP1 will look and feel like when it's finally released. 

I've been running Vista SP1 on a number of non-critical systems now since it was made available and overall I've been very pleased with it.  I've been running Vista since the day that it went RTM over a year ago and since then the operating system has matured greatly, not only as a result of hardware vendors releasing better drivers, but also because Microsoft has been drip-feeding users updates designed to improves stability, reliability and performance.  These updates will be rolled into SP1, which means that those who have been keeping up with will already be benefiting from them, while those that haven't and who are waiting for SP1, they'll see the benefits after installing the service pack.  It's important to realize that these aren't "blow your hair back" improvements, rather smaller, more subtle increases in performance.  For example, bringing a system back from sleep is a little faster and more reliable, and the OS generally feels snappier.  None of this translates into improved frame rate when gaming or decreased production time in applications such as Adobe Photoshop or Premiere, but it's nice to have nonetheless.

Vista SP1 benefit will be stability and reliability, not performance
I've run some quite detailed benchmarks on Windows Vista but because of the restrictive EULA I can't share this information with you freely at present.  However, the truth is that there's not much to tell.  Take a Vista RTM install and then install SP1 over the top and you find that the system boots up a little faster, recovers from sleep a little faster, shuts down faster and generally feels a little snappier and more responsive than it did) especially when recovering from sleep), but these performance gains aren't huge.  In other words, if Vista was sluggish on your system before SP1 then, assuming drivers and other software remains the same, Vista will be sluggish after SP1.  What you want isn't a service pack but an upgrade (adding more RAM usually does the trick, especially if you're trying to run Vista on 512MB or RAM or less) or a replacement system.  Systems running Vista that are close to or below the minimum recommended specification for the OS aren't magically better under SP1.

To be honest though, while I know that some people are finding Vista slow, this isn't the main problem with Vista.  What the people who dislike Vista don't like isn't performance (on a decent system Vista runs well and the only real reservation I have about the OS is when it comes to gaming) but applications compatibility, reliability and how Microsoft has chosen to lay things out in the OS.  Updates and SP1 will address compatibility and reliability, but won't bring any changes to the way things look, feel and behave.  If you didn't like the way Vista looked or worked before RTM, don't expect SP1 to change this.

Regarding XP SP3:  Just for the record, I've installed XP SP3 onto a few systems too and don't see the 10% performance gains being discussed elsewhere.  Different benchmarks result in different conclusions but using traditional and established benchmarks, I don't see any significant performance boost from installing XP SP3, other than that which you get when refreshing the OS. 

Getting to the bottom line here, there's a lot of hype generated around Vista SP1, and to make any kind of sane decision you have to cut through that.  Here are my suggestions:

  • My suggestion for anyone who's been waiting for SP1 to emerge before rolling out Vista is for them to take an objective look at the OS once it's released (or when the RC is released to the public) and see for yourself what it's like on your systems and use the information that you gather as a basis for making a decision as to whether to go with Vista or not. 
  • If you're already using Vista then take your time upgrading to SP1, especially if you've already installed all the updates for your OS.  Don't rush it because there could be unforeseen downsides that you might need to plan for (I've not come across any yet but that doesn't mean that there aren't any). 
  • If/when you come to install SP1, give yourself plenty of time because it can take over an hour and a number of reboots to install. Oh, and make sure you have a system backup, just in case.
  • If you're a gamer and using XP, you might be better off sticking to XP for now unless you've the time and money to throw more hardware at your system.  If you're out to get the best frame rate possible from games, then definitely stick to XP for now.
  • Everyone else ... well, you won't be interested in Vista with or without SP1 ...