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Windows Vista SP1: What to Expect

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The introduction of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 is the milestone that computer users and systems managers have been waiting for. Learn how SP1 is an improvement over Vista RTM in areas of reliability, performance, networking, management, the update process, hardware support, and security. In this article, extensive notes and references provide essential background information on new and emerging file system, hardware, networking, multimedia, deployment, management, and security features supported in SP1.
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The arrival of Windows Vista Service Pack 1 is prompting many computer users and network administrators to take a closer look at Windows Vista. Whether you already use Windows Vista or have been waiting until the advent of SP1 to evaluate it, this article shows you what's new and improved in Vista SP1.

Some improvements in Vista SP1 are potentially useful to all users, and some are mainly of interest to corporate and government users that have large networks. These distinctions are identified and described when appropriate. I've also provided links to additional background information on many features.

This article is based on the most recent information provided by Microsoft and on my use of the production version of Vista SP1.

Prerequisites for SP1

Before an existing Vista RTM system can install Vista SP1, the following updates must be installed. In most cases, systems will have already received these updates via Windows Update. However, if you don't install updates automatically, you can add these manually through Windows Update.

In addition, before installing the final release, you must uninstall any release candidates (RC) or beta versions of Vista SP1. Uninstall them through Control Panel > Programs and Features > Programs, Installed Updates menu.

Vista SP1 via Windows Update

Once the prerequisites have been met and Vista SP1 is made available, you'll see it offered by Windows Update. Initially, Vista SP1 will be offered as an option, but by mid-April, it will be pushed automatically to users running Windows Update in its default automatic installation mode.

If after its release you don't see Vista SP1 offered via Windows Update, make sure you have followed the requirements listed in the preceding section, and check with device driver providers for any updated drivers. Microsoft has announced that Vista SP1 will not be offered to systems with noncompliant device drivers. Part of the reason for the staged rollout of SP1 is to provide time for Windows Update to replace the noncompliant drivers.

Performance Improvements

One of the biggest criticisms of Windows Vista RTM ("Released To Manufacture," the original version) has been its slow performance in file copying and network browsing. All Vista SP1 users will benefit from these improvements:

  • Less bandwidth used when browsing network shares
  • Faster file copying to and extraction from compressed (zipped) folders
  • Faster moving of folders with complex structures
  • Faster file copying when using BITS
  • 25% faster file copying on same machine
  • 45% faster remote copying from non-Vista SP1 system to Vista SP1 system
  • 50% faster remote copying between Vista SP1 systems
  • Better responsiveness on Copy + Delete files and other media operations
  • Much more accurate estimates of file copying time
  • 50% faster reading of large images
  • Better IE7 performance on sites using a lot of JScript
  • Faster booting with specific ReadyDrive-capable hard disks
  • Faster resume when ReadyBoost is used
  • Better Superfetch performance
  • Improvements in the shutdown, resume from standby, and unlocking PC operations
  • Better use of bandwidth when RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) is in use

Power Management Improvements

With the majority of new system purchases being laptops, power savings is becoming a critical issue for all types of computer users. Vista SP1 includes several improvements to address power concerns:

  • Processors running blanked (unchanging) screens will stay asleep and thus use less energy
  • Video chipsets no longer prevent systems from going into Sleep mode
  • Hard disks no longer spin continually

Networking Improvements

Today's systems rely heavily on network connections. Windows Vista SP1 includes a number of improvements in these areas.

Everyone will appreciate the following changes:

  • Less bandwidth used when browsing network shares, making for faster performance
  • Increased time allowed for a network driver to transmit or discard packages before going to sleep. This prevents network drivers from losing information
  • Improved success rate for wireless ad hoc connections. These are peer-to-peer wireless connections that don't use a router, such as connections between clients and wireless print servers, connections between laptops, and so on
  • Support for IEEE 802.11n Draft 2 wireless networks. See http://www.wi-fi.org/files/WFA_80211n_faq_draft.pdf (Adobe Reader required) for more information about 802.11n

Corporate types will benefit from these changes:

Data Protection Enhancements

Vista SP1 includes a number of improvements to data protection. Everyone benefits from

  • Improvements to help prevent data loss when ejecting NTFS-formatted removable media. This helps make NTFS-formatted backup devices, such as external USB and FireWire drives, more reliable locations for important data
  • All users can now run a CompletePC Backup session. Standard users must supply administrator credentials

Users of Ultimate and Enterprise editions, especially those who carry around sensitive information, will benefit from

  • BitLocker's new ability to protect system volumes other than the boot volume (C: drive) with BitLocker. If you or your organization prefers to create a separate volume (drive letter) for data files, this improvement enables you to encrypt the drive letter used for data files as well as the boot drive

Users of all editions with EFS support will appreciate

  • New support for EFS (Encrypted File System) files to File and Folder Backup. These files were not backed up by File and Folder Backup in Vista RTM, which may have led to data loss in the event of file erasure, corruption, or disk crashes

Security Improvements

Most improvements in security are aimed at corporate and government computer users. They include the following:

And everyone can benefit from

  • Improved methods for third-party software vendors to communicate with Windows Security Center

Hardware Support

Hardware vendors have been rolling out new types of hardware since the introduction of Vista RTM, and Vista SP1 is ready.

Everyone who uses flash memory devices will have

  • Support for the new ExFAT file system, which enables larger capacity (up to 32GB and beyond) and larger files (beyond 4GB) than with current file systems. Read up on ExFAT (also known as FAT64) at http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/library/aa914353.aspx. When you format a 4GB or larger drive using Vista SP1, you can choose from ExFAT or NTFS file systems
  • Support for new Secure Digital Advanced Direct Memory Access (SD ADMA) host controllers. These new host controllers will enable faster transfer with lower CPU utilization for SD cards on ADMA-compliant host adapters. With SD media being used by most new point-and-shoot digital cameras, more digital SLR cameras, and other devices, this is a welcome improvement

Gamers looking to buy the latest and greatest gaming video cards now have

  • Support for DirectX 10.1. DirectX 10.1 improves 3D rendering in a variety of ways, while maintaining backward compatibility with original DirectX 10 hardware. For a detailed look at DirectX 10.1's new features, see http://ati.amd.com/products/pdf/DirectX10.1WhitePaperv1.0FINAL.pdf (requires Adobe Reader). ATI's HD 3xxx series of GPUs support DirectX 10.1. However, NVIDIA does not plan to support DirectX 10.1's new features. (NVIDIA's current GeForce 8xxx and forthcoming 9xxx series support DirectX 10.0.)

Multimedia fans running Home Premium and Ultimate editions will appreciate these features:

  • Windows Media Center (WMC) now works with new types of Windows Media Center Extenders, enabling use of HDTV and home theater systems to view videos and pictures or play music stored on a networked PC. Learn more at http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/mediacenterextender/default.mspx
  • WMC's MPEG-2 decoder provides faster hardware-decoder acceleration on computers that include Digital Cable Tuner (DCT) hardware

Corporate and government users will benefit from

  • The ability to create a single DVD that can start systems using either the old familiar BIOS firmware or the newer EFI firmware
  • Better support for EFI and Unified EFI firmware on 64-bit computers. Learn more about EFI and UEFI at the Intel EFI home page at http://www.intel.com/technology/efi/
  • Support for 64-bit MSDASQL (the OLEDB provider for ODBC drivers), making it easier to migrate ODBC applications to 64-bit Vista
  • Improvements to the Windows Network Projector to support custom resolutions by resizing the desktop

Updates and Bug Fixes

Vista SP1 contains over 460 hotfixes, only 72 of which were previously available to all users through the Microsoft Download Center. The vast majority had to be requested by phone or by email. They fall into the following categories:

The following table lists the number of hotfixes found in Vista SP1 by category.

Category Hotfixes in SP1
.NET Framework 4
Applications 4
Base Technologies 72
Computer Management 9
Data Services 3
Desktop Shell 27
Desktop Technologies 82
Drivers 39
Internet Explorer 6
Kits 1
Localization 1
Multimedia 43
Networking 25
OS Deployment 11
Printing and Imaging Technologies 10
Security 14
Server Technologies 8
Storage 17
Tools 3
Ultimate Extras/Language Packs 1
Windows Portable Devices 3

As you can see from this list, virtually every subsystem has been updated.

Management Features

Vista SP1 offers many new management features.

All users will appreciate these:

  • The Network Diagnostics tool now helps solve file-sharing problems
  • Disk Defragmenter can now be run on specified drives

Corporate and government users will benefit from these:

User Interface and Operation Changes

Vista SP1 does not make huge alterations to the user interface or day-to-day usage of the computer. However, the following changes are significant:

  • The Search window on the Start menu searches for matches only in the Start menu and programs. To see additional matches in the system, you click Search Everywhere. This is part of the adjustments to Vista in SP1 to enable easier usage of third-party search providers, and for OEMs to customize their systems
  • The System properties sheet now shows the amount of system memory, not just the amount of system memory available to Windows Vista. Thus, a system that has 1.5GB of installed memory but uses 128MB for shared video memory will report 1.5GB, rather than a lower number as in Vista RTM. Also, a 32-bit system with 4GB of RAM will report 4GB of RAM (assuming the BIOS permits it), even though 32-bit versions of Vista can't fully use more than 3GB of RAM
  • User Account Control is a bit less troublesome when you create a folder in a protected location; only one UAC nag is now used, rather than four as in Vista RTM
  • A system that has not been activated will no longer go into Reduced Functionality Mode after the deadline for activation has passed. Instead, the user will be reminded to activate the system and the screen background will turn black, but the system will be fully usable. The trade-off is that Vista SP1 blocks the use of common exploits that attempt to get around activation
  • During initial setup, users must provide a password hint

Update Process Improvements

Vista SP1 has many improvements for update processes.

For all users:

  • Support for hot-patching, which enables updates of running processes to be installed without shutting down the process. As a result, it is not necessary to restart the system to finish the update, so uptime is maximized
  • Retrying failed updates so that if one update fails, other updates can still be installed
  • Better error handling during updates
  • Better routines for uninstalling.
  • Reduced number of installers

For corporate users:

SP1 Support Forum

To get help with your Windows Vista SP1 installation, use the Vista SP1 forum at http://forums.microsoft.com/TechNet/ShowForum.aspx?ForumID=1992&SiteID=17.

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