Windows Vista SP1: What to Expect
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.
- KB935509 is for Enterprise and Ultimate versions (these versions support BitLocker). This update must be installed to avoid potential data loss on BitLocker-encrypted systems. See http://support.microsoft.com/kb/935509/en-us
- KB938371 helps ensure that the service pack installs correctly and can be uninstalled; also, it adds various fixes. See http://support.microsoft.com/kb/938371/en-us
- KB937287 updates component installer features in Vista, to ensure that the service pack installs properly. See http://support.microsoft.com/kb/937287/en-us
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.
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
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:
- More reliable IPSec connections over IPv6. This is achieved by excluding Neighbor Discovery (RFC) from IPSec traffic. Neighbor Discovery is used by IPv6 nodes on the same link for various discovery tasks. Learn more at http://community.roxen.com/developers/idocs/rfc/rfc4861.html
- Support for SSTP VPN tunneling. This makes it possible to set up a VPN connection over firewalls that normally block VPN traffic, as on cyber-cafe-type networks, for instance. See http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&articleId=9008679 for more about SSTP
- Support for a new EAPHost runtime API and configuration UI for user authentication
- Enabling TCP Chimney network cards to also support Compound TCP. TCP Chimney is a method for offloading processing of the TCP protocol stack from the CPU to a network interface card. Compound TCP is a method for optimizing connections by aggressively adjusting the size of the send window without affecting other connections to the same server. See http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb878127.aspx for more about Compound TCP. Go to http://windowshelp.microsoft.com/Windows/en-US/Help/c6d1a24d-00e5-4ab8-bd2f-78c929203e331033.mspx for more about TCP Chimney
- Improved success rate of Windows Meeting Space, Remote Assistance, or similar peer-to-peer connections when both computers are behind symmetric firewalls. Symmetric firewalls use different ports for different destinations to help protect clients behind the firewall
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
Most improvements in security are aimed at corporate and government computer users. They include the following:
- BitLocker full-disk encryption adds support for Trusted Platform Module (TPM) key plus USB startup key, and a user-generated PIN in addition to adding encryption support for additional system volumes beyond the boot volume
- New APIs enable non-Microsoft security and anti-malware applications to work on 64-bit versions, along with Kernel Patch Protection
- Wireless clients now support the new Federal Information Processing Standard-compliant mode. Learn more about FIPS at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/prodtechnol/mom/mom2005/Library/c402935f-0293-43e7-b2f1-cbf861e64bb3.mspx?mfr=true
- The smart card framework now supports compliance with the EU's Digital Signature Directive and National ID (eID)
- Windows Firewall and IPSec VPN now include a new Suite B-compliant cryptographic algorithm. Learn more about Suite B at http://www.nsa.gov/ia/industry/crypto_suite_b.cfm
- Random number generation (RNG) is improved by defaulting to the AES-based pseudo-RNG documented in the National Institute of Standards and Technologies Special Publication 800-90; the Dual EC pseudo-RNG described in the same publication can also be used as an option. Obtain a copy of NIST 800-90 from http://csrc.nist.gov/publications/PubsSPs.html
- There is support for new strong cryptographic algorithms in IPSec, such as SHA-256, AES-GCM, and AES-GMAC for ESP. Learn more about AES-GCM at http://www.heliontech.com/aes_gcm.htm. Learn more about AES-GMAC at http://library.pantek.com/Miscellaneous/RFC%20Archives/rfc4543.html
- There is support for AH, ECDSA, SHA-384, and AuthIP. Find out about SHA-256 and SHA-384 cryptographic standards at http://www.cryptosys.net/sha256.html. AH is discussed at http://www.javvin.com/protocolAH.html. A technical paper on ECDSA (requires Adobe Reader) is available at http://www.comms.scitech.susx.ac.uk/fft/crypto/ecdsa.pdf. AuthIP is discussed at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb878097.aspx
- Smart card security is improved by supporting more secure methods for collecting smart card PINs, and by supporting smart cards that use biometric ID
And everyone can benefit from
- Improved methods for third-party software vendors to communicate with Windows Security Center
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|
|Printing and Imaging Technologies||10|
|Ultimate Extras/Language Packs||1|
|Windows Portable Devices||3|
As you can see from this list, virtually every subsystem has been updated.
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:
- On networks that use RMS (Windows Rights Management Services<—>an information protection service running on Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008), the server is now checked regularly for new templates. Learn more about RMS at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/cc160914.aspx
- A new security policy called Allow UAccess enables a remote helper to enter administrative credentials during Remote Assistance
- IPSec can be used to make remote connections to unhealthy machines to enable help desks to provide solutions
- There is support for the new Network Access Protection (NAP) feature in Windows Server 2008. Learn more about NAP at http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/windowsvista/aa905073.aspx?wt_svl=10024VH_OS_Other1&mg_id=10024VHb1#EKE
- A WMI interface has been added for remapping workgroup or domain user account profiles to a new domain user account profile
- Group Policy can now be used to configure and deploy network properties
- The Key Management Service (KMS) can now run inside a virtual machine. Virtualization products that can be used to run Windows Vista include VMWare Workstation, VMWare Server, Microsoft Virtual PC 2007, Microsoft Virtual Server 2005, and others. For more about VMWare, go to http://www.vmware.com. For more about Virtual PC, go to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/virtualpc/default.mspx. For more about Virtual Server, go to http://www.microsoft.com/windows/products/winfamily/virtualpc/default.mspx
- Improved Terminal Services for printing to local printers, and improved Terminal Services RemoteApp security
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:
- The ability to install 64-bit Vista editions from a 32-bit Windows PE image. Vista RTM required the use of separate 32-bit and 64-bit images. Windows PE (2.0) is a minimalist version of Windows Vista used for installing Vista in a corporate environment. Learn more at http://technet2.microsoft.com/WindowsVista/en/library/31fc1e66-2843-484f-a964-2c3b031920e91033.mspx?mfr=true
- The ability to install boot-critical storage drivers from a hidden partition automatically when installing with Windows PE
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.