Windows Vista SP1 Gaming Performance Report

If you're going to install Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista, you might as well know how it affects your games.

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The release of Service Pack 1 might be good time to revisit the debate of whether or not to get Windows Vista. Over the past year Microsoft's been busy patching away at the operating system, and it just might be ready for the discerning gamer. Service packs are basically gigantic patch files for operating systems that contain hundreds of minor and major fixes. Most of what's in Service Pack 1 is already available via Windows Update, but Microsoft added a few fixes to the operating system that hadn't yet been released for widespread consumption. For the most part, service packs do a lot to increase stability, compatibility, and security while at the same time bundling hundreds of fixes all up into one nice file or check box for the user to click. If you're keen to peruse what's in the update you can find a full list here.

Vista's built-in Windows Update utility is the easiest, and likely the fastest, way to get the new service pack. The system will automatically download only what it needs to complete the installation. Depending on how long it's been since you've updated your computer, the length of the download and installation process can vary. You're probably better off downloading the stand-alone file and installing it yourself if you're starting with a fresh Windows Vista installation. Don't be surprised if your computer takes more than an hour to install the service pack.

According to Microsoft, computers with Service Pack 1 should experience numerous performance benefits. Many of the enhancements relate to networking and file-transfer speeds. Service Pack 1 will reduce the time it takes to get out of hibernation and standby modes, and will improve battery life for some laptops. Service Pack 1 will bring no new gaming performance enhancements, but Microsoft states that gaming performance should move upward slightly.

We compared Windows Vista SP1 to an unpatched installation of Windows Vista and to Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 installed. The operating systems were tested with a variety of video cards to get a better picture of how gaming performance varied. We used single-card systems from Nvidia and ATI, and we included an SLI setup from Nvidia and a dual-GPU graphics card from ATI to see how some of the more exotic flavors fared.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9775, Intel D5400XS, 4GB FB-DIMM (2x2GB), 750GB Seagate 7200.10 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista 32-bit, Windows Vista 32-bit SP1. Graphics Cards: GeForce 8800 GTX 768MB. Graphics Drivers: Nvidia ForceWare beta 174.53.

The single-GPU GeForce 8800 GTX experienced gains in games like Call of Duty 4 and Oblivion when we compared Windows Vista to Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 installed. Performance stayed mostly flat in other games. Pairing up two 8800 GTXs for an SLI setup yielded similar results. When we compare Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 to Windows XP SP2, the GeForce 8800 GTX kept up in Call of Duty 4 and BioShock. Vista with SP1 actually took the lead in Oblivion, but it's hard to ignore XP's victories in Crysis and Team Fortress 2. SLI performance was decidedly better under Windows XP than Windows Vista with and without SP1 in almost all of the tests.

System Setup: Intel Core 2 Extreme QX9775, Intel D5400XS, 4GB FB-DIMM (2x2GB), 750GB Seagate 7200.10 SATA Hard Disk Drive, Windows XP SP2, Windows Vista 32-bit, Windows Vista 32-bit SP1. Graphics Cards: Radeon HD 3870 512MB, Radeon HD 3870 X2 1GB. Graphics Drivers: ATI Catalyst 8.3.

Outside of 3DMark06, the single-GPU Radeon HD 3870 showed little sensitivity to the various operating systems. Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 has excellent performance, and is pretty much on par with Windows XP SP2 with the Radeon HD 3870. On the other hand, the Radeon HD 3870 X2 performed abysmally under Windows XP. We're chalking that up to immature drivers, as the video card is still on its first set of drivers.

Conclusion

Windows Vista with Service Pack 1 is a step in the right direction. Gaming performance increased in comparison to a fresh installation of Windows Vista. Windows XP SP2 provides better overall performance, and remains the place to go for dual-GPU solutions. Windows Vista is not quite the ideal gaming platform yet, but the new OS is getting close to dethroning Windows XP.

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