Vista file copying showdown: RTM vs SP1 (updated2)

Copying files is the Achilles’ heel of Windows Vista, “calculating time remaining…” the blue screen of death equivalent. If anyone tells you Windows Vista isn’t slow at copying files across the network, then they obviously haven’t downloaded any DVDrips and tried to move it onto another computer. Local file copying has already been improved in the performance & reliability updates. It was anticipated Windows Vista Service Pack 1 would fix the network problem amongst other things.

As announced this week, the first beta build of SP1 (6001.16659) has been released on Microsoft Connect. The initial reaction from most tester has been largely positive noting improvements in file operations such as moving, copying and deleting files. However I haven’t seen anywhere post any benchmarks or evidence to prove it is indeed faster.

I composed this side-by-side video comparison of Windows Vista with and without SP1 copying two sets of files across a wireless network. Both the RTM and SP1 machines were running from the same system configuration on seperate partitions with exactly the same hard disks. Any difference in time should theoretically be the effect of the operating system.

[flv:vistafilecopy.flv 670 463]

Whilst this benchmark is hardly scientific, it is obvious Vista SP1 has fixed the “calculating time remaining” bug. As soon as the dialog box appeared, it immediately began copying the file. The copying progress is also more accurately indicated with updates approximately every second in both the text and progress bar. It took approximately 30 seconds to copy the entire file.

But it wouldn’t be a good story without a twist. Vista RTM may have started slow and appeared slow throughout the file copying operation, it actually only took 3 seconds longer to copy the first file. Unexpectedly the progress bar just zooms to the finish line in the final seconds. Of course in the second test, the problem becomes rather obvious and there is a clear advantage in SP1.

Of course these is only one test are only two tests with a relatively small files so it is hard to judge the difference, but I wonder if our mind is just playing a trick on us. What happens if Windows Vista wasn’t slow at copying files? Maybe file copying was never broken, just the progress bar? No matter what it is, now the progress bar moves and numbers change, and that’s all it matters.

Update: A lot of people have told me since that Virtual PC’s I/O performance may have affected the results. File copying in SP1 may be even faster than it appears in this video which is even more promising.

Update 2: I have since redone the entire test with the feedback received. First, no more Virtual PC. The Vista SP1 install is now running natively in a seperate partition. Secondly, I’ve added a second test copying hundreds of smaller files. The result is again positive with SP1 finishing ahead of RTM by nearly a minute.

Screencast recorded and edited on Camtasia Studio.

45 insightful thoughts

  1. This video is showing that the final result of copying a file is similar. But what if the both system was installed on separate computers? Computers must be exactly the same. Then you’ll get the real score. If you dont have two cmoputers, you can test it on the same machine but not in the same time and not in the virtual disk. Record video’s separately and then compare them.

  2. I’d always been under the impression it begins to copy the files and calculates the time remaining at the same time, so I wouldn’t be suprised if it took about the same amount of time but SP1 displayed the progress more clearly.

    … But I’m probably wrong.

  3. I don’t think you can benchmark anything under VM, Long.

    But you are right about perception playing big role in perceived speed of a system. I was amazed how fast my imac booted compared to my 3yrs old PC. Guess what – mac booted full 10 secons longer than the PC, but when startup screen is clean and disks are quiet, it SEEMS much faster.

  4. Actually, file copying in Vista is not slow but perceived slow by the fact that the progress bar is updated only after copying and entire file: this causes the “zooming” you noticed.

  5. with sp1 the whole file moving/copying process is definately smoother and also quicker.

    my test results are like this:

    copying files from my network attached windows server 2003 computer:
    with rtm: ~6-7mb/s max speed. very often its around 4-6mb/s which is very poor.
    with rtm & sp1 16659: 11.7mb/s top speed, mostly its between 10-11mb/s

    thats on my system a HUGE improvement and extremele satisfying. now i dont have to use total commander anylonger to move large amounts of files.

    from one partition to the other partition i got a performance boost of about 30%.

    my conclusion: sp1 is on the right track. im running it on my production machine and i havent experienced anything negative so far. not the slightest bit. impressive. it seems that vista becomes a rock solid very good performing os after all. that might satisfy the people.

  6. ps: the mb/s i posted are correct for me – i tested them also using a stopwatch, they are displayed correct (in case anyone suggests that they might be displayed wrongly only).

  7. Hi Long,
    I’ve done several tests on the Vista copy file issue and my findings are that the actual copy speed can vary depending on the files you are copying.
    In some cases Vista is about 50% slower than XP, in other cases it’s 10% faster than XP.
    I haven’t found what triggers the bug, but I can say for sure that Vista is not hitting the bug 100% of the time.
    Here is my post about it http://imieiguaiconvista.blogspot.com/2007/05/slow-food.html sorry if it’s in Italian, but you can check the pictures, the last one shows a file copy from a Vista box to a XP box and it uses almost 100% of the network bandwidth, confirming that the bug is intemittent.
    Also I can say for sure that the progress bar is suffering from another bug that has nothing to do with the actual network bandwidth usage bug.
    Sometimes it doesn’t show any progress even if the copy has almost finished (as you also reported in your test), in some other cases it works almost as expected, for sure it’s not showing the % of bytes copied, and that too me is the culprit: it should show the bytes and not the time passed/left.

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  9. Seems to me, all that videos proves is that it RTM vista doesn’t display the progress bar properly – but takes the same amount of time to transfer.

    However, thats based on your video, which is done in the wrong environment.

  10. Given that this (mis)information has the potential to travel @ speeds faster then light. Why don’t do a couple of things

    1. Put the update as the very first line of this post as well
    2. Perform this test on two comparable PCs (not VPCs) and show those results.

  11. Actually, Long…if you think you’ll be using the same computer whenever SP1 comes out, why not take the opportunity to record a very large file transfer now, so you can repeat it with SP1 later? I routinely move files of over a 1GB, sometimes 3GB in size (Media Center tv recordings). Over such a large file, small speed discrepencies can really add up. What’s 3 seconds here, might be minutes on larger files.

  12. It might also be prudent to try copying a directory with many small files and compare that vs. SP1 when it’s RTM. It takes much longer to copy and create many files than to copy just one of the same combined size.

  13. Okay, but then why is copying in XP still near-instantaneous?

    Because XP stands for ‘Experience’ while Vista means to look at the pretty copy dialog vista for longer than you should!

  14. Long (or anyone out there willing to),

    Have you tested the same test using the command prompt? (xp, vista RTM, vista sp1)? Its pretty obvious that command prompt will be a little faster than the GUI but just wanting to see how much faster it is compared to these 3 installs. I am on Vista Sp1 with no Vista RTM/XP box (except VPCs) to test this out on.

  15. @Keeron

    I think the slow copying bug has always been related to Windows Explorer because copying files at the command prompt using either copy, xcopy or robocopy has always been fast. But do notice a difference between versions, Vista is faster than XP and x64 is much faster than x86 (either Vista or XP).

  16. Try *moving* a large number of small files within the same hard drive.

    Hint: It’ll make a hilarious comparison video ;)

    Also, Anthony is probably talking about moving… which should be near instantaneous within a hard drive (but isn’t on Vista RTM).

  17. I don’t think you can benchmark anything under VM, Long.

    But you are right about perception playing big role in perceived speed of a system. I was amazed how fast my imac booted compared to my 3yrs old PC. Guess what – mac booted full 10 secons longer than the PC…
    Thank You!

  18. Try moving a 10 gig avi file.
    I found vista very slow for moving media files because of there built in copy protection security .

  19. guys, does anyone else have the following problem with Vista copying?

    I make music and move sub folders around a lot from disk to disk when organising my work.

    If I copy a folder (which contains many other song folders and related files) from one disk to another it doesn’t tell me which files/folders are currently copying! it simply states which parent folders it is moving from/to which is really useless information.

    I am sure XP used to tell me what folder/file was presently copying,rather than just the parent destination/source, even if the estimated time was always wrong (as still the case in Vista!). ‘More info’ in Vista Copy dialog just tells you the’Speed’ and ‘items remaining’, i.e. more pretty useless info.

    I like to have the full info, as I can then go organise/copy other folders from the parent folder and keep an eye on what has finished copying what is still outstanding, in Vista I have no info other than that I have lots of folders copying to and from the same parent, which I know already!! Useless.

    Anyone know a fix to this? thanks

  20. I don’t get it, I had RTM, and I never ever had any problems copying files over the network, i tried 7GB files and they copied within a minute, I recently upgraded to SP1 and it’s just faster.

    With XP it takes me about 2 1/2 minutes to copy the same 7GB file to the same computer

  21. I use Altap Salamander (dual pane file manager) to manage large file operations in Vista. I don’t know if it uses some low level api or what, but it copies files way faster and with flawless time remaining. It also lets you queue transfers so they don’t all happen at once, which is a huge plus for me.

  22. Thanks guys. I will try Altap Salamander.

    It isn’t the speed I care about it is more the info. When keeping an eye on the copying of my many project folders I need to know from the copy dialogue boxes what files are copying at any particular time and which folders they are copying from, rather than just knowing which folder the folder I am copying is from! as all the sub folders I’m copying are from the same parent.

    Vista doesn’t really give any useful copy info and XP was better at this. Now I have no idea what’s going on…I haven’t explained myself well..so I’m sure you guys don’t know what going on either.lol I’ll just try Salamander =)

  23. Hi,

    I’ve got SP1 in and have had it in for ages…. as I came up against the copying bug very early.

    Unfortunately it doesn’t always seems to fix the problem.

    I just copied 8GB of data from my C directory on one drive to a second storage drive and it took around 30 min!!!! That’s way too slow.

    These are 7200RPM 500GB seagate drives with 32MB and SATA II!!! They’re not slow… and the processor is a Phenom 9500!!!! 2GB memory!!!

    I’ve benchmarked the drives using ghost and they got 2GB/min transfer rates!!!! That means about 4 min for the copy not 30!!!!

    I someone has some ideas please feel free to speculate.

    :-)

  24. BTW: It was even slower before SP1… so it’s a big improvement.

    BTW: The bug seems to manifest when you’ve got 2 drives in the system… those with only one don’t seem to have the problem.

    :-)

  25. There’s this alternative way which i read in some post:
    You can use a third party app. In the post the author introduced Teracopy and claimed that it’s even faster the Windows XP Default copy. The comments approved the claim as well. (Haven’t got time to test it myself). Works with Drag and Drop system.
    No Ads.
    You can uninstall it and get back to Windows’s default copying system whenever you want.
    +It’s free. ;)
    http://www.codesector.com/teracopy.asp
    Cheers,
    BiGBang.

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