Regardless of your branch or patch level, be sure to check out this CSS blog post and KB #2964518 : Recommended updates and configuration options for SQL Server 2012 / 2014, which is full of useful advice.
For help with acronyms used here or in the resources referenced, see Definitions of SQL Server release acronyms.
And of course, please always perform full regression testing before installing any SQL Server update in production. Kendra Little has a nice post about this.
Service Pack 2 (12.0.5000) was released on July 11, 2016, and includes 53 fixes and enhancements – including all of the fixes up to and including SP1 CU7. The official Knowledge Base article is KB #3171021, and you can download the service pack here and the updated feature pack here.
Some very interesting improvements in Service Pack 2, many of which were already included in SQL Server 2016. There were others, so this list should not be considered exhaustive, just OUR TOP 20:
- Showplan XML will now include any trace flags in effect, actual rows read, per-operator performance metrics, and more details on spills.
- New query hints to control memory grants (without Resource Governor).
- Buffer pool can now exceed 8 TB (I'm sure a lot of us were hampered by this limitation).
- Better read workload throughput via reduced spinlocks.
- Automatic soft-NUMA partitioning.
- Database lock partitioning (without using trace flags 1236 / 9024 – also in SP1).
- Performance improvements in spatial (trace flag 6533).
MAXDOPsupport for several
- Dynamic memory object scaling.
- Import and export UTF-8 data with BCP /
- New DMF,
sys.dm_db_incremental_stats_properties(see Connect #797156).
- New DMF,
sys.dm_exec_input_buffer, for retrieving correlated
- Index usage stats no longer get cleared after a rebuild (see Connect #739566).
- New error log diagnostics for tempdb, instant file initialization, and Availability Group lease timeouts.
DBCC CLONEDATABASE()– create a stats-only copy of a database with minimal effort (Melissa blogged about this feature for T-SQL Tuesday #80).
When the first Cumulative Update is made available, we'll add a table showing build numbers and release dates.
Service Pack 2 has been released, and it really should be where your efforts are going, if it is possible (yes, I know some people have to stay on older service packs for a variety of reasons).
If you're on RTM still (< 12.0.4000), there is an important security GDR/QFE that has been released through Security Bulletin MS15-058 and KB #3065718. This issue does not affect Service Pack 1. (And you should start planning to move to the SP2 branch now anyway.)