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Improving Visual Performance

On a system that has a low WEI graphics score (3.0 or less), it can be tempting to disable Windows Aero completely to improve visual responsiveness.

Instead, consider these methods to improve visual performance while continuing to use Windows Aero:

  • Disabling window transparency
  • Disabling DreamScene on Vista Ultimate
  • Disabling window animations

Disabling Window Transparency in Windows Aero

Windows Aero is the default desktop on any system with a WEI base score of 2.0 or higher. Systems with a WEI base score of 2.0 can run Aero, but just barely. One way to improve visual performance, especially if you usually have a lot of windows open onscreen, is to disable window transparency:

  1. Open the Control Panel’s Appearance and Personalization category.
  2. Select Personalization.
  3. Select Window Color and Appearance.
  4. Clear the Enable transparency checkbox (see Figure 2).
  5. Click OK.
Figure 2

Figure 2 Clear the Enable Transparency checkbox to help improve visual performance.

Disabling Windows DreamScene Content (Vista Ultimate Only)

One of Windows Vista Ultimate’s ultimate extras is DreamScene, which puts full-motion graphics wallpaper on your Windows Aero desktop. While DreamScene is an exciting way to personalize your system, it requires a very powerful graphics card to work properly. If your WEI graphics subsystem score is 4.5 or less or if your processor subscore is used to determine your WEI base score, and you use Ultimate Edition, consider disabling DreamScene if you are currently using it.

To disable DreamScene:

  1. Open the Control Panel’s Appearance and Personalization category.
  2. Select Personalization.
  3. Select Desktop Background.
  4. Select any category other than Windows DreamScene Content or the videos categories from the Location menu (see Figure 3).
  5. Select any background desired.
  6. Click OK.
Figure 3

Figure 3 Selecting a desktop background other than Windows DreamScene content improves visual performance.

Disabling Some Visual Effects

Visual effects aren’t new in Windows Vista, but Windows Vista has added more visual effects to the already-long list developed for previous Windows versions. To adjust the visual effects in Windows Vista, open the Performance and Information dialog and click the Adjust Visual Effects link in the Tasks pane. Provide administrator credentials when prompted.

The Visual Effects tab of the Performance Options properties sheet (see Figure 4) offers four ways to configure effects:

  • To turn on all visual effects, select Adjust for Best Appearance.
  • To turn off all visual effects, select Adjust for Best Performance.
  • To use Windows Vista’s own defaults, which vary with the graphics performance of your system, select Let Windows Choose What’s Best for My Computer.
  • Custom, which enables you to enable or disable specific effects.
Figure 4

Figure 4 Use the Visual Effects tab of the Performance Options dialog to select only the most useful effects.

At first glance, you might decide that using Adjust for Best Performance is the easy way to crank up visual performance. The problem with using that option is that you also say goodbye to all of Windows Aero’s features, including features that boost productivity:

  • Live thumbnails during Alt-Tab switching
  • Live thumbnails on the taskbar
  • Win-Tab 3D task switching

Essentially, choosing Adjust for Best Performance turns your desktop into a virtual clone of the Windows 2000 desktop.

Instead, use Custom, and consider disabling the following "eye candy" features:

  • Animate Controls and Elements inside Windows
  • Animate Windows when Minimizing and Maximizing
  • Fade or Slide Menus into View
  • Fade or Slide ToolTips into View
  • Show Window Contents while Dragging

Your system’s visuals will perform noticeably faster, at little cost to productivity or appearance, and, best of all, you will still be using Windows Aero as your desktop.

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