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Making Windows XP and Vista Go Faster

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This chapter is from the book
Windows is a big piece of software that can put huge strains on your system hardware, making even fast PCs run a little slow. Michael Miller shows what you can do to speed up how Windows runs on your PC.

Sometimes slow system performance is due to an outside factor, such as a virus or spyware infection. Sometimes it’s due to the programs you install and run on your system, or even to a fragmented hard disk. But sometimes sluggish operation is due to the operating system itself—Microsoft Windows.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re running the older Windows XP or the newer Windows Vista, Windows is a big piece of software that can put huge strains on your system hardware, making even fast PCs run a little slow. Fortunately, you can do some things to speed up how Windows runs on your PC—which we examine in this chapter.

Speeding Up Windows (XP and Vista)

Obviously, a lot of the advice presented elsewhere in the book also affects Windows’ overall performance. For example, removing all but the most essential startup programs (as discussed in Chapter 4, “Cleaning Out Unnecessary Programs”), will help Windows not only load faster but run smoother. Defragmenting your hard disk (which we addressed in Chapter 5, “Optimizing Your Hard Disk”) also improves Windows’ performance.

That said, you can do some specific things to make Windows run faster. We’ll start by examining speedups that work for both Windows XP and Windows Vista, and then move on to XP- and Vista-specific speedups in the following sections.

Install the Latest Drivers

Here’s a universal speedup for all Windows-based computers. Some devices get speedier over time because their manufacturers come up with upgraded versions of their device drivers. If you want a quick system speedup, check the manufacturers’ websites for the latest versions of their hardware drivers. Downloading an updated driver can make that device run significantly faster on your system!

Delete Unused Fonts

Windows includes a lot of built-in fonts, and even more fonts get installed by many of the software programs you use. Know, however, that Windows loads every single one of these fonts into memory. The more fonts you have installed, the more memory they take, and the slower your system will run.

To speed up system performance, especially on PC’s with small amounts of RAM, you should delete those fonts you don’t use. This will free up memory for more important tasks.

To delete unused fonts from your system, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start menu and select Control Panel.
  2. When the Control Panel opens, double-click Fonts.
  3. When the Fonts window opens, as shown in Figure 6.1, select the fonts you want to remove, and then press the Del key on your keyboard.

    Figure 6.1

    Figure 6.1 Deleting fonts in Windows Vista.

The more fonts you delete, the faster your system will run. Bye-bye fonts!

Turn Off System Sounds

Believe it or not, those obnoxious beeps and boops your computer makes for various system operations can actually affect your system’s performance—especially during the startup and shutdown operations. You can attain a slight performance gain by turning off Windows’ system sounds.

To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and select Control Panel.
  2. When the Control Panel opens, double-click Sound (in Windows Vista) or Sounds and Audio Devices (Windows XP).
  3. When the Sound or Sounds and Audio Devices dialog box opens, select the Sounds tab, as shown in Figure 6.2.

    Figure 6.2

    Figure 6.2 Turning off system sounds in Windows Vista.

  4. Pull down the Sound Scheme list and select No Sounds.
  5. Click OK.

That’s it—no more sounds!

Don’t Look for Bootable Media on Startup

If you think your system takes too long to start up (and who doesn’t?), here’s a way to speed up that startup process. This tip is based on the fact that your computer looks for bootable media in any CD/DVD or floppy disk drives you have installed on your system. This is pretty much just a formality, as you almost always want to boot from your hard drive. If keep your system from looking in these extraneous drives, it will boot up slightly faster.

You make this change outside of Windows, during your computer’s pre-Windows boot-up process. The change is actually made to your system’s BIOS. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Reboot your system and wait for a blank screen with a little text on it; the text should tell you how to enter the BIOS or CMOS setup. (You may also need to consult your computer’s instruction manual.)
  2. Typically, you enter a particular key or key combination. Many computers require you to press the Del or F2 key, although this differs from machine to machine. Press the appropriate key on your computer keyboard.
  3. Once you’re in the BIOS setup, navigate to the Boot menu and select Boot Sequence.
  4. You should now move your hard drive to the top position in this sequence or set it as the “first device.”
  5. Press the Esc key to record your settings and leave the BIOS setup routine.

Optimize Windows’ Display Settings

One of the quickest and easiest ways to make Windows run faster is to change several of its display settings. That’s because it takes a bit of processing power to display all those fancy graphics onscreen. A plainer display uses fewer system resources, and makes your system run slightly faster.

What sort of resource-eating graphics effects are we talking about? How about effects such as animated windows, sliding menus, and the like—little things, visually, that take big power to create.

So if you want a quick visual speedup for your system, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and select Control Panel.
  2. When the Control Panel opens, double-click System.
  3. In Windows XP, this should open the System Properties dialog box, but not so in Windows Vista. In Vista, you need to click the Advanced System Settings link to proceed.
  4. When the System Properties dialog box appears, click the Advanced tab, and then click the Settings button in the Performance section.
  5. When the Performance Options dialog box appears, select the Visual Effect tab, shown in Figure 6.3.

    Figure 6.3

    Figure 6.3 Disabling Windows’ visual effects.

At this point, the easy option is to check the Adjust for Best Performance option. Doing so disables many of the fancy visual effects and speeds up your system. You do, however, lose the cool effects, but that’s the compromise you make for performance.

Alternatively, you can pick and choose which visual effects your system displays (and know that XP has slightly different effects than does Vista). Every one of the effects uses up a certain amount of processing power. The more you leave enabled, the slower your system will run. So to speed up your system incrementally, check only those visual effects that you think are necessary to enhance your computing experience. The more effects you disable, the faster your computer will run.

Reconfigure Processor Priority

Windows’ Performance Options dialog box has a second tab that enables even more fine-tuning of your system performance. The Advanced tab, shown in Figure 6.4, presents another option that can speed up your system.

Figure 6.4

Figure 6.4 Editing Windows Vista’s advanced performance settings.

The Processor Scheduling section of this tab lets you control how much processor time Windows devotes to an individual program or process. Because your computer’s microprocessor has a finite amount of processing power to divide between all the applications and processes that are constantly running, how that power is divided affects what runs faster—your applications or Windows’ background processes.

To give the bulk of the processing power to the program running in the foreground, making it run faster, check the Programs option. To split the processing power evenly between all running programs and processes, check the Background Services option—which may make your currently running program appear to run slightly slower.

Eliminate Background Services

Windows XP and Vista, like all operating systems, have a continuous stream of services running in the background. These are process necessary for the running of the operating system or selected applications. Most of these services launch automatically when you start Windows, but not all are required for your system to run properly. You can speed up your system’s performance by disabling unnecessary background services.

While you can disable background services from the System Configuration utility, this option doesn’t provide a lot of information about each process, which makes disabling them a bit of a hit or miss proposition. A better approach utilizes Windows’ Services console, a “hidden” utility that includes descriptions of all running services. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Click the Start button and select Run.
  2. When the Run dialog box appears, enter services.msc and click OK.
  3. When the Services console appears, click the Extended tab, shown in Figure 6.5. Doing so displays a list of all services on your system, along with information about each service (in the Description column). The Status column tells you whether the service is currently running (“Started”), while the Startup Type column tells you whether the services starts automatically with Windows or manually.

    Figure 6.5

    Figure 6.5 Viewing background services in Windows Vista.

  4. Right-click the service you want to disable from loading on startup and select Properties from the pop-up menu.
  5. When the Properties dialog box appears, select the General tab, as shown in Figure 6.6.

    Figure 6.6

    Figure 6.6 Disabling a service from loading automatically.

  6. Pull down the Startup Type list and select Manual.
  7. Click OK.

Obviously, you want to focus on the Automatic services; a Manual service does not load automatically on startup. Within the long list of Automatic services, however, how do you know which ones you need—and which you don’t?

The simple answer is that you can disable any service that you don’t use. For example, if you have a desktop PC (or a notebook that is not a tablet PC), you can for sure disable the Tablet PC Input service. That’s an easy one, but you’ll probably find more.

While each system is distinct, here’s a short list of services that you probably don’t need:

  • Computer Browser
  • DFS Replication
  • Distributed Link Tracking Client
  • IKE and AuthIP IP Keying Modules
  • IP Helper
  • IPsec Policy Agent
  • KtmRm for Distributed Transaction Coordinator
  • Offline Files
  • Portable Media Serial Number
  • Remote Registry
  • Secondary Logon
  • SSDP Discovery
  • Tablet PC Input
  • Terminal Services
  • Windows Error Reporting

You may want to experiment with turning various services on and off. Note that not all of these services are available on all versions of the Windows operating system.

Disable File Indexing

Both Windows XP and Windows Vista include a feature that lets you search files on your hard drive. This search feature works by indexing all the files on your hard drive. In other words, Windows extracts information from all the files on your hard disk and creates a searchable keyword index. It’s this index that Windows searches when you conduct a query from the Start menu.

There are several problems with using Windows’ search feature. First, it isn’t that effective or efficient; it doesn’t always find what you want, and takes a long time to do it. (Although, to be fair, Vista’s search feature is much more effective than the crude one built in to Windows XP.) Second, your system performance really takes a hit while Windows is indexing your hard drive; it takes a lot of memory and processing power to scour all your files. And third, the index itself takes up valuable hard disk space.

Bottom line, using Windows’ file indexing dramatically slows down your PC. You can gain a noticeable speed improvement by turning off this feature.

To turn off Windows’ file indexing, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and select My Computer (Windows XP) or Computer (Windows Vista).
  2. When My Computer or the Computer window opens, right-click the C: drive icon and select Properties.
  3. When the Properties dialog box appears, select the General tab, shown in Figure 6.7.

    Figure 6.7

    Figure 6.7 Turning off file indexing in Windows Vista.

  4. In Windows XP, uncheck the Allow Indexing Service to Index This Disk for Fast File Searching option. In Windows Vista, uncheck the Index This Drive for Faster Searching option.
  5. Click OK.
  6. When the Confirm Attribute Changes dialog box appears, select the option to apply the changes to drive C: and all subfolders and files.

Optimize Virtual Memory

As you recall, Windows uses your hard drive as virtual memory when regular memory fills up. This virtual memory space takes longer to access than does regular random access memory. With that in mind, there are ways you can tweak this virtual memory to improve system performance.

The first thing to do is assign a fixed size to the virtual memory pagefile. By default, Windows resizes the file as needed; unfortunately, this resizing takes time and resources. To create a fixed-size pagefile, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and select Control Panel.
  2. When the Control Panel opens, double-click System.
  3. In Windows XP, this should open the System Properties dialog box, but not so in Windows Vista. In Vista, you need to click the Advanced System Settings link to proceed.
  4. From the System Properties dialog box, click the Advanced tab.
  5. Click the Settings button in the Performance section.
  6. When the Performance Options dialog box opens, select the Advanced tab.
  7. Click the Change button in the Virtual Memory section.
  8. When the Virtual Memory dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 6.8, uncheck the Automatically Manage Paging File Size for All Drive option.

    Figure 6.8

    Figure 6.8 Managing the size of your system’s virtual memory.

  9. Select the drive that contains the pagefile, and then check the Custom Size option.
  10. Enter a value into the Initial Size box equal to the amount of RAM you have installed on your system. For example, if your system has 2GB (2000MB) of memory, enter 2000 into this box.
  11. Enter the same value into the Maximum Size box.
  12. Click OK.

Another way to optimize the performance of your system’s virtual memory is to keep the pagefile on your hard drive defragmented. While there’s no way to do this from within Windows, you can use Microsoft’s PageDefrag utility for this task. You can download PageDefrag (for free) at technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb897426.aspx. Follow the instructions there to fully defragment your system’s pagefile.

Turn Off System Restore

This next speedup is not one I particularly recommend, because Windows’ System Restore feature has tremendous potential value if you have future system problems. Still, if you’re willing to risk not being able to restore a recalcitrant system to its previous working condition, you can speed up your PC’s performance by not having System Restore take up valuable background system resources.

Not only does System Restore take up a bit of system memory, it also uses up a lot of hard disk space storing all the restore points it creates—up to 15% of your total hard disk space. If hard disk space and memory are at a premium, you can regain some speed by turning off System Restore.

To disable System Restore in Windows XP, follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and select All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore.
  2. When the System Restore window opens, select the System Restore tab.
  3. Select the Turn Off System Restore on All Drives option.
  4. Click OK.

Disabling System Restore in Windows Vista is slightly different. Follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and select All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore.
  2. When the System Restore window opens, click the Open System Protection link.
  3. When the System Properties dialog box appears, select the System Protection tab.
  4. Uncheck each of the disks listed in the Automatic Restore Points list.
  5. Click OK.
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