How To




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System Performance:

Your computer's overall performance is determined by a number of factors:

  • The installed hardware, consisting of:
    • The CPU type and its clock speed.
    • The amount of RAM (System) memory.
      Newer home computers, typically have a 32 bit data bus structure, associated with Windows XP and Vista operating systems (limiting the maximum amount of RAM to 4 GB).
  • The speed (typically 7200 rpm) and size of your primary hard drive.
    Windows requires that you keep as much as 20% of the disk space free for use by the operating system.
  • The type of graphics card and the amount of card memory it has and how much memory is shared with the system RAM memory.
  • The running applications, services, and malware protection software, that runs continuously in the back ground (anti-virus, firewall, spam protection, etc.).


Tuning Up and Monitoring Windows Vista: (similar for Windows XP)

Windows Vista includes a number of tools that you can use to pinpoint performance bottle necks,such as:

  • System Health Report. Click here for details.
  • Windows Experience Index. Click here for details.
  • Reliability Monitor. Click here for details.

These tools provide static snapshots, showing resources available on your system.

The following tools allow you to track a variety of performance parameters in real time.

  • Windows Task Manager. Click here for details.
  • Resource Overview & Performance Monitor. Click here for details.

Your PC spends better than 99.9% of its time waiting for you to do something, leaving only 0.1% of the time when you want Windows to react. It's at this moment when Windows has the most work to do. Vista uses this latent time to read through your documents on the hard disk, along with caching (temporary storage) technologies, such as the search indexing service.

Vista incorporates a number of performance enhancing technologies known as:

  • SuperFetch.
    Observes your computer usage patterns overtime and adjusts caching behavior to accommodate your own particularities.

    You don't need to do anything.

  • ReadyBoost.
    Uses an external memory device, such as an USB 2.0 flash disk to cache disk content when accessing your page file (virtual memory), reducing time accessing the hard disk.

    To be effective, you must connect an external USB flash drive of the correct type and configure it accordingly.

  • ReadyDrive.
    This feature supports the use of hybrid hard drives, which incorporate non-volatile flash memory along with a rotating disk medium.

These features are designed to reduce the amount of time your system spends engaged in performance degrading disk IO (input/output) operations.

Windows Vista animates almost every visual component of its new interface. These features may be cute, but they create two main performance problems.

  1. They slow down motion, causing windows, menus and list boxes to take longer to open and close. Making your PC to appear sluggish.
  2. They consume processor time that could otherwise be used for more important tasks, as operations to/from virtual memory (your page file) and accessing data important to you.

Strategies for Improving Performance:

a.) Control Mindless Animation and Display Effects.
 Vista animates almost every visual component of its new interface. This can create performance problems unless you are using a high performance computer.

  • It slows down motion, causing windows, menus and list boxes to take longer to open & close, making your PC appear to feel sluggish.
  • This interface consumes processor time that would otherwise be used to handle processor intensive tasks, such as virtual memory (page file) or game playing.

Performance Options

To Adjust:

  • Go to Control Panel, under"System & Maintenance" select "System".
  • From the left hand navigation panel, select "Advanced system settings".
  • Select the "Settings" button within the Performance segment as displayed in The Advanced tab of the System Performance dialog.
  • This will display the Visual Effects tab of the Performance Options dialog, as shown to the left.
    There are 20 settings, you can adjust.
    The 4 settings at the top of the display, help ease the decision making.
  • Let Windows choose what's
    best for my computer
    (determined by Microsoft's marketing dept).
  • Adjust for best appearance.
    (enables all features on the list).
  • Adjust for best performance.
    (disables all features listed).
  • Custom, allows you to adjust
    the visual effects at your discretion.
    Some settings are
    dependent upon the graphics card you have installed and the version of Vista you are running.

Displaying "Aero Glass":(Vista only)

This new translucent display feature has some hefty technical requirements,

  • A fast video card, with at least 64 MB of video memory.
  • A Vista compatible video driver.
  • A 3D gaming feature, Pixel Shader 2.0 in hardware.

Aero Glass consumes CPU cycles, requiring a fast processor and video card to realize its benefits.

It can be tricky to get all the pieces in place so Vista will even give you the option to enable the Aero Glass interface.

Click here for further Aero Glass detail as well as dual monitor operation.

b.) Memory:

Adequate RAM:

Your assessment of your PC's speed will be based on its ability to respond immediately to;

  1. mouse clicks and key strokes,
  2. start applications quickly,
  3. open dialog boxes & menus without delay,
  4. start & shutdown windows quickly,
  5. display graphics & animation smoothly.

For the most part, all of the above are dependent upon;

  • the amount of system memory (RAM),
  • the speed of your hard drive,
  • the speed of your video card,
  • the number of applications, services & drivers you have running at
    any one time.

which is more than just the speed of your CPU.

Having enough RAM helps reduce the operating system's dependence on virtual memory (the page file on your hard drive), minimizing the number of times Windows has to swap information between the fast memory chips (RAM) and the relatively slow hard drive.

Windows Vista should be run with a minimum of 1GB of RAM. The upper limit of RAM that can be installed on a 32 bit machine (typical of most home users computers) is 4GB. Dependent upon the characteristics of the video graphics card installed in your system,  this upper limit will be reduced by the amount of memory your graphics card requires.


Adequate Virtual Memory: (page file)

Windows is not designed to run on RAM memory alone, no matter how much you install.

Windows creates a hidden file on your hard drive, to swap pages of data out of RAM (physical memory) when necessary. This page file / swap file provides an extension of the main RAM memory, thus virtual memory.

Typically the size of the page file is determined by the amount of RAM installed in your system. The default minimum size is 1.5 x the amount of RAM to a maximum of 3 x the amount of RAM.


Virtual Memory

The dialog displayed to the left, which shows the current page file settings for a typical system.

You may access this dialog for your Windows Vista system as follows;

  • Control Panel.
  • Performance Information &
  • Select "Advanced Tools"
    from the left hand navigation pane.
  • Select "Adjust the
    appearance and
    performance of Windows."
  • The Performance Options dialog opens.
  • Select the Advanced tab.
  • Click on the "Change" button opening the Virtual Memory dialog box.

By default Windows creates a page file in the root folder on the same drive that holds the Windows system files and manages the page file size for you.

You can choose between a;

  • Custom size.
  • System managed size. Recommended & preferred.
  • No Paging File. Not recommended, Windows is designed to operate with a paging file.

By keeping an eye on the green line displayed in the Memory graph of the Reliability and Performance Monitor (this will be discussed in detail later in this summary). This displays Hard Faults/sec. (interrupts to the Page File). If this line spikes off the top of the graph during your normal work, it may be advisable to increase the size of your page file.

If the page file frequently changes size, this can lead to its fragmentation, resulting in greater access time required to access data (which is your running applications software).

It may be advisable to keep the page file to a fixed size (maximum recommended), to keep it from becoming fragmented. This is achieved by using the Custom Size and setting the Initial & Maximum size to the same value.


Page File Confusion:

Some of the most common performance related mis-information revolve around the subject of page files.

  1. If you have a large amount of RAM installed you don't require a page file. This is incorrect, the Windows operating system isn't designed to run without a page file.
  2. Creating a fixed size page file improves performance. Not a good idea, memory management in XP & Vista have been designed to minimize performance problems. Let the Windows operating system have access to as much free hard disk space as practical.


ReadyBoost: (unique to Vista)

This feature makes use of the fact that flash memory has a much lower seek time than a hard disk. Your system can get to a given address (location) on a flash drive much more quickly than to a similar spot on a hard drive.

ReadyBoost caches (stores) small data segments in flash memory and is able to retrieve these segments, more quickly when needed, than from a hard drive.

Since an external flash drive can be removed without warning, all data cached by Ready Boost is encrypted and backed up on the hard drive to the Page File. This allows Windows to revert directly to the Page File on the hard disk, if the ReadyBoost drive is removed. Vista does not support multiple ReadyBoost drives.

ReadyBoost is not of significant benefit, if your RAM memory is well above the amount you need. It does help with improved access times, particularly if your page file has become fragmented.

Click here for details in setting up a ReadyBoost drive.


Hard Disk:

A fragmented hard drive, where large files are stored in dis-contiguous sectors, makes reading and writing data extensive, placing a drag on performance.

Windows Vista defragmentation can be scheduled to be done as a scheduled task, such as on a weekly basis.

Defragmentation is discussed in detail in the "Cleanup" section of this site.

With in certain limitations third party software, such as Ashampoo Magical Defrag 2  or Smart Defrag can keep a significant portion of your hard drive defragmented. It automatically defragments your hard drive when ever your computer is idle.

c.) Managing Startup Programs:

A performance problem occurs when Windows automatically loads an excessive number of programs at startup. On systems with minimal memory (RAM), startup can be unpleasant, taking an unnecessarily long time. The Page File gets more of a workout than it should, becoming very large in size and effectively wasting memory.

You are better served by running programs when they are needed and closing them when they are no longer required.

There are a variety of different ways to have a program run at startup, there are more than a dozen. The problem is not creating them, but having them under control. Many programs when you install them, can and will have them startup.

Tracking down programs that start automatically may not be easy. Both Windows XP and Vista have a utility System Configuration (Msconfig.exe). This tool, lets you see most of the programs that run at startup and allows you to disable particular ones if you choose. The Msconfig utility is more of a trouble shooting type of tool and should be used just for that.

Windows Defender the anti-spyware utility supplied with Vista and optionally available for Windows XP, lists a more easier to read and offers a more detail of the startup programs. It is a utility within Windows Defender known as Software Explorer.

Click here for details in using Software Explorer to control startup programs.

d.) Prefetch:

Windows continuously monitors files that are used when the computer starts and when you start an application. It creates an index placed in the Prefetch folder (C:\Windows\Prefetch) that lists segments of frequently used programs and the order in which they are loaded.

Prefetching data is the process where by data that is expected to be requested is read ahead of time into the cache (RAM memory and the Page File). It is part of the Memory Manager that speeds up the operating system boot process and shortens the time it takes to start programs.

This prefetching process improves performance by allowing the operating system to quickly access these program files.

The Prefetch folder limits the entry of *.pf files to 128. Entries older than a few weeks are removed from it. Deleting is totally unnecessary. The files are Trace and Layout files. The trace files describe the order in which program segments load. This information is used to launch programs in the most efficient way. Layout files provide a list of files and directories in the order that they are accessed when you start your computer or run a program.

Deleting Prefetch folder entries will actually increase boot up time, as Windows has to rebuild the files in this folder and then load the entries into your memory cache. It will not improve performance. Nor will turning it off improve performance, it will eliminate the ability of Windows to optimize program loading.

The bottom line is let the operating system manage the pre-fetch files, that's its job.

Final note: CCleaner has a selection under
"Windows - Advanced - Old Prefetch data" that appears to clear out entries of older than one month. Minimal improvement !!

e.) Device Manager:

The Device Manager provides you with a graphical view of the hardware that is installed on your computer. All devices communicate with the Windows operating system through a piece of software called a "device driver".

Use the Device Manager to:

  • determine if your computer hardware is working properly.
  • change hardware configuration settings.
  • identify the device driver loaded for each device.
  • update device drivers, change advanced settings and properties of drivers.
  • enable, disable and uninstall device drivers.
  • roll back to a previous driver version.
  • view devices based upon type, connection or resources.
  • show or hide hidden devices, not critical, may be required for advanced trouble shooting.

Points of Note:

Device: Any piece of equipment that can be connected to a network or a computer (printer, modem, keyboard, etc.) It requires a driver to function with the windows operating system.

Driver: Is a compact control program that hooks directly into the Windows operating system and handles the essential task of communicating your instructions to a hardware device and relaying any data back to you.

Click here for Device Manager details.

f.) Drivers:

The driver acts as a translator between a hardware device and the application or operating system that uses it. They load automatically and run as part of the operating system, no intervention on your part is required.

Drivers are hardware-dependent and operating-system specific.

A Driver has the following purposes:

  • to act as the interface between a device (printer, scanner, etc.) and you the user, allowing changes to the way the device operates
    (eg. settings for your mouse or keyboard).
  • to act as an interface between a device and the operating system. Telling the operating system what resources a device requires for correct operation (eg: amount of memory).
  • to provide a way for a hardware manufacturer to update their device to take account of technology advances or correct operating discrepancies.

Updating device drivers is important for the operating system and devices themselves. Unfortunately this is not without potential problems.

Click here for Driver details.

g.)Event Viewer:

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