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Sunday, March 28, 2010

10 Simple Ways To Speed Up Windows Vista

Windows Vista is a rather heavy operating system with many neat features, but unfortunately they all come at a price. Right out of the box it requires a pretty hefty system to run (arguably).
Before you run out and buy a new computer just so you can run your base operating system, check out these 10 Simple Ways To Speedup Windows Vista tips to lighten the load. This is just the first in the series, so many of them may be very apparent to those experienced in tweaking.
If you’re still using Windows XP, then check out 10 Simple Ways To Speedup Windows XP. Or, if you moved onto Windows 7 then this post. 
1. Turn off UAC, or at least make it less annoying
Now, there’s a lot of talk about the new user account control policy in Vista, and all I can say is: as it is, it annoys the hell out of me and slows down my normal computer usage. Just why, oh why, does it have to flash my video card to a black screen, take 5 seconds and really just make itself a royal pain in the arse?
To turn it off, the easiest way is to go into the Control Panel and type in ‘UAC‘ into the search bar. It’ll bring up a search result of ‘Turn User Account Control (UAC) on or off’. Just follow the prompts from there.
To keep some of the security of the UAC, let’s just turn off the crazy annoying blacking out screen bit. To do this:
  • open group policy (start | run | gpedit.msc)
  • then navigate to Computer Configuration | Windows Settings | Security Settings | Local Policies | Security Options
  • Find the policy named ‘User Account Control: Switch to the secure desktop when prompting for elevation’. Set this to disabled.
Much better, eh? You might say ‘but what’s that got to do with speed?’ Well, as I mentioned, it prompts me a couple times an hour at least and then takes several seconds to figure itself out. My productivity goes up, so it’s a speed enhancer ;)
2. Disable Aero
I personally do not do this, as I am a fan of the graphical styles, but I realize it comes at a cost. It does tend to eat up both RAM and CPU usage (as well as video card usage). While it is turned off during gaming, you can still notice its effects during normal computer usage. When it is really cranking, it can use 15% of your CPU. Ouch. Vanity comes at a cost.
If you do like it, at least turn it down a couple notches. Some performance increases have nothing to do with strain on hardware, or amount of processing. Sometimes, things are designed to take longer than they should, though only maybe a fraction of a second, but the end result to the user is a faster machine. Minimizing and maximizing does an animation. Watch closely. Pretty quick eh? Still, it does slow you down, and, really, what does it add to your experience? I am all about vanity and aesthetics, but this feature has got to go.
Relish in the fact you will be increasing your productivity by 0.2 seconds per minimize/maximize. :)
  • Open your start menu, go to run, and type in ’systempropertiesperformance’
  • From the Visual Effects tab, uncheck ‘Animate windows when minimizing and maximizing’
  • While you are here, might as well check out the other goodies you can disable.
3. ReadyBoost
ReadyBoost is one of the more innovative features of Vista. The idea behind it is to use solid state memory as a secondary memory cache (before hard drive caching). It does require a certain level of speed from your USB (or other) flash drive. Do a quick search on google for just the fastest USB flash drive you can get your hands on (don’t worry they are cheap) and buy one.
To enable ReadyBoost, just plug in a fast flash drive, and AutoPlay should come up with a dialog stating that you can use it for readyboost. If you have disabled it, you can just go to the properties for the drive and select it under the readyboost tab. Easy as cake. It is no substitution for RAM, but one can get a several GB flash drive for very little. Some sites have stated that the improvements are not as much as MS says they are, but even a minor improvement for such a low investment makes this worth your while. Do find the best drive you can for random reads/writes (the drive speed is usually rated for sequential reads which won’t help you much).
  • What speed drive do I need? 2.5MB/sec throughput for 4K random reads and 1.75MB/sec throughput for 512K random writes.
  • What size drive do I need? 256MB to 4GB, where as best performance is gotten at around a 1:1 to a 2:1 flash to ram ratio. So really, you should never try this with a flash drive smaller than 1GB-2GB.
Continue on, and see the rest. I’ll get more complex as I go.
4. Disable Search Indexing
I personally don’t mind the new search too much. It still hogs a lot of resources though. To turn it off completely:
  • Go to my computer, right click on C: drive, go to the General tab, and uncheck Index this drive for faster searching, select Include subfolders and files.
  • If you want, you can just remove any extra areas of search, so you can keep your fast searching for some areas.
I personally find the indexing of control panel options and start menu items to be a blessing, so I would leave those alone. Just find items in the tree that you really don’t wish to be indexed (like your documents).
5. While you are at it, fix the rest of your search options
It is often that I do searches for text in files, like a method use in a PHP file, or maybe something in a java file. Regardless of the situation, Windows Vista has a very limited number of file extensions flagged for full text searching, which causes you to get ‘no results’ when you know there are some.
  • Open Control panel and type in ‘indexing’ into the search box (or you can do this from your start menu, but many people turn it off).
  • Select ‘Indexing Options’
  • Select Advanced Button
  • Select ‘File Types’ Tab
  • In this list you will see a list of extensions. When you click on most of them, the bottom radio button will change from ‘index properties only’ or ‘index properties and file contents’
  • Honestly, index properties only is pretty useless for what most people will use search for (i.e. really only search by date).
  • Uncheck a box to have it removed from search. This can be done for a variety of extensions that honestly, you don’t want in search anyway. It will actually help your results.
  • Change the radio button to ‘index properties and file contents’ to have these file types included in your searches (should be set for word docs, etc and any other text-based files you search for)
6. Get rid of the sidebar
Pretty self explanatory. It’s a heavy and ugly. If you use it, great, if you don’t reclaim some desktop space. Install googles version. Or yahoos.
7. Defender has a use?
Yes, windows defender actually has a purpose!
  • Open it up
  • Click on tools
  • Click on Software Explorer
  • This will let you select groups of items, the default is Startup Programs. Now you can see that oh, Open Office quickstart is there, and I can just disable it there.
Items in this list are very likely to be programs that are running 100% of the time your computer is on, so if you can live without them, kill em.
Almost to the end of part 1. The final page is filled with some more advanced things you can do, but they can take a bit of time…
8. Tweak your services
Well, this one is arguable. Many sites preach service tweaking as the end all of tweaks, and Vista does have a lot of services (like 130). However, a good portion of them are set to manual or disabled by default. Manual will only start the service when the operating system thinks it needs to use that program. However, Vista does have a lot of services set to Automatic by default that are not needed for many people. Granted, they are usually sleeping, not using any CPU, and if they use memory, they usually get paged out to disk pretty fast. But, regardless, it is fairly quick to do, and will gain you some improvement.
First off, how to tell what you should really be worried about. One new feature in Vista is the ‘Go to Service’ feature in Task Manager (or at least I never noticed it before). Open Task Manager, Processes tab, right click on a particularly heavy process, and select ‘Go to Service (s)’. This will jump you over to the services tab, and select all the services that are running under that process (multiple ones are usually running under svchost.exe, many of the others only map to one service).
It also works in reverse (select service, right click and go to process) I have something like 75 services running at this very moment. Many of them I have exactly zero use for. I do not have a printer, but print spooler is running and using a whole whopping 1MB of my ram at the moment. There are heavier examples, but even if you can remove 20 of these, is it worth your time? Well, yes and no. Like I said, many of them are already paged out, so they really aren’t affecting your system’s memory. There is added overhead because the scheduler still needs to manage them, but I cannot for the life of me remember how it is done in Windows.
Overall maybe minimal, but if you are going for every ounce of tweak-ness, give it a shot. I’d recommend Speedyvista look for their cheatsheet or registry files pages so you can keep a copy of the default services around for when/if you mess it up and need to get back to default.
9. How to find out the next area for improvement ? Tweak your programs
Well, you’ve gotten the operating system down to a certain point, what’s next? Well, figure out where your bottlenecks still are! There’s probably some software on your computer that just kills performance (or 6-7 of them). Don’t blame MS quite yet. Anyway, luckily for you Windows Vista has a simple tool included that can help you identify the problem and remedy it quickly.
  • Open the task manager (many ways to get to it, easiest is ctrl+alt+delete then select Start Task Manager)
  • Navigate to the Performance tab
  • Click on Resource Monitor
  • Expand the disk section and sort by either reads or writes column.
Additionally, you can check out cpu, memory usage and network usage in the same way. Now you will probably notice that your virus scanner is using 20x the resources of Aero, as it insists on scanning your RAM all the time, and scanning every damn file you read from, write to, or execute. But, what can you do? Try to find a couple programs that are too greedy, or running when they have no reason to be running (Example: itunes has a couple services installed that run constantly. Why? I’ve no idea why it takes 2-3 services running and several threads to just be looking out for when you just might plug in your ipod, because that functionality is already built into windows). Office also has a preloader ‘quick start’ service (as does open office) to make sure that things run ‘better’ for you. Even though you do have super fetch which should do it automatically without the need for any extra memory usage.
10. Not really a tweak but…
Ok, #10 isn’t really a speed tweak, but it’s something I’ve always found annoying on many operating systems. Many of us have 2 LCDs, and oh wouldn’t it be nice to be able to set different backgrounds for both? There are programs out there that do it, but here’s a way to just do it inside windows.
  • Right click on the background and select Personalization.
  • Click on Desktop Background
  • Select a background image that is at least as wide as the combined resolution of both of your monitors (or scale the image up so it is big enough, else you will get tiling.. it takes some tweaking, so get out your photo editor of choice for this one.
  • Select the Tile picture positioning option as shown below. This is the only option that will display your background image across multiple monitors
Alright, tune in next time for more advanced Windows Vista tweaks. If you have any questions doing any of the above, let me know, or if you wish to debate their usefulness, etc. If you wish to give your own, even better!

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