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Last Updated: Monday, 18 July 2005  






Windows Basic Optimisation Tips

You can spend hours tinkering with little system adjustments in the registry and ini files trying to get the most speed and performance out of Windows. While all the tinkering can make a small difference, you get 80% improvement with only 20% of the effort. It is better to do the simple stuff first before trying any of the nitty gritty. Also, once you start tinkering in the registry, there is a chance you will actually slow things down, or even worse.

Windows XP

 The slowest part to any PC (except for the user) is the hard drive. It is orders of magnitude slower than the Memory or CPU. So it makes sense to spend a few minutes configuring Windows to make best use of your hard drive.

The following procedures work on all versions of Windows from 95/98/ME to NT/2000/XP, with a few XP specific ones at the end.


Disk Errors

Checking Your Hard DiskSomething that is often overlooked, even by IT professionals, is to make sure your disks have got no errors on them. Crashing programs, power interruptions and even the infamous computer gremlins that all computers house, eventually create errors on your hard drives.

Make sure you run the disk checking program every so often. Select all the available options for checking, do this for each of your hard drives (i.e.. c: d: ...). You may need to reboot your computer for it to complete the check at boot time.

You can find this program by double clicking My Computer, right click your hard drive, and select Tools from the dialog box.


The Paging File

The paging file (also called: Windows swap file or virtual memory file) is a Setting Paging File Settingssystem file that Windows uses when it runs out of actual RAM. Windows, by default,  configures itself to control it's own paging file. This is not the most efficient method, as Windows will continually increase and decrease the size of the paging file, thus causing long, slow disk accesses and fragmenting the file. If you find your computer trashing the hard drive quite often, this is a sign of bad virtual file management (it can also be a sign that you don't have enough RAM, the more the better, always!).

It is much better to define your own paging file size. To do this, right click My Computer, select Properties -> Advanced -> Performance Settings -> Advanced -> Virtual Memory, Change. (Slightly different depending on which version of Windows you have)

You should see a box similar to the one shown here. Select to use a custom size and set the Minimum and Maximum  sizes to be the same. A good size is about double how much RAM you have, or about half again what Windows recommends.

You will may get a message that this is not recommended, click Yes, and a reboot will most likely be needed.

Task Manager




After this change, if while using your computer, it complains that it is running low on virtual memory, you can increase the values you set. If you have XP or 2000, open up all the big programs you use at once. Then  bring up task manager ([CTRL] + [ALT] + [DEL]), click the Performance tab, now check the Commit Charge Peak , if it is getting close to the Commit Charge Limit, then you need to increase your paging file size.







Temporary File Cleanup

Finding Your Temp FolderPrograms and Windows use a folder for their temporary files. Not all of the programs clean up properly after they are done. So after a while your temp folder gets full of left over files. There can easily be over 100 MB of files in there that serve no purpose. To clear these out, Click Start -> Run -> type %temp% -> OK.

In the window that appears, select everything and press [Shift] + [Delete] keys together. Shift stops the files going into the recycling bin.


Internet Explorer Cache



If you use Internet Explorer to browse the web, it is probably using up way too much space for it's temporary cache. The default value is always too high. I suggest 10 MB as it's cache size. You find this in Internet Explorer Tools -> Internet Options -> General -> Temporary Internet Files, Settings...






Defragmenting Your Drive

Windows DefragThe next thing you can do is make sure your hard drive is properly defragmented. (Is your disk defragmenter broken? How to fix). File fragmentation occurs continuously while using your computer. What it means is that the files are not in one piece, they are split up and spread around your hard drive, thus when you go to read them, it takes longer to find all those pieces, than if the file was all in one place.

The built in Windows defrag program works well. You should run the defragmentation routine about once a month, or more if you use your computer heavily.

The problem with the built in defragmenter is that it will not defragment system files that are open, like the paging file (you have to buy a product like PerfectDisk for that), but luckily there is a free program that will do just that.

Sysinternals Defrag

Sysinternals makes a program that defrags the system files at boot time, download from here. Unzip the program somewhere, then run it and set to defrag at next boot. This will defragment your paging file and other system files at boot time, before they are opened by Windows.


Hard Drive Temperature

Hard Drive Temperature CheckNow that we have your hard drive purring away nicely, you may want to check how hot it is getting. PalickSoft makes a program that monitors your hard drive temperatures. This is totally dependant on your hardware being able to provide this information. You can download a free program that checks your temperature and produced a dialog as shown above. It does nothing else, if you want it to continuously monitor the temperature and give alarms etc, you need to buy the full version. But the free version is good enough for a quick check. Download it here.

Most desktop Hard Drives are rated to about 55?C working temperature, so if your hard drive is over this, you need to do some work on your system cooling.


Essential Updates

Do make sure you keep your computer up to date using Windows Update, new exploits occur all the time, and there is always someone in the big bad world wanting to cause you a little grief, if you do not have Service Pack 1 on your XP machine yet, check out my XP exploit page for an example of what can be done.



Windows XP Specifics

The above tips apply to all versions of Windows, following are a few tips for XP only.


System Restore

Microsoft has included a feature in XP that takes periodic snapshots of your essential system files and configuration. The theory is, if you have a problem, you can restore your system to a previous state. Sounds nice, it even works, but the problem is that Windows uses huge amounts of your hard drive to save restore information from the day dot.

System Restore


Even on it's lowest setting it is still using 200 MB, which gives me about 10 days worth of restore points, more than enough for me.

You can set it to whatever you feel most comfortable with, just pull the slider and find a point you like for safety and disk usage.

To set this right click My Computer -> Properties -> System Restore -> Select a Drive, Settings...

Adjust each of your hard drive to suit. Your system drive will have a much higher usage on minimum than your other hard drives, because of all the system files on it.



Enable CleartypeXP includes ClearType. This is a method of sharpening up text on your LCD monitor, by using the different colours on the screen separately. It works like magic, makes the screen much easier to look at. Even though it works because of the physical layout of an LCD screen, you may like the look of it on a standard CRT monitor too.

To enable, right click your desktop -> Properties -> Appearance -> Effects... and enable the smooth edges of screen fonts box, use Cleartype

To get the best out of ClearType, you have to fine tune it, you cannot do this from Windows itself, but only online on Microsoft's web site here. Go through the tuning wizard and select what looks best for you. I selected the bottom left option.


Boot Menu

If you have come up through the various Windows 9X OS's, you may wonder what happened to the boot time recovery options, I know I did. This is where Windows used to say Press F8 for Advanced Recovery Options. This option is still there, but it only shows for a small amount of time (too small to display on a lot of computers), if you need it, press F8 just before the first black Windows XP boot screen.


If something goes wrong while following these instructions, you may find your computer system will not longer boot, or otherwise function incorrectly. This can create a very time consuming repair process. Even though I try to make these instructions foolproof and reversible, computers are computers and strange things can happen.

Use  at your own risk!!


Need help, just email me below.


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