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Optimization

076 |

Limit The Visual Frills.  Windows XP may be more attractive than previous versions, but its good looks come at a cost.  Extras such as transparent mouse shadows, font smoothing, and menu effects add little more than aesthetic value while using up valuable system resources.

To disable the effects you can live without (an idea we especially recommend if you're running Windows XP on an older Pentium II system), go to the Control Panel, open the System applet, select the Advanced tab, and click on Settings in the Performance section.  You can disable unnecessary items on the Visual Effects tab.

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Out With The Old.  In any version of Windows, you should delete files from your temp and cache directories on a regular basis, because the clutter in these folders takes up useful space on your hard drive, can cause disk fragmentation, and may even slow down your Web-browsing experience.

To clean out these folders, click Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Disk Cleanup.  After you select a drive and click OK, a menu pops up that lets you choose the types of files to be removed.

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Reduce Boot Time.  This piece of advice can speed up Windows more than any other tip.  When Windows starts, it looks in several places for programs to run immediately on start-up.  Some of these programs might run in the foreground, but most sit quietly in the background and eat up system resources.

Windows 98 SE and later versions have a feature called the System Configuration Utility.  Type msconfig in the Run dialog or the Address bar (see "Customization" in this story) to invoke the System Configuration Utility, then choose the Startup tab.  Here, you can disable items you think are unnecessary, such as media player launchers.

If you disable only nonessential programs, the only effect should be a speedier start-up.  And because you're not removing these applications from the start-up - you're just disabling them - you can easily reenable them later.

Another easy way to deal with unwanted start-up items is to use the PC Magazine utility Startup Cop, which you can download for free from www.pcmag.com/utilities.  Of course, you should also look at the Startup group (on the Start menu) and remove any programs from there that you don't need to run automatically when you boot up your computer.

If you're absolutely sure you know what programs don't need to load on start-up, run Regedit, then navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run.  There you'll find the rest of the items that launch when Windows starts.

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Shorten the Start Menu Delay.  If you have ever been annoyed by the built-in delay before a menu displays in Windows, you can eliminate it.  To do this, open Regedit and navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ControlPanel\Desktop\MenuShowDelay.  The default value is 400 (milliseconds); lowering the value will speed up how quickly menus display.  This change will take effect after you reboot.

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Know When Not To Use Fast User Switching.  Fast user switching, which lets users switch between accounts without shutting down programs and logging off, can be a very convenient feature under the right conditions.  But it can also be a serious drain on system resources.  Essentially, when more than one user is logged on, each user's settings remain active; even the programs each user has opened stay open.

If one user is working on a spreadsheet and another just needs to check e-mail quickly, fast user switching is the way to go.  If, on the other hand, one user is playing a graphics-intensive game, that user will experience a noticeable performance hit if other users are logged on.  If you want to disable the feature, see Tip 034 in the "User Accounts" section of this story.

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Halt Unnecessary Programs and Set Priorities for Processes.  The Windows Task Manager (which you can access by pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del or right-clicking in an open space on the taskbar) lets you end programs or processes that may be locking up your system.  This is a fairly well-known fact.  But if you click to the Processes tab, you can also set priorities to limit various applications.  This is useful, for instance, if you are running a noncritical program that is taking up a lot of resources.

Unfortunately, the information that you'll find under the Processes tab can be difficult to make head or tail of.  PC Magazine's EndItAll (www.pcmag.com/utilities), which you can download for free, performs a similar function, while providing information about the individual programs and processes that are running on your machine - not just cryptic filenames.

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Use DMA Mode For All ATAPI Drives.  Slave drives on ATAPI channels are often set to PIO mode by default, even if they are capable of modes such as UltraATA or DMA, which allow more efficient data transfers.  This means CD/DVD burning, DVD playback, and other performance may suffer unnecessarily.

To fix this problem, in Windows 2000 or XP, open the System applet in the Control Panel and select Device Manager in the Hardware tab.  Choose Advanced Settings, and change the transfer mode for each drive to DMA if possible.  For Windows 98 or Me, go to Device Manager, then Disk Drives | Hard disk properties and click the Settings tab.  Click the DMA box.  There's no harm done if a device can't handle DMA mode.

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Optimize The Paging File.  You can reduce the annoying lag created by constant paging by increasing your paging file size and by making the file static so that Windows doesn't have to resize it all the time.  If you can, place the paging file in its own partition - or, if at all possible, place it on a separate physical hard drive from the Windows drive.  Frequently defrag whatever drive the paging file resides on.

To change the settings, open the Control Panel and double-click on System.  Click on the Advanced tab, and then, under Performance Settings, go to the Advanced tab and click on Change.  (In Windows 98 or Me, go to the System Control Panel applet, to the Performance tab, and then to the Virtual Memory settings.)  Here you can change the size and drive location of the paging file.

First, if you have more than one local drive available, you can select the one that you want the paging file on.  (You cannot change the file's location in Windows 98 or Me.)  Next, specify the paging file's initial size in megabytes.  There are many theories to determine the perfect size, but just make it as large as your hard drive can spare within reason, up to 2GB.  Then enter the same number for the file's maximum size.  Click Set.  You'll have to reboot for the changes to take effect.

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Reduce Overhead By Setting Services to Manual.  In a home or single-workstation environment, you can set certain Windows services to Manual, meaning they will only start when called on.  To change the behavior of services, right-click on My Computer, select Manage, expand Services and Applications, click on a service, and change the start-up type.

If you are currently using these services, you can change them to Manual without worry: FTP Publishing Service, Message Queuing, Simple Mail Transport Protocol, Distributed Link Tracking Client, IPsec Policy Agent, Remote Registry Service, RIP Listener, and World Wide Web Publishing Service.

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Compress the Registry.  The Windows 9x Registry is quick to bloat, but it doesn't give up space after entries are removed.  You can reclaim such space by dropping to DOS mode and using the following commands.  First, type scanreg/backup to make a backup of the Registry, just in case something goes wrong.  Then type scanreg/opt.

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Optimize Vcache.  Vcache is Windows 9x's disk-caching driver.  Typically, Windows sets it too high (consuming memory and slowing applications) or too low (slowing drive responsiveness).  You can take control of Vcache by running Sysedit and editing the System.ini file.

Find the heading [vcache]; beneath it will be minimum and maximum numbers, in bytes.  A good rule of thumb is to set Vcache to one-quarter of the amount of physical memory within your PC, but setting it higher than 32MB is unnecessary.  Set both the minimum and maximum numbers to te same value.

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