Is your computer slow? Does it almost crawl at slug speed? Thinking of replacing that old pile of rust? Or picking up your base ball bat to give it a good final beating? STOP! It might just be too soon to dump your PC. I will show you some tricks to make it a bit faster. Or in some cases a lot faster. Most of them are intended to reduce the workload of your computer. None of them will cost you money, just a little time and effort. They might even save you money.
Minimize the workload
Some people make a habit of starting up all applications they might ever need during a session. Or never to shut down unused programs. All that software uses memory and processor time. Systems with little memory will make a swap file, using the harddisk as the extra (very slow!) memory needed. Every extra program may also cause memory conflicts and crash your computer. So only start up the programs you really need. Shut them off when you don't use them anymore.
Software loading at system startup
Some software will be automatically loaded every time you start windows. Some software manufacturers seem to find it necessary to have their software running all the time. Mostly virus scanners, system utilities, organizers. Microsoft Office will also do this. Windows installs System Agent, an unstable system task automation utility, that can also cause a lot of trouble.
Want to know what is running on your system right now? Just press Control-Alternate-Delete (all these keys at the same time) ONCE. Twice will reboot your computer! Pressing Ctrl-Alt-Del will present you with a list of all running software. After starting up Windows this should only be Systray and Explorer (win9x only). Everything else is probably obsolete. Press the Escape key to get rid of this screen again. If you think some program may be running unnecessarily, you'll have to find out where it is started. There is a wonderful little utility called StartupCPL, made by Mike Lin. This shows all startup locations, and lets you switch things off and on again, you may also delete offending entries.
Be carefull when adding commands here. The wrong entries will halt your system during startup. Not being able to edit the registry anymore, your computer will be absolutely useless until you replace your registry files (system.dat and user.dat, hidden files in your windows directory). Doing that can also be quite hazardous to the health of your system. And your own, I might add. You might end up reinstalling ALL of your software.
AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files
These files are dinosaurs from the age of MS-DOS. Windows does not really need them anymore, but some software does. In particular DOS software, running outside Windows. So I suggest you just leave them there. You may however want to examine them, because they can startup software too. To see what they do, you'll have to startup in MS-DOS (press F8 at system startup, choose the appropriate menu item). Exiting to MS-DOS from the shutdown menu does not really get you to plain DOS!
Type 'mem /c /p' at the command line to see what software is running. If you see something you don't want there, look for the corresponding command in the autoexec.bat and config.sys files. You can shut off the command by putting a semicolon ";" at the beginning of the line. Be sure to make backups of all files before changing anything.
Mind your cache
There is something peculiar about windows' memory management. The more memory you install, the more windows uses. Not for speeding up your software mind you, but for caching its disk cache. More logical would be the other way. More memory means less disk caching, means less memory cache needed for the disk cache. I REALLY don't get it. Here again a simple solution. You can add the lines below to your SYSTEM.INI file (win9x only).
This will limit the memory cache size to 4 megabytes max, keeping the rest free for software. This will mean a lot less disk activity. It may be worthwile to set minimum and maximum to the same amount, thus preventing resizing of the buffer. If you are hesitant of editing system files manually, you can let Thomas Reinman's freeware CacheMan do this for you.
Related to this is forcing windows to use all of the available memory before using the swap file. Enter this line under the [386enh] section in system.ini. If you have a decent amount of memory, your swapfile size will be 0 most of the time file (win9x only).
Kiss your desktop theme goodbye
Do you have a desktop theme installed? I have seen some very beautiful designs. But all off those sounds and animated cursors are eating up processor time and memory. Wallpapers slow down your screen redraws and also use memory. Sound events may also crash your computer every once in a while. Screen savers are superfluous on modern monitors, they are just for fun. Get rid of it NOW!
To make this easier for you, I have made a clean desktop theme. Just download it, unzip it to your \Program files\Plus!\Themes folder. Right click on the 'no.theme' file and select 'Install theme'. This removes your wallpaper, sounds, cursors, screen saver. To get rid of logos you'll have to edit your 'msdos.sys' file, a hidden file in the root. Just change the 'Logo=1' setting to 'Logo=0', and save the file. You can also use George Lewe's Boot95 utility to do this.
Recent versions of windows have all kinds of animations for windows, start and mouse menu's, and what not. Lately Microsoft added skinning options to its operating system. These animations and skins consume a lot of processor power. It would probably be wise to switch it off. Your screen will look a bit more bland, but it will speed up your system noticably.
Keep your harddisk tidy
Have a look at your harddisk. How full is it? Do you use all the software that is on it? Can you backup data files you rarely use? Get rid of all the stuff you don't need. Uninstall all the software you don't use. Cleanup your harddisk regularly. Defragment the disk once in a while, at least once a month or so. Use scandisk after your system has crashed, to get rid of unused temporary files. Get rid of the files you don't need and just clog up your disk. There is a usefull little utility, very appropiately named Crap Cleaner, that will do a lot of this cleanups for you.
Your harddisk will show a lot better performance if it's not too cramped or fragmented. Your disk will also be less prone to fragmentation. Which might also slow your computer down a lot. Your computer will always need some disk space to operate. Room for swapping and other temporary files. If you don't have much memory installed your system will have a lot more space to work with. Too little space may even crash your system or slow it down to a crawl.
- demo files for your system
- software demo files
- multimedia files (.mov, .mpg, .avi, .wav, .mod etc.)
- graphics (.bmp, .jpg, .gif, .tif, .pcx etc.)
- fax files
- temporary files
- internet cache
- desktop themes
- files in your WINDOWS\MEDIA folder
- desktop accessories
- system specific front end software
Tweak your system BIOS
This is currently really a plague. The design of windows and internet explorer makes it possible for browser extensions and other software to be installed very easily. Sometimes this comes with "free" software, sometimes it's a "drive by install" via a web page. Alas this feature (or flaw, depending on your point of view) is exploited by malware, software you really don't want on your system. If you are the type that always clicks Ok without reading anything, your computer may be infested with malware, and it may slow down your system to a crawl. It may also show unwanted popups, start pages, search engines, redirect links to other sites, steal passwords, etc. etc.
This is a very complex item, that would take to far to extensively discuss here. Be aware however that this is a problem much bigger than virusses. You may want to have a look at the following software to scan your system. These will clean up most of the pests, but possibly not all of them.
It might be worth looking at your system's BIOS settings. That's what you can do at booting, by pressing the Delete key before Windows or anything else is loading. This is not for the faint of heart, but it is definitely worth looking at. Mostly the factory settings will be quite conservative. A properly adjusted BIOS can easily get you twice the speed of a poor setting.
Make a copy of your current settings (PrintScreen key) before you change anything. Most important are things like cache settings, memory wait states (zero if possible), PCI burst write, UDMA interface, etc. Award Modular BIOSes often have a 'maximum performance default' in the main menu, which works great. As these settings differ from system to system, and depend on version and make of the BIOS, I cannot make any specific recommendations. That would be beyond the scope of this website.
Overclock your processor
Most systems and processors are setup quite conservative, just to keep them as stable as possible. Often it may be worthwile checking out if your can be pushed beyond its specifications. Most recent computers allow you to change the speed setting from the bios. Older computers may require opening the computer casing, and setting jumpers. Often 'brand' computers don't allow you to set anything at all.
Easiest is the speed of the motherboard (66, 100, 133, 150 and up). Depending on your memory and processor, it's mostly possible to push this up quite a bit. Processors run faster than your board, easily up to 10 times as fast. For some processors you can change this multiplier. For most it is fixed, the processor will always run at its default setting. You can try changing both by changing settings in the bios. You may need the manual of your mainboard to find these. Restart your system and try your most demanding software. If it crashes set it back again, if it doesn't you're in luck. Be sure to have a fan on your processor to prevent overheating.
If all these changes don't get you the desired result, you could consider upgrading parts of your hardware. Keep in mind there should always be a certain balance in your system. Most important to the performance are order of importance: memory (RAM), harddisk speed and capacity, and processor speed.
Windows will require at least 32 MB of memory to run. The more or the larger the programs you run at a time, the more memory is desirable. More than 128 MB is unnecessary in most cases however. Some applications (games, graphics software), may benefit from more memory. Older versions of windows may have trouble handling this, win98's optimum for example is 64 MB. Adding memory is probably the cheapest way to improve system performance. Depending on the current price of course, memory prices fluctuate tremendously.
Your system will always be dependent on the size and speed of your harddisk. Very much so if you find your system does a lot of swapping for its virtual memory. Your harddisk should not be filled in excess of 75% of its total size to perform at its best. Harddisk technology is evolving rapidly, so a newer harddrive may considerably speed up your system.
Raw processor speed is not nearly as important to overall system performance as is often suggested. It is dependent on a lot of factors, like memory, cache, harddisk, bus speed, the software you use, etc. Faster processors are mostly very expensive, and often require other parts in your system to be replaced as well. You should only consider this as a last resort.
Technology is evolving rapidly, prices seem to be dropping ever faster. Keeping up with the latest standards will cost you a lot of money. If you can suffice with the 'previous standards', you'll save yourself a bundle. Replacing only outdated parts in your computer often seems a wiser approach, than simply buying a new system.
Microsoft updates its operating system about once a year. Features are added every time. This unfortunately means it gets bigger and slower every time. One may wonder if it is really necessary to always upgrade. Even not so recent versions provide you with most funcionality. Essential applications like MSIE mostly can be upgraded for free. Always ask yourself if you need the added features, or if they're just fluff.