Saturday, January 15, 2011

Two ways to make your computer faster that no one thinks of.

I've been using Windows for a really long time. As have many other geeks/nerds. I've seen my share of "Registry Cleaners", speedup tools, and tips from other people. All these things don't work. They really don't. You might get a temporary "boost" in certain areas, but a month later you'll be experiencing enough seemingly unrelated system problems that you'll end up reinstalling Windows.

People always tell me their computers are slow and want to know how to speed it up. Today, I'm going to show you two ways to truly speed up a Windows-based computer and keep it lightning fast.

First, fire up that slow computer and launch Task Manager. Go to the "Performance" tab, and look at the amount of memory being used. If the amount of memory being used exceeds 80% of the amount of available physical RAM, that means that portions of the OS and other programs are being moved to what is known as "swap space". Swap space is where the hard drive is being used to temporarily store bits of other programs to the hard drive so the current program being run by the OS can execute. Since the OS switches "rapidly" between programs to give each one a chance to execute some code, it is likely that the OS will start falling behind very quickly and the entire computer grinds to a halt as each program starts using swap space.

The hard drive swap space is there as a buffer so that the OS doesn't crash. It isn't meant to be used for extended periods of time. In fact, always running on swap will lower the life expectancy of the section of the hard drive where the clusters for swap space are being stored, causing premature failure of the drive.

The solution to this problem is to eliminate running programs you don't need running. This is actually a lot harder to do than it sounds and reinstalling the OS is the sometimes the fastest way to accomplish that task. Google is your friend here but it isn't easy to decide what to remove and what to keep even after searching. I'd love to recommend uninstalling anti-virus software because it is all unnecessarily bloated software but, unfortunately, most people need protection from themselves.

The second thing that can drastically speed up a system is eliminating useless entries from the "System path". This hearkens back to the bad old DOS days from which Windows was born. The system path is buried on all Windows OSes as an "Advanced" feature. On my Windows 7 install, it is located in: Start, Control Panel, System, Advanced System Settings, Environment Variables, System Variables, "Path". The most basic system path on Windows 7 is:

%SystemRoot%\system32;%SystemRoot%;%SystemRoot%\System32\Wbem

When Windows looks for a file, it will check first in the current working directory and then every entry along the configured user and system paths before giving up. Every addition to the path increases lookup time exponentially. If you run any sort of monitoring program (e.g. SysInternals Process Monitor), it becomes apparent that Windows performs extraneous lookups quite frequently and fails to find anything more often than not. Fewer paths = faster system. However, be careful when removing paths as any application that depends on the path may suddenly stop functioning. Again, the only way to easily remove a path is to just reinstall Windows.

It is fairly common knowledge that a fresh Windows install is fast. People blame the Windows Registry for bloat, so someone came up with a "Registry Cleaner". These have incredible risk of damaging your system in unknown ways and most don't work as advertised anyway. I never use them and never have problems.

If you are contemplating reinstalling Windows, also consider installing what are known as "Portable Applications" or "Portable apps". Portable apps are designed to be run from a USB thumbdrive so you can take them anywhere but they can be "installed" locally too. More importantly, though, is that they don't affect a Windows installation in any way unless you connect it up yourself. A portable application doesn't touch the Windows Registry or put files on the system. You could have hundreds of portable apps "installed" and the performance of Windows will remain the same. Plus, you have the option of taking your applications with you wherever you go. In addition, by using portable applications, every portable application used is one less application that has to be installed when Windows is reinstalled in the future and the data also travels easily between computers. It is a win-win scenario to use portable apps.

1 comment:

  1. Reinstalling isn't so bad, but reinstalling and registering all of your software can be.

    I think any serious PC owner should own a backup Hard Drive.

    Windows 7 comes with a System Image Backup, and it made my life easier.

    Install your OS, install your software, register the stuff you need, and configure your software and OS. You can also put all of your files on the PC if your External Storage Drive is big enough. Then make that system image backup to the USB Hard Drive.

    If your PC ever gives you any trouble, it took me 20 minutes to restore my system, all 30GB of it (I manage my files manually).

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