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Don Watkins

The Need For Speed. How To Speed Up Your Computer

By Don Watkins



I get asked a lot of computer questions and by far the most frequent one is "do I need a new PC?". The answer depends, of course, on what it is you want to do, but unless it's video rendering chances are good you're not CPU bound and don't need a new computer with a faster processor.

Instead there are a lot of inexpensive ways that'll probably make more difference than a faster CPU.

Check what's loading at startup (click start, run, type msconfig to show start up items) and remove all the stuff that's not absolutely necessary. This may be hard to do and you may have to spend some time trying different things but take notes and compare performance results. Another alternative is Startup Faster or Startup Guru which, on a couple of overloaded with software test machines, really improved boot time performance.

Without a doubt a majority of my "reliability" problems as well as slow performance have been because of the Windows registry. The registry is the "brain" of Windows and everything, and I mean everything, gets logged or accesses the registry. Over time it collects a ton of information even including information on programs you've removed. The time it takes for Windows to plough through a huge registry can slow things down considerably. If you've never cleaned your registry you might be shocked at the junk that's accumulated. Check out Registry First Aid or Clean My PC and see what kind of junk you have lurking around.

There are tons of "hidden" settings in Windows that can make a huge difference in performance. Windows is pretty much set up by default for a "standard" machine and rarely does the actual computer match the standard. These setting are often well hidden in the registry and it can be a real mess to find and tweak them. PC Booster and Speed Up My PC do a great good job of identifying them all and giving you an easy to use interface to change them around.

A word on performance; there are benchmark utilities that will show results to the nano-second. That's all well and good but my measure is how it "feels". If I don't perceive it being faster a benchmark program telling me it's faster hardly matters as it's probably calculating in time slices my puny brain doesn't pick up on.

Consider adding some memory. I like 512Mb and wouldn't recommend anything less than that. Without enough memory Windows will swap RAM to disk as "virtual memory" and that can really bog things down.

Consider the rotational speed of your hard drive. Many hard drives that are sold with pre-build systems run at 5,400 RPM. That is the drive platters revolve 5,400 times a minute. Next are 7,200 RPM hard drives. That's about as fast as you're going to get on the EIDE interface most computers come with, but the difference between 5,400 and 7,200 will make a difference.

I recently purchase a new box, a Sony with a 2.4Ghz processor and 512Mb of RAM. Seeing as how I was coming from a 1Ghz processor I expected great things. Sadly it seemed a lot slower. While my old box had a slower processor it had SCSI 10K RPM drives. I installed a 7,200 RPM IDE drive in the Sony and while it's still not as fast (again, as I perceive "fast") as the old box it's acceptable.

Most likely your 5,400 RPM hard drive is the bottleneck, not the CPU, so consider a disk upgrade, it might just save you the cost of a new system that will turn out to be less than you expect.

While faster/better hardware may help if you haven't yet looked at software there are some avenues worth exploring there.

If you're using Windows 2000 or XP you may or may not have the indexing service running. Index service can chew up a ton of CPU and disk usage so bring up Computer Management (you can get to it via the control panel) and click services and applications and then double click services. If Indexing Service is running double click to bring up properties, stop the service and then from the status type drop down box select disabled.

This will keep indexing service from running and may increase the amount of time the search/find/files or folders takes to find something, but since it's not running in the background and chewing up CPU and disk you may find that disabling it helps a great deal and is worth the tradeoff in increased file search time.

Certainly we'll all end up in the poor house in our quest for speed, but working around the edges rather than a whole new box can often keep the debt collectors at bay a bit...while I tweak looking for more speed.


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