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Don Watkins

How To Speed Up Your Computer. The Need For Speed.

By Don Watkins



"How do I speed up my computer?"

Without question that's the most common question I get and it's nothing recent. I first wrote about it in 1999 and those ramblings are still archived here.

Times have changed but speeding up your computer remains the top concern. Fortunately there are a number of painless solutions. They're listed below pretty much by what will give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Start Up Programs

Do you have a bunch of icons in the system tray? Does your computer take a long time to start up? Many "gadget" programs want to load automatically at start up and each one sits in memory chewing up resources including memory and CPU cycles. Even worse some programs load at start up and never even let you know they're doing it. I've worked on computers that have had in excess of 100 start up programs (including necessary Windows processes).

Get rid of them! Most of them were probably install once and forget and you'll never miss them. Identifying them is another story but there are alternatives that will help you track them down.

Windows includes a program called MSCONFIG that will identify some start up programs. Click start, run and type in MSCONFIG and that'll get it started. Msconfig is kind of bare bones and won't give you the full story but if you don't have a lot it might do the job.

Next is autoruns which is an excellent and free tool from Microsoft. A word of warning. It is powerful and will not stop you from removing a critical Windows process. Be careful of what you're doing.

Somewhere in the middle between MSCONFIG and autoruns is SpeedUpMyPC from Uniblue. You can do a free online scan here but you'll have to buy it to make any changes. SpeedUpMyPC will keep you from getting into trouble from disabling a critical start up service.

Registry Fixers

The registry does a boatload of work in Windows being where just about everything about any program or process is stored and most remove program routines don't do a good job of cleaning up when they are uninstalled. If you've removed even a few programs the registry can become full of useless information. Why does this affect performance? Every time that Windows has to access the registry it's thrashing through a load of useless data to find the right info. I've worked on machines where 25% of the registry was useless junk.

You can avoid this by using a complete uninstaller like Your Uninstaller which works great but it won't fix anything that was uninstalled prior to it being used. For me it's far easier and less expensive to use a registry fixer. I like Registry First Aid as it will not only removed obsolete junk but also fix registry errors which can cause errors and put Windows into slow mode. There are a lot of good registry fixers and Registry First Aid is my choice but it's mostly a matter of style. You'll find others you can try here.

Hard Drives - Fragmentation

There are two factors in hard drive performance.

First there's fragmentation. Data is stored in "blocks" with a file being saved in the first block available and then the next. It might be easier to see a graphical representation.

Mom MP3 Empty Mom MP3 Empty Empty Mom Work Empty

Keep in mind that these "blocks" of hard drive space can be all over the drive.

You go to load "Mom" or "MP3" and the hard drive read/write head has to jump all over the disk. Now think of how much faster it would be if all the "Mom" or "MP3" files were in contiguous blocks.

But says you "I don't do that much file creation" so everything should be grouped together at the end of the day. Actually you might not do a lot of file creation but Windows and your applications do. First there's the browser cache writing all sorts of files to your hard drive. Then there are system checkpoints and the indexing service. Believe me, there's a lot of file activity.

The term for non-contiguous files is called "fragmentation" and there's a tool in Windows to regroup files into contiguous blocks. Right click a drive in My Computer, select properties and then tools then the "Defragment Now" button.

Like all of the utilities that come with Windows the defragment tool is okay but not great. My choice for Windows XP is to use a third party tool like DiskMagik and let it run as a service for a while. You will never escape fragmentation but DiskMagik will keep you on top of it.

Oh, and regardless of the defragment tool you use run it several times as after you do the first pass it will cause other files to become fragmented. It may seem like a vicious cycle but eventually you'll have fairly contiguous files...until they're fragmented again.

Hard Drives - Better Hardware

Many computer vendors will try and save a few bucks with a slower rotational hard drive with a rotational speed of 5,400 RPMs. Consider upgrading to a faster (7,200 or even 10,000 rpm drive) as the faster a drive spins the better the performance. It may sound like a lot of work but it can be fairly easy. Simply get the new drive, install it and then use something like Image for Windows to make a disk image and then restore that image to the new drive. Once you have the new drive booting and working you can use the older, slower drive for drive image backups or storing media files.

If extreme hard drive performance is your cup of tea you might want to take the leap to a solid state drive. They continue to improve in terms of their quirks (there is a limit to the number of times you can write to a SSD) and their price continues to drop. I opted for a lower end OCZ drive and I'm very happy with it but ask me again in a year. Regardless worth checking out, the performance hit is amazing.

The Ultimate Speedup

If you want the a quick speedup without shelling out the bucks for a SSD drive look into SuperSpeed XP. It's probably overkill for most but with SuperSpeed installed somehow the drive Windows partition is copied to a RAM disk (created out of memory) that "looks" like a hard drive to Windows. Like a thumb or solid state drive RAM (memory) is a ton faster than any hard drive and access is super fast. Any changes are written after the fact from memory to the hard drive so when you power off all your changes will be there when you restart. You do have some exposure in terms of data loss if there is a power outtage and I'd recommend you only use this with a UPS.

But still it's worth it. The speed of reading/writing to memory it's very, very fast.

Give these a shot, think that short of a new, top of the line computer, they'll satisfy that "need for speed" desire.

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