Windows manager: Prepare your PC for speed

Windows manager: Prepare your PC for speed

I recently asked whether you found that Windows was getting slower each month. Several people I respect find Windows' behaviour so annoying that every six months they back up their data, format their hard disks, and reinstall Windows. It seemed to me that there must be a less drastic way to restore Windows to its originally perky, if not blazing, performance.

I've read scores of e-mails from readers and interviewed some of the best minds in the Windows software business. Now I'm ready to prescribe Livingston's Little Performance Pills - a set of simple steps anyone can take to return their system to good health. Of course, what's a prescription without a way for the doctor to know whether the patient's vital signs are improving?

Therefore, I'm going to ask you to participate in a giant, worldwide performance test this week and next. All you need to do this week is measure the existing responsiveness of your system. Then follow the procedure I'll describe next week. When you repeat the baseline steps, you'll see how much your system's performance has improved.

Windows' decline is often caused by a combination of factors:

Start-up applets. When you install new programs, they often add routines that are automatically started by Windows. These applets are not always removed, even when you uninstall a program.

Memory bloat. When your applications have consumed your available RAM, Windows begins swapping parts of memory into a swap file on disk. A newer, larger program may make Windows spend more time swapping.

Registry chaos. Using Windows adds data to the Registry. As information is added and deleted, the Registry expands but almost never contracts.

Directory obesity. It takes longer to open programs and documents as more files are added to the Windows folder and subfolders.

I've looked for a benchmark utility that would measure these kinds of Windows slowdowns. Unfortunately, most benchmark programs measure only the theoretical speed of your CPU and the like.

So I've designed a performance indicator that uses your own applications and documents. Most cases of "Windows arthritis" involve a slowdown in responsiveness when you use programs and files. This indicator, therefore, loads as many as possible.

Step 1. Click Start, Programs, Windows Explorer. In Explorer's left pane, expand C:\Windows, then expand Start Menu and Programs. Select Startup and leave this folder visible in your left pane.

Step 2. Make a list of your biggest app-lications and the largest documents associated with them (spreadsheets, graphics files, and so on). One by one, use Explorer to locate your largest documents. While holding down your right mouse button, drag the icon of each document into your Startup folder. When the context menu appears, click Create Shortcut(s) Here. This should make Windows load each program and open the related files when you restart.

Step 3. Click Start, Shut Down. Select Shut Down, then turn your system's power switch off when it is safe to do so. Let your disks spin down, then flip your power back on.

Step 4. Your machine should run its usual power-on self-test. After this, time the number of seconds from the message "Starting Windows" to the time all your programs and files are open and the hourglass disappears from Windows' screen. This time is your baseline.

Step 5. Use Microsoft's System Monitor to check your available memory. In Windows 98, click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Monitor. Click the "Memory Manager: Free Memory" chart, and wait a few seconds. (If the window has no such chart, click Edit, Add Item, Memory Manager, Free Memory, OK.) Write down the number shown in the status bar.

Step 6. In Windows Explorer, make a C:\Hold folder. Move the shortcuts you made in Step 2 from Startup to Hold. This way, they won't load every time you start Windows, but you can reuse them next week.

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