Microsoft has published an article aimed at helping Vista users speed up their system - but the article takes a somewhat hit-and-miss approach to speeding up a PC. Oh, and the best performance tip of all has been left out!
Since several of you sent me a link to Optimize Windows Vista for better performance I just had to take a look at what gems of information Microsoft were handing out. The article begins with statement which I agree with 100%:
That state-of-the-art PC you bought last year might not feel like such a screamer after you install a dozen programs, load it with antispyware and antivirus tools, and download untold amounts of junk from the Internet. The slowdown might happen so gradually you hardly notice it, until one day you’re trying to open a program or file and wonder, "What happened to my poor PC?"
That's pretty much how it happens - you buy a new PC, load antispyware and antivirus tools onto it and then it's slow. If you're lucky the slowdown is gradual and you get time to enjoy some of the power you paid for, but for some people that feeling of owning a fast PC is very short-lived.
The next point that the article makes is to remind the reader to delete programs they never use. Good advice but this doesn't necessarily speed a PC up, especially if the app that's been uninstalled doesn't fire up automatically unless the system is running very low of disk space and space for temp files is getting low. Another problem with this statement is that quite often it's the apps that you use regularly which slow the system down (security apps, email, browser and so on) and it's not so easy to uninstall these unless you have an alternative.
Tip: After encountering numerous debacles with security software I strongly urge anyone looking for an antivirus of antispyware solution to download and install a trial version before committing to paying for the full version because if you have performance hassles the cash you've paid will be wasted.
The next bit of advice is to limit the number of programs loading at startup. Again this is excellent advice but might not have any effect on system performance unless the PC is particularly low on RAM, in which case it's more RAM that's required.
Next we get to two more disk related tips - defrag the drive and clean up the detritus left behind by programs (temp files, temporary internet files, recycle bin, that sort of thing). Again, unless the system is running particularly low on space these are unlikely to have much of an effect of the overall performance of the system.
The next bit of advice is to run fewer apps simultaneously. Good advice but it really needs some caveats. If you regularly have a handful of programs open and browsers packed with tabs displaying many websites then showing a little restraint will reap rewards. However, if just running notepad and calculator is giving you grief then there's a deeper issue at work.
Next we come to a tip that I'm surprised Microsoft even mentions - turn off visual effects. If you bought a system running Vista just for the Aero interface then having to turn off those effects because the system barely has the energy to crawl along is going to suck whole lemons. Also, the truth is that unless your system is at the bottom of what's recommended to run Vista then this is going to have little or no effect on performance. I have never seen a tortoise miraculously transformed into a hare by turning off the visual effects.
Next we come to the restart regularly tip. True, nothing beats starting the day with a freshly rebooted PC, but Vista was supposed to make the sleep state the new off. Having to reboot a PC regularly instead of using sleep or hibernate is usually a sign that a program or driver isn't playing nicely. However, tracking down what's playing is tricky.
Next we come to a good tip. Add more memory. If your system doesn't have 2GB, then you should consider adding it (if the system will take it). Sure, Vista can run on 512MB, but even Microsoft acknowledges that the experience isn't going to be great:
Windows Vista can run on a PC with 512 megabytes (MB) of random access memory (RAM), but it runs better with 1 gigabyte (GB). For optimal performance, boost that to 2 GB or more.
Next bit of advice - scan for viruses or spyware. Well, you are running Windows ... :-) Truth is though that while people are quick to jump to the conclusion that it's malware sucking up all their horsepower when things get slow, it's not often that Malware is the cause of the slowdown. Nonetheless, when things get slow it's worth letting an AV package that you trust inspect the system.
Next, Microsoft recommends that you check the system's speed using the Windows Experience Index. To be honest I'm surprised that this tip is so far down the list. After all, if your PC is from the Fred Flintstone era, no amount of tweaking or tuning will help. Here's a telling statement:
If your PC is rated lower than 2 or 3, it might be time to consider a new PC, depending on what tasks you want to do with your computer.
So a PC rated as 2 or 3 might not be up to the task of running Vista? Hmmm.
Next, a controversial tip - disable unnecessary services. If you know what you're doing then doing this can free up some system resources, but one mistake can cause you some serious headaches - a system that won't boot up being the most obvious but you have to be careful that disabling a service won't at some point in the future cause something that you rely on to work to not work as expected.
Finally, the advice not to settle for a slow PC. OK, I won't ...
The missing tip!
So what's the missing tip that I mentioned earlier? Regular readers will know what it is because I've written about it before - it's to reinstall Windows periodically. Here's what I wrote back in November:
So what is this ultimate secret to faster and reliable Windows? Simple. Reinstall the whole system from scratch (or a solid image) periodically and keep a close eye on the junk that you install in the interim. It really is that simple. That was my plan under XP and it’ll be my plan under Vista. I’m going to accept that over time, no matter how careful I am and no matter how restrained I am when it comes to installing beta and trial software, my system is going to kludge up with the detritus of normal day to day running.
Sure, there are stacks of warnings - make sure you have the Windows disc, have a back up, have applications and drivers handy - but given that Microsoft's article mentions fiddling with services, reinstalling Windows is a lot less likely to get the user into trouble.
Thoughts? Do you have any good speed up tips to share? Can a list of tips make Vista faster or is this a job for Microsoft?
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