===================================== A GENERAL GUIDE TO SPEEDING UP WINDOWS
Some people might tell you that the best way to speed up a PC is at 9.81m/s2, which is the speed it reaches when you drop it from a great height (terminal velocity)... There are more constructive ways to make your PC go fast
The best way to speed up your PC is to remove programs that load when you start or login to your computer. What you will need to do is assess whether you need to have that program starting EVERY time you use the computer. Some of the main offenders include: Office Startup, Adobe Gamma Loader, Winamp Agent and chat programs like AOL Chat, ICQ and MSN Messenger
Before you start, you should make yourself familiar with MSCONFIG. Don't start clicking away just yet - it is easy to cause serious problems, should you happen to tick the wrong thing. (just open Start > Run... and type MSCONFIG in the text-box).
** For Windows 2000 users: You too can reap the benefits of MSCONFIG by downloadng it at this site. Drop MSCONFIG.EXE into your Windows (WINNT) folder and drop MSCONFIG.HLP into your WINNT\HELP folder.
If you get through this and feel the urge to tweak some more, you can visit Tweak3D. They're not entirely comprehensive, but they do have a finger in every pie. Another good resource is Winguides.
Go to Start > Progams > Startup and remove things that you don't need (Like Office StartUp). Do you really use Office every time you use your PC? Leave important things like Zone Alarm.
Most of these objects will have an option in their preferences that allows you to stop the program from starting when Windows loads. As an example, in MSN Messenger you can find this under Tools > Options - or to disable Winamp Agent altogether.
Some of these may only be stopped by removing them from the Run command in the registry. Remove these at your own risk. If you don't know what it is, don't remove it. You can access this through the Startup tab of MSCONFIG.
Alternatively,you can do it manually with a Registry Editor:
Again, remove these at your own risk. If you are not sure, you can Export the whole "Run" Key branch or single entries within it. Exporting before changing is a good practise, regardless if you know what the object is or not.
** For Win9X users: Some other programs loaded may be found in the win.ini file under [WINDOWS] where it says "load=" and "run="... Again, remove these at your own risk. You can also access this stuff with MSCONFIG.
You can conserve a considerable amount of time and resources by toning down the desktop environment.
In Windows XP you can revert to the Windows Classic desktop environment and switching off effects such as animated menus, scrolling menus, or showing folder content while dragging. Most of these settings can be found within the Display Properties under Effects.
This includes the use of web content and/or pictures on the desktop. Using just a plain coloured desktop will reduce memory consumption and make your desktop environment more snappy.
** For WinXP/2K users: more comprehensive options can be found in System Properties > Advanced > Performance Options > Visual Effects.
** For Windows XP users:As a quick step, select "Adjust for best performance" to get rid of XP's 'slow' eye candy.
If you have unused ports and network connections, disable these in Device Manager. This will stop Windows from initialising them each time you load and will cut down on boot times. A bit of a bonus for standalone PC's.
Using a good set of drivers for your devices can help boost the speed (and reliability) of your devices. Generally, the newer the drivers, the better... But this is not always the case.
Getting into the habit of Defragmenting can keep your hard-drives speedy. The more frequently you Deframent, the less time it takes to do it. After you install Windows, service packs and drivers, you might like to start your PC in safe-mode and do a Defrag. This will bring some more of your system files closer to the front (which is actually closer to the spindle on the drive, and also the fastest part of the drive). Windows 2000 and XP has a cut down version of Executive Software's Diskeeper software which isn't as functional as the full version. Of particular interest, no Windows version is capable of defragging the MFT (Master File Table) data. This is an index of where files (or fragments of files) are physically stored on the drive. If the hard drive has to stretch from one part of the drive to another just to find out where files are, understandably this increases the time it takes to read those files. Some popular programs that can defrag MFT data are "PerfectDisk", "O&O Defrag", "Diskeeper" and "Norton SpeedDisk".
Running Anti-Malware programs such as "Spybot Search & Destroy" and "Ad-Aware" can help to avoid nasties that consume your resources (like constantly trying to connect or by stealing your bandwidth). Anti-Virus software may slow down the PC, but it helps prevent other nasties from doing similar things as Spywares. The same applies to software firewalls such as "Zone Alarm".
If you are using a PCI-IDE or PCI-RAID card, don't use this to boot if you can avoid it. If you use the onboard IDE or RAID controllers, this will drop a few seconds off your boot times.
If you are using a Paging File (Virtual Memory Swap File) and have more than one hard drive, you can put one on your second drive to complement the one on the Windows drive. The idea is that using another "free" hard drive will allow Windows to share the workload, taking some pressure off the Windows disk.
As a rule of thumb, a second drive with a paging file should also be on a seperate IDE channel to the System drive. The faster the drive, the faster the paging file will be. The catch is that Windows will automatically choose the pagefile on the drive with the least activity, not the one on the faster drive.
If you have two drives that are about the same speed, you won't lose performance by having more than one paging file on your computer. It would be a waste of space to put more than one paging file on the same physical hard drive and would probably result in performance loss.
Setting the paging file(s) to have the same maximum and minimum sizes will prevent the paging file dynamically changing size, which in turn stops the file from fragmenting. If the paging file is fragmented and Windows crashes, it is possible for the recovery information in the memory dump to be corrupted. The same fragmentation issue applies to saved information when you use low power modes like Hibernate and Sleep.
** For Win2000/XP users: Set the paging file sizes as anywhere between 1.5 and 3.0 times the physical RAM. You might like to experiment with smaller sizes if you have more than 512MB of RAM. MS recommends a minimum of 126MB of paging file space.
** For Win9X/ME users: I have found that if you specify paging file sizes rather than letting Windows manage it, you can achieve noticeable speed gains. You can specify 1.5 times the physical RAM, plus 12MB for Memory Dumps.
** For ALL users: If you do use low-power modes (like Hibernate, Sleep and Standby), don't use less than 1.5 times the amount of physical RAM per paging file!
As a rule, the less physical RAM you have, the more you benefit from bigger paging files. Similarly, if you have lots of RAM, you may gain from having smaller paging files.
** In Win2K/XP the paging file is called pagefile.sys. In Win9X/ME the paging file is called win386.swp
========================= Windows XP/2000 Specific
These options apply to Windows XP Pro and Windows 2000 Pro.
You might also find them in Server versions of Windows.
Stopping some "unnecessary" Services can also save on resources, particularly if you are trying to squeeze every last bit out of an old PC for new games. I don't recommend closing these down with MSCONFIG. To access the Services Console, open Start Menu > Run and type SERVICES.MSC. Be sure to follow a few guides before you start shutting these down. I personally believe that there aren't any completely accurate guides, so the best thing to do is follow more than one.
** Do not DISABLE Services unless they are a known security risk! Stopping them and setting them to MANUAL is sufficient.
Setting Services to Manual allows the Service to start if Windows really does need it. If you disable them, the application or part of Windows that is trying to use that Service may encounter errors, which can result in system instability.
As far as I know, Indexing Service is the only Service that is not needed that may start when it is set to Manual AND when it is set to Disabled! You can stop it from starting by opening Start Menu > Run and typing CIADV.MSC. Now highlight and delete any of the indexes listed in there.
You can find more comprehensive information on Windows 2000 and XP services in this Services Guide.
Prefetching - updated.
I used to recommend turning off Prefetching, but some recent research has led me to believe that there's very little difference between having it enabled or disabled, though results may vary depending on the programs you use and how you use your PC.
Windows 2K/XP use prefetching to inform windows of efficient ways to load common programs in an attempt to improve their load times. Lots of sites claim that this will speed up your PC and some will also claim that it will cause performance degradation. The tweak theory is that Windows Prefetching builds up a list for so many programs that it actually starts to slow the system down. The Windows Prefetch list is located in C:\WINDOWS\Prefetch.
The tweak theory suggests that if you delete all of the prefetch files in there, the Prefetch folder with rebuild itself and if you want to use prefetching, the idea is to selectively remove prefetch files, getting rid of the ones for apps you don't need. You can stop prefetching altogether by stopping and disabling the Task Scheduler service. One obvious catch is that if you stop Task Scheduler, you also lose the ability to schedule maintenance tasks and the like, through Task Scheduler.
The sites that claim to debunk the tweak theory state that programs can load up to 100% faster when Prefetching is enabled, compared to when it is disabled. They also point out that the Prefetching mechanism updates itself regularly, periodically purging redundant prefetch hashes. Check the dates of prefetch files before you delete them.
My testing didn't yield any improvements. In fact the only change I found was a negligible increase in boot time (2% increase). Even disabling Task Scheduler in services.msc didn't result in any memory savings. In short, it was a waste of my time to change it. However, as I suggested in the first paragraph, results may vary from PC to PC. Test for yourself.
** If you delete the layout.ini file from the C:\WINDOWS\Prefetch folder, you will need to rebuild the prefetching mechanism. First ensure that the Task Scheduler service is Started and set to Automatic, then open Start Menu > Run and type (or copy/paste) rundll32.exe advapi32.dll,ProcessIdleTasks in there. Restart your PC three times to get the Prefetching mechanism back into proper working order. The prefetch files will return as you run each program.
Converting to NTFS instead of FAT would be a good move for todays larger drives - NTFS is able to manage larger drives more efficiently, meaning better utility of storage space. Not exactly a speed boosting technique, but worth looking into. See this site for more information...
In System Properties > Advanced > Startup and Recovery, ensure that if you only have one OS available, you have Microsoft Windows ????/fastdetect selected. Also, if you are Dual Booting you might like to drop the Time to display a list of Operating Systems and Time to display recovery options down to about 3-5 seconds. These settings can also be found under MSCONFIG's BOOT.INI tab. If you are only using a single OS, change the TIMEOUT= value to 0. BOOT.INI can be found in the root of your system drive (ie. C:\) remove the write-protection in Properties. Don't change anything other than the "timeout=" value!!
Group Policy Options
Using the Group Policy MMC Snap-in (Type GPEDIT.MSC in the Start > Run command box.), you can disable the Welcome Screen for new users logging on, under Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > System and Enable the Don't display welcome screen at logon. You can also go to Administrative Templates > System > Logon and Disable the Wait for remote user profile and Do not wait for slow network connections.
You can also get rid of the Internet Explorer Splash Screen at Computer Configuration > Administrative Templates > Windows Components > Internet Explorer and Enable the Disable showing the splash screen option.
A bit off-topic, but you can help speed up shut-down times by restricting the amount of time that windows tries to unload or update the current profile. Go to Administrative Templates > System > Logon, double-click the [b]Maximum retries to unload and update user profile[b] key, Enable it and specify a value of 0.
Some of these options are available under both Computer Configuration and User Configuration - Computer Configurations encompasses all users on the PC while User configuration is (supposedly) for the current user.
========================= Windows ME/98/95 Specific
These options apply to all versions of Windows 95, 98 and ME
In System Properties > Perfomance(tab)> File System(button), you can change this to Network Server. It is a commonly recognised tweak which apparently allows for more efficient hard drive usage by increasing some caching values.
In Windows 95/98/98SE, your AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS may contain things that you do not need. Copy the old ones and save them with the extension .OLD or .BA0 and .SY0s then you can edit them using MSCONFIG or [preferably] with NOTEPAD.
All you really need in AUTOEXEC.BAT is: path=c:\; c:\windows; c:\windows\system; c:\windows\command
All you really need in CONFIG.SYS is: device=c:\windows\himem.sys
If you want DOS CD-ROM support, don't delete the line(s) in each file containing references to MSCDEX.
Task Scheduler is left on by default. If you are conscious enough about the resources of your PC, you really won't need this running. The icon is next to the clock in the bottom-right corner. Right-click it and then go to the Advanced Pull-down Menu and select Stop Using Task Scheduler. Now just close the window.
If you have an option in here that says "Fast P.O.S.T." or "Quick Boot" then enable this. This way your computer will assume everything is in working order and will zip through to loading Windows.
Disabling "3 1/2" Floppy Seek" will stop the computer from wasting time searching for a floppy each time you start the computer. It will assume the drive is present and will not try to access it unless you want it to.
Removing CDROM and Floppy drives from your Boot Sequence so that it only has your System Hard Drive in there. If you feel the urge to boot from a floppy or a CD, you can always change it later.