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Windows Vista

Improving System Performance (part 3)

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5/17/2011 11:40:45 AM

Optimizing Disk Performance

Just about every application (and the Windows Vista operating system itself) relies on the computer’s hard disk system. Hard disk storage is used for storing files and for performing temporary operations. The operating system also uses disk space to supplement the amount of available memory. As a Consumer Support Technician, you’ve likely heard the complaint that users’ systems tend to slow down over time. One potential reason is that information is not organized as efficiently on the hard disk. In this section, you’ll look at ways in which you can optimize disk performance.

Disk Cleanup

Over time, it’s likely that applications will leave unnecessary files on the computer’s hard disk. Examples include temporary Internet files, application installation components, and error report files. Finding and safely deleting these items can be tricky because they’re often scattered in many regions of the file system. Apart from the obvious loss of usable disk space, unwanted files can lead to decreased performance due to fragmentation.

The Disk Cleanup tool provides a quick way to identify temporary files that the system no longer needs. You can access it through the Start menu or by clicking Disk Cleanup in the Properties dialog box for a particular hard disk. The latter option is helpful if you want to restrict the cleanup operation to a single logical hard disk partition.

When you launch the program directly, it performs an automatic scan of the hard disk. The resulting display shows an overview of the types of files that it finds, along with estimates related to the potential amount of disk space that can be recovered (see Figure 10).

Figure 10. Using the Disk Cleanup utility to remove unnecessary files

The list of types of files that might no longer be needed includes the following:

  • Downloaded Program Files

  • Temporary Internet Files

  • Debug Dump Files

  • Microsoft Office Temporary Files

  • Office Setup Files

  • Recycle Bin

  • Setup Log Files

  • System Error Memory Dump Files

  • System Error Minidump Files

  • Temporary Files

  • Thumbnails

  • Windows Error Report Information

It’s important to note that some of these types of files can be useful in improving the user experience. For example, thumbnail files help Windows Explorer show previews of files such as photos and videos more quickly. The contents of the Recycle Bin are useful for recovering files that have been deleted accidentally.

The process of performing a disk cleanup simply requires you to select the check boxes for the relevant types of files and then click OK. The files are automatically removed from the system. In addition, the More Options tab in the Disk Cleanup dialog box provides a way to access utilities quickly for managing Programs And Features and for configuring System Restore And Shadow Copies features.

Disk Defragmentation

Most modern computers include very large hard disks that allow for the storage of many gigabytes of data. This places a heavy burden on the file system because Windows is often responsible for moving, copying, and deleting many files. The ideal arrangement for files is for them to be stored contiguously. This means that the entire contents of the file are physically stored together on the hard disk.

Due to usage patterns, however, this might not always be possible. For example, on a hard disk that is nearly full, it might be necessary to spread the contents of a 2.0 GB video file across different sections of the disk. Each of these sections is referred to as a fragment of the file. Disk fragmentation can lead to a decrease in overall performance because, whenever the file must be read, the physical hard disk must perform more work to load data that is scattered in different locations.

Fortunately, there is an easy way to counteract this problem: the Windows Vista Disk Defragmenter. You can launch this utility from the Start menu or by clicking Defragment Now on the Tools tab of the Properties dialog box for a particular hard disk. When the program launches, it shows the options that are available, as shown in Figure 11.

Figure 11. Configuring the Disk Defragmenter

The Disk Defragmenter program offers two options. The first is to start a disk defragmentation pass manually by clicking Defragment Now. This starts the defragmentation process immediately. The other option is to configure the process to run automatically based on a schedule (see Figure 12). It is a good idea to schedule defragmentation operations regularly to maintain overall disk performance over time. The defragmentation process places a significant load on the disk system, and users are likely to notice the impact if it is run while they are actively using their systems. Therefore, it’s a good idea to run the process during periods of no user activity on the computer.

Figure 12. Configuring a Disk Defragmenter schedule

Other Performance Optimization Options

So far, you have examined many different ways in which you can optimize the performance of Windows Vista. In addition to these methods, there are a few services and features that can be configured to improve system responsiveness. Although there might be a trade-off in relation to functionality, computers that are low on system resources can often benefit from these features.

Adjusting Visual Effects

You can configure systems to choose the best balance of options to optimize responsiveness. The Performance Information And Tools window in Control Panel includes a link entitled Adjust Visual Effects. This link opens the Performance Options dialog box that allows for changing settings related to visual effects used by the Windows desktop (see Figure 13).

Figure 13. Viewing details related to visual effects

The Visual Effects tab provides several options that control which user interface features are enabled. The default setting is to let Windows automatically determine which options should be enabled. When this option is selected, Windows Vista determines whether there is a potential performance problem and makes changes accordingly. The next two options are to adjust for best appearance or for best performance. The best-performance option disables all of the visual effects, whereas the best-appearance option enables them all. Finally, you can choose the Custom option to select which specific features to enable.

Users might complain to you that it takes too long to launch programs or that the system does not seem responsive enough (especially when numerous applications are running at the same time). For these users, disabling some of the Visual Effects tab settings can improve the usability of the system.

Managing Indexing Options

One of the most useful productivity features of Windows Vista is the ability to perform a search from the Start menu or directly from within applications such as Windows Explorer.

The Windows Search indexing process can place a significant load on systems, however. It is responsible for analyzing many different file types and for storing the results to make searches faster.

You can launch the Indexing Options configuration utility directly from the Start menu or by clicking Adjust Indexing Options in the Performance Information And Tools Control Panel window. As shown in Figure 14, the tool provides an overview of which file system locations and applications will be indexed.

Figure 14. Managing indexing options

If some locations are not frequently searched, users can click Modify to remove those paths. Clicking Advanced presents additional options, including the location of the index files. Users can also specify whether certain file types should not be indexed. Overall, by configuring Indexing options based on users’ needs, you can help reduce hard disk and CPU use.

Practice: Improving System Performance

These practice exercises walk you through some steps to improve overall system performance. To complete Practice 2, you need an external memory device that is compatible with Windows ReadyBoost. The most common options include USB flash drives and memory cards.

Practice 1: Configure Startup Items

In this practice exercise, you obtain a list of startup options by using the MSConfig utility as well as Windows Defender. Because software configurations will vary, you can optionally choose to disable a startup item and reboot the computer to ensure that it does not load during the startup process.

Launch the System Configuration (MSConfig) utility from the Start menu.

On the General tab, note the various startup options that are available.

The default setting is Normal Startup, but you can also choose to perform a Diagnostic Startup or a Selective Startup. Leave the Normal Startup option selected.

Click the Startup tab.

The tab shows a listing of all of the programs that are configured to load during the startup process. Note that the information includes the name of the program, the manufacturer (if available), the command, and the location in which the startup commands are stored.

Clear the check box for one of the startup items, and then click Apply.

Note that the Date Disabled column shows the current date and time. This program will not run automatically during the next system restart.

To re-enable the startup item, select its check box and click Apply. This returns the configuration to its original settings.

Click Cancel to close the System Configuration utility.

Open the Windows Defender program by using the Start menu.

From the Windows Defender home page, click Tools, and then select Software Explorer. The default view shows a list of all of the current startup programs.

Right-click any startup item on the list and choose to sort the list by Startup Type.

Note that some programs are configured to run during system startup, whereas others automatically run whenever a user logs on to the system.

Click any startup item to view additional details about the program.

Note the various details that are provided, including the command and path to the program. Note that you can also disable or permanently remove a startup item from the list.

When finished, close Windows Defender.

Practice 2: Configure Windows ReadyBoost

In this exercise, you walk through the steps required to configure a removable media device to support Windows ReadyBoost.

Install a compatible removable media device (such as a media card or a USB flash device) into the computer.

Windows Vista might automatically run a performance test on the device and prompt you to enable Windows ReadyBoost. For the purpose of this exercise, choose not to enable Windows ReadyBoost if prompted.

From the Start menu, open the Computer item and locate the new removable memory device. Right-click the device and select Properties.

Click the ReadyBoost tab. By default, the Do Not Use This Device option is selected.

To enable Windows ReadyBoost, select the Use This Device option. The slider bar can be used to determine how much space should be allocated for Windows ReadyBoost. Note that any space you allocated to Windows ReadyBoost will be unusable for other storage on the device.

Select the recommended amount of memory and click OK to enable Windows ReadyBoost. This initializes the ReadyBoost file on the memory device.

Windows ReadyBoost runs automatically in the background and works to optimize memory and disk-related performance. If your memory device has a light or other indicator of activity, you will see it blinking actively. Otherwise, you can always return to the Windows ReadyBoost Properties dialog box to view the settings for this feature.
Other -----------------
- Improving System Performance (part 1) - Developing a Performance Optimization Approach & Managing Startup Programs
- Using the Windows Vista Performance Tools (part 2)
- Using the Windows Vista Performance Tools (part 2)
- Using the Windows Vista Performance Tools (part 1)
- Configuring Windows Vista Security : Understanding User Account Control (part 2)
- Configuring Windows Vista Security : Understanding User Account Control (part 1)
- Configuring Windows Vista Security : Managing User Accounts
- Using Windows Security Center (part 3) - Configuring Malware Protection
- Using Windows Security Center (part 2) - Configuring Automatic Updating
- Using Windows Security Center (part 1) - Overview of Windows Security Center & Configuring Windows Firewall
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