Windows

10 things you can do to increase performance in Vista


This information is also available as a PDF download

Windows Vista has some great new security and functionality features, as well as cool eye candy, such as Aero transparency, Flip 3D, and other graphical tricks. But all this comes with overhead that may lead to a performance hit on anything less than a top-of-the-line supercomputer.

If you find Vista's performance lagging, the good news is that you can make it run faster. Here are some of the steps you can take.

#1: Add more RAM

There's no denying it: Vista is a RAM-hungry operating system. Whereas XP usually runs great on 512MB, you really need a minimum of a gigabyte to run Vista acceptably. Two gigs is even better, and if you turn on all the graphical features and keep a lot of programs open, especially those that use a lot of memory, four gigs isn't overkill.

Luckily, RAM is still relatively inexpensive -- but it's rumored to be on the rise, so get as much of it as you can, while you can. You won't regret it.

#2: Use ReadyBoost

Can't add physical RAM? Maybe you have a laptop that already has the maximum amount of memory installed. In that case, Vista provides you with a way to fool your computer into thinking it has more RAM than it does. You can use a flash memory card or USB key to boost the system memory; Vista can access the flash memory more quickly than data stored on the hard disk.

It's best to use a high performance flash card or USB drive for ReadyBoost. When you insert it, Windows will ask if you want to use it to speed up system performance, and then you can allocate how much of the card's/drive's memory you want to use for that purpose. The rest can be used for storing data. For more info about ReadyBoost, see this Microsoft feature description.

#3: Get a good video card

If you have enough RAM, the most likely hardware culprit on a slow-moving Vista machine is the video card. You need a fairly high end card to run Aero at all, but some computer vendors are selling computers with graphics cards that run it badly. You can find out whether your video card is the bottleneck by checking your Windows Experience Index (WEI) score from the Performance Information and Tools applet in Control Panel.

The onboard video adapters in most systems aren't powerful enough to run Vista properly. If you want to run Aero and be happy doing it, get a card that's Vista Premium Certified. As with system RAM, the more video RAM the better, and if you want to play Vista games, be sure your card supports Direct X 10.

#4: Eliminate extra startup programs

You may find that you have a lot of programs loading automatically when you boot Windows, especially if you bought your Vista system from a hardware vendor who added lots of software. Some of these you may want, such as antivirus or anti-spyware programs, but many of them you probably don't even use or use only occasionally and don't want to run all the time. Yet they're all loading into memory and consuming your system resources -- and thus slowing down your computer as they run in the background.

Some programs can be prevented from starting automatically by removing them from the Startup folder. Others are configured in the registry to run at startup. Many can be managed through the Windows Defender Software Explorer, which you can access from the Manage Startup Programs link in the left pane of the Performance Information And Tools applet.

#5: Turn off visual enhancements

There are a lot of visual enhancements that make Vista look like Vista, such as the animations when minimizing and maximizing windows, fading or sliding menus, shadows under the menus and mouse pointer, and thumbnails of graphics files instead of dull icons. However, all this bling uses resources, and if performance is your priority, the operating system will run faster without them.

The Performance Options dialog box can be accessed through the Adjust Visual Effects link in the left pane of the Performance Information And Tools applet. On the Visual Effects tab, you can customize these settings individually, turning off the ones you don't want, to help speed performance. Or you can disable all of the visual effects by clicking the Adjust For Best Performance option.

#6: Adjust indexing options

Vista has a much-improved search function, but it's dependent on indexing the files and programs on your hard disk so they can be found quickly. When the indexing process is running, however, it can slightly slow down other programs you're trying to run at the same time.

You can select the locations you want to index; fewer locations will result in less indexing and thus better overall performance. On the other hand, you'll get better search performance by indexing all locations. You can't turn the indexing feature off completely, but you can adjust locations indexed by selecting Adjust Indexing Options in the left pane of the Performance Information And Tools applet.

#7: Clean up and defrag the disk

Fragmented files or a lot of unneeded extra files on the disk can slow down performance. Vista provides a disk cleanup tool, which you can access from Start | All Programs | Accessories | System Tools. Specify a drive you want to clean up, and the tool will estimate the amount of space you can recover by running the cleanup process.

Defragmenting the disk rearranges data on it so that all the parts of a file are together; this allows Vista to access those files more quickly. The built-in disk defragmenter is also accessed from the System Tools menu. The defragmentation process itself can slow down your computer, so you may want to schedule it to run at a time when you aren't using the computer. Third-party defrag utilities are also available.

#8: Adjust your power settings

If you don't mind using more power, you can boost performance by setting your power settings to the High Performance option. Click the Power Options applet in Control Panel and select that choice. By default, this configuration is set to Balanced, which limits the CPU to 50% power during normal operation.

#9: Turn off the sidebar

The sidebar is a cool feature of Vista, but if you don't use its applets, you can save some resources by disabling it. First, right-click it and select Properties. Next, deselect the check box to start the sidebar when Windows starts. Then, close the sidebar by right-clicking it and selecting Close.

#10: If all else fails, turn off Aero

This is a last-resort option for most Vista users; after all, Aero is what makes Vista look like Vista. But if you don't care for all the eye candy and/or have a low powered machine, and you still want the functionality advantages of the new OS (search, security, Explorer enhancements, etc.), you can definitely speed things up by going back to the non-transparent look.

To do so, right-click the desktop and select Personalize, then click Windows Color And Appearance. Now, click Open Classic Appearance Properties For More Color Options. From the drop-down list box on the Appearance tab, select any theme except Aero (Windows Vista Basic, Windows Standard, or Windows Classic).

About

Debra Littlejohn Shinder, MCSE, MVP is a technology consultant, trainer, and writer who has authored a number of books on computer operating systems, networking, and security. Deb is a tech editor, developmental editor, and contributor to over 20 add...

57 comments
kpdriver
kpdriver

You need a faster internet connection in order to see smooth videos. It doesn't matter what kind of computer you are using.

Gumm
Gumm

Cheaper and quicker to buy and install Windows 7. Do I get a medal?

cw_creativetouch
cw_creativetouch

I have tryed everything and nothing works. i know several tech how have this same problem. why do the move reviews run slow, stop and start over adn over again. Would appreciate any help AGAIN HAAVE DONE EVERYTHING TO THE COMPUTER TO MAKE IT RUN FASTER.

Former Big Iron Guy
Former Big Iron Guy

I knew to do most of the stuff listed, and had done them. But when I turned Aero off, my Win experience got worse. Go figgure.....

awgiedawgie
awgiedawgie

I don't know about the rest of you, but my computer came with a task already set up to defrag the disk(s) whenever the computer is idle for more than a certain amount of time, and to stop defragging when I start using it again. If it's not already set up to do so, you could set up your own.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

you all chose a different operating system. It was your choice to use Vista remember.

Steelers6
Steelers6

This has to be one of the stangest set of tips I have seen. We are actually being told to turn off and buy more items to accomodate an operating system. Microsoft should have come out with a better product thus the need to spend time and money to accomodate ones operating system would not be necessary. It is no wonder organizations are staying with Windows XP and fearful of Windows 7.Who can blame them. I feel sorry for the consumers who purchased a computer with their hard earn dollars only to find their computer was crippled by the operating system that came preinstalled. It always hurts the lower income people who cannot afford a high end machine or a Mac for that matter. Such a pitty this advice is being given out. Microsoft should refund some of its customerer who can afford to purchase extra items to accomodate Microsofts failures. IMHO.

jeanne033
jeanne033

Turn off everything that makes Vista Vista.

ron
ron

The number one thing you can do to speed up your machine is UNINSTALL VISTA completely. Even a very fast machine runs poorly on Vista.

jimmika
jimmika

Gee buy a faster computer and andd more memory. What a waste of an article

Tachyon
Tachyon

Seriously, Vista has been a huge disappointment in every respect. Performance, resource use, hardware support, application compatibility, and lack of usability of the new UI are all areas of major disappointment.

megafast13
megafast13

Nice job, If I have a 2GB USB Flash drive that has over 1.5GB left, Can I select Vista to use that 1.5 GB? And will that act like ram?

mds
mds

This is wrong - the Balanced option does not limit your CPU to 50%. It is configured to allow it to throttle down to 50%.

desolation_jam
desolation_jam

These are tips that anyone will rudimentary knowledge of VISTA would know, no great tweak of tip here. Very ordinary indeed.

nikosmark
nikosmark

As she called about ''Vista Games'' you need to spend much money to get a video card like nvidia 8600 and above to support DX10 to be able to play games. That's a big joke and don't spend yet money. DX10 is still useless. Microsoft is going to upgrade it to 10.1. Maybe then we will see difference and of course the game Manufacturers must work on it. I've 7950GTX which doesn't support DX10 but I'm able to play every old or even the newest games. And I'll for long time. So I'm saying that is kinda useless to spend right now money like for quad core cpu. There isn't game that supports full DX10 or Quad Core Cpu. Currenlty the new Cards that supports DX10 as the 8 series from nVidia, will not support DX 10.1 in the future with SP1. Unfortunately, ''great'' move by Microsoft and the Enthusiasts falling to their game. $$$

gbeesingh
gbeesingh

Vista Sucks after installing any of the database.

Jeremy W
Jeremy W

DO NOT INSTALL IT IN THE FIRST PLACE. Alternately, if the plague is installed in your computer, rip it out and install XP or go to Linux or Mac OS X. Anything but Viasma (Vista Miasma from the Bloatfarm) is preferable!

dogknees
dogknees

Do any of these tips actually make any difference to the speed of a single application? For example I have a spreadsheet that takes 10 minutes to re-calculate. I'm not running other software, I'm just waiting for the recalc to run. Or the 3D render that runs for a week as the only aplication. Answer: No. The amount of time most people spend moving between apps is miniscule compared to the amount of time spend in a single app. Why do these sort of tips always focus on something we spend little time at? Tips that only address multitasking, loading apps and switching miss the mark. Turning of un-needed services does help a little and has been covered in other articles.

Jeremy.Mackay
Jeremy.Mackay

This is the 1 thing you can improve vista performance, remove vista, install XP SP2.

vinayd
vinayd

A good list, have had a lot of problems getting my mom's laptop to behave with vista --- and it came with it! One thing I just realized, and which I find astounding, is that I have to *manually* defrag the drive? What were they doing all that time?

SaintGeorge
SaintGeorge

Believe you me. I tried. Worked like a charm.

edwin111952
edwin111952

Simple!Straight forward.Easy to apply.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

The only time you see a performance increase with Readyboost is if you have less than 1gb RAM. If you have more than 1gb RAM, than you'll see very little improvement. Let me add that turning off the sidebar is a good idea for a LARGE number of reasons, the main one being that you gain a full 1/4 of your screen real estate back. It also will speed up your system dramatically in some cases....

FXEF
FXEF

Turning off Vista's new features or adding more powerful hardware are not what most users are looking for. Vista is a $399 joke. Microsoft is laughing all the way to the bank.

kevinbrooker
kevinbrooker

I laughed out loud when I read the comments. Thanks. What I would LOVE MS to do is justify why Windows Mobile takes over 600K of (Virtual) memory to run - even in a dormant state. I had already tuned as described above, and STILL an inactive system needs over 1Gb of RAM to just have the "lights on"!!!

preaves1
preaves1

Wow -- Readyboost is amazing! I plugged in the 4 GB thumb drive lying on my desk and the performance increase was immediately noticeable.

garisonc
garisonc

Ready Boost????? Where is the evidence on this because all the information I have seen on ReadyBoost shows that it provides no performance increase.

Don Ticulate
Don Ticulate

So let me see - I either buy more hardware or turn off features. Not what I was really looking for!

Brian Doe
Brian Doe

All of Vista's eye-candy with almost none of the bloat! But, if you want to perfectly mimic Vista's visual appeal and performance, just install Ubuntu on a moderate P-III system. PS: Post necromancy FTW! :p

pgm554
pgm554

Depending upon the video card (Nvidia and such)in it's properties window you can turn off the automatic let Vista manage 3D graphic settings and set them to performance over appearence. This only works well if you have a video card with 128 meg of memory or better. You get a significant boost in system response. But with that being said ,Vista is a pig.

kbbelanger
kbbelanger

They pay these people what?? R they really experts? No! there needs to be a qualifications profile for them so we do not waste out time trying things from a reporter rather than an expert

Jeremy W
Jeremy W

Of course not. Most of these blogs exist to cheerlead. Who do you think pays for this site in one way or the other?

abasi_obori
abasi_obori

I have been using vista now seriously for more than 2 years and no matter what you guys say, I am NEVER going back to xp even if it is Sp100

Jeremy.Mackay
Jeremy.Mackay

This is the 1 thing you can improve vista performance, remove vista, install XP SP2.

Jeremy W
Jeremy W

The bloatfarm was doing what it does best: producing more bloat. Did you seriously think that the people who imposed the BSOD and UAC were going to make it easy on you? Redmond has only one reason to exist: to produce time, Ram and money wasting bloat; the management of the Bloatfarm is utterly incapable of producing anything on time, on budget and reliable. Take your pick you get (at most) only two (any usually not that!).

sancretor
sancretor

Vista's defrag is automatic, but pretty much pointless. It doesnt give you many options and doesnt tell you exactly what it is doing. If you want to defrag Vista, it's better to stick with the newer Diskeeper versions (2007 Pro) which do a great job on both manual as well as automatic defrags. You can control the process and manage it as you prefer for individual drives.

abasi_obori
abasi_obori

I ordered for 4GB of RAM on amazon, to test this as either myth of fact. I will install the 4GB RAM on my laptop that currently runs 1GB (Vista Home Premium with sp2) and disable some of the startup programs over the weekend. I intend to come back with the results to prove or disprove this argument.

dogknees
dogknees

Doing what you suggest isn't going to make Vista faster! It will make your PC faster, but that's not the topic. Address the question. It's like saying you can make your bicycle faster by using your car instead. Nonsense.

Chris.Conner
Chris.Conner

Are you still using a square 14" monitor? Time to move on to widescreen monitors. For a 20" widescreen monitor, the sidebar uses up to a little less than 1/10th of the screen.

SmilingSheep
SmilingSheep

And don't forget to toss half of your applications, which either won't install or run under Vista. Would it be a break even proposition to just buy another computer for Vista? The hours spent searching for compatibility for your programs and hardware could be spent on another machine capable of running it well. And then use the XP machine until Vista capable apps arrive. At least you'll get a chance to boot it up every once in a while to see how 'cool' the new features are (after a few hundred extra UAC clicks). Yes, I wanted to login. Yes, I wanted to use the computer. Yes, I know what I'm doing. Yes, I know I could break something more than MS did when it squeezed out this terd.

LegendsOfBatman
LegendsOfBatman

Basic was made? I guess the old saying is true indeed. You cant please everyone. I'm a bit grumpy myself about how slow things are. But, it doesn't seem to be all that bad an OS. M.E. was a lousy OS. Vista is just an expensive OS. But, it seems to work.

onthego
onthego

Uh, for all the work to make Vista the premier, "I can't live without" O/S, why isn't the filesystem that holds the O/S and end user data more robust? This is an issue from the first version of the FAT filesystem in DOS. File and disk management issues should have long been fixed before now. Look how far the hardware has come. I don't understand, too, why there is always the need for third party apps to solve basic administration issues in the O/S itself. The O/S should be more mature than that! There is nothing new under the sun for computing architectures since 1969! Hello M$. I drive a $100,000 car, but don't follow me to my home in the ghetto.

LegendsOfBatman
LegendsOfBatman

Are you forgetting XP was even worse regarding compatibility? Logitech refused to add new drivers for my BRAND NEW wireless keyboard. Lexmark refused to add new drivers for my less than a year old all in one printer. 3DO's highheat Baseball game would not work. Microsoft had some new games that would not work. Actually, half my games wouldnt work. BUT, the earliest warcraft games did; and that was made for windows 3.0 Go figure. (W2G Blizzard). So far, everything that did work in XP works for me in Vista. It's just much slower than XP. Which seems to be typical. XP was slower than 9.x/Me. Pentium 4's were slower than P3's. And, again, that was made worse with XP than 98/Me installed; even though the P4 had a higher GHZ than sub 1GHZ P3's. XP was insecure. People hated the new interface, because they couldnt find anything. (Well, that is worse in Vista. I still havent found several things in Vista). Vista has one really awesome feature, that people need to know about, when considering buying premade junk. The system rating system. Yep; Vista rates the system's cpu, memory, graphic card, windows graphics, and hard drive. Anything under a 4.0 means, RUN AWAY from that system. And, honestly, probably anything under a 4.5. But, Vista problems are not new issues for new OS'. and, in fact, I'd blame the manufacturers more than i would MS on this one. It's not like they were not letting manufacturers know what was coming out. Its not like they didnt have 5 years to work on things. Even 1 year is sufficient for updating drivers. You wanna be mad at someone? Put it in the right place. Get mad at the manufacturers not MS. Well, not this time, anyway. Maybe with M.E. (that one was just dumb. 98 had just come out; no need for a new OS).

jguyp725
jguyp725

Could you let us know what applications won't work under Vista? I use Vista and I don't have problems. -P5B dual core 6600 @ 2.4 -Acer 19" wide on nvidia -MS wireless keyboard & mouse -2 Gb of DDR2 667 -double layer r/w DVD -no restore (I use Norton Ghost 12) on a 300Gb external HD -prefetch everything -use Vista's kernel in memory -run everything as administrastor -I'm a consultant and graphist (Photoshop CS3) No problemo!

Ron_007
Ron_007

"Sherman, turn on the way-back-machine", thing back the the daze when "Vista" was still a gleam in Uncle Billie's eye. Back when Vista was called Longhorn. One of the features they initially announced was a new high performance file system to replace FAT/NTFS. But when M$ changed the name to Vista they dropped that feature. I kept hoping it would be included in Vista SP3/Win 7, but no such luck. Let's face it, FAT was designed for drives when a 5-10MB drive cost $500. It's replacement, NTFS, showed up before GB drives were affordable. I bought a 1TB (well 1TB Decimal, 930 GB in real Binary file-system size, which is a separate rant) drive for $100 last Xmass. FAT and NTFS are fundamentally flawed, since right after doing a clean install of Windows Any Version you should let you machine spend an hour or three doing a defrag.

KlickitatEnergy
KlickitatEnergy

I have found a number of applications which would run under Windows XP and previous systems will not run under Vista or 7, even with the "XP mode." That is also true of some equipment, e.g. scanners, where neither Microsoft nor the manufacturer, would update the drivers. I found and use the following alternative solutions preferable to solve the XP vs. Vista or 7 dilemma: 1. Run XP and Vista or 7 in different partitions on the same machine. Run the OS you want when you need it. 2. Keep one machine with XP and a different machine with the Vista or 7. Regarding the article, I would agree with Ms. Shinder's suggested solutions. Having tested many machines and configurations, I have found Vista's performance so abominable on some machines, there is no solution better than getting a new machine with Windows 7, a really great system.

Brian Doe
Brian Doe

"-run everything as administrastor [sic]" LOLWUT? Are you serious? You call yourself an IT consultant; what is this advice for you, job security?

Jeremy W
Jeremy W

You have got to be kidding. This heap of rotting electronic dung from the Bloatfarm is useless for home users unless they are planning to buy all new equipment.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

But I've done so multiple times already. What it boils down to is Vista may be fine for the home user, but stinks on ice when it comes to the enterprise.