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Adjust these performance options to speed up Windows XP

Scott Lowe explains how several time-tested adjustments can greatly increase the performance of Microsoft Windows XP.

If you have some Microsoft Windows XP clients that run slower than others, it could be due to some of the default settings located in the Performance Options dialog box. You can change the options in this dialog box to boost the performance of a Windows XP client. Let's examine the settings you can change to tweak Windows XP's performance.

Performance Options dialog box

The most useful Windows XP performance-tuning options are on the Visual Effects and Advanced tabs of the Performance Options dialog box. You'll find this box via the System Properties control panel by clicking the Settings button under Performance (Start | Control Panel | System | Performance | Settings). Figure A shows both the Visual Effects and Advanced tabs with the performance options you can easily modify.

Figure A

Performance Options -- Visual Effects and Advanced tab

Visual Effects tab

The Visual Effects tab is the easiest place to start when troubleshooting certain performance problems. By default, Windows XP enables visual effects, such as the "scroll" option for the Start menu. These effects consume system resources, though. If you're troubleshooting a sluggish system, you can potentially improve its performance by choosing the Adjust For Best Performance option, which will disable many of these visual effects settings. Of course, you'll lose the cool visual effects, but there's always a trade-off for performance.

Advanced performance settings

For troubleshooting something more than sluggish screen redraws, you'll need to adjust the performance options on the Advanced tab of the Performance Options dialog box. There are three sections: Processor Scheduling, Memory Usage, and Vvirtual Memory. Each of these sections' settings have a major impact on how your system operates.

Processor Scheduling

The Processor Scheduling section controls how much processor time Windows XP devotes to a program or process. The processor has a finite amount of resources to divide among the various applications. Choosing the Programs option will devote the most processor time to the program running in the foreground. Choosing Background Services allocates equal processor time to all running services, which can include print jobs and other applications running in the background. If your users complain about slow-running programs, you could try setting the processor scheduling to Programs.

On the flip side, if users complain that print jobs never print or are very slow to print, or if they run a macro in one application while working in another, you may want to assign equal time slices (called quanta) to each process by choosing the Background Services option. If you use the Windows XP machine in question as a server, you're better off choosing the Background Services option.

Memory Usage

The next section, Memory Usage, details how Windows XP uses system RAM. The first option in the section, Programs, allocates more RAM to running applications. For desktop systems with very little RAM, this selection gives the best performance. In systems with less RAM, you need to devote as much RAM as possible to just running Windows and your applications. For a server or a desktop with a lot of RAM, however, choosing the System Cache setting will yield better performance. When set to System Cache, the system will use most of the available RAM as a disk cache, which can result in major performance improvements on systems that depend on disk I/O.

Virtual Memory

Finally, there are a number of settings in the Virtual Memory section that affect how Windows XP performs. Virtual memory is an area on the disk that Windows uses as if it were RAM. Windows requires this type of system in the event that it runs out of physical RAM. The virtual memory space is used as a swap space where information residing in RAM is written to the virtual memory space (also called the page file or swap file) in order to free RAM up for other processes.

When the system needs the information in the swap file, Windows puts it back into RAM and writes something else out to the disk in its place. Figure B shows the virtual memory settings for my laptop.

Figure B

Virtual Memory

Windows XP has a recommended default page file size of 1.5 times the amount of system RAM. Since I have 1GB of RAM in my laptop, the recommended size is 1.5GB, although I only have 768MB currently allocated for this purpose. I allow the paging file to grow as needed, up to a maximum size of 1.5GB. You can also choose to let Windows completely manage this file or to have no file at all. I highly recommend that you do not remove the paging file because you'll experience a noticeable degradation of system performance without it.

One way to boost system performance is to place the paging file on a separate physical hard drive from the operating system. The only caveat is if the second drive is slower than the primary drive, you'd want to leave the paging file where it is.

You can also span the paging file across multiple disks to increase performance. To make changes to the virtual memory, click the Change tab on the Advanced tab of the Performance Options dialog box, make your desired changes, and click Set. Any changes you make won't take effect until you reboot the machine.

Power users tip

If you want to get every last ounce of power out of your machine but you don't want to sacrifice any unnecessary disk space, you can use the Windows XP performance monitor to see how much of your paging file is taken up during normal usage and adjust its size accordingly. For example, if you have a 1-GB page file, but only 40 percent of it is used during normal operations, you may want to set it to 512MB instead. You can gather this information by watching the % Usage and % Usage Peak counters for the paging file (Figure C).

Figure C

Windows XP Performance Monitor

I recommend these changes only if you have time to tinker. Most of the time, the operating system's recommendations will work just fine.

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About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

81 comments
Maheshparte
Maheshparte

how to check the bandwidth user by system

gregory.l.hewitt
gregory.l.hewitt

One frequent question I get is about slow working machines but when I look things over, via performance monitor for instance, I cannot find any one thing that is blocking or preventing operation...? So, is there a way to check the network or redirector to see how busy those items might be. I know that there is a new section of the task manager for network performance, but it NEVER shows any activity when I look at it!? Thank You,

cbcs
cbcs

Boot time can be reduced by clearing the contents of the Prefetch folder. XP will recreate the contents as required. This 'housekeeping' can be done periodically when XP seems to misbehave. The processisn't destructive and can speed up boot time by 30 per cent. Another way to shorten XP boot time is to load the kernel into RAM. This simple registry edit gives XP wings, BUT ONLY with 256M of RAM or above. Start Regedit and search for 'HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\DisablePagingExecutive' and set the REG_DWORD value to '1' and reboot.

konstantin.nikolaev
konstantin.nikolaev

if pagefile is permitted to grow from smaller initial size to bigger maximum size it becomes highly fragmented that degrades perfomance a lot. The better solution would be to define pagefile of large enough constant size and take care of its defragmentation

saaiebabak
saaiebabak

It is horror operating Microsoft products. I am really fed up with microsoft. Not even a single product of Microsoft is complete and perfect. Endless patches and updates are a nuisance. They want to take control of our computers. Most illogical and irrational. In order to operate the Microsoft OS, one have to leave everything else and do Ph. D in Microsoft OS!!! On your instructions when tried to open the control panel I do not see SYSYTEM option. I find it in performance and maintenance option. i.e. control panel/performance and maintenance/System. When I click on SYSTEM I do not see the performance option menu. When I go to help center, no help is found on performance option. Can you suggest me some other operating system so that I can dump this bloody Microsoft. I am facing innumerable problems with this OS. With any software that I install on my computer, I find a lot of inconsistencies and improper working. Most unstable!!!

lanrebobby
lanrebobby

how can i change from windows vista to windows xp; or add both together on 1 system

hassan.bohra
hassan.bohra

I do not agree about the default page size setting. I recommend the default page file size shall be (Twice+12MB) times the amount of the system RAM size.

alpha817
alpha817

Adjusting the performace is good in a network where you have diffrent verity of computer models to make the process of the windows fast

alinawaz83
alinawaz83

What is the Usage of System Volume Information files in every partition of Harddisk? Is it useful for users?

Betageek52
Betageek52

Just a comment that may be a little OT but, I used the same basic changes on a Vista system and it had a very positive effect on the way it performed. The user/owner was very pleased AND impressed (especially after I dumped a bunch of 'junkware' from all of the startup locations, and defragged with Auslogics disk defragger. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

jasonmathers1989
jasonmathers1989

Well i think if u use paging file it decreases the hard disc drives life span. I would recommend turning it off if you have 2GB or more RAM otherwise their will be slow performance.

replytoaghar
replytoaghar

I know its better to have the Paging Files on another HDD but: How do I span the paging file across multiple disks to increase performance??

john
john

Start | Control Panel | System | Performance | Settings should be Start | Control Panel | System |**HARDWARE**| Performance | Settings I actually found this useful. Thanks, John

Doug Vitale
Doug Vitale

If you have at least 512 MB of RAM, consider doing this: In regedit, locate the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management DisablePagingExecutive -double-click it and put in 1 in the Valude Data field - this allows XP to keep data in memory now instead of paging sections of RAM to the harddrive, which yields faster performance.

techrepublic
techrepublic

These are pretty basic (but true) instructions! Also set the page file min size = max size, then defrag it. It will stay the same contiguous file. Also go into IE and set the buffer to 50 MB. Enjoy...

letter_2_roy
letter_2_roy

Dear Sir / Madam, Bravo ! this being an intersting topic to be followed and remembered by the would-be Windows System Administrators. with thanks & regards, Swapan.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

Are using Vista Business or better. These version sof Vista have a Backward License and you are entitled to load XP or other older versions of Windows if you want to. But the first thing you need to do is Open the Device Manager in Vista and make a list of all the Hardware present there. You then need to see if there are XP Drivers available for it and download the drivers for your Hardware. You need to save these to external Media and then use a Wiping Utility like Boot & Nuke http://www.dban.org/ To wipe the HDD and then with a XP Install Disc install XP. If you have a SATA HDD you may require the SATA Drivers from the M?Board Maker and you?ll need to make a Slipstreamed Install Disc including the SATA Driver so you can install the XP OS.. You can use this TR Article to make a Slipstreamed Install Disc http://articles.techrepublic.com.com/5100-10878_11-6150784.html?tag=rbxccnbtr1 Or download the Article as a PDF File from here http://downloads.techrepublic.com.com/abstract.aspx?docid=172974 Or use a product like nLite available for download here http://www.nliteos.com/download.html If you chose to use nLite make sure you read the Instructions on their Web Site her eon how to use this software http://www.nliteos.com/guide/index.html If you have a custom Build you?ll need to go to the component makers for XP Drivers or if you have a Off the Shelf system you?ll need to go to the System Maker to see if they offer XP Drivers for your model. If you are unable to find XP Drivers you can try http://drivers.com As a possible source of Hardware Drivers. If you are unable to find all of the XP Drivers which is possible as some new Systems are not supplied with XP Drivers you shouldn?t attempt to install XP as those Items that do not have XP Drivers will not work. Or you could return it to the place of purchase and ask them nicely to load XP onto this unit as it isn?t suitable for your current needs. If there are XP Drivers for all of the Hardware they may do this for a small fee. Col

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

I have 2Gb of RAM and have actually disabled any and all paging files. I did have the recommended size, but then I checked and had NEVER hit the cache EVER! Max RAM usage peaked at about 700Mb. So I now have a noticeable performance increase and 4Gb more space on the HDD.

scott.ager
scott.ager

Have you ever tested the amount of page file actually used durng normal operation? It's more like 128 Megabytes not multi-Gigabytes. Disk paging is a leftover process to make Windows "fit" into older computers without enough memory to hold the operating system and applications all at the same time. Computing is done in RAM, not on the disk drive.

cisauditor
cisauditor

checkout: http://www.kessels.com/Jkdefrag/ I ran Auslogics just before JKdefrag. JK ran for an hour and will show you visually what is occurring and in text the number of clusters being moved. Auslogics has been uninstalled. Install HD Tune before hand to observe the improvement in HD read performance.

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

If you remove the junkware and defrag ANY PC you will notice an improvement in speed...Duh!

bernalillo
bernalillo

I have had the same experiences with Vista as w XP on this topic. I do it as a matter of course.

tigerbright888
tigerbright888

Hi - the trouble is you can not turn off the page file - Windows will just create one in the background - this can be confirmed by accessing the system information applet via system tools : system summary , last on spec list The fact seems that Windows is designed to use a page file and as such is better to go with the flow - than resist the nature of the machine In Windows one can configure to retain more semi-redundant files in ram memory space - particularly with XP WIndows I personally use 32bit Windows whereby about 3.5GiB of ram memory space is mappable for system use - so over time I found that for XP sp3 I set the page file for 3.2GiB minus total installed ram memory So for 1GiB installed I set the page file for 2.2GiB min/max fixed For 1.5GiB would have been 1.7GiB but I upgraded to Windows 7 and studying the excellent memory usage applet, I configured for 2.8GiB min/max fixed This was based upon win7 being more resource intensive I found this configuration to be very fast in the long term and very consistant and stable. Windows seems to make use of a larger than conventional page file even if not technically required.

haYnguy
haYnguy

either way, using a page file is very slow. Why? because it's not RAM. It's like using swap on Linux, it's pretty much redundant. Now, I'm not to sure as whether it kills the HD life span, but I do know it's a heck of a lot slower.

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

Set a page file on the C:\ drive of 10Mb or so to catch memory dumps and then on the other (D?) drive set page file to equal your system RAM. If you have less than 512Mb then set page file to 2 times your RAM. When you change one setting click on Apply first then set the other drive settings. Good luck.

talukdar_m
talukdar_m

On my system it is actually Start>Control Panel>System>ADVANCED>Performance etc Or just WINDOWS + PAUSE BREAK>Advanced etc Good tips though.

djt0711
djt0711

Doug- wouldn't turning the Paging File off via System settings do the same thing rather than working the registry over?

konamobilepc
konamobilepc

I agree with min = max paging file size. Unless Im mistaken, it automatically makes the fine contiguous (maybe should defrag before setting it to make sure there's enough space. Unless you have a special program like diskkeeper or the like, I don't think you can defrag a paging file. The other advantage to a contiguous paging file is that you'll never 'squeeze' it by filling up the drive. There will always be enough space for it once it is set.

JoeD.
JoeD.

Interesting suggestion. And I can see the value in, but I don't know how to do it. Would you please be so kind as to provide instructions? Thanks

brian
brian

... But I find the biggest benefit in tweaking these windows settings is the user's efficiency, not the computer's. Microsoft seems to like everything to scroll, fade and animate. But if a menu spends half a second animating itself into view, that is half a second that a busy user has to spend waiting because the next mouse target or keyboard shortcut hasn't stopped moving yet. That said, one of my favorite tweaks is to reduce the size of the title bars. Go to Display Properties -> Appearance -> Advanced, and you can reclaim some screen space. Unfortunately in Vista you CAN'T reduce the size of the goofy glasslike bars (which are nearly DOUBLE the size), but you can still go back to the old title bars, and then the size controls work again. Hint: the minimum sizes of the title bar, text and buttons are all related. You might have to reduce all of them to go smaller.

monkeywrenchit
monkeywrenchit

I have spent a bit of time checking out these types of tips, but the bottom line is that unless you remove the number of process that are running you wont see a performance improvement. Use msconfig and shut off all the crapware in startup (except anti-virus)educate users to check for updates manually or run secunia instead of having every application check for updates every time you boot. Disable unnecessary services see blackhawks website. Get a ram upgrage. make sure the pc isn't infected.

JCitizen
JCitizen

they get pretty RAM happy, and before you know it the page file is all over the place taking up huge space on the hard disk. Thats why I'm shifting to x64 OS and hardware architecture so I can go ludicrous on the RAM. I'm starting out with 6 Gbs!!

ahusmc
ahusmc

I tried changing the first part of the tips to background and when I restarted my work laptop (server connected at work)I couldn't access outlook, sap, my wireless kept trying to find signal when the switch was in the off position. HELP!!!!

bernalillo
bernalillo

I haev been doing these tweaks for years. IOut of l00's (yes thousands) I have had only one user complain of the loss of one of the visual settings. I added that one back and even he was happy. This is as close to a absolute win-win I have come accross in computing.

kdust111
kdust111

I never knew you could reduce the size of the title bars; cool! I've learned a number of things from this thread. I guess I'm old school, I always convert the display settings back to Win 95 appearance complete with teal desktop - soothes me, and gets rid of the awful gawdy XP bold colors that distract me. I'm always on the lookout for more screen real-estate until my employer pops for the dual screen monitors.... In keeping with the Linux concept of the user being in charge, I try and limit what's going on in my box so I can control it; I want performance and will sacrifice useless amimations to get it.

bernalillo
bernalillo

Many time I get inmachines so infected with malware that I do thewse exact tips just to get it well enough to run my utilities and make repairs. Do these and claen out unnessesary files before you do defrags, spybot, addaware. It'll save you a tonn of time and agrivation. PS. Also go to my computer, tools, folder options, view then uncheck "Automatically check for netowork folders and printers". That will help performance too.

chuckwaldes
chuckwaldes

Dear Monkey: Where is the website that lists the crapware? Did a search and just found hockey stuff......many thanks. Show

ubwete
ubwete

Tinkering with Windows XP Performance Options should be right at the lower end of sysadmin's routine housekeeping list. Even lower than defragging the partition on which XP is installed.

JCitizen
JCitizen

But then with one terrabyte of drive space, I won't have any problems finding space. The computer came in from HP already to go; even the AV/AS companies have got on board already. AdAware, CCleaner, Firefox are already x64 capable, soon they will be true x64 programs; so far it looks like IE 7 is the only 32 bit application listed on the task manager. This was a factory assembled special order with a full DRM package for Open Cable Standard. Every hardware device had to be DRM compliant. I'm sure I'll find things it can't do but none unexpected yet. I think I will add another ATI TV Wonder cable tuner to it so I can watch and record on two different HDTV channels.

Lovs2look
Lovs2look

I have an x64 laptop and wanted to upgrade, but checked first and no drivers for my webcam, sound card OR video card. Tough luck, mate. Still, I have 2Gb RAM and have removed any and all paging files, and she screams along now.

kitico
kitico

What a shame... English seems to be your mother tongue, and yet you are unable to spell or compose a correct sentence. You are a CIO at your firm?! You should demand your money back from whatever school you attended.

needinfo
needinfo

Finally someone who gives a super abundance of info!!! WELL DONE!!

drbayer
drbayer

If I had to hit every user profile of every machine under my care, yes this would be prohibitive. A better way is to make the desired performance changes, then copy your profile into the default profile. This requires at most 1 configuration per machine. If you create a system image from that, then you don't need to make those changes again. Has worked pretty well for me for the last 4 years.

don
don

I find these steps take a few minutes to implement and the end user is usually happier with the performance after these changes. I am part time IT for a small company, found many pcs were not configured like this (though these tips have been around for a while) and after spending a few minutes setting these up, and scheduling defrags for weekly or monthly runs, the end user is amazed at how much more efficient the pc is at running routine tasks. All for just a few minutes of my time.

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