Windows

Increase performance in Windows Vista with these 10 tips

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.

This information is also available as a PDF download. This blog post was originally published in the 10 Things Blog on August 1, 2007.

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 nontransparent 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...

37 comments
tfenner
tfenner

Your statement that Readyboost "fools" the PC into thinking it has more RAM is not accurate. Readyboost is a caching mechanism, not a RAM upgrade or trickery. This online post says it quite nicely: "One big mistake a lot of people make is saying that Readyboost allows you to use a flash drive as RAM. The memory inside a flash drive or an SD/CF card isn't as fast as RAM, which is why the flash drives are cheaper than RAM. Readyboost is really just an extension of the swap file on the hard drive. Not everything that your computer does can fit in RAM so some things normally are cached on the hard drive. The problem though is that the HD takes some time to find things, whereas a flash drive like RAM has virtually non-existent access time, which makes the computer more responsive." So yes, your computers will be more responsive, but not because it believes it has more RAM. Check this out for more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ReadyBoost

abc123a
abc123a

Duh! Why are you still publishing articles on Vista or Windows at all?

Gis Bun
Gis Bun

The Turn off visual enhancements and aero suggestions would be primarily for slow systems. If you got a dual core system or better, this shouldn't be an issue. If I am right, Vista's own defragmenter runs in the background when the system isn't in use. RAM is always nice [but cheap systems can only go to 4GB. As well, any 32-bit OS can still only really use around 3GB [Vista may show 4GB but the remainder isn't used]. Sidebar is fine, as long as you don't overdo it. Eliminate extra startup programs is fine if you know what you are doing, but a novice user may disable unneeded stuff. Then you have something like the new DivX software that loads the updater check in the startup. If you remove it, it will still run the updater check the next time you use DivX.

ajogadeo2
ajogadeo2

hey, this are great! as i always recommend them daily to all my clients and users... one thing left out is to increase the paging file/swapfile memory of the computer by physically doubling the original size of physical RAM e.g u have 2GB/2048MB of RAM can allow you to increase its swapping files memory to upto minimum 4020mb and max 8000MB depending on how big your physical HDD size is.Coz as you know you are now using the HDD free space to string ya optimum store in mem of every open programs or in use. this gives great boost to the OS and all enhanchement to the quick access to programs frequently used or running til u shutdown the pc.til next time, this is all from me. Deo ajoga. IT RSA

chris_thamm
chris_thamm

How about installing the updates available from Microsoft, as well as up-to-date drivers and mid-level components (e.g. DirectX, browser add-ons).

scottieb0623
scottieb0623

Some of these changes would take away a big part of the appeal of Vista. The better advice would be to not install it unless you have a machine built for Vista or Windows 7.?

j.baig
j.baig

Get rid of it and install Windows 7. As long as you have at least one gig of ram and a decent processor, do all this stuff on Windows 7 and it will work like a charm. Even if your manufacturer don't support Windows 7 for that model, don't worry, 90% of the time windows update will find those drivers.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

There is one way to increase the performance of Vista that was not around when this 10 Things tip was first published - upgrade to Windows 7. Do you have other tips for increasing the performance of Windows Vista?

francisvandenplas
francisvandenplas

Hi tfenner. I have a question for you: you state that ReadyBoost is an extension of the Swap File. If that's the case, wouldn't it be interesting to reduce the HD Swap File to the bare minimum to force the system to only use the faster RAM in Flash memory. Then increase the size of ReadyBoost (by default the system wants anyway to use the full available RAM of my 4 GB Flash Drive). This should then account for a faster Vista/7 system. Anyone an opinion on this?

xcav8r369
xcav8r369

Maybe some of this can help someone else out: I've Uninstalled all the bloatware and unused programs. I don't use Aero (don't like the look) Disbled all unnecessary services. Set all possible Services to Manual rather than Automatic. Minimized what "Starts Up". Set shut down to 10 seconds. Tweaked my upload/download speeds in Vista. Tweaked out Firefox (and refuse to use IE) and set it to delete everything on shutdown. And I clean, clean, clean, Obsessively with CCleaner, Wise disk cleanr, Wise registry cleanr, Auslogics disk defrag. Advance System Care also has a couple nifty tweaks to Optimize your connection speed, Boost speed by temporarily disabling unused services (printer!) etc. Hope this helps someone :)

afterhoursman
afterhoursman

I have run Windows 7 with as small a footprint as 640MB RAM dual core system and in as large a machine as 8GB RAM quad core system and it has shown its superiority to Vista in every way.

NexS
NexS

I, too, am in agreement. Vista is a nasty dog who eats too much and doesn't really offer any love in return.

allerguten
allerguten

Vista was incomplete upon release, the eye-candy only worked on new systems. As for depending on M$ Service Packs for drivers... don't count on it, especially on the 64-bit OS on laptops/notebooks (don't try it and on a HP laptop it just won't work) Vista had all the right intentions in terms of added value to purchase the new OS, but incompatibilities surfaced out the waszu... M$ released it to make a buck, then fixed it based on user feedback and released Win7 to capture your other buck. Win7 is well built, Vista should never have gone to market..

charleswdavis6670
charleswdavis6670

I have had a Windows Vista 64-bit machine from the day Vista was avail on a machine from HP. With adequate components, there is still no need to make any tweaks. No need to spend money for Win 7. My spouse's machine is also also a 64-bit Win 7 machine. I think it's time to stop knocking Windows Vista. It is a perfectly good system.

tehpea
tehpea

I used to run Windows 7 on a 512mb ram laptop that had a 1.5GHz Pentium M. It ran quite well even at 1280x1024.

ciscokid1957
ciscokid1957

Dump that piece of crap Vista!! W7 is the way to go!!

NexS
NexS

Is to upgrade to W7.

foss.paul
foss.paul

Funny, why bother if you have to turn all the nice things off just to make it run. You could stick to DOS, runs fast and is simple. If you like pleasant experience, go to Windows 7. Runs well and you can have all the trimmings. If all else fails, get a computer that can run it.

pghegseth
pghegseth

My initial impression of VISTA was it is slow at everything. Used it for a half-year that way with 1GB RAM. Bumped it to 2GB and now it runs reasonably fine. My single complaint is when I insert a USB 2GB+ thumbdrive, it locks up explorer. If I boot with the thumbdrive attached, Vista works fine with it... XP always worked well with USB flash drives. I loaded Win7 on this same machine and a microsoft update kills it (I think it's a .net update (3.5 or 4)) It's happened three times and I've narrowed it down to one (or more) of eight updates. I went back to using Vista. An update killing an operating system is insufferable (bad MS...bad boy).

brian
brian

It really is the manufacturers who are to blame for most of the complaints. They literally are selling out customer satisfaction for third-party kickbacks. And know what's really funny? They did the same thing when they were selling XP computers, with the same side effects and many of the same complaints. People just seem to have forgotten, because they cleaned up those systems and got them running smoothly a long time ago. Here's a big tip... Buy from the OEMs' "Small / Medium Business" stores instead of the consumer stores if you can. Vague arguments about sturdier hardware and (much) better support aside, the business stores don't load third-party bloat on the system. My HP Elitebook ran all of my very heavily ram/cpu/gpu intensive software (AND all the little apps) faster and more reliably with higher workflow capacity than any of the desktop XP workstations I've been around, and I never had to reinstall the OS. HP did a good clean install and I didn't have to mess with it. That system now runs Win 7, and things are even better, but only from the UI point of view. The HP factory install of Vista was just as snappy as my own install of 7 is now. Now, many of the people I know who got Vista laptops from the local store shelf or from the Home or "Gamer Dork" sections of the OEMs' sites, those machines often have had annoying software that causes glitches and it's almost always been some OEM add-on. Great example, a guy I know teaches using his Asus laptop and has no end of trouble connecting to a projector. Vista bug? Nope. Asus installed a utility that competes and conflicts with Vista for control of the external screen configuration. Badly written OEM software, almost every time.

francisvandenplas
francisvandenplas

I never had any major issue with XP Pro (on several PC's): never had to reinstall it for once and about any irritating issue went away after SP2. Being kind of naive (at 70), I believed that buying an HP machine built for Vista (Nov 2008) I would be safe.Well I wasn't! (I had built all my previous PC's myself, after one TRS80 and one early PC-XT compatible. Up until now I already had to reinstall everything twice from scratch (last time in February) and, again, crashes are getting more frequent, besides lots of irritating quirks, too numerous to enumerate and which I didn't experience with XP. I do not run anything special. Mainly Office XP with lots of problems (only MS solution: buy something newer! I won't, I haven't even explored all the possibilities of this version yet) and Web browsing. No games, no heavy graphical Apps nor database crunching. And, no, I have no money to buy a version 7... So, Vista "is a perfectly good system"? I think you were just plain lucky. Never tried the lottery? You might win big ;-).

bobbycornetto
bobbycornetto

So, I'm supposed to buy a new piece of crap from the company that sold me the Vista piece of crap and several pieces of crap before that? Fool me once...um three times, Microsoft, shame on you. Fool me a fourth time, and shame on me! Until Windows 7 is a service pack or a free upgrade for all Vista owners, I won't buy another Microsoft product. They need to at least apologize for that colossal cluster kluge!

dryd
dryd

Never actually owned a copy of any windowz OS before. Not likely to pay for one now! I've inherited every other copy all the way from DOS 5.1 to XP. How many old computers have you been given, heaps I bet. Most geeky types have I should expect. Even with XP, people give you a computer, you bump the HDD over into a better system. You know that you've got the only copy of that OS, so you don't have to lie to MS when you validate it via the phone. What's not to like! lol.

francisvandenplas
francisvandenplas

You are right about buyers' carelessness. And I do not have any particular gripe with HP on the matter. What I find unacceptable is the way Norton/Symantec (which I haven't asked for) gets interwoven with the OS, even causing problems after removal and further polluting my registry. Not being a regular Norton user (was a fervent adept of the Utilities & Commander though, back in the DOS days) I had forgotten about the removal tool. It's downloaded and ready should I experience a major crash again! Still, are you sure it removes those unwanted registry entries? Ever did a scan with Regedit or (even) Regscanner? By the way, I have more than once used the latter for a cleanup after a (Revo) uninstall and the only time I ever encountered problems was with Norton/Symantec. Since, I have learned my lesson and will always first perform a registry back-up (on my USB-stick).

charleswdavis6670
charleswdavis6670

I haven't seen any manufacturer that doesn't include an anti-virus program. You and I both know that most buyers wouldn't download and install even a free one and chaos would soon ensue. Maybe they should include Microsoft Security Essentials as the default. Download, install and use the Norton Removal Tool, or the MacAfee, or AVG removal tools. Then don't RegScanner ever again.

francisvandenplas
francisvandenplas

I may acquire a new portable shortly, but this time (see my previous replies) it will not be an HP, just because they come with a pre-installed big piece of crap (well in my eyes): Symantec Security something. I do not want to pay for this after the ubiquitous "trial" period, since I'm quite happy and well protected with Comodo Firewall and Avira Antivir. For one, each daily update would make my "decent" machine (AMD 5000) crawl on the Web under Firefox. Worse is that you cannot uninstall it completely, not even with ol' faithful Revo which does remove quite a lot of registry entries, but leaves even more behind... (by the way, I noticed that there were still some services of the "removed" Symantec being loaded by the system! Which shows how deep this crap nestles in the system... Run RegScanner and it will find about 8 to 900 hundred leftover entries in the registry . But, don't try to remove them, your PC will not restart anymore (at least not my HP!). Happily enough Vista does a good restore job on this (actually you do loose a few days' settings and/or installs, even if there is a more recent restore point. It happened to me twice. Two years ago, when I first wanted to get rid of Symantec and lately, when I wanted to cure a Windows Media Player "syncmgr" problem. A search on the Web told me this was... Symantec related. So again, having forgotten about my previous misadventure, I tried to remove the damned registry entries. And again... After the restore I found a cure on the Web that solved the issue and removed quite a lot of entries underway (still have 557 of those at the moment and won't try to remove them!). Furthermore, believe me, Vista does really run faster after a Symantec removal and careful cleaning the offending services! So you could add this to the article's suggestions...

francisvandenplas
francisvandenplas

As they say, never change a winning team! Problem is that, when they decide it's time to make more money, MS stops supporting their Software. Also Software makers are tempted to release programs requiring those "new" OS features...

francisvandenplas
francisvandenplas

I, on the contrary, certainly didn't have more problems with 3.1 or 3.11 than with XP Pro. So, as I said, with MS it's just a matter of luck. I almost never used 95 nor 98, except for a bit of 98 SE (wasn't that the "good" version?). Didn't have major problems with MS-DOS, from 2.1 on. Only PC-DOS 4.0, the common MS and IBM version, was a catastrophy. Apparently it was mainly an... IBM effort. Corrected by MS with MS-DOS 4.01 if I remember well. In those days, I was able to fine tune my autoexec.bat, config.sys and .ini files to an extent that made my and my customer's machines run faster, stabler and with more available memory... (Maybe this is also why my 3. Windows ran better?). The damned Registry took all that away from us and now, just like any defenseless Joe Six-Pack user, I am a victim of those random MS flaws...

vinitsankhe
vinitsankhe

HP Pavilion 9000 series with Intel Centrino Duo, 320 GB HDD, Nvidia Graphics and 2 GB RAM. Runs Vista like charm. 3 years and no problemo! I use it for games, .Net programming and have a hosted a JAVA web server as well! I dont think I will try win 7 any sooner.

Papa_Bill
Papa_Bill

I have had very few problems with XP or Vista. I've had a lot of problems with 7. Same kind I had with 3.1, 3.11, ME (Grrr), 95 and 98. Lockups and bad drivers. (Hmmm... Bad drivers often wind up in the lockup, don't they?) (OK, I'll quit thinkin')

Gadget Gurus
Gadget Gurus

Ubuntu 10.04! I don't mind running into bugs so much with Linux because I DIDN'T PAY FOR IT!

brian
brian

That got me really laughing.

bobbycornetto
bobbycornetto

Right on. Lots of bugs that MS let sit out there unaddressed and that have nothing whatsoever to do with drivers. I will give Microsoft credit for at least trying to do something about the problems when they opened a Vista support line where they'd talk to anyone, support contract or not. But that's not enough. Let's see, Fedora 13 or Ubuntu 10.04?

Gadget Gurus
Gadget Gurus

ROTFLMAO! Vista wasn't criticized nearly enough. Drivers were only an issue in the beginning. Bugs, bugs, bugs and more bugs.

ArnoldZiffle
ArnoldZiffle

I'm running Vista Pro 64 right now. I've only had one issue with it. It won't run BioShock. But it's not Vista's problem it's the SOUND card in my laptop. I've had no issues with Vista. As far as developing goes I can run a virtual machine and load up XP or whatever and run it just fine. NP

mousejn
mousejn

The PC manufactures and other hardware vendors have to take some of the blame. They installed Vista on inadequate hardware with badly written drivers. Vista was a major improvement on XP in security. One of the ways they increased security was how driver interacted with the kernel. The drivers had to rewritten to work with Vista and most vendors hadn?t done this correctly when it was released. Why is Windows7 much better than Vista? Most PCs sold today have adequate hardware and the driver requirements were taken care of before release. Microsoft has also realized that you don?t need to bring up every service at startup. I wish some of the other vendors wouldn?t bring up all their junk at startup.

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