Computers are getting faster every day. To go along with it, Microsoft has worked to make Windows XP faster and more efficient than previous versions of Windows. That doesn’t mean that with a little bit of tweaking you can’t squeeze a little more performance out of your system. Here’s how you can use a third-party utility called CachemanXP to adjust the various caches Windows XP employs.

What’s CachemanXP?
CachemanXP is Outer Technologies‘ newest cache management program. Outer Technologies also produces the popular Cacheman 5.5 cache management program, but unlike Cacheman 5.5, which runs on Windows 9x as well as NT-based systems, CachemanXP only runs on Windows NT Workstation, Windows 2000, and Windows XP. That’s because CachemanXP is designed to run as a system service. Running as a system service allows CachemanXP to run more effectively than Cacheman 5.5.

CachemanXP is a shareware utility that allows you to tweak various system caches that Windows XP uses to increase system performance. Although Microsoft worked to make Windows XP run faster than previous versions, the caches it uses are configured for the average machine. CachemanXP allows you to modify cache settings to match the specifics of your workstation to achieve maximum performance.

The shareware version of CachemanXP includes most of the features of the registered version. The registered version of CachemanXP can automatically adjust system caches on the fly. With the shareware versions, you must make adjustments manually. The registered version will also allow you to manually adjust the size of the file cache that Windows XP uses to speed up file system accesses. CachemanXP costs $25 to register. You can register CachemanXP directly at Outer Technologies’ Web site.

Downloading CachemanXP
You can download the shareware version of CachemanXP from the Downloads page on Outer Technologies’ Web site. The page works a little differently than most download pages you’ve probably used.

Select CachemanXP from the Select A Product drop-down list and click Select. Then, select CachemanXP 1.1 Default Distribution from the Select A Component drop-down list and click Select again. Finally, select from the Select A Download location drop-down list. Click Select one last time and save the CMXP110.EXE file to a temporary location on your workstation. The file is a little over 1 MB in size, so it shouldn’t take long to download.

Installing and running CachemanXP
Compared to the counter-intuitive download process, installing CachemanXP 1.1 is a breeze. Run the CMXP110.EXE file that you downloaded. This will start a Setup program to guide you through the installation process. Just click through the screens in the wizard. There are no gotchas along the way.

On the Select Options screen, if you leave the Launch CachemanXP box selected, after the CachemanXP files copy to your workstation and Setup finishes, CachemanXP will start. You’ll see the screen shown in Figure A.

Figure A
You can control cache settings with CachemanXP.

As you can see, the Information tab displays many of the same things you can find out from Task Manager, but in a more coherent form. Here you can see CPU utilization, RAM usage, and paging file size all on the same screen as the running processes. In the Process box, you can stop processes or change their running priority just as you can with Task Manager.

The Auto-Recover box is where you configure how CachemanXP recovers memory. Frequently running applications, services, and processes use more memory than they actually need. When they end, not all RAM is returned to the operating system, whether because of poor programming, errors, or for other reasons. CachemanXP’s autorecovery features return fragmented memory to the operating system. Settings in the Auto-Recover box dictate how often CachemanXP recovers memory and under what circumstances.

The Cache tab, shown in Figure B, allows you to tweak various system caches. There are two boxes here, File Cache Management and Misc.

Figure B
CachemanXP controls system caches.

With the shareware version, you only have two choices in File Cache Management. Either Windows controls the size of the file cache or CachemanXP does. Outer Technologies claims that the CachemanXP setting is faster because it causes CachemanXP, rather than Windows, to control the size of the file cache and it can do so faster than Windows. The Manual setting is only available under the registered version and allows you to manually set the size of the file cache.

The Misc box contains various other caches that Windows XP uses. These include:

  • Icon Cache—A cache that stores icon information for programs so XP doesn’t have to read icon information every time you redraw a screen.
  • DNS Cache—This cache stores DNS host and TCP/IP address information to make Internet searches faster.
  • Internet Explorer Cache—Here you specify the amount of space IE uses on your hard drive to store temporary files.
  • Dormant File Limit—The number of closed data files that remain cached in memory.
  • Unused File Cache—These are values that represent unused memory segments.
  • Cache File Timeout—How long a file can remain in the cache after an application closes it.

Outer Technologies recommends you not select Large System Cache if your workstation has an ATI Radeon-based video card. Doing so will cause your workstation to not work properly.

The Tweaks screen, shown in Figure C, gives you a one-stop place to quickly enable and disable performance tweaks for Windows XP. For example, you can turn off things that can slow down a system, such as Balloon Help and Cleartype, by disabling their checkboxes.

Figure C
Turn off and on various system tweaks here.

The Backup tab allows you to save configurations to restore later. The Options tab controls how CachemanXP displays in the Taskbar, what hotkeys CachemanXP uses, and how it performs.

The buttons across the top give you some additional features. If you click Create Report, CachemanXP will create a report of your computer’s current configuration. Recover RAM allows you to quickly recover RAM that’s been locked up by memory leaks and closed applications. Auto-Optimize allows CachemanXP to tweak settings automatically, but this feature is only available in the registered version.

If you make changes to any of the settings in CachemanXP, you’ll notice there’s no Save command. Changes take place immediately. To make them take effect, you must reboot your workstation.

Cache as cache can
There are so many different changes you can make to Windows XP’s configuration that it’s tough to know them all. CachemanXP helps put some of the most effective ones in one place. Using it will help you squeeze the last drop of performance out of your system.