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How to increase your computer’s speed (part 2) December 16, 2005

Posted by techandother in Software.

In my last installment, we cleaned our machine of viruses and spyware, cleaned out old, unused files with Disk Cleanup, and reorganized our hard drive with the defragmenter tool. At this point, your machine should be back to where it was when you got it, except a little bit slower due to the programs you installed on it.

But what if you want to push your machine’s performance above where it was when you got it? As it turns out, if you are using Windows XP, there are a lot of settings that make XP “pretty”, but sacrifice speed. If you are OK sacrificing some of these pretty effects for raw speed, you’re in a prime position to gain some speed on your machine.

First of all, do yourself a favor and benefit from other’s research. That means getting on mailing lists, subscribing to RSS feeds, or just generally making a habit of trying to stay educated about computers in general. After all, I could tell you ‘do this and that’, but the sacrifices I make for speed might not be appropriate or even possible in your situation. What’s the GI Joe slogan? ‘Knowing is half the battle’? Knowing is about 95% of the battle in computers.

Before we get started, it’s fairly commonly known in IT circles that you are able to run XP on 128MB RAM, but for some reason, XP really opens up at 192MB RAM. After that, the more memory, the better. In fact, Tom’s Hardware just did an article on how much memory is overkill on a modern machine. It’s a long article, but the jist of it is that (unless you’re a graphic designer or big-time gamer) 1GB of RAM isn’t out of the question, and testing shows that you will use all of it if you get it. Unfortunately, a lot of RAM is expensive, but if you want to take the plunge, decide first how much money you’re comfortable spending, THEN go to a reputable online retailer like newegg.com. By deciding your budget ahead of time, you’re less likely to talk yourself into buying more.

So what if you don’t have any money, or just don’t want to spend any? Here are some settings you can change in XP that will help raise your speed:

The Desktop: we now make you ugly
Right-click the desktop, and click ‘properties’.

Themes tab
Go for ‘Windows Classic’. Have flashbacks to working in smoky offices and mustaches on everyone.

Background tab
‘None’. You can choose your own color, but that ultra-high-resolution picture of your kids has to load up every time you look at the desktop, which is a definite killer. If you really need that reminder of why you can’t fly off the handle and destroy your cubicle, try getting a cheap printed picture from Shutterfly and a cheap frame from Walmart/Target.

Screen Saver tab
This is arguable, since the screen saver does use computing power, but you obviously aren’t using the machine, so you’ll never notice. If you’ve got a CRT (boxy) monitor, a screen saver is a must to prevent burn-in, so choose a basic one like ‘Windows XP’. If you’ve got an LCD (flat-screen), you don’t get burn-in, so you don’t necessarily need a screen saver. I recommend setting the screen saver to ‘none’, but then changing your monitor’s power settings. (‘Start’ > ‘Control Panel’ > ‘Power Options’ > ‘Turn off monitor’ > ‘After 5 minutes’) This works pretty well for LCD’s, since the monitor turns on instantly when you move the mouse. It’s your call what is more annoying with CRT’s, the delay in making the screen saver go away, or the time it takes for the monitor to turn back on. You’ll definitely want to do only one or the other.

Appearance tab
You should already be on ‘Windows Classic Style’. Click the ‘Effects’ tab and un-check everything. These are all effects you can do without.

Settings tab
If you are using the video that came built into the computer, your computer has to process your video signal while you make word documents, etc. Most computers have dedicated memory for the video, but every once in awhile, you run across a machine that uses a portion of the main memory for the video. You’ll have to experiment here, so try out 800×600 and 1024×768. Also see which setting is easier on your eyes. You really don’t need to go larger than 1024×768 unless you have an enormous monitor. Finally, if you have a video card in your machine, it’s doing all the work, so just set it to the defaults and be happy, because it’s doing its own thing without affecting your machine too much.

That’s all for now, join in next time when I write about more system settings (and issue more warnings than you can shake a stick at) as we look at some of the more advanced things you can do for your need for speed.



1. The Daily Technocrat » What to install on a new PC - February 21, 2006

[…] In additon, you’ll want to make some tweaks to the OS, of course. […]

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