Talking tech since 2003

There are a lot of situations where you might want to sacrifice aesthetics for performance in Windows.  Maybe you use older hardware or have a high workload.  You may be running Windows in a virtual machine where resources are not easily available to allocate.  In either situation, there are a few steps that you can take to increase your performance in Windows, and ultimately use fewer system resources.

The tweaks include disabling unnecessary system resources, cutting back on excessive visual effects, and disabling unnecessary startup items.  By following this guide it will help make your PC run faster and smoother.

Disable Unnecessary System Services

In Windows, a “service” is essentially a process which runs in the background.  Often times, services run in the background and consume system resources, despite your not seeing any interface or front-end for them.

  • In order to disable system services, you first need to see what services are running on your machine.  To do this, you will need to visit the “Services” manager within the “Administrative Tools” in the “Control Panel”.
    • First, access the Control Panel by clicking “Start”, and then selecting “Control Panel”
    • In the Control Panel, select the option on the side entitled “Switch to Classic View”.
    • In the classic view, select “Administrative Tools”, and then select “Services”.
    • Alternatively, you can select “Start”, click on “Run”, type in “services.msc”, and click “Ok”.
    • In the services list, you will see a list of all of the services on your computer; running or not.  It is important to note that there are a lot of crucial services that you cannot disable.  If you are unsure about a service and if you can and should disable it, simply doing a Google (Topeka today for April Fool’s Day) search for the service name and the word “service” will likely get you information about the service.  From there, you can determine if the service is necessary, and whether or not you should disable it.  Also note, that within the services list, you only need to evaluate services that are marked as having an “Automatic” startup type, as these are the services that start every time you boot into Windows.
      • To disable a service, right click it, and select “Properties”.
      • From the “Properties” menu, change the startup type to “Disabled” using the pull down menu.
      • It’s important to note that because the service is already running, disabling the automatic startup will not affect your current Windows session.  Because of this, you may also want to select the “Stop” button to instantly stop the service.  This will allow you to see how your system behaves with the service stopped.
      • Lastly, click “Ok”.
      • Repeat this process as necessary for each of the services you wish to disable.

As far as services go, I typically recommend you disable the “Themes” service which will cause the default “Windows XP” theme to go away, as well as the “Indexing” service which will cause your file searches within Windows (not to be confused with Google or other internet search services) to take a bit longer.  If you do not connect to servers (e.g. a home server set up in my previous how-to), I also recommend that you disable the “Workstation” service.  Likewise, if the computer in question is not being used as a server, you can disable the “Server” service.  Typically, I also like to disable “updater” and “helper” services that are usually installed with third-party software.

As a precaution, I typically recommend you write down all of the services that you disable.  This way, if you do accidently disable an important or necessary service, you know which ones you disabled, and can easily go back and reverse the actions.

Cut Down on Visual Effects

By default, Windows has a lot of visual effects.  This includes small “animations”, as well as the real-time dragging of windows.  Cutting down on these visual effects will subsequently cut down on the amount of system resources needed by Windows.

  • Firstly, you will need to access the “Performance Options” window from within the Control Panel.
    • To do this, go to the Control Panel
    • Make sure you are in the “standard” view, and not the “classic” Control Panel view.
    • From the Control Panel, select “Performance and Maintenance”.
    • In the “Performance and Maintenance” category, click on the “Adjust visual effects” button.
    • Alternatively, this can be achieved by clicking on “Start”, then “Run”, typing in “sysdm.cpm”, clicking “Ok”, and then selecting “Performance” from the “Advanced” tab of the dialog that pops up.
    • Once you are in the “Performance Options” window, you can choose to fine-tune the individual visual aspects by selecting the “Custom” ratio button and choosing the options as necessary below it.  However, for the purposes of this tutorial, we are going to select “Adjust for best performance” ratio box.
    • Lastly, finalize your changes by clicking “Ok”.

Disable Unnecessary Startup Items

A lot of times, when you install a program in Windows, the installer for that program chooses to put either the program itself or a program “helper” for said program in your system’s startup entries.  This causes programs to be launched at startup, and this ultimately causes your system to be put under pressure.  This can get even worse as your startup entries grow, and more and more programs startup at once.  Often times, this causes agony for the user who has to close all of said programs.  Also, some programs end up remaining open, causing a usage of system resources throughout the Windows session.

For most software, you can simply uncheck the “Launch on startup” or “Start with Windows” options within the application’s preferences or options menu.  This varies by application.

You can also use the Microsoft configuration tool (msconfig) to view and disable startup entries.  To do this, click “Start”, then “Run”, type in “msconfig”, and press “Ok”.  From there, click on the “Startup” tab, and uncheck the checkbox next to any unnecessary entries.

These three tips, combined with good computer maintenance (defragmenting regularly, not installing unnecessary programs, etc.) should keep your computer running smoothly.  These techniques can be used to get better performance out of a high-performance gaming computer just as easily as they can be used to tune up an older computer or a virtual machine.

As always, feel free to post in the forums or visit the chat room if you need any assistance or have any questions.

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