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Optimizing a Windows PC

The most valuable tips to increase performance on a windows machine

There are a lot of tips and tricks lurking around on the internet. A bunch of tools have specialized themselves to tune up your windows box. Most of them are things you can do by yourself at no additional cost. Most of the tools only bring temporary a small percentage of extra performance if they help at all (See also XP Myths) In my opinion giving out money for such tools is not necessary if you have at least a basic technical understanding. If you don't want to bother with technical details and need a "click once" tool then these applications are great and are not so expensive after all. But do not give out more than 20 or 30 bucks for such a tool, they are really not worth more.

All useful tips fall under one of the following categories:

  1. Make sure your PC is free of malware
  2. Completely deactivate unused features
  3. Choose appropriate tools for the tasks and features you need
  4. Make the right settings for the tools you use
  5. Try to keep at least 25% of your disk free

The rule is to make this on the tools and features that consume most of the resources. It brings far more to gain 10% on a feature eating up 50% of the resources than to tweak and gain 20% on a tool wasting only 5% of the resources.So concentrate on the hot spots and biggest performance bottlenecks in your system.

The truth about performance

Get rid of malware

This is the first step to be done. Make sure there is nothing like a trojan horse or other virus on the system. Booting from a CD with a recent anti-virus and anti-spyware tool will be the best way to proceed with the check. Obviously checking from an infected system itself won't help in some cases. Malware programmers are not idiots or script-kiddies, they spy out specific data like credit card numbers, bank accounts, personal information, passwords and are in stealth-mode (meaning you can't see them). Script kiddies would just delete data or make your PC crash. So do not believe that because you don't see anything there is nothing on the system... Antispyware tools work with checksums and proof themselves before proceeding so that if you have not the possibility to boot from CD (100% safe) then starting from the system is still rather safe.

On seriously infected systems like with System Security or Defense Center this can be quite tricky. Funny names for such devilish tools!! They sound like some serious tool but they hijacked your computer until you buy a completely useless tool on the spammed website... I had a hard battle with "Security Center" and it ended with a fresh re-installation of the OS because that beast blocked nearly anything that could be useful to remove it like task manager, registry editor, command line, ... and even after removal I had still a bad feeling. The friend had to wait a while until he could pick up his machine again. Just FYI: he had an up-to-date anti-virus installed! (I will not give any product names I have to time to fight against claims... He must have got infected before the signature was available, what is not so uncommon no matter which vendor you have)


The top performance killer in your system is with nearly no doubt your anti-virus. If you have one installed and on-access scan enabled (most of them have it enabled by default) then this is the first place where you can dramatically increase the performance of your machine. You might argue that you have less security if you deactivate the on access scans. Many anti-virus allow you to tune the scanning in a smarter way (only scan certain directories, or files) but anti-virus often give you a false sense of security. The really good solution is to work under an user account and not under a priviledged account. Don't understand me wrong, I do not mean anti-virus software is useless. But the trade-offs for the small additional security (compared to on-demand scans) you gain are not worth it. Anti-virus software is not very effective against new viruses. I prefer working as an under privileged user (not as an administrator). Then even if a virus came to load itself into memory, it cannot break oder undermine your system. The anti-virus will not detect it all cutting edge virii no matter how much money you pay for it. Just make on-demand (manual) scans regularly. I also scan the files I download from the internet.


More than fragmentation, having a large number of files and low free disk space will dramatically decrease performance. In order to defragment you will also need some free place. If you use a defragmenter use a stable one: meaning not one shifting most of the files over and over again (even some commercial defragmenters are pretty bad regarding this, I do not want to give names here, just google around). My favorite is MyDefrag (see link hereunder). It is even suited for continuous defragmenting - like when running it as a screensaver for example. To defragment the registry I recommend PageDefrag (see link herunder).

Beware: do not fall into the RAM defragmenter trap (Hoax & Completely Bogus) These tools are useless at best and degrade performance in general. Or read "The truth about memory optimizers".

Deactivation of unneeded OS features

Animations and effects

On an older machine or a machine with a poor graphic card, turning off the windows, animation and other graphical effects already helps to improve the overall responsiveness of the system. On a quite modern hardware this is more cosmetic tweaking than really performance bringing, because many things are hardware accelerated in up-to-date graphic cards.

Search indexer (Windows Search)

If you do not make intensive use of the desktop search functionality, you can deactivate the "indexing service" or "search indexer". It is crawling in the background over the hard disk drive and stealing resources. If you don't use its work, deactivate it . This does not mean you cannot search anymore, it just will not be so fast anymore at searching. So if you search into your documents a lot, keep it enabled.

Great tools available for free


Autoruns lets you deactivate the programs starting automatically with the operating system. The ones you can usually safely deactivate are the "quick launchers" for this and that. The tools that insert themselves into the windows task bar at the bottom right of the desktop. If you use these tools rarely and if they do not need to run all the time (are just menus for example) then you can deactivate them as well. This will speed up the time for windows to load.


From the site: "One of the limitations of the Windows (...) defragmentation interface is that it is not possible to defragment files that are open for exclusive access. Thus, standard defragmentation programs can neither show you how fragmented your paging files or Registry hives are, nor defragment them. Paging and Registry file fragmentation can be one of the leading causes of performance degradation related to file fragmentation in a system.

PageDefrag uses advanced techniques to provide you what commercial defragmenters cannot: the ability for you to see how fragmented your paging files and Registry hives are, and to defragment them. In addition, it defragments event log files and Windows (...) hibernation files (where system memory is saved when you hibernate a laptop)."


Cleans browser files, temporary files. It gets rid of most garbage located on your system. It is usually a good idea to let it make some room on the disk before running a defragmenter. The registry cleaning features do not bring much performance if at all, tought. All in all it is a good freeware tool (but do not install the bundled useless Yahoo Toolbar if still present. Yahoo pays money per installation to the software publishers to have it bundled in their tool, what is not a matter but if you do not pay attention you have this unwanted thing on your system. Don't worry you can also uninstall it afterwards - unless you really want it of course).


From the site: "MyDefrag is a disk defragmenter and optimizer. (...) Included are a set of easy to use scripts for endusers, a scripting engine for demanding users, a screensaver, and a combined Windows plus commandline version that can be scheduled by the Windows task scheduler or for use from administrator scripts."

I am using it on server machines and my machine at home. This is in my opinion one of the best defragmenters available not among the free ones only.

Well done Jeroen Camiel Kessels!

HijackThis!Spybot Search & Destroy

Both tools are great to detect and remove malware. Malicious software used to collect passwords or spy out other private data can also consume resources in a noticeable way, especially on older hardware. Usually these trojan-horses are designed to be silently working in the background but maybe you have a hardware configuration that makes them "visible". Give these tools a try and clean-up your PC.