BOOT CAMP 492 (04/09/07)

Vista Tuning Tips part 1


It is now almost eight months since the launch of Windows Vista and apart from a few relatively minor teething problems and the anticipated lack of support for older programs and peripherals, the new operating system’s debut has gone surprisingly smoothly. Most new users seem to be reasonably happy with it but there has been one recurring niggle and that’s speed and performance.


In the run up to the launch there’s was a widely held perception that Vista would be a lot faster than Windows XP, and it does indeed do a lot of things quicker than its predecessor, though much of this is due to the operating system’s hardware requirements, which calls for a moderately fast CPU, plenty of memory and advanced graphics capabilities.


A fair number of complaints came from early adopters upgrading unsuitable PCs in the hope that Vista would give their ageing machines a new lease of life – this rarely works. Other unsatisfied users included owners of underpowered budget or entry-level Vista PCs bought soon after the launch. Many first generation models were based on XP hardware leftovers, hastily cobbled together to meet the expected demand. The point is Vista woks best on computers that have been designed specifically for the job.


Even so Vista isn’t dramatically quicker than XP at most routine tasks, all of the clever stuff happens behind the scenes. It’s also quite difficult to quantify performance from the user’s perspective. In real terms ‘speed’ relates to the number of operations a PC can carry out each second, and this can be measured using specialist analytical software, but in the real world speed tends to mean how quickly a PC boots up, how fast programs open and close and graphics performance.


Fortunately there’s a quite a lot you can do to visibly pep up a sluggish Vista PC, and over the next couple of weeks we’ll be looking at some simple and safe DIY tweaks, but in the end performance mainly depends on the computer’s hardware, so don’t expect miracles if your PC is at or close to the recommended minimum system requirements.


However before we do anything the first thing to do is establish a couple of benchmarks, so we can tell if any of the changes we’ll be making are doing any good.


Vista’s has a built-in utility for measuring basic hardware performance and you will find it by going to Start > Control Panel > Performance and Information Tools. This rates your PC’s according to processor speed, memory, graphics and hard disc data transfer rate. It’s a fairly crude assessment, marking each component with a ‘subscore’ on a scale of 1 to 5.9, and from this it determines a ‘base score’ (see also this week’s Top Tip). The changes we’ll be making in the coming weeks will only have a marginal effect on the base score. Nevertheless, it is still worth comparing the before and after readings and it may point to some hardware deficiencies – such as not having enough memory or a poorly equipped graphics card – which you can address separately. To keep a record of the results click the ‘View and print details’ link.


The next job is to note down how long it takes your PC to boot from cold; that is from the moment you press the on-switch to the point when the hard disc activity light stops flashing continuously and you can open programs and start using the machine. I suggest running this check two or three times to get an average figure.


A progressively slower boot up is one of the major irritants of owning a PC and it has been a constant gripe with many Vista users observing that it is slower to boot than XP and plenty of reports of machines taking 5 minutes or more to boot up. In fact there’s not much in it and a properly configured XP or Vista machine should be ready to use, from switch on, in around 60 to 90 seconds, and with some fine-tuning this can be reduced to less than 20 seconds.  With so much more going on under the bonnet it is fair to say that a Vista PCs can slow down much faster than computers running XP and this can become quite noticeable following the installation of a few heavyweight applications.


However, this ignores one important point about Vista and one of its most important new features is ‘Sleep’ mode. This is the default power-down option on most machines - -it’s what happens when you press the power switch -- and pressing it again should return the computer to a useable state in less than 10 seconds.


Nevertheless, old habits die-hard and it will probably take a while for many desktop users to learn to trust Sleep mode. Laptop users do not have this luxury and they are often compelled to boot from cold, to preserve battery power, so anything that can be done to speed things up has to be welcomed. In part 2, next week, we’ll be looking at ways of getting your Vista PC to boot up in around a minute.


Next Week – Vista Tuning Tips, part 2





Central Processor Unit - the main microprocessor chip in a PC



The speed at which data can be recorded to and read from a storage medium, such as a hard drive, optical disc or memory chip



A combination of Standby and Hibernate, pressing the Power button saves all running applications and the PC goes into a very low power state



A base score of 1 indicates the PC is only just capable of running Vista. Level 2 is just about acceptable; some operations, like running several applications at the same time, are likely to be slow and you may not be able to use the fancy ‘aero’ graphics. Level 3 is a good starting point for a general-purpose desktop or laptop machine, it will be able to run aero graphics and there shouldn’t be any problems running multiple applications. Games and graphics programs will run more smoothly on a Level 4 machine but for the most demanding jobs, like video editing, high-end graphics and the fastest action games you should aim for a Level 5 machine.




© R. Maybury 2007, 2108

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