BOOT CAMP 514 (04/03/08)

More Vista Tuning Tips pt 3


Our first stop this week in our continuing quest to perk up a sluggish Vista PC is another built-in utility called Performance Information and Tools, however, as usual, before you do anything set a new System Restore Point (Winkey + Break > AdvancedSystem Settings > System Protection tab > Create). The changes we’ll be making are mostly safe so this week’s tips are classified as suitable for adventurous beginners and intermediate users.


To launch Performance and Tools go to the Search box on the Start menu and start typing ‘performance’. After the first few letters Performance Information and Tools should appear at or close to the top of the list, click on the icon to start it up. If you prefer to do it the old fashioned way go to Control Panel on the Start menu and click on the Performance Information and Tools icon.


The opening page gives you a general rating of your PC’s performance also known as the Windows Experience Index or ‘WEI’. This is mostly concerned with hardware components so I do not expect anything we will be doing to change this rating significantly but while you have it on screen it’s worth expanding the view and printing it out (click View and Print Details) for future reference, if your PC suffers a serious hardware fault.


We are mainly interested in the ‘Tasks’ list on the left side of the screen and the top one, ‘Manage Startup Programs’ can yield noticeable reductions in boot up time. Click the link and this opens the Windows Defender Software Explorer Tool. Make sure Startup Programs is showing in the Category drop-down menu and below you will see a list of programs that launch automatically with Windows. If ‘Show for all users’, appears at the bottom of the window make sure that it is checked.


This is by no means a complete list – we’ll deal with that in subsequent episodes – but the programs shown can be disabled (or removed), hopefully without causing any problems. However, before you start clicking a few words of warning. Some of the items listed are essential to your PC’s well being and these include such things as your anti virus program, firewall and security features etc., so leave these alone.


The best thing to do is go through the entries one by one; as you click each one you will see information about what it does, who it belongs to, when it was installed and so on, appear in the right hand pane. Anything flagged up malware or a security risk by Spynet – see this week’s TopTip -- can be, indeed, should be removed straight away.


If you are a novice I advise you not to interfere with any items marked as ‘Published by Microsoft’, especially if they’re listed as: ‘Ships with Operating System’, though, if you do get careless and try to remove a critical component Vista should stop you. Don’t worry if any programs are listed as ‘Not yet classified’. Many entirely respectable programs are so designated and it just means that Microsoft hasn’t got around to verifying them yet.


What you are looking for are programs and utilities that you don’t need to be running all of the time, but always Disable rather than Remove, only tackle one item at a time and always reboot the PC afterwards. Examples of things that you can safely Disable include the numerous ‘helper’ and ‘updater’ services installed by the likes of Adobe Reader, iTunes, Java, QuickTime and RealPlayer, to name just a few. Your PC’s video adaptor and sound card have probably installed control panels that appear as icons in the System Tray. Unless you are in the habit of fiddling with your PCs sound and display settings you don’t need them and they can be safely disabled. Anything you are not sure about leave it, but make a note of the filename or publisher and see what a Google search throws up.


Vista has an annoying habit of displaying a pop-up message that tells you every time a startup program has been blocked or disabled. You can get rid of this by right-clicking on the ‘Blocked Items’ icon that appears in the System Tray, select Run Blocked Startup Program and this displays a message box with a checkbox option to: ‘Don’t show me this again’. Don’t forget if a feature you rely upon stops working or you see an error message you can always go back into Software Explorer and Re-Enable the offending item.


When you have finished with the Startup Programs, and after a final reboot, open Software Explorer once more but this time select Currently Running Programs from the Category drop-down menu. All of the entries on this list should be legitimate Microsoft components and the programs you’ve permitted to run. Again, if there’s anything you are not sure about Google the name. You should also check the Network Connected Programs Category, as this will tell you if there’s anything trying to make use of your network or broadband connection, with no other programs running the list should be populated only by Microsoft entries and possibly your anti-virus program, seeking signature file updates. Anything else requires investigation.  


Next Week – Vista Tuning Tips pt 4





Malicious or intrusive software, (aka spyware, adware, trojans, premium rate diallers etc.), often inadvertently downloaded from websites, that make adverts appear, track your on-line activities or send private and personal information from your PC


System Tray

The area next to the desktop clock displaying icons of running programs that are usually loaded when Windows boots up


Updater Service

Software component installed by a program to regularly go online and search for new versions of updates




If you don’t see a SpyNet entry at the bottom of the Software Explorer screen it needs to be activated. SpyNet is an optional feature in Windows Defender that checks the programs running on your computer against a constantly updated database of known malware threats. To set it up go to Start > All Programs > Windows Defender and click the Tool menu. Click on the Microsoft Spynet link and the Join Up screen appears. There are two tiers of SpyNet participation, Basic and Advanced, and in both cases information about your PC is sent to Microsoft, so if you are concerned about your privacy it is important that you read and understand the accompanying notes and Privacy Statement before you enable it.



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