Additional Optimization guide tips for Windows XP/Vista/Win7/8/10
These are additional tips to supplement the Speedup guide.
Please note that tips that are XP-only are indicated with (XP).
Also, there are few, if any, optimisations, in existance, for general usage
which do not apply equally to DAWs (digital audio workstations), graphics
workstations and other computers in specialised scenarios. I have listed a few
specialised tips for audio workstation users here, but these are the minority.
- (XP) Install the unofficial Service Pack
4. This updates XP with all of the post-sp3 fixes for XP, including
after MS dropped support for it.
- If you're using Internet Explorer, change to Firefox or Opera, or Chrome (all are more secure,
less-resource-heavy and faster).
- If you're using Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail or Windows Live
Mail, change to Thunderbird (more secure
with better spam-filtering).
- If you're using Adblock, Adblock Plus or similar in your browser, remove
it and change to uBlock (faster and
less memory usage).
- If you're using Windows Media Player, change to VLC and/or Media Player Classic HC (both are faster with
less bloat). Remove Windows Media Player, as it steals associations
periodically (for XP, follow my
method. In Vista/7/8/10, remove using control panel -> programs and
features -> turn on/off windows features).
- If you're using Quicktime, uninstall, then replace with VLC or Media Player Classic HC as above, if you
haven't already installed one of these. The only reason to keep quickltime
is if you have an application which needs it, like iTunes.
Slightly more advanced stuff
- (XP) If still using IDE (PATA) drives, turn on UDMA66 (Ultra DMA)
support. By default XP disables UDMA66/100 support for PATA/IDE drives,
limiting the speed to the lesser UDMA33 standard. I don't know why this is,
and Microsoft does not explain why on their guide on how to turn
it on, save to say that this is by design. I don't know what the
setting is by default in Vista and above.
MDGx's guide on how to turn it back
on is the most accurate one (see further down his page). Please note
that unless you're using ATA66 cables and both drives on any given channel
are UDMA66-capable, this setting won't have any effect on your system.
- Virtual memory: Turning off pagefiles, even if you have a large amount of
ram, is typically detrimental to your system's performance or has no impact
whatsoever (more information: 1/3rd of the way down this page and more here).
Also, some apps won't run (eg. photoshop 6.*) without one.
Putting the pagefile on a drive other than the drive that your system
partition is on, is ideal (separate partitions on the same disk will not
make a significant difference), as most of the time data is being
transferred from the system drive and into the pagefile.
- (XP) Make sure disk performance counters are disabled (a server feature
that is useless on desktop machines) by going Start->run and typing
- (XP) If you have the money, download XPlite from www.98lite.net and remove IE,
Windows Media Player, Outlook Express and anything else you don't need.
If you don't, Nlite is an even better
option (see "Misc stuff", below), but of course requires re-installation of
the operating system, from scratch.
- Go through your directories and delete any miscellaneous files
you've created and left lying around.
- Go Control panel->Network Connections and right-click the specific
network you want to alter, click properties. Click the network device
"Configure" on the right. Go to the 'advanced' tab. Here you can edit and
alter settings to do with your network adaptor. These are specific to your
particular ethernet adaptor, so cannot be entirely generalised. However,
generally some will reduce CPU load by using the adaptors own internal
chipset (any 'offload' options), and some can drastically alter your
network performance (jumbo frames, interrupt moderation rate, etc). Look up
the various settings on the net and see whether the defaults are what they
need to be, then alter accordingly.
- NOTE: TCP/IP connections may sometimes benefit from creating static IP's,
in the case of internal networks rather than internet connection networks,
however this is more of a trouble-shooting tip than an optimisation.
- I don't recommend defragmenting your drive (or doing registry cleans)
more than once every three months. More often than that is certainly a
waste of time in the vast, vast majority of cases. Personally I recommend
defragmenting every six months to most users. Maybe if you're doing a lot
of shifting around of files or reinstallation of operating systems etc etc
then maybe you will get additional benefit from defragmenting every month
or so, but this would be a special-case. Note: The NTFS file system is not
as heavily affected by defragmentation as FAT32 file systems are. FAT32
file systems also take longer to defragment.
- Processor scheduling: there are a lot of sites which will tell you to set
this to background services for audio applications and other specialised
activities - I can't say I recommend this at all, except on a per-user
basis. If you find your particular program that you use most of the time
performs better/more reliably then go for it - otherwise, leave it alone.
I've seen no evidence of performance increase with it changed to background
services for any activity.
- If you're installing XP from scratch I heartily recommend creating an Nlite'd version of your XP installation
disc (you will need a running windows installation with Microsoft
.NET 2 installed to run Nlite, as well as your Windows XP disc, the "Network"
(full) Installation version of Windows XP service pack 3, and a Post-SP3
Firstly, this enables you to configure everything the way you like it in
the base install without having to do it in a gazillion different locations
within windows later on. Secondly you can strip all the irrelevant stuff
you don't use out safely.
And thirdly you can integrate (slipstream) service pack 3 and the update
pack above into the installation so that you're not stuck with lots of
redundant dlls on your HD later on.
Example: my previous (non-nlite) XP installation was 1.3GB for just the
windows folder, with SP3 installed and all service pack uninstallation
directories removed. By contrast, my current nlite'd xp install with
service pack 3 integrated created only a 512MB windows folder, total.
So there's a considerable difference right there.
My personal configurations are called 'AudioXP' and are available, along
with the build guide, here.
There is also a version of nLite for Vista is called 'vLite',
and NTlite for win7/8/10.
Drive and Partitioning Stuff (for experts)
About windows file systems:
- FAT (FAT8 or FAT16) is the fastest for less than 2000 files, yet also has
the most limitations. Maximum partition size is approximately 2GB.
- FAT32 is slightly faster than NTFS for less than 2000 files, can't store
files > 4GB and you have to defrag it often. Maximum partition size is
approximately 500GB - the XP partitioning tool is artificially crippled to
only allow the creation of FAT32 partitions when the maximum size is 32GB,
but external partitioning tools and previous windows versions can create
FAT32 partitions at their real maximum size, and XP will work fine with
- NTFS is slightly more secure, does not fragment quite as much as FAT32
but is slightly slower on most PC's when the number of files on a partition
is less than 2000. On systems with massive amounts of files (lets be honest
- all systems nowadays) I would recommend NTFS - this has to do with the
algorithms NTFS uses for locating files, which are more scalable than FAT's
method. I would estimate the performance difference to be about 5% (FAT32
> NTFS for low number of files, NTFS > FAT32 for large amount of
files) of overall disc performance (not of total system performance, of
course). Maximum partition size is huge (many terabytes).
NTFS's file allocation mechanism may seem grossly wasteful - it reserves at
least 10% of the drive for the Master file allocation table (MFAT), however
it will give up this space to other files when the partition runs low on
space. It will also store small, frequently-accessed files in the MFAT
itself. For partitions which are solely storing singular files (pagefile or
partition backup files) or smaller numbers of files (program installers
etc) NTFS would not be the first choice.
About drive controllers, disk access and partitions
- Disk access is usually between 35%-50% faster at the start of a hard
drive than it is at the end. Hard drives read from the outside of a disc to
the inside, but as the outer rings rotate same speed as inner rings, but
have greater circumference, they therefore yield more data per rotation,
hence a better transfer speed and access times!
- Copying data between drives is far faster than copying data to the same
drive, as drives cannot read and write from a disc at the same time.
- Copying data between drives on separate drive controllers can be even
faster, given that there is a limited amount of actions that can be
happening at once on a single drive channel. However, some drive
controllers perform better than others, so use your discretion.
- Most onboard drive controllers use the system CPU for some calculations.
However some are faster than others, and use less CPU. You can find out
which is faster/more-cpu-intense using benchmarking apps like HDTune free.
The most common (currently) motherboard drive controller is the Intel ICHxR
(where 'x' is the version number). The ICH is light on CPU for basic
operation, heavier for RAID work.
- RAID - all you need to know
is: Raid 0 is fast but insecure, Raid 1 is normal speed (read speed can be
faster than normal, but this depends on the particular RAID controller and
scenario) but more secure than a single drive, Raid 5 is fast for reading
but slow for writing and no longer
reasonably secure in the days of 1TB drives (ditto RAID 6 in 10 years
time), Raid 1+0 is the best all-round but uses the most drives (and is
therefore the most expensive) - Raid 0+1 is slightly less secure than 1+0
Ideally you want a RAID card which uses it's own chips rather than the CPU
for it's operations, as some RAID activity can be processor-intensive (up
to 9% CPU on a 4ghz dual-core). Typically the better RAID cards are the
more expensive ones. Detailed info on RAID can be found all over the net -
so just use google.
- Make your system partition small (6GB is typically enough for XP - for 7
and above you want at least 20GB, 40GB to be safe) and have it at the start
of your fastest drive (e.g a 10krpm drive is good). Only use it to store
your operating system and programs. Move your 'My documents' and other
'special folders' to another drive using Tweakui from Microsoft (My
computer tree/special folders).
- Put your least-used data (e.g program installers, backups) on partitions
at the end of drives. This ensures that the faster data areas get used by
the more frequently-used data.
- Change your system partition to 32kb or 64kb clusters NTFS, and your data
partitions as 32kb clusters (FAT32 or NTFS). From my tests I can say this
improved performance - on my system at least. If you're using an SSD drive,
this becomes less relevant. If you can't repartition your drives, a more
expensive partitioning app can change often the cluster sizes without
deleting the partitions.
- If you can, make a partition dedicated solely to the windows pagefile
(virtual memory file) at the beginning of a disk which isn't the same disk
that the system partition is stored on. It doesn't need to be any larger
than the pagefile itself.
Format it as FAT32 with 4kb cluster size - it doesn't need the extra
security of NTFS, needs all the speed it can get, and 4kb is the default
windows memory page size, which makes writes a little more efficient.
- I generally don't recommend multi-booting to different installs of
XP/Vista/7/8/10 for different tasks - the performance difference is nil if
you've set up your installation correctly, but the overhead of rebooting
every time you want to do something different is huge, and a big
time-waste. Not to mention losing twice as much space as well as having to
build and maintain two separate installations. You're better off with one
customised installation which works well as a whole, than two or more
- Using this information, make up your own mind about which file system(s)
you feel you should use for each drive, and format/repartition according
(warning for neophytes: formatting deletes all data on a drive - don't do
it unless you know exactly what you're doing). You can essentially have as
many partitions per drive as you want, but four or fewer primary partitions
is ideal from a data recovery point-of-view (in case of accidents).
- Good free partitioning software comes and goes (typically the really good
stuff becomes payware, e.g BootIt
NG), so just google to find current partitioning freeware. I quite like
- (XP) If you're buying a new hard drive, most of the time nowadays it's
going to be "Advanced format" ie. 4k sectors. This means you need to make
sure all your partitions are aligned on 4k boundaries, since XP doesn't do
this by default (Vista/7/8/10 do). To align your partitions, find out the
brand of the drive you've bought and go to their website. All the major
brands have alignment tools specifically for their drives.
- If you're running a digital audio workstation (DAW) - then take a look at
my brief but informative partitioning
for DAW's guide.
- A system optimised using all the directives above will not require more
than 512MB of RAM to run well, under XP at least, and will not benefit from
more than 1GB of RAM unless you have specific applications or plugins (eg.
samplers, computer games) which require or benefit from more ram.
Regardless of how much ram you have, the above directives (particularly
disabling specific services) will free up more of your existing memory.
- (XP) More than 3GB of ram on a 32-bit system is often a waste of money.
Please read my extensive guide to Operating systems, the 3GB memory barrier
and the various OS memory limitations here for more details. By
default, XP is set up so that applications cannot access more than 2GB of
memory. You can change this by inserting the /3GB option into your
c:\BOOT.INI file. Only do this if you have more than 2GB of *available* RAM
at boot (run the task manager by pressing ctrl-alt-delete, look under the
performance tab for available ram). Please see the notes above about
editing the boot.ini file. The line you need to alter will look something
multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINDOWS="Microsoft Windows XP
Professional" /fastdetect /execute
Just add "/3gb" to the end of the line, like so:
multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINDOWS="Microsoft Windows XP
Professional" /fastdetect /execute /3gb
Only do this if you have applications which may benefit from more than 2GB
NOTE: On some systems, particularly where the installation has not been
optimised or a video card with a large amount of memory (> 256mb) is
used, using the /3GB can create system problems due to the OS limiting it's
memory usage to 1GB. If you experience problems after enabling the /3GB
switch, please disable it.
- However, many 32-bit applications are not, by default, able to access
more than 2GB of memory (virtual or physical). This can,
however be addressed by using the freeware laatido tool to patch
executables and dlls to be large-address-aware (access more than 2gb of
- Contrary to what many musicians seem to think, no one motherboard
manufacturer is necessarily better than the other. It comes more
down to the class of board you buy - Asus, Gigabyte, Asrock and most of the
others have entry-level boards, middle-range boards and server-class
boards, as well as a range of other types. Not only that, but middle-range
boards are not necessarily worse or less stable than server-class boards
(though typically they will be). It pays to know your specifications well
and to know what you're looking for in terms of features, what the best
chipsets are and so on and suchforth. Motherboard "roundup" reviews can be
helpful for initial selection. Having said that, if you're not overclocking
or worried about a lack of features, Intel boards are typically the most
stable and have the best warranties of all motherboard manufacturers. And
avoid foxconn and cheaper Asus boards if you can ;) ..
- 10krpm hard drives are of course great, but many 7200rpm drives come
close in terms of overall rate-of-transfer performance nowadays, if not in
terms of actual seek times. Look up recent drive roundups on google to see
what's best recently. SSD's are of course the go-to for absolute
performance, but size tends to be an issue.
- Your power supply (PSU) is important. More important than you think. A
cheap one is fine for household machines, but not for power-hungry daw or
gaming setups. Most cheap power supplies fail at even 80% total loading.
The guide here
will tell you how much power you need for your system *on average*, but
ultimately it's the brand and quality of the PSU that's more important than
the power rating. A good mid-range 400w Coolermaster, Corsair or
Thermaltake (for example) PSU is generally going to be far better than a
500w no-name brand, when it comes to system stability and genuine power
delivery. For whatever PSU you're looking at buying, it helps to look for
technical reviews online to see whether there's any problems with it, such
as underperforming at higher wattage draws.
All advice given without guarantee - use your brain - if anything
dies/fries/stops/explodes, see a doctor (but don't talk to me).
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