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.

Easy Stuff

  1. (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.
  2. If you're using Internet Explorer, change to Firefox or Opera, or Chrome (all are more secure, less-resource-heavy and faster).
  3. If you're using Outlook, Outlook Express, Windows Mail or Windows Live Mail, change to Thunderbird (more secure with better spam-filtering).
  4. If you're using Adblock, Adblock Plus or similar in your browser, remove it and change to uBlock (faster and less memory usage).
  5. 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).
  6. 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

  1. (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.
  2. 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.
  3. (XP) Make sure disk performance counters are disabled (a server feature that is useless on desktop machines) by going Start->run and typing "diskperf -n".
  4. (XP) If you have the money, download XPlite from 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.
  5. Go through your directories and delete any miscellaneous files you've created and left lying around.

Networking stuff

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Misc Stuff

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 update pack).
    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:

About drive controllers, disk access and partitions

Partitioning tips:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 customised installs.
  6. 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).
  7. 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 PartedMagic.
  8. (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.
  9. If you're running a digital audio workstation (DAW) - then take a look at my brief but informative partitioning for DAW's guide.

Hardware Stuff

  1. 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.
  2. (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 like this:
    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 of ram.
    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.
  3. 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 memory).
  4. 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 ;) ..
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Additional Information

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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