11.1 Managing Your Memory
This section gives you some tips to optimize your system's memory and a little-known trick that can help you decide when it's time to fork over some money to add more juice .
Note: To find out how much memory, also known as Random Access Memory (or RAM), your computer has, right-click My Computer and choose Properties General. A Windows XP system needs at least 256 MB of RAM to work properly. Better yet, get 512 MB, or more, if you can afford it.
11.1.1 DOS Swap
You can speed up your system simply by replacing old DOS programs with more recent versions, if they're available. DOS applications, like old versions of WordPerfect, don't allow XP to manage memory properly, and they hoard memory by not sharing it with other programs.
11.1.2 Eliminating Needless Visual Effects
Microsoft gives you lots of ways to gussy up Windows XP: fading and sliding menu actions, folders that let you slap pictures on them, and icons that come with drop shadows. But all these effects can take their toll on system performance, especially if you have an older computer.
Fortunately, XP gives you lots of leeway when it comes to deciding how many bells , whistles, and assorted visual knickknackery to add to your system. Logically enough, the fewer effects you use, the faster your computer runs. Here's how to choose:
Right-click My Computer and choose Properties Advanced .
The Advanced tab on the System Properties dialog box appears. You can also summon System Properties from the Run box or the command line; enter sysdm.cpl and then press Enter. (To get to the Run box, choose Start Run. To get to the command prompt, choose Start Run, type command , and press Enter.)
Under the Performance section, click Settings, and then select the Visual Effects tab .
The Performance Options dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 11-1.
Choose the visual effects you want .
"Adjust for best performance" turns off all the visual effects listed. "Adjust for best appearance" has the opposite effect: it turns everything on. Selecting "Let Windows choose what's best for my computer" triggers, as you might guess, different choices on different computers. And to pick and choose individual effects yourself, choose "Custom," then decide which ones you want.
Tip: Using 32-bit color eats up a lot more memory than 16-bit color, and also puts a greater strain on your processor. If you primarily use business programs like word processors and spreadsheets, you probably won't notice a difference between the two settings. To change to 16-bit color, right-click the desktop, then choose Properties Settings. In the Color Quality box, choose 16-bit.
11.1.3 Services You Don't Need
Behind the scenes, XP runs a handful of services , each of which perform different functions, like providing you with a Help system, allowing you to print, and offering a variety of networking features. Unfortunately, every service uses up memory and processor time; eliminating those that are unnecessary helps speed up your PC.
When it comes to deciding which services to turn off, some candidates are obvious. For example, if you don't have a WiFi card, there's no reason to run the Wireless Zero Configuration Service, which makes it easy to connect to wireless networks. Table 11-1 lists a bunch of services that you may want to disable.
Note: Sometimes, turning off a service only affects your current computing session; other times the service stays off the next time you turn on your PC. If you want to ensure these changes are permanent, see Section 11.1.4.
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Figure 11-1. Use the Performance Options dialog box to determine how many snazzy visual effects XP uses; fewer effects may be dull, but the trade-off is quicker system performance.
Here's how to turn off currently running services:
At a command prompt or in the Run box type in services.msc and press Enter .
The Services window appears, as shown in Figure 11-2. This program lists all Windows XP services, tells you whether they're currently running, and lets you start or stop each one.
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Figure 11-2. To see how your computer responds when you turn off a service, click "Pause the service" and continue working with your PC. If your system operates with no problem, return to this screen to stop the service; if you notice any hiccups, return to this screen and restart the service.
Click the Extended tab .
The Extended tab gives you a detailed description of each service by simply clicking on its name .
Highlight any running service to decide whether to keep it or kill it .
Running services display "Started" in the status column. Once you highlight a service, a description of its function appears in the left-hand pane. Many services explain what happens if you turn them off.
Turn off any services you don't want by clicking "Stop the service" in the left pane, or by right-clicking the service and choosing Stop .
Read the description of the service carefully before turning it off.
After you exit the Services module, if you find your computer has problems, run the module again and restart the services you've stopped .
To restart a service, highlight it and click "Start the service" in the left pane, or right-click the service and choose Start.
Table 11-1. Windows XP Services You Might Want to Disable
What It Does
Portable Media Serial Number
Retrieves the serial number of a portable music player attached to your PC. If you don't use a portable music player, you don't need to run this service.
Schedules the running of unattended tasks. These are tasks Windows XP performs automatically, such as defragmenting your hard disk (Section 1.1.5). If you don't schedule any unattended tasks, you can turn this off.
Uninterruptible Power Supply
Manages an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) connected to your PC. If you don't have a UPS connected to your PC, you don't need this service.
Automatically checks for Windows updates. If you turn this service off, you can still check manually for updates by going to http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com.
Telnet (available only on Windows XP Professional)
Allows a remote user to log into your computer and run programs. Unless you have a specific reason to let people remotely log into your PC, turn this off ‚ not only to speed up your PC, but because hackers often use Telnet to worm their way into your system.
Wireless Zero Configuration Service
Automatically configures a WiFi card. If you don't use, or plan to use, a WiFi card it makes sense to turn this off.
11.1.4 Putting Services on Permanent Leave
Turning off services each time you turn on your computer can be a hassle. If you know for sure you're not going to need a service, there's a pretty easy way to turn it off (you can always reactivate it if you change your mind). Here's how.
First, run the Services program, as described in the previous hint. Look in the Startup column for any services that are listed as Automatic (these are the ones that run automatically on startup).
Tip: For a quick way to identify all of the Automatic services, click the Startup Type column title to sort the services by Startup Type. Automatic services appear at the top of the list.
Decide which services you want to turn off. When you find a service you want to disable, right-click it and choose Properties. In the Properties dialog box that appears, chose Manual from the "Startup type" pull-down menu, as shown in Figure 11-3. From now on, the service won't start automatically ‚ but you can still start it manually via the Services console. If you want the service disabled so it can't run at all , choose Disabled.
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Figure 11-3. Disabling unnecessary services so they don't launch conserves memory and limits the strain on your processor. On most PCs, for example, the Wireless Zero Configuration Service runs on startup, even if the computer doesn't use a wireless network. Therefore, it's a strong candidate to turn off if your PC doesn't have a WiFi card.
11.1.5 Removing Programs that Run at Startup
Services aren't the only things running in the background, slowing down your PC. Many programs do the same thing, often without you even knowing it. In some cases this behavior makes sense ‚ antivirus software, for example. But a lot of other unnecessary freeloaders are jumping on the startup bandwagon. This hint shows you how to knock `em off the cart.
Note: When you prevent a program from launching at startup you're not deleting the program ‚ you're simply stopping it from automatically launching each time you turn on your computer.
The System Configuration Utility (Figure 11-4) is the best place to find out which programs are launching when your computer starts up. To open it, at a command prompt or in the Run box, type msconfig and press Enter.
Figuring out what these programs do can be tough since their names are often cryptic. Fs20.exe, for example, is the name for the EMS Free Surfer program file. (What do these engineers do when it's time to name their kids ‚ use numbers ?)
To help decipher a mysterious file name, expand the Command column near the top of the Startup tab by dragging its right handle all the way to the right. Now you can see the full listing in the Command column, including its location, such as My Computer C: Program Files Free Surfer fs20.exe. The directory location usually can help you figure out the program's name.
To stop a program from running at startup, go to the Startup tab, and uncheck the box next to it. When turning off startup programs it's best to make changes one program at a time, rather than in groups, so you don't inadvertently cause any system problems. Therefore, each time you stop a program from launching at startup, you should follow up by restarting your PC. If your computer runs without glitches, then you can move onto other programs.
Warning: Software known as spyware may be running on your PC without your knowledge. Hackers can program Spyware to do a lot of evil-minded things ‚ from commandeering your browser so that it visits pornographic Web sites to monitoring your surfing habits and delivering spam-like ads. To eliminate spyware, run a program such as AdAware from http://www.lavasoftusa.com. For details on how to use it, turn to Section 6.4.4.
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Figure 11-4. At least once a week, you should go to this tab and see whether any unnecessary programs have been added. Sometimes, if you run a program only once, it automatically launches every time you start your PC, but doesn't bother asking if that's what you want.
11.1.6 Fancy Memory Trick I
Running the kernel in RAM may sound like some kind of shady maneuver involving the beloved Kentucky Fried Chicken mascot, but it's actually a pretty easy way to speed up your system's performance. The kernel is the core part of your operating system and, ordinarily, gets stored on your hard drive, which means there's a slight lag each time your PC needs to consult it. By using the faster RAM, or system memory, to store the kernel, you save a few milliseconds every time your computer needs to do something like opening and closing windows or switching between programs.
Note: If you run memory- intensive applications, like graphics programs or games , or many applications at once, don't bother with this tip, as it can slow down your PC in those cases. Also, while this tip will work with 256 MB of memory, it really shines if you've got at least 512 MB.
To run the XP kernel in RAM, first you need to increase your system cache. This way, all of the XP kernel will fit in your computer's RAM. To boost the system cache, run the Registry Editor (see Section 15.1.2) and go to My Computer HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE SYSTEM CurrentControlSet Control SessionManager Memory Manager. Edit the DWORD Value LargeSystemCache, and change the value to 1. Exit the Registry, reboot, and you're done.
11.1.7 Fancy Memory Trick II
When programs run in Windows XP, they frequently use what are called DLLs (Dynamic-Link Libraries), which contain shared programming instructions that different applications use in order to run. DLLs are stored in RAM whenever the system summons them; when you quit a program, XP is supposed to release the DLL from memory. But some DLLs can get stuck.
You can force Windows XP to release DLLs by adding a Registry key. Run the Registry Editor and go to My Computer HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE SOFTWARE Microsoft Windows CurrentVersion Explorer. Create a new subkey called AlwaysUnloadDLL and set the default value to 1. Restart Windows to activate the change.
Note: When you add this subkey, some programs ‚ especially older Windows programs ‚ might generate an error message or cause system problems. If this happens, delete the AlwaysUnloadDLL subkey and restart XP.
| POWER USERS' CLINIC |
Using the Registry to Disable Programs that Run at Startup
There's a small chance that the System Configuration Utility won't find all the programs that run at startup. Therefore, you may need to use the Registry to hunt these fugitives down and stop them from loading. Here's how: run the Registry Editor (Section 15.1.2) and go to My Computer HKEY_CURRENT_USER Software Microsoft Windows CurrentVersion Run. The right pane lists some of the programs that automatically run at startup.
The Data field tells you the path and name of the program's executa ble file, which can help you determine what each program does. Right-click any program you don't want to run at startup and choose Delete. This m ethod stops programs from running at startup for the account currently logged into Windows XP. To stop programs from running at startup for every account, g o to My Computer HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE SOFTWARE Microsoft Windows CurrentVersion Run, and follow the same process to delete any programs you dont want to run at startup. When you're done, exit the Registry.
11.1.8 Deciding You Need More Memory
Adding more memory is the best way to speed up any computer. But, aside from your general sense that 256 MB might not be enough, or that your next door neighbor sounds awfully cool every time she talks about the 1 GB of memory her system's packing, is there any way to help gauge when it's time for more? Thankfully, the Task Manager ‚ a built-in utility that monitors all the activity on your machine ‚ has a great set of tools on its Performance tab that lays things out really clearly.
To run the Task Manager, press Ctrl-Alt-Delete. In the window that opens, click the Performance tab, shown in Figure 11-5. The Page File Usage History graph and the Available Physical Memory listing are both very helpful when trying to decide whether to add more memory. (A Page File is a file on your hard drive Windows XP uses when it needs more memory than what's available in RAM. Physical memory is the amount of RAM installed on your PC.)
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Figure 11-5. The Task Manager's Performance tab is the best way to monitor memory use and determine if you've got enough. This system has plenty of memory available, so there's no need to buy more RAM.
Make sure the Task Manager runs in front of other open programs by choosing Options Always on Top. That's helpful because what you want to do next is launch the group of programs you ordinarily run and then watch what happens to the Page File Usage History graph and the Available Physical Memory reading. If the graph is frequently spiking up to the top of the box or if the Available memory dips below 10,000 then it's time to buy more memory.
Tip: Adding more RAM to your PC isn't too hard if you're up for a little tinkering . PC World magazine offers an easy-to-follow tutorial, available at http://www.pcworld.com/howto/article/0 ,aid,18024,00.asp .