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Enhancing System Performance

Last response: in Graphics & Displays
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April 19, 2004 8:54:37 PM

<font color=red> This sticky is a summary of tweaking/troubleshooting steps, offered as a COURTESY, for newbies and those who want to make sure they have not missed anything when tweaking their Windows XP/2000 machines for maximum performance and benchmark scores.

This post is intended to reduce the number of "silly" questions less proficient users ask over and over again. Do not be surprised if no one answers your question covered here. Avoid posting questions if you have not read this post. This is not a complete list of things you can do. If you have not yet done so, after reading this post DO read relevant Tom’s Hardware Guide (THG) guides available on this site.</font color=red>

<font color=green>Results may vary. The faster/more modern your system is the less likely you are to see a major performance boost (>20%) but even with an up to date system you should expect at least a 5% boost.</font color=green>

<font color=red>========================</font color=red>
<font color=green>PRINT THIS. YOU’LL BE GLAD YOU DID</font color=green>
<font color=red>========================</font color=red>


THE FIRST BEST TIP FOR GAMERS: YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO RUN ALL GAMES WITHOUT EXCEPTION AT MAXIMUM SUPPORTED RESOLUTIONS WITH ALL GRAPHICS OPTIONS AT MAXIMUM SETTINGS NO MATTER WHAT HARDWARE YOU HAVE. THIS IS NORMAL AND DOES NOT MEAN THAT YOUR PC HAS A PERFORMANCE PROBLEM

THE SECOND BEST TIP FOR ALL PC USERS: IF IT AIN'T BROKEN, DON'T FIXIT! This means that if your games/applications run/look fast/good enough for you there is no need to do anything. If you think you do have a performance problem, read on.

THE THIRD CLASSIC TIP: UNSURE OF WHAT SOMETHING MEANS? USE WINDOWS HELP!

<font color=green>Also, read about basic computer technology, concepts and definitions here:</font color=green> <A HREF="http://www.computerhope.com/sindex.htm" target="_new">http://www.computerhope.com/sindex.htm&lt;/A>
<font color=green>Just take my word for it: Even if you think you know all the basics you can still learn form this. Click on the link, especially check out the Dictionary. </font color=green>

INTRO:

So you want bragging rights based on your stellar Aquamark3 or 3DMark test results but your score sucks. Or you know that your system is not that hot but you would like to know whether you have tuned it right and squeezed every last drop of performance out of it. Let’s see if we can do something about this. It does not matter how super your supercomputer is. By following the steps below you are guaranteed to speed it up even further.

There are many things you can do to boost your system's performance but not all of them are appropriate at all times. For example, if you switch from an ATI video card to nVIDIA (or vice versa) it may not be necessary to reinstall your operating system (OS) but if you change your motherboard reinstallation of the OS is almost inevitable. We will start with "smaller" tweaks and consider drastic measures such as formatting the hard drive and reinstalling the OS at the end of this post.


PROBLEM FILES:

1. Do you have <font color=red>viruses</font color=red> on your computer? Update your antivirus program with the latest virus definition files and run it with "Scan ALL files" option turned ON.

2. Do you have tons of <font color=red>spyware</font color=red> on your PC (i.e. programs that some websites stealthily install on your PC without your knowledge or that come as part of some "cool stuff" you downloaded and installed, like a screensaver)? Get a <font color=red>FREE</font color=red> copy of Ad-Aware from <A HREF="http://www.lavasoftusa.com/" target="_new">http://www.lavasoftusa.com/&lt;/A> Install it, check for and install Updates for reference files and run a complete system scan. In Customize options choose NOT to quarantine bad files and once the scan is complete check all check boxes for ALL of the items that Ad-Aware found and choose Continue. All the bad stuff will be removed. This is safe. I have yet to see Ad-Aware make a single mistake and propose that you delete something good.

<font color=green>Here are some additional steps you can take to deal with spyware which will make your internet experience more secure and your PC faster. Web links for programs described below may move. If a link does not work you can find the downloads by searching with</font color=green>

<A HREF="http://www.google.com" target="_new">http://www.google.com&lt;/A>

<font color=green>Just type the name of the program into the field and click Google Search. Then click on one of the links that google finds for you. Typically, the first link in the list sends you directly to the program author’s site. </font color=green>

First in the Internet Explorer Tools => internet options, advanced <font color=red>uncheck three things:</font color=red> "Enable Install On Demand (Internet Explorer)", "Enable Install On Demand (Other)" and "Enable Third-Party Browser Extensions (Requires Restart)" and choose Apply and OK.

Also ensure your internet security setting is at least medium (unless you know what you are doing and have made it custom).

Go to Windows update and make sure you have all the latest updates (<font color=red>see more below about Windows update and updating drivers</font color=red>).

Then download Sun's Java JRE (<A HREF="http://www.java.com/en/download/manual.jsp" target="_new">http://www.java.com/en/download/manual.jsp&lt;/A>). Running Sun's Java protects you because it has less exploited vulnerabilities than Microsoft's Java. Lots of spywares use holes in Microsoft's Java to install thmselves so switching to Sun's closes a lot of holes.

Then download Spybot Search and Destroy (<A HREF="http://www.safer-networking.org/" target="_new">http://www.safer-networking.org/&lt;/A>) and make sure to let it download the newest updates. Now goto Spybot's immunize function and under "permanent internet explorer immunity" choose immunize, then under "permanently running bad download blocker for internet explorer" select "ask for blocking confirmation and choose install.

Next, download Spyware Blaster (<A HREF="http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/spywareblaster.html" target="_new">http://www.javacoolsoftware.com/spywareblaster.html&lt;/A>) run it and ensure it's fully updated. Now choose "select all" and then hit "Protect Against Checked Items". Just for reference all the items that are in red are items that Spybots immunize doesn't protect you against that's why you should use both programs.

Both Spybot Search and Destroy's immunize function and Spyware Blaster are one time set things, these programs no longer have to be running to keep you from getting infected with the stuff they block against (see below how to prevent programs from loading when Windows Starts). What they do is disallow any ActiveX program that's known to them at the time you immunized from even running. With both Spybot and Spyware Blaster <font color=red>it is important that you check for updates every two weeks or so and re-immunize yourself when new updates are released to stay current.</font color=red>

Spybot's other immunize function ("permanently running bad download blocker for internet explorer") installs a BHO that will ask you for permission to block other known bad BHO's from installing. BHO's are really not needed and fairly rare and most people only have the Adobe Acrobat BHO. You could have set this option to always block but I chose "ask for blocking confirmation" for those people that use something that I do not that uses a BHO.

Now download both DSOstop2 and HTAstop2003 and run both of those.

In addition there's another great free utility that you can run but unlike everything above it has to be always open just like an antivirus called Spywareguard from Javacool. You can download it and run it as well to further increase your security against spyware if you choose.

That should beef things up considerably. Having a good antivirus is also helpful because many antiviruses are now adding spyware to thier definitions, for instance my McAfee 8 caught a spyware which tried to install.

I hope this helps you because these settings are pretty solid but at the same time loose enough that you can still have active scripting enabled and ActiveX.


UNNECESSARY PROGRAMS:

1. Do you have unnecessary or redundant programs installed and running? One example is Zone Alarm. If you are on a college campus which sits on a LAN you have firewall right there (<font color=red>this, of course, is true only if your network people did their job right</font color=red>). If you have a router, there's your hardware firewall. In either case you have NO need for Zone Alarm. Uninstall it. I came across a guy who had both a router and Zone Alarm. This is redundant. If you have NO firewall of any kind, <font color=green>get a router</font color=green> but do not use Zone alarm or any other software firewall. <font color=red>A good router is Linksys BEFSR41.</font color=red> It is an older model and you may find it on the cheap. It makes your PC totally invisible on the internet as if the PC were turned off.

2. Disable MSN Messenger (unless you REALLY need it at all times). You can manually load it at any time by the way, if you need it, just make sure it is not set to load at Windows start up in its Preferences.

3. You don't need any non-OS or non-system files/programs loading at Windows startup and running in your system tray. Examples include MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, AIM, QuickTime, Winamp, ATI or nVIDIA properties icons, Real Player, Zone Alarm, TweakXP, etc. (TweakXP, in particular, modifies your registry once you change and apply settings. Once that is done there is no good reason to have it load at startup).

4. Unless you are online and are planning to download and run potentially unsafe programs you don't even need your Antivirus running all the time. I only load antivirus when I need to update its definition files and scan some suspicious executables (*.exe) I downloaded earlier or when I am about to use suspicious removable media (for example a diskette, zip drive or CD-RW).

5. You don't need your pop-up blocker to load at startup and run all the time. Only load it if you are about to browse sites you know will bombard you with pop-ups (you all know that I am referring to porn and crack sites, in particular; and BY THE WAY, you have no business to go to such despicable sites anyway while 99% of legit sites will never do this to you).

6. Do not use any download managers or programs that promise to miraculously double your internet connection/download speeds. Most of them are Spywares anyway.

7. Long story short, the only thing that is okay to have in your system tray is your Volume Control icon. MOST PROGRAMS CAN BE PREVENTED FROM RUNNING IN THE BACKGROUND (SYSTEM TRAY) BY UN-CHECKING THE "LOAD WHEN WINDOWS STARTS" option in program Tools or Preferences menu. Some other programs can be disabled via the Start => Run => msconfig command and un-checking everything under the Startup tab. Also, after you install something new or reinstall something you previously removed make sure to check if it defaulted to loading at startup and if it did disable this.


IMPORTANT NECESSARY PROGRAMS:

Download, install and use the following free programs:

1. Intel Application Accelerator (for Intel motherboards)<A HREF="http://downloadfinder.intel.com/scripts-df/Product_Filt..." target="_new">http://downloadfinder.intel.com/scripts-df/Product_Filt...;/A>
2. Ad-Aware 6.0 <A HREF="http://www.lavasoftusa.com/" target="_new">http://www.lavasoftusa.com/&lt;/A> and Spybot Search and Destroy <A HREF="http://www.safer-networking.org/" target="_new">http://www.safer-networking.org/&lt;/A>
3. SiSoftware Sandra 2004 Service Pack 1 <A HREF="http://www.sisoftware.net" target="_new">http://www.sisoftware.net&lt;/A>
4. FRAPS <A HREF="http://downloads.guru3d.com/download.php?id=8" target="_new">http://downloads.guru3d.com/download.php?id=8&lt;/A>
5. Aquamark3 <A HREF="http://www.aquamark3.com" target="_new">http://www.aquamark3.com&lt;/A>
6. (for both nVIDIA and ATI cards) Riva Tuner <A HREF="http://downloads.guru3d.com/download.php?id=8" target="_new">http://downloads.guru3d.com/download.php?id=8&lt;/A>
7. Latest Video Card drivers:
<font color=green>ATI</font color=green> <A HREF="http://www.ati.com/support/driver.html" target="_new">http://www.ati.com/support/driver.html&lt;/A>
<font color=green>nVIDIA</font color=green> <A HREF="http://www.nvidia.com/content/drivers/drivers.asp" target="_new">http://www.nvidia.com/content/drivers/drivers.asp&lt;/A>
<font color=green>Matrox</font color=green> <A HREF="http://www.matrox.com/mga/support/drivers/latest/home.c..." target="_new">http://www.matrox.com/mga/support/drivers/latest/home.c...;/A>
8. The latest drivers for your motherboard chipset
9. Windows Updates and security patches. I don't recommend the latest incarnation of Windows Media player (it works poorly) and, if you are reading this guide, YOU DO NOT NEED Microsoft .NET Framework. However, do install all other updates. Just <font color=red>make sure that Windows Update site does not fool you into installing an OLDER version of the video card driver.</font color=red> Usually, the latest drivers from card manufacturers are NOT Microsoft certified but Windows update may have an older, certified driver and recommend that you install it just because it is certified. DON’T DO THIS (this, by the way, is true about ALL device drivers).


OS SETTINGS:

1. Using Sandra 2004 SP1, run Performance Tune-up Wizard. It comes up with a report containing tips an warnings. Double-clicking a tip or a warning explains what it is and what to do about it. Be sure you set all the services that Sandra says are not needed to Manual start up type. Here is how.

Go to:
Start => Programs => Administrative Tools => Services. Then right-click on the service => Properties => change Startup Type to Manual => Apply. Repeat with all the services that Sandra says you don't need under XP.

The difference between Auto, Manual and Disabled is as follows:

<font color=red>Auto</font color=red> - Service always loads when Windows starts
<font color=red>Manual</font color=red> - Windows will load the service only if the active application requires it
<font color=red>Disabled</font color=red> - Service will NEVER load but this is a dangerous setting because many services depend on the availability of other services and once Service A is disabled this may prevent a good dozen of other essential services from working. Only experienced professionals who know all service dependencies should disable services and only for troubleshooting purposes.

2. Is your paging file on the same physical hard drive as your Windows directory? It should NOT be if you have more than one hard drive.

Do this:
R-click My Computer => Advanced => Performance Options => Virtual Memory (Change) => Select a hard drive other than your C: drive.

3. Is your paging file FIXED SIZE? No? Not sure? Don't know? It SHOULD be.

Do this:
R-click My Computer => Advanced => Performance Options => Virtual Memory (Change) => In the fields entitled "Initial Size" and "Maximum Size" enter the same number in megabytes which is equal to the amount of your system RAM times 2.5.

4. Disable System Restore. If something goes really terribly wrong with your PC System Restore will not help you. Also, System Restore is pretty useless unless you set it to create Restore Points very often, in which case it consumes a lot of valuable system resources. If it creates Restore Points rarely, in the event of a big problem, after restoring your system you will lose most of the stuff you installed/changed since the last Restore point was created on your system anyway.


DRIVERS, DRIVER SETTINGS AND 3D PROGRAM SETTINGS:

1. Unfortunately, most of the time "custom" video card drivers that come on a CD in the retail box together with your new card are not very good. Yes, these drivers are supposed to support the unique special features that the manufacturer included in addition to ATI or nVIDIA reference design, but most of the time they do it poorly at best. Therefore, I recommend ignoring the driver CD that came with your card and downloading the latest reference driver from ATI or nVIDIA web site. Better yet, buy your cards directly from ATI or nVIDIA’s distributor eVGA. Granted, you won’t always get the best deal, but truth be told most people never use all the cute little extra features that come with their cards partly because they often don’t really work all that well.

2. Before installing updated video card drivers or if you change from ATI to nVIDIA or vice versa, you should remove all traces of ATI or nVIDIA drivers using a driver cleaner program (several are available in downloads at <A HREF="http://www.Guru3D.com" target="_new">http://www.Guru3D.com&lt;/A>) or edit registry manually (if you know how) and then select VGA as display adapter in Device Manager, reboot and run the latest driver installer *.exe from your ATI or nVIDIA..

3. Check if you have Antialiasing (AA) and Anisotropic filtering (AF) enabled in the card DRIVER control panel (accessible from Display Properties => Advanced). They should both be set to OFF or "Application Controlled" (Off is the default for the majority of video cards). You can always enable Antialiasing and Anisotropic from within the game graphics preferences. They DON'T need to be enabled in the driver. If AA and AF are enabled in the driver and then you enable them in the game preferences this is redundant and causes performance to drop. Enable AA and AF in the driver only if the game you are running does not have AA and AF options within game’s video/graphics settings.

4. Make sure you disable (set to application controlled) V-Sync in the driver before you run Benchmarks

Details here:

<A HREF="http://forumz.tomshardware.com/hardware/modules.php?nam..." target="_new">http://forumz.tomshardware.com/hardware/modules.php?nam...;/A>

5. To get video benchmark scores comparable to those of others Aquamark3, 3Dmark, etc. should run at their default settings. Example: If you have 4x Anisotropic enabled in the driver Aquamark3 enables it AGAIN because it is its default setting. This will totally mess up your score.


BIOS SETTINGS:

At system boot enter your system BIOS by pressing Del, F1 or F2 depending on your motherboard, and change your settings as follows:

1. AGP Aperture size (also known as Graphics Window Size) is the amount of system RAM that will be used by the video card in addition to its own memory. In simple terms, if your video card has X Mb of memory, why not add another Y Mb of system memory to it? The optimal size of AGP Aperture depends on the amount of your system RAM and the more RAM you have, the more you can set in AGP Aperture.

<font color=red>If your VGA card has LESS than 128 Mb of memory</font color=red> I recommend the following AGP-A sizes:

- 1000Mb of RAM – set Aperture to 64 - 256Mb.
- 512Mb of RAM – set Aperture to 64 - 128Mb
- 256Mb of RAM – set Aperture to 32Mb or none at all

<font color=red>If your card has 128 Mb of memory or more</font color=red> set Aperture to 4 - 32Mb

If you have 128MB of system RAM or less – your system does not deserve to exist. Trash it.

2. Enable AGP Fast Writes (nVIDIA cards only. Fast Writes does not work well with ATI cards)
3. Enable Fast Power on Self-Test (POST)
4. Disable Boot-up Floppy Seek
5. On some motherboards it is possible to force-set your hard drives and optical drives to their actual models instead of AUTO. This way during POST the system does not waste time detecting your drives which saves another fraction of a second :smile:
6. Of course, there is also overclocking which can be done via BIOS settings on many modern motherboards, but read about it here: <A HREF="http://forumz.tomshardware.com" target="_new">http://forumz.tomshardware.com&lt;/A>

Depending on your motherboard some of the following settings may be changed in the BIOS. If you see any of the options listed below, set them as suggested here:

Assign IRQ for VGA: Enable
PnP O/S Installed: Enable
VGA Pallet Snooping: Disable
PCI Bursting: Disable
PCI Latency Timer: 128
Peer Concurrency: Disable
Video BIOS Shadowing: Disable
Video BIOS Cacheable: Disable
Video RAM Shadowing: Disable
Video RAM Cacheable: Disable
USWC Options: Disable (or set to UC)
Pipeline Cache Write: Disable
Assign IRQ To USB: Enable
PCI 2.1 Compliancy: Enable
Passive Release: Enable
Delayed Transaction: Enable
VGA Boot Sequence: AGP
AGP Turbo Read Mode: Disable
AGP Turbo Write Mode: Disable
AGP WS Write: Highest Possible Value
AGP WS Read: Highest Possible Value
AGP Transfer Mode: 1x
AGP Clock: 2/3
MPS or MP-SPEC: 1.1 (For Multi-Processor Systems Only)


HARD DRIVE CONDITION AND UNNECESSARY FILES:

1. Do you have enough free disk space? If the system is low on space this may very seriously hurt performance, especially if your paging file is not of the fixed size (see above). Remove unused programs and delete some of the downloaded files (you know what downloads I am referring to :lol:  ).

2. Have you defragmented your hard drive recently? Do this once a week. Defrag requires that at least 15% of space be free on the hard drive. If you don’t have that much - free up some space.

3. Do you have physical defects/damage on your hard drive? To check for problems and repair damaged sectors

Do this:
Double-click My Computer => R-click hard drive C: => Properties => Tools => Error Checking (Check now) =>
there are two options: "Automatically fix file system errors" and "Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors". Check BOTH of these options and click Start => XP says that it needs exclusive access to the hard drive and offers to run checkdisk "the next time Windows starts". By all means agree to this and reboot. Do this before going to bed because this may take a long time. Once rebooted the system will display a blue screen with Windows logo, inform you that checkdisk was scheduled, give you the option to cancel and if you don’t cancel it will begin after a few seconds. Let it finish.


I'VE DONE ALL THIS AND MORE AND I AM STILL HAVING A PROBLEM!

Check out these articles:

<A HREF="http://www.videoguys.com/Win2K_Tweaks.html" target="_new">http://www.videoguys.com/Win2K_Tweaks.html&lt;/A>

<A HREF="http://www.guygraphics.com/index2.html" target="_new">http://www.guygraphics.com/index2.html&lt;/A>

They are about Windows 2000. However, most of the concepts are the same for most versions of Windows and they are explained very well in these articles. You will also find excellent additional tweaking AND troubleshooting suggestions there.

...............
Any luck? Well, if none of this helped, at least you may have learned something about computers and their mysterious workings that you did not know before. Now is the time to consider

1. Troubleshooting your individual components (for example, if you think you have a bad video card, take it out and put a different one in and see if the problem goes away). This, however, may be difficult for most people since you need easy access to readily available hardware.

2. Formatting your hard drive and installing the OS and all device drivers and programs from scratch. This often solves otherwise impossible problems but I hope someone else will write about this and append it here. :evil: 

Good luck

<font color=green>I THANK ALL THOSE WHO HAVE/WILL OFFER CONSTRUCTIVE, FRIENDLY CRITICISM AND INPUT TO MAKE THIS STICKY REALLY HELPFUL</font color=green>

<font color=red>===============================</font color=red>

<font color=green>Stingy people end up paying double. One kick-ass rig that will go strong for three years or one half-decent one every year?</font color=green> :cool: <P ID="edit"><FONT SIZE=-1><EM>Edited by Slava on 05/22/04 01:45 PM.</EM></FONT></P>
!