Improve Windows XP Performance: Configure Effects, Processor Scheduling, and Memory Usage

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System Performance Settings

There are some hidden features in Windows XP that allow you to tweak system performance settings. You can change visual effects, processor scheduling, memory usage, and virtual memory settings and improve performance easily. You just have to know where to find where!

To tweak system performance settings:

1. Right-click My Computer and choose Properties.

2. From the System Properties dialog box, select the Advanced tab.

3. Under Performance, select Settings.

4. From the Visual Effects tab, select Adjust For Best Performance. (Note that if you have custom setting configured, they will be lost if you click Apply or OK. )

5. From the Advanced tab, under Processor Scheduling, select Programs. This is the default, and will give programs a greater share of processor time than it will to background services.

6. From the Advanced tab, under Memory Usage, select Programs. Only select System Cache if you are using the PC as a server.

7. Click OK to apply the changes. Click OK to close the System Properties dialog box.

Virtual Memory Settings

You know that the more RAM you have, the better performance you’ll get. That’s because, when RAM is full, Windows sends the data and code it needs to hold temporarily to an area of the hard drive reserved for such events, and data and code are swapped back and forth as needed. Because it takes longer to access data from the hard drive (in an area called the paging file), you’ll obviously want to have as much RAM as you can afford (assuming you are into increasing the performance of your computer)! However, no matter how much RAM you have, the data stored there will eventually be swapped, so you want to make sure that the settings configured for virtual memory are the best they can be.

Virtual memory is the imaginary memory area that makes the computer act like it has more memory (RAM) than it actually does. Virtual memory is implemented using a paging file or swap file, which is generally located on the C: drive. You can set the size of this file manually if you’d like or you can accept the defaults. There are two options to change, the initial file size and the maximum file size. Changing these setting may increase the performance of your PC.

The initial file size box is the area where you provide the number of megabytes for the virtual-memory paging file on the selected drive, and it is where you set the initial (or beginning) size of the file. The maximum size box is the area where you provide the maximum number of megabytes that can be used for the file. The numbers configured here define the size of the paging file. If you want, you can leave your initial virtual memory settings to whatever Windows suggests, which is about 1.5 times the amount of RAM on the system, and the maximum paging file size about three times the amount of RAM. However, there are a few tweaks you can make if you desire:

  • If you have less than 512 MB of RAM, leave the page file as-is, using the default settings.
  • If you have lots of RAM, say a gig or more, set the initial page file to about half of the physical RAM and set the maximum size at three times the RAM.
  • If you don’t have much free hard disk space and upgrading is not feasible, set the initial page file to 2 MB.
  • Keep in mind that an extremely large maximum page file does not necessarily increase performance, and may actually hinder it. You don’t want to allow too much of the hard drive area to this file.
  • Even if you have a gig or so of RAM, don’t turn off the page file. Some programs can crash if no virtual memory is available.

If you’d like to tweak the virtual memory settings, here’s how you set a custom page file in Windows XP:

1. Right click My Computer and click Properties.

2. Click the Advanced tab, and under Performance, click Settings.

3. In the Performance Options dialog box, click the Advanced tab.

4. Under Virtual Memory, click Change.

5. Configure the settings as you desire, and click Set. OK your way out of the dialog boxes. If prompted, reboot your computer.

A number of third-party programs are available to help you boost the performance of your machine including some that will automatically tweak the paging file. Walk into any computer store or search the Internet for Windows XP performance enhancement software and you’ll find plenty!