Vista can be a performance hog, but there are many ways you can tweak the OS components to speed it up. See what actions you can take to remove bottlenecks and optimise Vista.
Windows Vista is packed with cool eye candy, handy new features, and improved security. But all this comes at a price -- and many new Vista users are paying that price in the form of decreased performance as compared to Windows XP. Performance issues are the most common complaint I hear from readers who've just installed Vista or bought a new Vista machine, and my own experience shows that the concerns are valid.
Vista Ultimate runs great on my primary desktop computer, a fast Dell XPS with 4GB of RAM. No noticeable performance problems there. So I expected the same when I bought a new laptop. I loved my little Sony TX model with XP, so I looked to replace it with an almost identical model running Vista Business Edition. It came with 1GB of RAM (the XP machine has 512MB), which I thought would be enough. However, I noticed from the beginning that the new computer took minutes to boot up instead of seconds, and running more than a couple of applications at a time slowed things down to an unacceptable level. Running Vista became the hurry up and wait experience that I'd heard about from other users.
I bought another 512MB of RAM for it, maxing out its memory capacity, and got a 4GB USB drive optimised for ReadyBoost. All that helped some, but it was still significantly slower than its XP counterpart.
That's when I went looking for more ways to improve the performance of my laptop. Here's a look at some of the things that worked -- and some that didn't.
Turn off the bling
One obvious way to make Vista run more like XP is to, well, make Vista more like XP. Turning off the fancy Aero interface, turning off the sidebar, and otherwise disabling the features that make Vista look and feel unique will help speed up performance. But for most of us, that's not exactly the solution we were looking for.
Identify your bottlenecks
The first step in fixing a problem is to find out exactly what's broken. Vista includes a number of tools that help you pinpoint the cause of performance problems.
Vista, like its business-oriented predecessors (XP Professional, Windows 2000, and NT Workstation), includes a performance monitoring tool that allows you to do detailed monitoring of various counters relating to both software and hardware components.
You'll find the tool under a new name, Reliability And Performance Monitor, on the Administrative Tools menu in Control Panel. Figure A shows the Performance Monitor, monitoring % Processor Time and Memory Pages/Second.
The Performance Monitor is a great tool for IT pros, but it may be a bit daunting for the average user. Luckily, Vista has a simpler way for you to know, at a glance, which of your hardware components may be bottlenecks when it comes to running Aero.
Performance Information And Tools
A new feature in Vista is the Performance Information And Tools control panel, which analyses your computer's hardware components and assigns a rating known as the Windows Experience Index (WEI) score. Your processor, RAM, graphics capabilities (separately rated for Aero and for gaming/3D), and primary hard disk are each rated individually. The lowest score determines your overall WEI score.
Possible scores range from 1.0 to 5.9. Generally, a computer needs a base WEI of 3.0 or better to satisfactorily run Aero and other advanced features. To find out your WEI, click Start | Control Panel | Performance Information And Tools.
Running this tool showed me why using Vista on my laptop was such a different experience from using it on my desktop. As shown in Figure B and Figure C, the desktop machine's hardware rated a 5.1, whereas the laptop scored a measly 2.0.