Recognize first that there is little to be gained by tweaking Windows 7, as it quite effectively tunes itself to your hardware. Most likely, the major benefit of doing this is that you will be better educated about your PC. Pressing on regardless, you first should run Windows Update to insure that your software and device drivers are up to date: tap the Windows key, type “update”, select Windows Update, and follow the instructions. Not all hardware manufacturers coordinate their driver updates with Microsoft, so you may have to check through them. While you're cleaning up, check for available updates for your applications. Finally, you should run a malware scan using your favorite virus checker. It makes no sense to optimize a PC unless it's clean and its software is current. In my October 2012 newsletter article (available at http://www.bcug.com in the Newsletter section), I introduced some Windows 7 utilities that facilitate exploring your PC hardware and its performance. It would be worthwhile to read this if you're unfamiliar with these, as you must know what you have before you can optimize it.
Obtain a system health report with the following sequence: tap the Windows key, type “perf”, select Performance Information and Tools, select Advanced tools, and select Generate a system health report. (You will need administrator privileges.) After running a short test, the program will present a wealth of information, probably far more than you can use. A useful section is Diagnostic Results; a portion of which appears in the screen-shot below.
The top item is in the Warnings section. It complains that I have no anti-virus program, even though Microsoft Security Essentials is present. I consider this adequate protection, and so I will ignore the message. As you can see, this PC passed all the basic system checks. The performance section shows that there are plenty of resources for the current load. While it is interesting to browse the other sections, the information they present is quite technical and unlikely to mean much unless you are an experienced professional.
It may be helpful to review any recent problems using the Reliability Monitor; tap the Windows key, type “rel”, select View reliability history, and you will see something like the screen-shot below.
Note the problem on 8/24, when Skype failed and I had to kill Windows with the power switch. Since I don't use Skype on this PC, the solution was to disable Skype's auto-starting at boot-up. (Hopefully, a future Skype update will correct this.) Before you begin reconfiguring Windows, be sure you correct any problems.
It's most important that you have enough RAM, which you can check by running the Resource Monitor: tap the Windows key, type “resource”, and select Resource Monitor. Its memory display shows how much RAM you are using. Put a load on the machine by starting several programs, as many as you normally run at once, and check that you are using substantially less than 100 per cent of your physical memory. If you are running out of memory, the most effective remedy is to increase RAM, but there are limits. 32-bit versions of Windows are limited to 4 Gbytes. The RAM limit for 64-bit versions depend on the edition: 8 Gbytes for Starter and Home Basic, 16 Gbytes for Home Premium, and 192 Gbytes for Professional and Enterprise/Ultimate. If increasing RAM isn't practical, you must limit how many procedures run simultaneously, especially those that start themselves automatically at boot-up. Check this with the System Configuration Tool: tap the Windows key, type “sys”, and select System Configuration. (You will need administrator privileges.) The startup tab shows the programs that start themselves. As shown below, I've disabled two instances of Skype from auto-starting.
A similar, but much more comprehensive tool, Autoruns, is available from the publisher of Windows 7 Inside Out, at http://wyio.com/2001. For an article on its use see http://www.windowsitpro.com/article/registry2/autoruns. Finally, you might try to compensate for too little RAM by tweaking virtual memory, but this is unlikely to help much.
Another thing to try is to reduce visual effects with the following: tap the Windows key, type “per”, select Performance Information and Tools, and select Adjust Visual Effects. You will see the Window below.
Here the Visual Effects are set to let Windows choose the options. If instead, you select Adjust for best performance, all the check marks will disappear, or you can select Custom to choose which particular affects you want to retain.
If your PC is a laptop, you may wish to adjust the power settings. Tap the Windows key, type “power”, and select Power Options to see the Window below. (You probably won't see the bottom option unless you tap the down-arrow to the right of Show additional plans.)
Just choose the plan you like. You can fine-tune your choice by clicking on the appropriate Change plan settings string.
Again, Windows 7 does a fine job of tuning a PC, making it unlikely that you will realize a large performance gain, regardless of what you do. For this reason, I haven't gone into the more elaborate procedures. If you wish to explore these, buy a good book such as Windows 7 Inside Out by Bott, Siechert, and Stinson, or Windows 7 Bible by Boyce.
By Dick Maybach
Brookdale Computer Users’ Group, NJ