How to Speed Up Windows Vista

SP1 may not give your system much more oomph, but there are other ways to speed Vista up. Spending a few minutes (or a few dollars) optimizing your Vista PC can help it get its groove on.

Get your cache value by plugging a seldom-used USB flash drive in your system and letting Vista do the rest to improve performance.
Get flashy: If you have an extra USB flash drive that you don't use for much else, Vista can cache disk reads on it, thereby boosting performance beyond what you'd get from your hard disk alone. Simply insert your flash drive into a USB 2.0 slot. If the drive is fast enough, a prompt will appear, asking whether you want to open the folder for the drive or use it to 'Speed up my system using Windows ReadyBoost' (see the screen shot at left). Choose the latter option, and follow the remaining prompts. When you're calculating how much space to set aside for ReadyBoost to use, Microsoft recommends that you let ReadyBoost use one to three times the amount of RAM on your system.

Play your cards right: USB thumb drives aren't the only way to boost system performance--fortunately, since USB memory sticks protruding from a computer (particularly a laptop) are easy to dislodge, and they can be a pain to remove and stow for traveling. If your PC has a reader for SD (Secure Digital) or CompactFlash cards, you can use those media in place of a USB stick to handle your ReadyBoost needs.

In Video: How to Improve Vista's Performance

Seize control: Speeding up Vista isn't enough; you need to prevent the OS from slowing you down. The annoying Vista pop-ups that ask you to 'Allow' or 'Deny' many actions are examples of Vista's User Account Control at work. The process makes you safer, but your productivity may suffer if you must constantly respond to UAC's demands. For ways to reduce the intrusiveness of this feature, see "Annoyance Buster: Make Vista's User Account Control Work for You."

See if your hardware is slowing you down: In Explorer, right-click Computer and choose Properties. Next to 'Rating', click Windows Experience Index. The item with the lowest score is the biggest drain on your getting a better Vista experience. For example, if the lowest score is attributed to Graphics, it may be time to invest in a new graphics card.

Sayonara, Sidebar! Prevent gadgets from slowing down an already sluggish system by preventing Sidebar from starting with Windows.
Sideline sidebar: If you don't need the little "gadget" doo-dads in the Vista sidebar, get rid of them. Right-click the Windows Sidebar icon in the taskbar tray and choose Exit. Open the Control Panel and launch Windows Sidebar Properties in the 'Appearance and Personalization' category. Uncheck Start sidebar when Windows starts and click OK (see the screen shot at left).

What would Windows do? If you have an older or less capable video card, click Start, type systempropertiesperformance, and press Enter. Click Continue if prompted by User Account Control. Select Adjust for best performance. Or cherry-pick the options you can't live without. (Fewer checkmarks mean better performance.) Click OK.

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