How is Vista like an over-budget Hollywood movie? Both have lots of visual effects they really don't need. Sure, it's kind of pretty when you roll your cursor over an item and it glows, or when you close a window and it becomes transparent. But pretty comes at a price. Each of those actions helps slow down your PC and affects its performance.
Since Vista came out, users have found that one of the sure-fire simplest ways to get Vista going faster is just to turn off those darn effects. (Don't worry, they can be turned on again if you really miss them, but I bet you won't.)
Turning Off Visual Effects to Improve Speed
First, open the Control Panel, and then click on the Performance Information and Tools feature. On the left-hand side, you should find the option "Adjust visual effects." Click on it. (A window will probably appear asking permission to go ahead; if it does, click Yes.)
Now, you'll see a new window which will list Vista's visual bells and whistles with check boxes showing which ones are turned on. To uncheck them all, simply select "Adjust for best performance" at the top of the box. If there's some features you really can't live without, you can now go through the list and manually re-select them.
With all that eye candy gone, your eyes might take a few moments to adjust to the Plain Jane appearance – but trust us, the new interface might be homely, but it is fast.
Many PCs are slow for innocent reasons: not having enough RAM or having too many programs installed. But sometimes slowdown is a sign your computer has been hijacked and forced to join an army. A zombie army.
It sounds like the plot of a direct-to-DVD horror movie, but it's actually the latest, and most dangerous, threat to emerge from the internet criminal underworld.
How Your Computer Becomes a Zombie
Zombification, just like in the movies, happens quickly. According to Sophos, a security firm, it only takes as little as five minutes of internet exposure for unprotected computers to catch the infection.
It happens like this: criminals create programs that scan the internet for vulnerable computers. Once they find one, they release 'bots' – programs that infect your computer. These are extremely sophisticated and hard-to-detect nasties that exploit weaknesses in Windows that make them incredibly hard to find. In one study, a top-of-the-line anti-virus program missed a whopping 80% of all infections.
After bots hit your computer, they... kill other bots or infections. That's right, most bots carry their own anti-malware code to eliminate all rivals. Once they're the only ones left, the real damage begins.
Bots make your zombified computer (also known as a drone) join up with other zombie PCs, to create an undead army known as a botnet. These botnets are controlled by a botnet herder - think of him as a zombie master – who often has hundreds or thousands of computers at his command. With this unprecedented computing power at his fingertips, he's ready for some serious criminal mischief.
What's So Bad about Being a Zombie?
Botnets are responsible for almost all of the illegal spam cluttering the world's inboxes, and they do everything from stealing financial information to shutting down websites by overloading their bandwidth in Distributed Denial of Service Attacks.
You won't know this is going on, but since your computer is busy committing crimes, it'll be a lot slower doing all the legitimate stuff you want it to do.
Worse still, the bot is probably spying on you. Most of these programs record keystrokes (it's called keylogging) so they can steal passwords. Keylogging is usually triggered by certain actions – such as when you visit your bank's website.
Prevent or Kill the Zombie Infection
A good, updated commercial anti-virus tool can detect some of the bots and eliminate them. But the best offense is a good defense. According to Shadowserver, a respected, non-profit security watchdog group, the worldwide global menace of botnets could be stopped in its tracks if more computers were properly protected.
Here's what they recommend:
- Turn your firewall on.
- Use a trusted commercial anti-virus tool that routinely updates. If your subscription is cancelled, it's worth renewing it.
- Make sure you regularly get the latest updates for Windows and all your applications – criminals are working 24 hours a day, every day, discovering new exploits to hijack your PC, and you have to be as well-defended as possible.
- Cross your fingers. It's tough out there.
This spring, you'll probably be getting rid of clutter that just gets in the way – and nowhere is this more important than on your PC with Vista. Many users who have switched to Vista, or have bought a machine with Vista pre-installed, find their computer frustratingly slow, especially when booting up. But don't despair: by turning off or getting rid of a few unwanted features, PC experts have shown you can say hasta la Vista to slowdown:
1) Jettison Trash Apps
Vongo? Xaudio? You probably haven't heard of these junk programs, but more likely than not, your computer comes from the manufacturer full of gimmicky software that gets activated when you start up your computer. And each garbage program activated means it takes that much longer for your machine to get going.
To sweep out the clutter, and lower start up times, click on Start, and there type msconfig in the Search bar. Click on the msconfig app, go to the tab called Startup, and then un-check the boxes of all the programs you don't need. You can also use 3rd party program like My Faster PC to remove startup items that slow your PC.(Note: be sure not to deactivate essential Microsoft programs, your firewall or anti-virus software. Before making any changes, it's always good idea to make a system restore point in the System file – found on the Control Panel – in a feature called System protections. Once there, simply select the drive you want to make a restore point for, and hit Create.)
2) Get Out of Hibernation
A huge memory sink is the "hibernate" feature – a kind of sleep function that saves power. It's useful if you have a laptop and you don't have many chances of plugging in your computer throughout the day. But hibernating has a serious drawback: it requires Vista to take a "snapshot" of your computer's state before hibernating, and this eats up massive amounts of memory. If you don't use hibernation – or if you have a desktop – disable it! To do so, click on Start and type cmd in the Search box. Right-click on the cmd application, and select, Run as administrator. In the old-school command prompt that pops up, type powercfg -h off, and press Enter. (To turn hibernate back on, simply type powercfg -h in the same command prompt window.)
3) Stop Searching
Arguably, Vista's most hated new feature is "indexing." Windows indexes, or tags, virtually every file on your machine to make it easier to find during a search, but indexing can really slow down your computer, especially if you don't have a lot of RAM or you like to keep multiple programs open.
But you can still keep your search feature while making Vista run much faster by limiting what files Windows can index. Simply open the Control Panel, and look under Indexing Options. While there, uncheck the boxes of all the programs you seldom run searches on. (If you never use search or are really hankering for a speed boost, you can disable Windows Search altogether; to do so, simply just type Services in the Start Search bar, scroll down to and right-click on Windows Search. Under Properties, go to Startup, and switch it to Disabled.)
4) Lose the Fonts
Like Thoreau said, "Simplfiy, simplify" – the basic rule for speeding up your computer is eliminating or disabling all the stuff you don't use. And surprisingly, one of the biggest memory guzzlers is – fonts! Vista only needs to recognize about 200 or so fonts for optimal performance, but many computers can recognize almost 500. For those who don't feel like erasing all those fonts by hand, computer expert Sue Fisher has designed a free program, The Font Thing, that can help you reduce your fonts to a manageable number.
5) When All Else Fails, Buy More RAM
RAM is your computer's "working memory." It's what your computer uses to keep track of all the active stuff it's doing, like the game you're playing or the document you're editing. Vista has a lot of bells and whistles, but all those little features come at a cost – Vista has a monstrous appetite for memory. Some budget computers come pre-installed with Vista despite only having 512 MB of RAM, well shy of the 1 GB recommended by Microsoft (some experts even think 2 GB is a more accurate minimum requirement). If you've tried all the above tips and still have a slow computer, you might want to consider splurging on a RAM upgrade.
Most computer users have had the experience: right out of the box, your PC is a fast and mean machine. But after a few months or maybe a couple of years, you notice it gets slower and slower. It's not old enough to be obsolete, but it constantly crashes, freezes or hangs, making a task as simple as checking your email a frustrating chore. Luckily, computer experts have identified a few common and easily fixed causes of a sluggish PC:
As you surf the web, open emails and download software, your computer can get exposed to viruses, worms or other programs designed to damage it or even steal personal information. These malicious programs muck up performance and compete for memory with web browsers, games, word processors and other software you're using. So scan your system with a reliable anti-malware program like Ad-Aware and purge it of unwanted intruders. This will improve your performance, and protect your identity.
If you're like me, you might find it convenient to save a lot of stuff to the desktop. But this convenience has a price: each item on the desktop is another thing your computer has to keep track of. After a few months of saving stuff to the desktop, you're looking at significant slowdown. So a little spring cleaning – organizing the desktop and placing items in their proper files – can actually speed up your machine.
Dying hard drive
Nothing can bring your system to a halt faster than a dying hard drive. End-stage hard disks don't map memory sectors correctly, which can cause slowdown, crashes and other annoyances. Hard drives can last up to three years, but as with humans, stress can shorten their lifespan. According to a massive study undertaken by Google in 2007, overworked hard drives can fail within the first year of use. So if you're maxing out your disk's memory, you might want to consider getting a hardware upgrade.
Over time as you save stuff to your computer, files can become fragmented – that is, the computer saves bits of the files to different places on your hard drive. Your computer then has to search in different places for parts of the same program, causing slowdown. As this is a problem Microsoft has known about for years, they've included a free Disk Defragmenter with Vista and most versions of Windows. To use it, simply go to your Computer file and right click on your hard drive. Select Properties, and then look under the Tool tab for the program, and start de-fragging.
Windows operating systems keep track of many changes in a central database called the registry. Over time, the registry begins to fill up with redundant information, configurations from programs you no longer use, and errors deliberately put their by viruses trying to hijack your machine. Cleaning your registry with a reliable program – or if you're advanced enough, going in there and removing unwanted stuff yourself – can do wonders for your slow PC's performance. While some computers will need professional maintenance, following this advice might be all you need to get your computer back to its original, out-of-the-box speed.