More Windows speed tweaks

Shut down System Restore, clear out your system tray, dump themes, and disable other unnecessary Windows components.

On Monday I described some simple ways to improve the performance of Windows XP and Vista . Since there's no such thing as a too-fast Windows PC, I'm returning to the subject with a handful of additional Windows speedup tips.

Disable remote services: If you never need to access the system over a network, nor have anyone else do so (for help troubleshooting a problem, for example), you can free up some Windows resources by turning these features off. In Windows XP Pro, click Start > Control Panel > System and Maintenance (in Category view) > System > Remote, uncheck the options under Remote Assistance and Desktop Sharing, and click OK (note that these settings aren't available in XP Home).

To disable these remote features in Vista, press the Windows key and type system, press the down arrow until System is highlighted, and press Enter. Click Remote settings in the left pane, and under the Remote tab in the System Properties dialog box, uncheck the option under Remote Assistance. In the Remote desktop section, click Don't allow connections to this computer, and click OK.

The Remote Access settings in Windows' System Properties dialog box
Disable remote-access features in the System Properties dialog box to improve Windows' performance.

Deactivate System Restore: If you prefer to use a backup method other than the one built into Windows, you can disable this feature. Just keep in mind that if you go completely backup-less, you'll lose data. Maybe not today, and maybe not next week, but someday. Eventually Windows and your applications will crash--guaranteed.

In Windows XP you can shut off System Restore by clicking Start > Control Panel > Performance and Maintenance (in Category view) > System > System Restore. Check Turn off System Restore, and click OK. Next, return to Control Panel and choose Administrative Tools > Services, click or double-click System Restore Service, select Stop, and close the window.

The System Restore options in Windows XP's System Properties dialog box
Disable System Restore in Windows XP by checking this option in the System Properties dialog box.

Do the same in Vista by pressing the Windows key, typing backup and restore center, and pressing Enter. Click Create a restore point or change settings in the left pane, uncheck your hard drive under Automatic restore points on the System Protection tab, click Turn Off System Restore at the scary warning, click OK, and close the Backup and Restore Center.

Turn off unneeded apps in the system tray: Most of the start-up apps that have slipped their icons into your system tray are superfluous. To disable them, right-click the icon, choose its Settings option (it may be called something similar), and uncheck the option to start the program with Windows.

Lose the themes: If you followed the advice in my previous post to set Windows for best performance in the Visual Effects dialog box, you disabled themes, but you didn't stop the service associated with them. In XP, click Start > Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Services, click or double-click Themes, and choose Stop.

Vista's Aero interface is one of the few things that most people (including me) like about the operating system, but you can improve your system's performance by going with the old-style Windows look. To do so, press the Windows key, type personalization, and press Enter. Click Theme, choose Windows Classic in the drop-down menu, click OK, and close the Personalization applet.

The Themes options in Windows Vista's Personalization dialog box
Shut down Vista's Aero interface by choosing Windows Classic in the Themes drop-down menu of the Personalization dialog box.

Uninstall the Windows components you don't use: In XP, click Start > Control Panel > Add or Remove Programs, choose Add/Remove Windows Components in the left pane, uncheck the components you can do without (MSN Explorer is a prime candidate), click Next and then Finish when the components are removed, and close Add or Remove Programs.

To get rid of these space-wasters in Vista, press the Windows key, type programs and features, press Enter, click Turn Windows features on or off in the left pane, uncheck the options you don't need, and click OK.

Monday: move your e-mail out of Outlook and onto your hard drive or other local storage.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.


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