Steps to restoring Windows' snappy performance

Many Windows slowdowns are due to an errant application that is hogging memory or CPU time. An example is provided by reader Gilbert Anderson. One of his co-workers gradually lost cursor control for longer and longer periods when closing Microsoft Word or Excel files. It got so bad that 19 seconds were required to regain control.

It turns out that the setup of Office 97 had installed the Outlook e-mail client, which defaults to "journaling" the date/time/duration-edited of files.

Anderson found more than 2700 entries logged, even though his friend had never used Outlook. Deleting these entries and clicking Tools-Options-Journal to turn off Outlook's logging immediately restored the original snap.

One way to find out about "hidden" processes like these is to run a free Microsoft utility called WinTop under Windows 95 or 98. You can do the same thing with the Processes tab in Windows NT 4.0.

This utility shows you how much CPU time various programs are consuming. If you find a process that's doing something unusual, you can take action.

WinTop is part of the Kernel Power Toys. It's downloadable from Follow the unzip instructions, then read Wintop.txt. The Microsoft Web page says the toys are only for Win 95, but I run WinTop under Win 98 all the time with no problem.

Another trick that can improve performance in Windows involves the swapfile. Windows creates this file to handle situations when your applications and data exceed the physical RAM.

Many readers configure their swapfile to be the same size all the time. This saves Windows the overhead of increasing and decreasing the swapfile's size as you work.

How big should you make the swapfile, though? I've seen recommendations that you make a fixed swapfile that is two to three times the size of your RAM. But the truth is, the less RAM you have, the larger the swapfile you need.

The best way to determine the proper size, therefore, is to make the size appropriate for your system. Here's a procedure (using Windows 98 as an example) to find the optimum size and lock your swapfile onto it:

1. In Win98, run Sysmon.exe. In the System Monitor window, look for a graph entitled Memory Manager: Swapfile Size. If this graph isn't visible, pull down the Edit menu, then click Add Item-Memory Manager-Swapfile Size-OK to make the graph appear.

2. Pull down the View menu and make sure Always On Top is selected. Then click Options-Chart and make sure an Update Interval of three seconds or so is selected.

3. Open your largest applications and their largest documents, such as word processing, spreadsheet and graphics files. Consume RAM as you would on a major project.

4. In the System Monitor window, click the Swapfile Size chart. The status line should show the Peak Value of your swapfile. Note this and close all your windows.

5. Create a defragmented swapfile by temporarily reducing your swapfile to zero bytes and defragmenting your hard drive. To change the swapfile size to zero, run the Control Panel's System applet. Click the Performance tab, then click the Virtual Memory button. Change the Minimum and Maximum values to zero. Restart Windows and defragment your drives.

6. Create a permanent swapfile at least as large as the Peak Value you found in Step 4. If you have two physical hard drives, specify the faster one for your swapfile.

Brian Livingston's latest book is Windows 98 Secrets (IDG Books)

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