Podcomplex PC Guide | Windows Optimisation Tweaks

processor scheduling 1. Prioritise Background Services

This is an essential tweak for musicians, but not for the general Windows user. As most musicians will be using ASIO, it is vital to prioritise this in your system. To do this, right-click on 'My Computer', then select 'Properties'. In the 'Advanced' tab, go to Performance>Settings, click on the 'Advanced' tab here, and change the processor scheduling from 'Programs' to 'Background Services' using the radio button.

Set Page File Size 2. Set Page File Size

In the same tab as the 'Processor Scheduling' tweak above, you will find a section entitled 'Virtual Memory'. Click the 'Change' button to modify your page file size.

The Page File is used by Windows to simulate RAM when actual physical RAM is running low - hence the term 'virtual memory'. It is also commonly referred to as a paging file or swap file. For best performance, you should set the initial size and the maximum size to the same value - if you have enough hard drive space, the ideal would be 4095MB.

However, I would recommend that you do not set it lower than 2GB - running out of virtual memory is definitely a bad thing, whereas most modern PCs have multi-gigabyte hard drives which can comfortably devote a couple of gigs to the page file.

Of course, you should have as much physical RAM in your PC as possible - it is one of the components of your machine that has an immense impact on performance and can be easily upgraded. At least 1GB is recommended for music applications.

If you have more than one physical hard drive, you can achieve better page file performance by putting it on the drive that Windows isn't booting from - that is, you should have your page file and your Windows installation on completely separate physical hard drives.

To find out more about virtual memory, read Alex Nichol's article here, or go to RojakPot's Virtual Memory guide.

Disable Visual Effects 3. Disable Visual Effects

Staying in the 'Performance Options' menu, click on the 'Visual Effects' tab. Here you should select the radio button which says 'Adjust for Best Performance'. This will ensure that Windows doesn't waste any of your precious PC resources just to make the interface look 'prettier'.

Disable Error Reporting 4. Disable Error Reporting

If you close the 'Performance Options' menu, you will be in the 'System Properties/Advanced' tab again. Here you can click on 'Error Reporting' and use the radio button to disable error reporting.

This will not boost performance as such, but it will stop Windows from asking you to send an error report any time something goes wrong with a program you've been running. You can leave the 'But notify me when critical errors occur' checkbox ticked.

Disable Automatic Restart 5. Disable Automatic Restart

In the 'System Properties/Advanced' tab, click on the 'Settings' button in the 'Startup and Recovery' section.

In the 'System Failure' section, uncheck the box marked 'Automatically Restart'.

Disable Remote Access 6. Disable Remote Access

In the 'System Properties' menu, click on the 'Remote' tab. Here you can uncheck the Remote Assistance and Remote Desktop boxes.

Unless you specifically need to access your PC from another computer, you should disable this capability.

Remove Screensaver and Wallpaper 7. Remove Screensaver and Wallpaper

Another unnecessary visual effect is desktop wallpaper - to help keep Windows nice and brisk, don't use any wallpaper. Right-click on the desktop, select 'Properties' and in the 'Desktop' tab, select 'None' as your background.

While we're here, you should also disable your screensaver. Go to the 'Screen Saver' tab, and select 'None'.

Also, you should keep the number of icons (shortcuts, folders etc.) on your desktop to a minimum - preferably none - as these also need to be loaded by Windows. Any shortcuts you need can be stored in your quick launch menu (just to the right of the big 'Start' button).

Disable Power Management and Hibernation 8. Disable Power Management and Hibernation

Still on the 'Screen Saver' tab, click on the 'Power' button to access the monitor power menu. Here you can set your power scheme to 'Home/Office Desk'.

Now make sure that the drop-down menus for 'Turn off monitor', 'Turn off hard disks' and 'System Standby' are all set to 'Never'.

Now go to the 'Hibernate' tab and ensure that the 'Enable Hibernation' checkbox is not ticked.

Turn Off Drive Indexing 9. Turn Off Drive Indexing

By default, Windows indexes all hard drives to enable you to find files more quickly - in practice, however, this is only beneficial for extremely complex searches and will not benefit most users. Disabling this feature will increase your system's overall performance.

To do this, simply open Windows Explorer (right-click on Start and select Explore). Then right-click on each hard drive in your system and select 'Properties'. Here you should uncheck the box marked 'Allow indexing service to index this disk for fast file searching'.

Also, never use compression on your drives, as this entails a significant performance hit. Make sure the 'Compress drive to save disk space' box is left unticked.

Hard Drive Write Caching 10. Hard Drive Write Caching

Windows XP normally uses write caching on all drives - this means that a small area of system memory (cache) is set aside for data to be stored in before being written to the disk itself. For most users, this results in optimal hard disk performance.

However, if you are recording (for example) a particularly long piece of audio, then the cache may be filled before the recording is finished - at which point the contents of the cache are suddenly dumped onto the hard drive, possibly resulting in dropouts and glitches in the sound file.

Depending on how you use your drive, you may find that write caching either improves or reduces performance. You can experiment for yourself to find out which suits you best.

To enable write caching, go to the 'Hardware' tab in the hard drive properties menu (see previous point), select your hard drive from the list and click 'Properties'. Now click on the 'Policies' tab and select 'Optimise for performance'.

To disable write caching, select 'Optimise for quick removal'. It is always a good idea to disable write caching for removable flash drives, and also for external USB/FireWire hard drives if you plan on plugging them in and out a lot.

Reduce Recycle Bin Size 11. Reduce Recycle Bin Size

In Windows Explorer, right-click on the recycling bin and select 'Properties'. By default, Windows allows the recycle bin to use 10% of your drive space. This can lead to a huge waste of space on large hard drives - 2% should be perfectly adequate for most users.

On the 'Global' tab, use the slider to set the recycle bin size to a suitable value - you will need to select 'Use one setting for all drives' first.

Another thing I find really useful is not having Windows ask for confirmation every time I want to delete something. To achieve this blissful condition, simply uncheck the 'Display delete confirmation dialog' box.

Turn Off Network Folders 12. Turn Off Network Folders

Staying in Windows Explorer, click on the 'Tools' tab and select 'Folder Options'.

In the 'View' tab, you can uncheck the box beside 'Automatically search for network folders and printers'. If your computer is not on a network, there is no need to have this option enabled, and turning it off should slightly speed up your browsing.

I also recommend that you select the radio button to 'Show hidden files and folders'. This is not a performance tweak, but enables you to see all the files that are present on your machine, which can be useful when seeking out spyware or engaging in other troubleshooting activities.

Also, it may be useful to uncheck the box which says 'Hide extensions for known file types'. This will allow you to view and modify file extensions (such as .wav, .avi and so on).

Disable Offline Files 13. Disable Offline Files

If you are not on a network, or if you don't need to access offline files, then you should also disable this feature.

In Control Panel, select 'Folder Options', go to the 'Offline Files' tab and uncheck the 'Enable offline files' box.

Disable or Modify System Restore 14. Disable or Modify System Restore

Windows XP has a built-in recovery system whereby it creates 'restore points' to which you can revert if something goes wrong with a driver/program installation. While this is a good safety net to have for most people, it can consume a lot of system resources and experienced Windows users may want to turn it off. To do this, click on 'Start>Control Panel>System' and go to the 'System Restore' tab. System Restore can also be found at 'Start>All Programs>Accessories>System Tools'. Here you can choose to disable system restore entirely, or you can simply reduce the maximum amount of hard disk space allocated to the service. To do this, go to 'Settings' and adjust the slider for 'Drive Space Usage' to about 5% - you can set this according to the size of your drive, but don't go below 1GB.

Disable System Sounds 15. Disable System Sounds

An important tweak for musicians, but is beneficial to all Windows users. System sounds are the Windows bleeps that play when a specific event occurs, such as when a warning dialog box appears. These use up resources, can ruin a perfectly good recording by bleeping in the middle of a take, and may even reset the sample rate on your sound card.

To disable system sounds, click on 'Sounds and Audio Devices' in 'Control Panel' and select the 'Sounds' tab. In the drop-down menu for sound schemes, make sure 'No Sounds' is selected.

In the 'Volume' tab, you may want to tick the box which says 'Place volume icon in the taskbar'. This will place a shortcut to the Windows volume control in the taskbar for quick access to the system volume controls, which can be useful to some users.

Do Not Map Through Soundcard 16. Do Not Map Through Soundcard

To prevent non-music applications from trying to play sounds through your professional or semi-pro soundcard, you should enable this feature. If you do not use your system for music production, you can ignore this tweak.

Go to 'Control Panel>Sounds and Audio Devices>Hardware Tab>(select your soundcard from the list)>Properties>Audio Devices>(select your soundcard from the list)>Properties', and check the 'Do not map through this device' checkbox.

Disable Automatic Updates 17. Disable Automatic Updates

By default, Windows XP will periodically check on the Internet for the latest Windows updates. However, it is not necessary to have this service constantly running in the background - you can disable it, and still check for updates manually when it suits you. In Control Panel, select 'Automatic Updates' and select 'Turn off automatic updates'.

Disable Fast User Switching 18. Disable Fast User Switching

This feature basically allows one or more users to log in without a previous user having to log out first. This means that several users can be logged into one machine at the same time, and all programs in use by these users will be open concurrently - which causes a significant drain on the processor.

Unless you specifically require this facility, you should disable it.

Still in Control Panel, click on 'User Accounts', then select 'Change the way users log on or off'. Now you can disable 'Fast user switching' and apply changes.

Disable Internet Time Synchronisation 19. Disable Internet Time Synchronisation

Another feature that you could do without is Windows' obsession with always having the correct time.

To do away with this, click on 'Date and Time' in Control Panel and in 'Internet Time', uncheck the box which says 'Automatically synchronize with an internet time server'.

Disable Desktop Cleanup Wizard 20. Disable Desktop Cleanup Wizard

Windows XP will try to clean up your desktop for you every couple of months - you can disable this feature as it is fairly useless.

In Control Panel, select 'Display', go to the 'Desktop' tab and click the 'Customise Desktop' button. Here you can deselect the 'Run desktop cleanup wizard every 60 days' checkbox.

Remove Unnecessary Windows Components 21. Remove Unnecessary Windows Components

Many components that are installed automatically with Windows are of little or no use to many users and may be removed.

Before you can remove these components, you will need to edit the 'sysoc.inf' file which can be found in your Windows/inf folder (typically C:\Windows\inf).

If you can't see this file, make sure the 'Show hidden files and folders' option is enabled (see tweak number 11).

Open 'sysoc.inf' using a text editor such as Notepad. Perform a 'find and replace' for the word "hide" and replace "hide" with nothing. Save the file and exit Notepad.

In Control Panel, click on 'Add or remove programs' and select 'Add or remove windows components'. You will now be able to select all the components you wish to get rid of - this all depends on what your requirements are.

Here are a few components you might want to uninstall:

  • Accessibility options
  • Indexing service
  • Update root certificates
  • Windows automatic updates
  • Windows messenger
  • Games

Disable NTFS Access Date Logging 22. Disable NTFS Access Date Logging

This tweak requires that you manually edit your registry, and as such is only recommended for advanced Windows users.

If your hard disk is formatted using the NTFS system, then widows constantly keeps a log of dates that files and folders are accessed on. Disabling this logging can improve hard disk performance. However, some third-party disk defragmenters use these logs to prioritise their defragmentation routines, so if you are running such a program do not disable this feature. If not, you may proceed with this tweak.

The registry is a database of core program and operating system settings, and should only be altered with the utmost caution and forethought.

To access the registry editor, click on 'Start>Run' and type "regedit" (without quotes) in the text entry box.

In the editor, go to [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\FileSystem] and set the DWORD below as shown:


If this DWORD does not exist already, you can create it by right-clicking and selecting 'New>DWORD value'.

Disable Built-in CD Burning 23. Disable Built-in CD Burning

If you use a third-party program such as Ahead Nero for burning CDs and DVDs, you can disable the built-in burning feature in Windows XP.

In the registry editor, go to


and set the DWORD below as shown:


Disable Balloon Tips 24. Disable Balloon Tips

When Windows wants to tell you something, an info balloon appears in the bottom-right of your screen. If you find these annoying, you can disable them with this tweak.

In the registry editor, go to


and set the DWORD below as shown:


Turn Off System Beeps 25. Turn Off System Beeps

Irrespective of your sound settings, or whether you have a sound card at all, Windows sometimes uses the PC's internal speaker to make an annoying beeping noise. You can disable this action by editing the registry.

In the registry editor, go to


and set the DWORD below as shown:


Disable Windows Shortcut Key 26. Disable Windows Shortcut Key

If you find that the Windows key (between Ctrl and Alt) is getting in the way, you can disable it by editing the registry.

In the editor, go to [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\Keyboard Layout]

and create a new Binary value called 'Scancode Map'.

Then, double-click on this new binary value and enter the following in the value data box. Keep the exact order shown - spaces are not necessary, and all the 0s are zeroes.

00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 03 00 00 00 00 00 5B E0 00 00 5C E0 00 00 00 00

So now you should have a new key:

Scancode Map=
00 00 00 00 00 00 00 00 03 00 00 00 00 00 5B E0 00 00 5C E0 00 00 00 00

You will need to reboot for this change to take effect. To revert to your original configuration, simply delete this entry and reboot.