35 tips and tricks to speed up your Vista PC

How to get a faster machine without shelling out cash

Windows Vista logo

No matter how you look at it, a PC never feels fast enough, and when it comes to Vista, everything seems to take too long.

Copying files, searching for documents, connecting to a wireless network and waiting for it to start are all frustrating.

The good news is that we've got a stonking selection of speed tips, tricks and tweaks for you.

Whether you're using a desktop or a laptop, here are some handy tweaks you can make, services you can turn off and much more to help you get things done faster.

1. Clean out old files
In Performance Information... click Open Disk Cleanup to delete redundant files. Then click Start, enter 'defrag' in the search box and press Enter, click Defragment Now, and wait while your hard drive is optimised.

2. Tame the Sidebar
The Sidebar is fun, but the more gadgets you add, the more system resources they'll consume and the slower your PC will be. Remove gadgets you don't need, or right-click on the Sidebar, select Properties and clear Start Sidebar to disable it altogether.

3. Disable unused devices
Click Control Panel > System and Maintenance > System > Device Manager, right-click hardware you don't need - an unused network adapter? - and select Disable. However, disable the wrong thing and your PC won't reboot, so if in doubt, leave it.

4. Disable unwanted services
Type 'Services' in the Search box and press Enter to see what's marked as 'Started' and running on your PC. Services you may not need that start anyway include the Distributed Link Tracking Client (which maintains NTFS file links over a network) and the Tablet PC Input Service (unless you're using a Tablet PC). Double-click a redundant service, set its Startup type to Disabled, and it won't be relaunched when you next boot. Again, some services are vital to your system, and disabling them will stop it from booting altogether. Take advice from sites like Black Viper, and if you're in doubt about something, leave it running.

5. Troubleshoot long boot times
If your PC is up to date, but you're suffering really slow boot times (over three minutes) then there could be a hardware or driver issue. Try removing everything apart from your monitor, keyboard and mouse. Or if you're currently unplugged from your network, reconnect and see what happens.

6. Check for errors in the Event Viewer
Find clues in the Event Viewer (type 'eventvwr' in the Search box and press Enter). Expand the Windows Logs part of the tree and browse the Applications and System logs. Scroll down to the last time you booted and look for error messages that might explain why your PC is performing poorly.

7. Remove system tray clutter
Take a look at all those icons in your system tray. For every essential item like your antivirus program, there will be something else, like QuickTime, which probably doesn't need to be there at all. Right-click or double-click that icon, look for ways you can tell the program not to load, and benefit from a little extra speed.

8. Check running tasks
Some background programs will run anyway, and could be tying up more memory or processor time than you realise. To find out, right-click the taskbar, select Task Manager > Processes. Now just watch for a while. Assuming you've sorted by CPU use, you'll now see background processes pop up as they run. If you spot something you don't recognise that's taking up 10 per cent or more CPU time, right-click it and select Properties to find out more. Once you've discovered which program owns this process, check the documentation to find out if you really need to run it.

9. Get rid of unwanted startup programs
Launch Windows Defender and click Tools > Software Explorer to see the programs that load when Windows starts. Don't automatically delete them all, but if you're positive a program is unnecessary, click it and select Disable to stop it loading.

10. Trim the fat with Autoruns
Every program that starts up with your PC extends the boot time. Some programs are essential, but others aren't. Trim them back with free program Autoruns. Autoruns has a whole series of tabs - each of these display start-up programs according to their category. Switch to the Logon tab. Before you remove anything, right-click on it and choose Search Online to find out more. Once you've been able to verify that a disabled entry isn't important, you can opt to remove it completely - to do so, right-click and choose Delete. Click Yes when prompted. This action should prevent future memory loss.

11. Update your drivers
If you are experiencing any kind of performance issues, checking you're running the latest drivers should always be one of your first ports of call. The drivers provide the link between the hardware inside your PC and what you experience, and companies constantly update them to iron out bugs and optimise performance. Search the manufacturer's web site for the latest editions of your drivers.

12. Tweak advanced settings
Even if there's no new driver for a device, you may still be able to squeeze more speed out of it. Click Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Device Manager, then expand the Network Adapters section, right-click an adapter and select Properties > Advanced. You'll probably find all kinds of settings that aren't available anywhere else, and it's much the same for any device with an Advanced tab.

13. Stop the Search index
The Indexing Service is a handy way to speed up searches, but if you rarely go hunting for files this can be turned off. Open Computer, right-click on the hard drive and clear the Index This Drive box.

14. Turn off legacy support
Launch REGEDIT, and browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\currentcontrolset\Control\filesystem. Set ntfsdisable8dot3namecreation to 1 and it won't create DOS-style shortened versions of file names; setting ntfsdisablelastaccessupdate means Windows won't update the Last Accessed date on a folder when you view it. Both tweaks will help improve drive performance a little, but could break old software.

15. Get more speed from your SATA drives
You can squeeze a little extra performance from a SATA drive by going to Control Panel > Performance and Maintenance > System > Device Manager > Hard Drives, then right-clicking your drive, selecting Policies and checking Enable Advanced Performance. Beware: Microsoft says this increases the chance of data loss if the drive loses power. Only do this if you have backup like a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) or are willing to take the risk.

16. Plain but speedy
Click Control Panel > System and Maintenance > Performance Information and Tools > Adjust visual effects > Adjust for best performance to speed up PCs with a sluggish video card. Check Enable transparent glass if that's a little too plain.

17. Give ReadyBoost a go
Slower PCs may benefit marginally from using a USB drive as a ReadyBoost drive - but it's no substitute for adding more RAM. Before you start you need to make sure your USB memory card is up to the job. You'll need a minimum of 256MB storage and a maximum of 4GB, and it needs to be capable of specific speeds: 2.5MB per second for random reads and 1.75MB per second for random writes. ReadyBoost will test your memory when you first plug it in and, if it's not up to scratch, ReadyBoost will refuse to use it.

18. Remove SP1 uninstall files
If you're running short of space and Service Pack 1 is causing you no trouble at all, and you're sure you'll never want to remove it, then use the tool that Microsoft has provided to clear the 800MB of uninstall files. Simply type vsp1cln.exe into Start Search and press Enter to launch it. It'll erase your old files, free up some disk space and you can get on with enjoying your faster, more reliable PC.

19. Roll back to a faster, happier time
System Restore enables you to roll back Windows Vista to an earlier point in time without affecting your files. You can run it from within Windows Vista or in Safe mode by clicking Start > Control Panel > System and Maintenance > System > System Protection > System Restore.

20. Turn off System Restore
In Windows Vista you can set restore points, so you can return to a state of PC peace if things get a little stormy. However, setting these points takes lots of disk space and processing power, and so if you suffer poor performance turning off this safeguard might give you the extra boost you need. Be sure to back up regularly, though - and strike tip 19 off your list if you do turn off System Restore.