Tweak Vista for maximum gaming performance

Play with settings and edit the registry to get the best from Vista

Windows Vista Windows Vista Aero

Windows Vista was heralded by its creators as being a speedy operating system. However, it didn't take long for users to realise that Vista's performance was generally no better than Windows XP, and in many cases was actually worse.

Working with a PC that isn't performing to its maximum potential can be a frustrating experience, but this is particularly true if the machine is used for gaming. But there are a huge number of tweaks that can be applied to help make working with Vista less exasperating.

Even if you're working with a high spec rig, the chances are there's s a great deal that can be done to help improve performance and reduce boot times.

Thankfully, increasing performance need not mean rushing out to the shops to spend hard earned cash on potentially expensive hardware upgrades – or even going so far as buying a whole new setup.

There are a huge number of settings built into Windows which can be adjusted to help speed things up. Some of these are fairly easy to locate – such as in the Control Panel – while others are secreted in hidden dialogs or require editing the registry. Although not every one of the individual tweaks covered here will provide a huge speed boost, used in combination with each other, the overall effect can be very impressive.

There's no denying that working with Vista can sometimes be frustrating, but with a little time and effort it's possible to regain control, banish some of the more wasteful features and earn yourself a faster computer into the bargain. Lets get tweaking!

Adjust file indexing

Vista's file indexing sounds like a good idea in theory: maintaining an index of files contained on the hard drive along with details of their properties to help speed up searching. But in reality searching for files is something that most people do on a very infrequent basis, so it's wasteful for Windows to spend any time monitoring files when that processor time could be put to much better use.

It's worth tweaking the settings so that only relevant file types are indexed. Open the Indexing Options Control Panel and click the 'Modify' button to choose which folders should be included in the index. Click 'OK' followed by 'Advanced' and use the 'File Types' tab to select which file extensions should be included.

If the feature is not needed, head to the Programs and Features Control Panel and click the 'Turn Windows features on. Untick the box labelled 'Indexing Service' and click 'OK' before restarting Windows. File indexing can also be disabled - more on that later.

Configure page file

Vista generally does a good job of maintaining the page file so it's the optimum size, and it is a good idea to leave its size with automatic settings. However, if you have more than one hard drive, it's advisable to move the page file so that it's located on the fastest drive, and even if only one drive is available, moving it to a separate partition to Windows can help to improve system performance.

Go to Start, right-click 'Computer' and select 'Properties' before clicking the 'Advanced system settings' link to the left of the dialog. On the 'Advanced' tab, click the first of the three settings buttons and move to the 'Advanced' tab. Click the 'Change' button and untick the box labelled 'Automatically manage paging file size for all drives' before clicking 'Set'. Select the entry for the C: drive and then select the 'No paging file' option. Now select another drive or partition from the list at the top of the dialog, select the 'System managed size' option and click 'Set' then 'Okay' it.

Most users understand the important of defragmenting hard drives to keep them performing optimally, but the standard defragmentation process does not touch the page file. One way to get around this is to temporarily disable the page file, run the standard defragmentation tool and then recreate the page file.

Cleanup startup

Programs which are configured to run automatically with Windows are something of a double-edged sword. While a program which starts with Windows is immediately available, or may help other apps to start more quickly when they are required, it can also increase boot times and reduce the amount of memory which is available to other programs.

The first place to look for possible candidates for deletion is the Startup group of the Start menu. Expand this submenu and simply right-click a shortcut before deleting it to prevent the associated program from starting the next time Windows boots. This method makes it possible to tame a number of startup programs, but it's likely that there are many more hiding in the registry.

Launch the Registry Editor by pressing the Windows and R keys simultaneously, type 'regedit' and press Enter. Use the Explorer-style tree structure in the left hand pane to navigate to 'HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run' and take a look through the list of programs displayed to the right. Take care not to jump in and delete everything that appears here as it is likely that at least a few of the entries are required – such as antivirus software.

Many programs can be easily identified from either their name or the entries path, but if anything is unclear search for the file name online to help determine what its purpose is and whether you can live without it. Now pay a visit to 'HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run' to see if there's anything else that can be deleted.

Disable time stamps

Hard drives that have been formatted as NTFS partition perform better than their FAT 32 counterparts, but there are a couple of features of the format that can hinder performance slightly. Unless a much older operating system needs to access files on the Vista machine, there's no need for Windows to create 8.3 file names for files.

In a similar vein, the time stamps which are added to files on an NTFA drive, whether they are accessed or not, are little more than a waste of resources for most people. Thankfully, both of these features can be disabled by editing the registry.

Launch the Registry Editor and navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\ FileSystem. In the right-hand pane, double-click the key named 'NtfsDisable8dot3NameCreation' and assign it a value of '1'. Do the same for 'NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate'.

Uninstall remote differential compression

Remote Differential Compression is a feature used in network file synchronisation to help minimise the amount of data that needs to be transferred. It's not generally a concern on a standard home network.

To uninstall this Vista feature, open the 'Programs and Features' Control Panel and click the 'Turn Windows features on or off' link. Untick the box next to the entry for Remote Differential Compression and then click 'OK.'

Disable Aero and transparency effects

Right-click an empty section of the desktop and select 'Personalize' before clicking the 'Theme' link. By opting to use the old style Classic look of Windows, Aero is disabled helping to speed up general operations.

If you'd prefer to keep the Vista look, but disable Aero effects, click 'Window Color and Appearance' and untick the box labelled 'Enable transparency'.

Boost SATA drive performance

To ensure that SATA hard drives are delivering the best possible performance, open the Device Manager by pressing the Windows and R keys simultaneously, then type 'devmgmt. msc' and press Enter.

In the list of hardware devices that's displayed, double-click the 'Disk drives' entry to expand it and then double-click the listing for your hard drive. Move to the 'Policies' tab and you should see that 'Enable write caching on the disk' is selected by default. By ticking the box labelled 'Enable advanced performance', drive performance can be increased, but there's an increased risk of data loss in the event of power failure.

If an external drive – such as a USB drive – is plugged in and is not removed, its performance can be improved by indicating that it will be permanently connected. After selecting the relevant drive from Device Manager, move to the Policies tab and ensure that the 'Optimize for performance' option is selected before clicking 'OK'.

Disable system sounds

It may well seem insignificant, but if Windows plays a sound at startup or to accompany various events, valuable system resources are being wasted. Open the Sound Control Panel and move to the Sounds tab. From the drop down menu select 'No Sounds' and indicate whether the current sound scheme should be saved. Also untick the box labelled 'Play Windows Startup sound'.

Other installed software, such as instant messaging tools, can feature sound effects, so it's worth looking through the preferences of these programs to disable anything that's not really needed.

Disable System Restore

System Restore is a useful feature of Windows. It is, however, also a hogger of resources and, providing an alternative manual backup method has been put in place, it can be safely disabled.

Open the System Control Panel and click the 'System protection' link to the left of the dialog. On the System Protection tab of System Properties, clear the tick boxes next to each of the listed drives, clicking 'Turn Off System Restore' having deselected the drive which contains Windows.

Use ReadyBoost

One of the most effective ways to help boost the performance of Windows is to add extra memory, and while this need not be expensive, there's an even cheaper option available.

Vista's ReadyBoost feature makes it possible to use a USB drive – either a thumb drive or a fully fledged external hard drive – to supplement any RAM which is already installed. Although this will not improve performance to the same extent as physical memory, most USB drives used for storage are rarely used to their full capacity and this free space may as well be put to good use.

Plug in a USB drive and an autoplay window should appear - select the option labelled 'Speed up my computer'. If this dialog is not displayed simply open up Computer, right-click the relevant drive and select Properties before moving to the 'ReadyBoost' tab. Ensure that the 'Use this device' option is selected and use the slider to indicate how much of the disk storage space should be given offer to ReadyBoost.

Disable UAC

User Account Control has proved to be one of Vista's least popular features by a long chalk. The handholding security warnings that get displayed when performing a range of common tasks serve only to irritate most computer users but the good news is that they can be banished in a variety of ways.

UAC can be disabled via the Control Panel, by editing the registry or by adjusting Group Policy settings, but the quickest and easiest option is to use MSConfig. Press the Windows + R keys , type 'msconfig' and press Enter. Move to the 'Tools' tab and select the entry labelled 'Disable UAC'. Click the 'Launch' button and a Command Prompt window will appear – simply close this down when the operation is complete and then restart Windows to save the new setting.

If you need to, UAC can be quickly re-enabled by repeating these steps, but this time select the 'Enable UAC' option within MSConfig.