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it only took a year
You may recall that in my wreck last year, that my trusty Durabook was smashed to bits and that I bought a gargantuan, behemoth known as the ASUS A7S. What you may not know is that it was a thorn in my side for a very long time. I was having some serious performance issues when playing video and audio media. I couldn't watch/listen to anything because the sound kept skipping and was jittery.

At first I thought that maybe all of the naysayers about Vista were right: that it was more than an OS, it was a POS. I decided at that point to wipe it clean and install XP. This proved daunting since this machine was not supported with any XP drivers by ASUS. Finally though, I managed to get all of the hardware working properly. And yet, I still had the same issues with audio/video. Even worse, I was getting some really weird problems with the system clock losing time, on the order of HOURS over the course of a day while running.

What you may not know is that, this past fall I bought a couple of cheapo, light-weight Dell laptops: one to replace Welf's aging HP and one to serve as a more portable alternative for me. While I love the 17-inch screen that the ASUS provides me while on the road, it's rather cumbersome as a true laptop. Taking it into a truckstop to sit in the diner was an ordeal and lounging about the house with it wasn't exactly convenient or comfortable. But I also had in mnid that, once I had the Dell in my hands, I would wipe the ASUS, reinstall the Vista Premium OEM and get with ASUS about checking out the hardware, as it still had over a year left on its two year warranty.

All the job changing and holidays got in the way of me doing anything with that until a week or so ago. In the meantime, I had been rather impressed by Vista's performance on the little Dell I was using. It came shipped with Service Pack 1, though. So, when I reinstalled Vista on the ASUS last week, I decided to take another run at trying to sort-out its woes with SP1 in place. My experience with ASUS hardware has always been good, and I was having a hard-time believing this was a hardware issue.

To cut to the chase, after updating Vista with SP1 AND after updating both the video and audio drivers I was still having the issues with playing media. I finally decided to look in the "Sound" category under Control Panel and immediately noticed that it was showing my speakers TWICE. I right clicked the first of these and chose "Test". It played its little tones with the annoying skipping and jittery-ness. When I tested the second one though, it was clear as can be. I removed the offensive set of speakers and rebooted and it's been fine so far.

Along the way in my little odyssey to get this laptop running properly, I spent a lot of time reading about Vista, especially about tweaking Vista. Despite the wee Dell's favorable performance in my eyes, there was something about Vista that irked the shit out of me: my hard drive seemed like it was constantly thrashing, especially after a bootup. This was also true on the ASUS. I know how to fix that now, so keep reading.

The biggest complaint that a lot of people have had about Vista is it doesn't feel as snappy and responsive as XP. I felt the same way, too with my first Vista epxerience. I even disabled the Sidebar and Aero hoping for performance boosts and was left feeling disgusted by the whole thing. Sure those are just pretty things, but right now I'm typing this on my ASUS with Aero & Sidebar running with a 2% CPU and under 40% 1 GB RAM being used. Maybe you already know these tips and tricks, maybe you haven't had to make the move to Vista yet. I do know that this quick and dirty tweaking job will make Vista scream if you have adequate hardware in the chassis. I've actually begun to prefer Vista over XP.

1. First of all, go to Control Panel & turn off Windows Defender. It's a useless piece of shit that does far more harm to the performance of your machine than any beneifts you may get from it. This is the number one reason why your hard disk thrashes in Vista (or XP for that matter).

2. But let's take it a step further. Either from the super-cool search bar in the Vista start menu, or using the "Run" option if you've reverted to a more classic look, type in "msconfig" and hit return. Alternately, it's located at C:\Windows\msconfig.exe (or whatever drive your Windows folder is on). A window which says System Configuration should open.

Click on the tab that says "Startup". Look through it, find Windows Defender and uncheck it. While you're here, look through and see if there are any other annoying programs listed here that are loading when you startup that you've never figured out how to keep from doing that. Now you know where to find them.

3. Next click the tab "Services". We're going to disable the following services. I'll also give a brief reason of why it's safe to do so and what you gain from it.

Computer Browser: This is a backward compatible service for pre-XP machines on a network. Unless you are operating some ancient box with Win98 on it on your home network, there's absolutely no reason to have this running and it's just wasting resources. Turn it off.

Superfetch: This is the main cuplrit on causing your HD to thash after bootup. What Superfetch essentially does is learns all of the programs and files that you open most often and pre-loads them into RAM after bootup. Depending on the amount of memory you have or how much 15-20 minutes of disk thrashing bothers you, you may consider turning this off. Once Superfetch has finished loading the programs into memory, your disk will stop thrashing and it won't be an issue anymore, however, you do have all those programs just sitting in memory all the time. You will get a performance boost from the programs you open most, but you might also see a performance gain in memory intensive applications if you have some extra memory to play with. For me personally, the jury still out. After having Superfetch off for a couple of days I've turned it back on to see if I notice a difference.

Windows Defender: Yes it's a service, too. Kill that shit.

Windows Search: No, this won't disable your ability to search the internet or your computer. All this does is disable the Windows Indexing Service. The Indexing service combs through all of the files on your computer and indexes their file names. Additionally it indexes all or portions of their contents (text, metadata, etc) and caches all of this information into a single place in memory. This way, when you search for something, it can first look to see if it is in the index in the memory cache, rather than searching your entire hard drive(s) for it. Only if it doesn't locate it in the cache, does it begin an actual search of your disk. Sounds like a neat idea right? It is to an extent, but it means that the indexing service is constantly making additonal reads from your hard disks everytime an indexed file name, or content, is changed, which means more thrashing. I recommend minimally changing the settings of WHAT is indexed if you're going to keep it. You can find Indexing Options in the Control panel. You certainly should not be indexing things like, oh I don't know, your Temporary Internet files directory. But what I really recommend is consider how often you realistically use the search function to find a file on your computer, and how important in those instances it is to you to have to have it instantaneously found. One final note: if you use Saved Searches or Virtual Folders in Vista, they both depend on this service to operate. Personally, I don't like the idea of depending on a "folder" which is generated from a cache. When I look in a folder, I want to see what's physically residing there. But that's for you to decide.

If you're a little wary of completely disabling these services, you can go to the Services Managment program and switch them all to "Manual" rather than "Automatic".

5. If you opted to disable Windows Search, let's take it one more step further. Open up Windows Explorer or My Computer and right-click on a hard disk. Choose properties. On the main properties window, all the way at the bottom, you'll see a checkbox for "Index this drive for faster searching". We've already disabled the service so it shouldn't matter, but, just to be safe... make sure it's unchecked and have it apply to all subfolders/files/etc. on the resulting screen. Do this for all the disk in your PC.

Now reboot and enjoy a much more tolerable life with Vista. While there are many, amny other way sot tweak Windows Vista, doing just those few things will make a world of difference in the performance, and may even change your opinon of it. I know it did me.

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I'll stick with OSX, thanks.

For a third time. Solution to all your Vista/XP woes.

Apparently I'm not the first to suggest it either :P

Edited at 2009-02-25 01:37 pm (UTC)

Re: For a third time. Solution to all your Vista/XP woes.

XP never gave me any trouble.

I'm starting to feel that Vista itself isn't bad, it's just bloated out of the box. Making these simple adjustments makes a world of difference, and has essentially quelled any misgivings I've had about Vista. It's a stable and responsive OS.

Re: For a third time. Solution to all your Vista/XP woes.

macs are for people who don't like using keyboards. the MBP is especially so. had mine for almost two years and i still can't type more than a paragraph or two on it without wanting to smash the thing. meanwhile i'm sitting here on the toilet burning effortlessly through 90wpm on my 86% sized Acer Aspire One keyboard. try *that* on a wretched MBP keyboard. oh yeah, it will also burn your fucking nuts off if you DO try to use it on the toilet. what good is a computer that i can't use on the shitter? none, i tell you.

Re: For a third time. Solution to all your Vista/XP woes.

Re: For a third time. Solution to all your Vista/XP woes.

Woah, damn, I'm surprised you were actually able to post this from your windows machine.

By any chance this image wouldn't be hosted out of a unix machine... Ehh? EHH?

Just sayin. :P

not to add to the pile of assholes

my #1 secret tip for using Vista is *still* "use XP."

Re: not to add to the pile of assholes

Vista has gotten a lot more stable with the first SP. I do think that, espeically in light of the criticism, that we'll see Windows 7 hit the shelves on time and running a lot sleeker out of the box than Vista did.

Going out and paying for this OS retail would be foolish, but if it comes OEM on a machine that's capable of running it, I don't see much point in reverting to XP for a negligible performance increase. With SP1, update drivers, and some minor tweaks, Vista in a lot of ways out performs XP, which is why I've come to prefer it.

I probably don't have the affinity for XP that you and others do because, I was the die-hard Win98 guy. I didn't switch to XP until, what, 10/2004 when I got my first laptop? It was the first machine I had that could even run XP properly.

I think that's a lot of what Vista is going through right now. You are to XP what I was to Win98 SE circa 2002. ;-)

Re: not to add to the pile of assholes

i saw vista running last night on a friend's rather newish laptop (first vista install i've had to deal with in some time) and with watching that thing boot i was reminded anew that stability is not really my main concern with that OS. your tweaks probably do speed it up a lot but it's still not going to be as snappy as XP out of the box, i suspect. snappy *and* stable is what i require to take an OS seriously.

one of the things you suggest turning off or dumbing down is one of the only advantages i see in vista over xp - a truly indexed search facility.

but isn't the whole idea of properly indexed search that it *doesn't* thrash the shit out of the disk(s) all the time trying to find crap? honestly, microsoft.

also, and i can make this argument til i'm blue in the face but it made sense to me before the oxygen deprivation stage, removing vista in favor of xp is a decision made to actually utilize that expensive new hardware to its fullest performance potential. by the time you do all these tweaks you COULD have booted and installed XP on that nice new lappie!

Anytime somebody complains that their computer is running slow, sure enough, they have a crap-ton of useless processes running. Msconfig is the wonder drug for all their illnesses.

The real problem is that Vista installs itself this way and most users haven't the savvy or inclination to tweak it. I think that most people prefer a responsive computer rather than, say, being able to search for a particular word in all your text documents. Not that there aren't people who wouldn't find that useful, but I doubt they're the majority. Yet Microsoft made Vista to install with Indexing as an automatic service.

Similarly, why I don't see the attraction in programs like Live Search and Google Desktop. You shouldn't have to search for your files, just remember where you put them!

that find index feature was one of the first things I was actually really jazzed about when exploring Vista. I use it ALL THE TIME. Can't remember where i put that document where I mentioned polar bears, bam there it is, where's that picture i titled/tagged tennis, bam, there they are. Love it. Thanks for your tips. BTW, what, if anything do you use to keep your laptop from burning your chest,lap, knees off, overheating issues. I'm constantly writing in bed and finding my fan gets all bunged up with the blankets, my shirt, whatnot, and/or my skin falls off because of the laptop battery heating up.

Well, you can STILL search your Windows environment like that without using the Indexing Service, it just takes a little bit longer since it isn't cached in memory. I think it boils down to HOW MUCH you use searching functions vs. the annoyance of the disk thrashing. I personally don't use search very often, and when I do, it's no big deal to wait an extra few seconds for the search to be performed. Generally, I know where I put the file in the first place, or at the very least have it categorized in a folder so that locating it doesn't take that long.

I guess if my productivity depended on me finding dozens of files via Search on a daily basis, it might be useful and worth the thrashing. Otherwise, I find it hard to justify the loss of system performance to a task that I seldom use in the first place.

I highly recommend investing in a laptop cooler. Not only will it save your legs, but it could arguably increase the life of your laptop components, particularly the system fan, by allowing it to operate in a cooler environment. It's basically a plastic pad about the size of your laptop with built-in fans powered via USB.

Pricier ones have USB hubs built into them to make up for the port you're losing to power it. It's also not incredibly useful when you're not plugged-in because it drains the battery fairly quickly. Personally I find the cheapest I can get my hands on and don't worry about USB hubs because they take a beating and have a short lifespan in the way I use them. I use one in the truck because my laptop is generally sitting on the bunk and doesn't get proper airflow otherwise. If I was using one in a fixed location like on a desk or something, the fancy shmancy ones might make more sense.

The non-active heat shield variety is an option, too. It provides for better circulation and protects your lap from the heat. It probably is just a matter of personal preference and typical usage. If you use your laptop on battery a lot, you might prefer something which won't cause an additional drain on your power source. Also, there's no moving parts or additional electronics to fail.

I can't really make a recommendation since I've ever only used the active fan, variety. Personally, I've always thought, if you're just going to put something between your lap and the laptop, why not just use a cheap piece of hard plastic?

I'll admit, though, the ThermaPAK sounds like a neat idea.

ooooh i like the THERMpAK! it's rolls up! I like something that's portable like that. nice find! Thank u, gonna see if I can get it before my trip out to see you. Getting excited about it!!!! What do i bring?

Thanks for actually posting about the differences in the operating systems and the useful memory eating programs.

BTW, I do still read your LJ but understand and respect your desire to make it more personal.

I figured after all of my digging around, learning and reading, I might as well share it someone.

I'm glad you feel that way. I might add that, if you post something and for whatever reason you think I might be particularly interested, feel free to throw me a link. I just had entirely too much on my plate f-list wise, and quite frankly, I still do: I just don't have the time. But at least it's become a bit more manageable.

Considering the number that my f-list has grown to, keeping up with it is a challenge. If I filter to just the individual journals, it still takes an hour to go through a day or two's posts. Add another for the communities. It's do-able just not easy.

*smiles and nods*


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