Improving Computer Performance

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Recording uses a lot of resources. If your computer is a little slow, this will help you free up some memory, in order to improve your computer's capacity to handle the recording software.

MS Windows Startup

MS Windows comes with lots of bells and whistles, some of which are intended to increase convenience. These include such things as automatically indexing files so searches will find them faster and preloading certain programs so they will start up quicker when you want to use them. While all this may be convenient, much of it is unnecessary, and, more importantly, it uses up system resources, both memory and some of it competes for the CPU with your recording software.

What follows is somewhat technical. If you are not comfortable with making changes to how your system is configured -- there is an element of risk that you may disable something that's needed, you may want to forgo this procedure or get help from a friend who knows what they are doing.

This description is based on MS Windows XP (service pack 2).

You can improve the performance of your computer -- and shorten the time that booting up takes -- by eliminating all extraneous programs from the start-up list. However, figuring out what is and what is not necessary isn't so easy, largely due to the often cryptic names given to the programs loaded as part of the start-up procedure. Fortunately, there is a Web site which concentrates exactly on this issue: Startup Applications List.

To see what is being loaded on your PC, run the System Configuration Utility:

  • Start [button on the task bar] >
  • Run... >
  • msconfig [type this in the text box labeled "Open:" >
  • OK [button]

The Utility program appears on your screen. Now click the right-most tab, labeled "Startup". The first two columns are especially important in determining what is (un)necessary. This process is complicated by the fact that some viruses and similar programs use the same names as system programs, but they are installed from different locations in the file system.

One by one, type a name listed in the column "Startup Item" into the search box at the Startup Applications List Web site. You will get back a list of matches, with descriptions and status. The status tells you what you can do with this item (e.g. necessary, optional, harmful). For each item you don't want, disable it by removing the checkmark in the box to its left. When finished with the entire list, click the OK button on the Utility window. You probably will get a caution dialog advising you that the changes will not take effect until the next time you boot up the computer.

(This is being written from memory, so the details are a bit hazy, but basically correct.) The first time you do re-start the PC after making such changes, you will get a dialog box from MS Windows alerting you that the system has been reconfigured. There is a checkbox on the dialog not to show this warning again; check that. You are offered the choice between starting up in either diagnostic or normal modes: Choose normal.

MS Windows Automatic Updates

MS Windows XP, at least starting with Service Pack 2, comes configured to automatically download and install updates for Windows. The sizes of some updates are quite large, ranging from scores to hundreds of Megabytes. This downloading and installation activity might be interferring with your recording software and its attemps to write to the hard drive as you're reading.

You can reconfigure Automatic Updates to run at a time which won't occur when you're recording (for example, daily in the middle of the night -- or the middle of the day if your a night person -- or weekly on Saturday evenings, when your favorite show is on TV). Or you can turn off automatic updates altogether; in this case, you'd want to run the updating process manually so your PC's security will remain protected. (The author of this section uses this manual method because he also wants to customize what updates get installed since some do not apply to his particular system.)

To reconfigure or turn off Automatic Updates,

  • Start [button on the task bar] >
  • Control Panel [option on the menu] >
  • Security Center >

The Windows Security Center program is now visible. Most likely, the bar labeled "Automatic Updates" will have a green icon with the word "ON" next to it. To change the settings for Updates, click on "Automatic Updates" below where it says "Manage security settings for". This will open the Automatic Updates dialog.

Now you decide how you want to handle the automatic updating process. I tried the "Notify me but don't ..." option; however, Windows nagged me so often about pending updates that, in self defense, I turned off Automatic Updates completely.

If you turn off Automatic Updates, here's how to manually do an update:

  • (Connect to the Internet if necessary)
  • Start [button on the task bar] >
  • All Programs [option on the first menu] >
  • Microsoft Update [option on the second menu]

What this does is start up MS Internet Explorer, which connects to the Microsoft update Web site. If you don't see "Microsoft Update" on the second menu, start Internet Explorer yourself. Once it's running:

  • Tools [from the menu or command bars] >
  • Windows Update [option on the Tools menu]

After some preliminaries, you'll be given the choice of handling the rest of this update session automatically or you can customize which updates are installed.