Get Windows 7 Performance on Your Current PC
Informal speed tests show that Windows 7 boots faster than Vista, and many users have reported that it "feels" faster during everyday operation. (Maybe that's because the User Account Control is more restrained in Windows 7 than in Vista and doesn't pester them so often.) But you can take some practical steps to goose Vista so that it will acquire some of Windows 7's pep. Here's how.
What it is: My two-year-old Acer Aspire laptop takes nearly 2 minutes to boot Vista. Windows 7 is up and running in a sprightly 43 seconds on the same PC. Hey, Microsoft, you owe me 70-odd seconds of my life, multiplied by five days per week, carry the one--oh, heck, a check for ten grand ought to cover it.
How to get it: You have countless ways to make your Vista or XP system start faster. First of all, if you're still chugging along with just 1GB of RAM, it's high time that you upgraded to at least 2GB. That will accelerate both booting and general performance. Next up: Recent PC World favorite Startup Delayer, a free utility that postpones (in accordance with your specifications) initiation of various programs that normally run during your PC's startup. If you set unimportant apps to begin running 10 or 15 minutes after startup, Vista (or XP) will finish booting much faster.
If your system is a couple of years old, the best way by far to make it boot faster is to wipe the hard drive and reinstall your copy of Windows. Doing so is a radical and time-consuming procedure, but it will clear out every last bit of gunk and restore your system to speedy, factory-new condition. To learn how to do that, see "Reinstall and Restore Your Windows PC in Eight Easy Steps."
Less-Bothersome User Account Control
What it is: Despite all its arguably good intentions, UAC became the poster child for what's wrong with Vista. Either it bugs you continually or you turn it off and nullify its value as a safety net. In Windows 7, UAC tries to stay out of your way while still offering its Vista predecessor's security benefits. You can choose from four security levels, thereby dictating how often you'll receive notifications from Microsoft.
How to get it: Vista users are stuck with all or none of UAC 1.0, but you can always turn it off and opt for a third-party replacement. For example, Norton User Account Control replaces the stock UAC with one that learns from your responses and consequently bugs you less often with information you don't care about. This download also gives you a ‘Don't ask me again' option, and useful details about the nature of the security alert. Another alternative is UAC Snooze, a system tray utility that puts the UAC to sleep for a designated period of time--a helpful arrangement if you plan to do some system tweaking and don't want to be bothered every step of the way.
What it is: We know Windows 7 boots faster than Vista, but does it run faster? Not really, say our early benchmark results: When the PC World Test Center ran some preliminary benchmarks, Windows 7 narrowly outperformed Vista on them. Still, we agree with other hands-on testers who claim Windows 7 feels faster. And as the spinmeisters say, perception is reality.
How to get it: Of course, reality is also reality. With a little fine-tuning, you can make Vista feel faster because it really will be faster. Start by reading "12 Unnecessary Vista Features You Can Disable Right Now," which details how turning off performance-sapping visual elements (like Aero) and eliminating certain superfluous features (like tablet PC support, if you don't use it) can reduce the OS's bloat and make Vista perform significantly better.
Next, run a system-scrubbing utility such as the free CCleaner. A longtime PC World favorite, CCleaner removes unneeded temporary files--from Windows and third-party applications alike--attempts to clean up your system's Registry, and clears all sorts of software-plaque buildup from your system's arteries. When CCleaner has done its work, revisit the "Faster Booting" tips on the previous page: They can improve the OS's overall performance as well. After you've completed these steps, Vista will seem less like a slug and more like a speed demon, guaranteed.
Fewer System Notifications
What it is: Besides helping you tame the User Account Control, Windows 7 lets you decide which apps that want to pop up annoying system-tray notification balloons have your permission to do so. Corralling them leads to fewer interruptions during your workday and, just maybe, fewer panicked calls from tech-challenged relatives.
How to get it: If you don't mind taking a brief detour inside the Registry, you can turn off Vista's balloon notification system once and for all. Remember, though, that working in your PC's Registry is dangerous. Before you begin, we urge you to follow our "Top 10 Registry Dos (and Don'ts)," including how to make a backup copy of your Registry, before you open the vault and do something rash. When you're ready to proceed, here's how to take the air out of the balloons:
1. Click Start, type regedit, and press Enter.
2. Find and click the value located at HKEY_ CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced.
3. In the right pane, right-click and choose New, DWORD (32-bit) Value. Name it EnableBalloonTips.
4. Right-click the new value, choose Modify from the list of options, and make sure that ‘Value data' is set to 0.
5. Exit the Registry and reboot the PC.
If you are a Windows XP user, you can pop the balloons by using Microsoft's TweakUI utility. TweakUI includes an ‘Enable balloon tips' setting in the ‘Taskbar and Start menu' section; simply uncheck that setting to disable balloon notification.
For a collection of performance-oriented dowloads to make your Vista or XP system run more like a Windows 7 PC, see "How to Get Windows 7 Without Windows 7: Performance." And for additional deep coverage of Windows 7, give the following baker's dozen of past PC World stories a try:
• "How to Give Your PC a Windows 7 Makeover" [video]
• "Microsoft Windows 7: A Closer Look at Your Next OS?" [slideshow]
• "A Tour of Windows 7 Beta" [video]
Illustrations by Harry Campbell.