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.