How to optimize Windows 8 on old hardware
Disable unnecessary items
To further optimize Windows 8 on older hardware, we recommend disabling as many unnecessary startup items and services as possible, disabling any unused hardware, and turning off any nonessential Live Tiles.
Turning off Live Tiles couldn’t be any easier. On the Start Screen, simply right-click on any Live Tile and select the option to turn it off. By default, Windows 8 launches with the Sports, Travel, Finance, News, Mail, Bing and Weather live tiles all active. If there are any you can live without, disable them to prevent Windows 8 from constantly fetching data and updating them.
There probably aren’t many hardware components that can be disabled, but by doing so Windows will boot faster and with more available memory because the component’s driver won’t be initialized. There are two ways of disabling hardware—via the system BIOS or in Device Manager. The BIOS method is preferred because the component won’t even be recognized by Windows, which will prevent its drivers from loading at all. The exact procedure is going to vary from system to system, but typically you’ll have to press F2 or DEL when your system is first powered up to enter the BIOS and then navigate to the Integrated Peripherals section where items can then be disabled. To disable hardware components via Device Manager, switch to Desktop mode; click the Libraries shortcut in the taskbar, and then right-click on Computer. In the resulting context menu, select Properties, and in the System control panel click on Device Manger. When the Device Manger window opens, click on any arrow next to a hardware group to expand the list, and the right-click on an item you’d like to disable and select Disable from the context menu. On our system, we disabled the wired network controller since we were using Wi-Fi and also a Bluetooth controller. Many systems still have BIOS entries for serial ports (RS-232); this can usually be disabled as well.
To disable unnecessary startup items, we’d once again recommend using CCleaner. Windows 8’s built-in configuration utility (msconfig) will work as well, but CCleaner’s startup menu is more comprehensive, expandable, and easier to navigate. CCleaner also has the added benefit of being able to list add-ons launching with Internet Explorer, should you want to clean up the browser as well.
On a fresh Windows 8 installation, there won’t be many startup items to consider. After an upgrade from a previous edition of Windows, or after installing a myriad of applications, however, there will probably be numerous items that can be eliminated. To disable unnecessary startup items, launch CCleaner, then click on the Tools button on the left side of the program’s menu, and then click on the Startup button. On the Startup menu, click on the Windows tab, and every program that launches with Windows will be listed. Delete any unneeded items, which usually means everything except for anti-virus/anti-malware tools and any utilities you use regularly. Any “helper” or “speed launcher” apps can probably be disabled. If you’re unsure, Google the name of the program to ascertain what it does and if it is essential.
There are multiple ways to disable services in Windows 8, but using the System Configuration utility (aka msconfig) seems to be the most foolproof and least confusing. To launch the System Configuration utility, press the WIN+R key combination, type msconfig in the run field and hit the Enter key. When the utility opens, click on the Services tab and then tick the option at the lower left labeled "Hide all Microsoft Services." What you’ll be left with is a list of services installed with any application or drivers that were installed on the system.
You shouldn't start disabling all services willy-nilly, but chances are many application-specific services can be safely disabled. On our machine, even though we started with a clean OS and installed only a few applications, we were still able to disable four services, three associated with Google software updates and another associated with Adobe Reader. There may also be a couple of Microsoft services that can be disabled, like the Theme service or the Touch Keyboard service (if you don’t have a touch-screen), but tread lightly here; if you’re not certain a service can be disabled, leave it alone.
Eliminate annoying UAC notifications
This recommendation may put off PC veterans who manage multiple systems for other, less savvy users; if you are tweaking your personal PC, however, it shouldn’t be an issue. Every time a UAC (User Account Control) warning pops up, not only does it pause the system and require a click, but the warning and screen dimming effect can take an eternity on older hardware. Eliminating UAC notifications entirely can significantly boost the performance of Windows 8 on aging hardware; to minimize the number of pop-ups while still having some level of additional protection, you can also just reduce the UAC notification level.
To do so, slide out the Windows 8 charms by placing your mouse cursor in either the upper- or lower-right corner of the screen and click on the Search icon. Then highlight Settings in the Search panel and type UAC into the search field. “Change User Account Control settings” will appear in the left pane, click it, and the UAC Settings window will open. Simply drag the slider down one notch so Windows 8 will no longer dim the screen and will only notify you when an app tried to make changes to the system. Dragging the slider all the way to the bottom will disable all notifications, which is not recommended unless you're a PC power user who is willing to take the risk.
We collected some data on how these tricks affected our aging Asus Eee PC running Windows 8, and here's what we came up with: immediately following a fresh installation (and fully patching the OS via Microsoft Update), Windows 8 would launch with 34 running processes, consume 30% (.6MB) of available memory, and use 9.72GB on the disk in our particular machine. After running Disk Cleanup and CCleaner, 9.52GB of disk space was used. After disabling any unneeded startup items, visual options, services, and hardware, running processes were reduced to the 33 and the used memory dropped to only 20% (.4MB). Anecdotally, the PC seemed to perform typical tasks faster (opening and closing applications, moving files, etc.) and navigating the Windows 8 interface seemed to be much smoother.
The changes we outline here probably aren’t going to affect any benchmark scores, but they will result in a snappier system with more available memory and resources, which is exactly what’s necessary to squeeze some additional life out of an aging PC. Try it out on your hardware and let us know how it goes; if you’ve got some tweaks of your own to optimize Windows 8, we’d love to hear them in the comments section below.