Shift Any Version of Windows Into High Gear

In previous versions of Windows, tweaking settings to get the fastest system possible used to require bouncing from one arcane dialog box to the next. Though Vista makes most system information easier to find, many of the tools that will put your PC into overdrive remain buried. Here's a guide to Windows' built-in performance tools.

Vista's Performance Information and Tools applet provides (mostly) one-stop shopping for all your vital system settings.
Vista's Performance Information and Tools applet provides (mostly) one-stop shopping for all your vital system settings.
A new Control Panel applet in Vista collects your favorite (and not so favorite) tools for analyzing and revving up your system: Click Start, Control Panel, System and Maintenance, Performance Information and Tools, and click the links on the left to access the tools you need (see the image at right). Be sure not to neglect the various options that lurk behind the 'Advanced tools' link.

Note: Few of these tools are new to Vista--XP users can access most of them by following the steps listed in the chart below.

Hidden Performance Gizmos

Get easy access to Windows' Administrative Tools by making these options appear in their own Start submenu.
Get easy access to Windows' Administrative Tools by making these options appear in their own Start submenu.
Although not intended as performance tools per se, a number of the apps in the Administrative Tools Control Panel applet available in all versions of Windows include options for revving up your system. These settings are much easier to reach when you put them on the Start menu, however.

To do so in Windows 2000, right-click the taskbar and choose Properties. In the 'Taskbar and Start Menu Properties' dialog box, click the Advanced tab. In the Start Menu Settings scrolling list, check Display Administrative Tools and click OK.

Perk Up Printing

Customize your printer's performance settings via the options listed under the Advanced tab of its Properties dialog box.
Customize your printer's performance settings via the options listed under the Advanced tab of its Properties dialog box.
When you choose the Print command in Word, Excel, or some other application, Windows sends the data from the program to a "spool" file on your hard disk. As soon as the first page is spooled to disk, Windows sends that page to the printer. The OS attempts to compromise between getting pages to your printer quickly and freeing your application to do other things.

But you don't have to stick with the Windows way. You can customize your print settings to rev up what's important to you. In Vista, choose Start, All Programs, Administrative Tools, Print Management (or select it from the Administrative Tools Control Panel applet; see "Hidden Performance Gizmos"). With Custom Filters selected in the left pane, double-click All Printers in the middle, and double-click the icon for the printer whose performance you'll customize.

Performance Tweaks: The New View of Your System Info

When your computer is in need of some maintenance or troubleshooting, make Vista's Reliability and Performance Monitor your first stop. While you can find many of the individual tools in previous Windows versions, the new Control Panel applet helpfully puts much of Vista's most important and useful system information in a single location.

The resource overview in the main Reliability and Performance Monitor window shows, at a glance, the percentage of resources that your CPU, disk, RAM, network, and other system components use.
The resource overview in the main Reliability and Performance Monitor window shows, at a glance, the percentage of resources that your CPU, disk, RAM, network, and other system components use.
The resource overview in the main Reliability and Performance Monitor window shows, at a glance, the percentage of resources that your CPU, disk, RAM, network, and other system components use.

The Shortcut King: Active Keys

Windows lets you create your own keyboard shortcuts for launching applications (just right-click the app's icon on the Start menu, choose Properties, and enter your keys of choice in the Shortcut Key box under the Shortcut tab). But for real control, check out Active Keys, an easy-to-use utility that assigns keyboard shortcuts to actions you never thought were keyboardable, such as repositioning a window to a specific corner of the screen, pasting the date and time, emptying the Recycle Bin, and changing your media player's sound volume. The program costs $20; the trial version is at the creator's site.

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