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Operating System: Make Windows More Efficient

Advanced Windows Tweaks

When I'm ready for some serious Windows hacking, I break out my copy of XQDC's $8 X-Setup Pro. X-Setup offers access to hundreds of novel, esoteric, and critical parameters that configure how Windows and many applications work. What's more, X-Setup Pro provides a lot of help so you can understand what the parameters are and whether they may have a negative impact on your system.

But before you dive into arcane Windows settings, there are some easier tweaks you can make. "Windows Rejuvenated" is full of detailed tips on how to reinvigorate and restore zip to Windows. If you'd like to go deeper, there are a few other settings you can modify to smooth your Windows experience. Your system will run more efficiently with a simple change to two important Windows file settings: the location Windows uses to store temporary files and the size and location of its paging, or swap, file (Figure 6

Figure 6: Setting the swap file size.

Two Key Settings

Before you modify anything, clean some clutter off your hard drive:

  1. Open My Computer, right-click your C: drive, and then select Properties.
  2. Click the Disk Cleanup button, wait until the tool is done calculating, and then click OK and Yes to remove the litter.
  3. Click OK to close the Properties dialog box.

Now it's time to start tweaking. To tame temporary files and set the swap file size in Windows 2000 and XP, do the following:

  1. Right-click My Computer and select Properties.
  2. Select the Advanced tab and then the Environment Variables button.
  3. In the Environment Variables dialog box, select TEMP (Figure 7
    Figure 7: Temporary storage setting.
    ) and then TMP, and edit the values for those variables to point at an easily recognized drive and folder location so you'll always know where they are. That will make it easy to clean out those files periodically. When you're done making those changes, click OK.
  4. On the Advanced tab under Performance, click Settings.
  5. In the Performance Options box, select the Advanced tab.
  6. Under 'Virtual memory', click the Change button.
  7. Select Custom size, enter the same value for the initial and maximum sizes, and click the Set button (Figure 6
    Figure 6: Setting the swap file size.
    ). I like to set the swap file at a fixed size of at least 1.5 times the amount of RAM the machine has, unless the computer I'm working on has a lot of RAM. For systems with 256MB of RAM, I use a 384MB swap file. With a roomier 512MB of RAM, I back off to a 512MB swap file, and at a comfortable 1GB of RAM, I stick with 768MB.
  8. Close the dialog boxes by clicking OK, then restart Windows.

Super-Customize the Appearance of Windows

If you've got some speed to spare, you might want to try a radically customized Windows experience. Stardock's $40 Object Desktop includes programs that specialize in tweaking almost any aspect of Windows.

WindowBlinds ($20 separately) lets you configure the look of any Windows item, from backgrounds to title text to title and scroll bars--every possible color, font, texture, effect, and shadow can be customized and skinned. Dozens of pre-made skins are included.

Don't like XP's Start menu? Object Desktop's ObjectBar component ($20 separately) lets you build a better one or create your own custom toolbars and program launchers.

And if you ever find yourself envying Mac OS X's supercool thumbnail-based task-switching feature, a couple of apps will bring that functionality to your Windows system. WinPlosion is probably the best, though you have to wonder how long Apple will allow someone to sell a $10 shareware app that duplicates one of its key OS features.

Finally, once you have customized everything else, check out Stardock's free BootSkin--a quick and safe method to change the Windows boot logo.

WindowBlinds includes lots of built-in skins.

Find the right window on a cluttered desktop... clicking one of WinPlosion's thumbnails.

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