Speed Up Windows by Stripping It Down

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The first time you look at the Services window, you may feel that you're getting deeper into geekdom than you ever wanted to go. But calm down--it's really not that difficult.

To enter Services in Vista or Windows 7, click Start, type services, and press Enter.

In XP, select Start, choose Run, type services.msc, and press Enter.

The window that comes up can seem intimidating. It lists a great many services (nearly 200 on my PC) that various programs need to help them do their job. The problem is that some of the services that are running in the background could just as well be sleeping.

Double-click a service and up comes its Properties dialog box. One option on the General tab, 'Startup type', controls how the service starts. Select Automatic, and it loads when Windows boots. Select Manual, and it loads when a program needs it. Select Disabled, and it won't load at all.

Tablet PC Extras, Part 2: Vista, Windows 7

Turn off Tablet PC extras, part 2.
I've already discussed why you should or should not turn this set of features off, and I've described how to do the first part of the job. Now comes the second part. In Services, find and double-click the Tablet PC Input Service. In the 'Startup type' drop-down menu, select Disabled, and then click OK.

ReadyBoost: Vista

In theory, plugging a flash drive into your PC and letting ReadyBoost take control of it will speed up your PC. I have my doubts.

But if you aren't using ReadyBoost to speed up Windows, the feature is slowing it down. In that case, you'll be happier turning ReadyBoost off entirely.

In Services, find and double-click ReadyBoost. In the 'Startup type' drop-down menu, select Disabled, and then click OK.

XP doesn't have ReadyBoost, and Windows 7 doesn't allow you to turn it off.

Search Indexing: XP, Vista, Windows 7

Indexing speeds up Windows' searches considerably, especially in Vista and Windows 7: An indexed search can take seconds, while a nonindexed search can take minutes. But when you're not searching, indexing drags down performance.

If you almost never search for files, or if you use a third-party search tool like Copernic Desktop or Google Desktop, consider turning off search indexing. Otherwise, leave it on.

The service you want to turn off is called Windows Search in Vista and Windows 7, and Indexing Service in XP. To turn it off, select Disabled.

Error Reporting: Vista, Windows 7

I've already discussed how to do disable this feature in XP. To switch it off in Vista or Windows 7, you'll need to disable it in a different location.

Windows reports errors back to Microsoft, in order to gain information for later bug fixes. The trouble is that this reporting operation slows down your PC at the moment when you're most annoyed by it.

If you'd rather speed up your PC than help Microsoft debug software that it has already sold to you, find and double-click the Windows Error Reporting Service. In the 'Startup type' drop-down menu, select Disabled.

Fast User Switching: XP

No, I'm not suggesting that anyone switch you with a faster user.

This service helps Windows keep two or more users logged on and active at a time. That's useful and convenient...provided you're sharing the PC with another person.

If the PC is all yours, find and double-click the Fast User Switching Compatibility service, and set the Startup type to Disabled.

Help and Support: XP

You shouldn't turn this one off entirely. After all, if you need help for an XP component, the last thing you want is to get an error message instead.

But unless you constantly use Help, you won't want it to be running until you need it. So in Services, find and double-click Help and Support, and select the Startup type Manual. That way, Help and Support won't load until you ask for it.

Offline Files: Vista and Windows 7 (Business and Ultimate Editions Only)

If you work on files stored on a server whose availability you can't depend on, Offline Files makes your life easier by copying the files to your hard drive and keeping them synced.

But if you don't work on such files, there's no point in keeping the feature activated. Find and double-click the service Offline Files. In the 'Startup type' drop-down menu, select Disabled, and then click OK.

This feature isn't available in any of the Home editions of Vista or Windows 7.

The Desktop

The features that you can disable here are the easiest ones to turn off--and switching them off is likely to yield the biggest improvements in performance, too.

Aero: Vista, Windows 7

Turn off Aero in Vista, step 1.
With Vista, Microsoft gave Windows an attractive, transparent look that it dubbed Aero. With Aero on, the headers at the top of each window are slightly transparent. You can't see what's behind them clearly enough to read them, but it gives the desktop a nice, three-dimensional look.

But that look eats clock cycles, and depending on the speed of your PC and your willingness to trade performance for aesthetics, you might want to turn Aero off.

Turn off Aero in Vista, step 2.
If you're using Vista, right-click the Windows desktop and select Personalize, Window Color and Appearance. Click the Open classic appearance properties for more color options link (if you don't see the link, Aero is already off).

Turn off Aero in Windows 7.
In Windows 7, right-click the Windows desktop and select Personalize. Select one of the themes that are displayed under the 'Basic and High Contrast Themes' heading.

The Sidebar: Vista

That bar full of widgets on the right side of the Vista desktop must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Who wouldn't want a feature that distracts you when you need to concentrate, steals precious screen space, and slows system performance like an anvil chained to a swimmer's leg?

Someone must have complained, because Microsoft didn't include the Sidebar in Windows 7.

Unlike the other features in this article, this one has no possible redeeming value. I'm not suggesting that you consider turning this feature off; I'm urging you to turn it off without further consideration.

To remove the Sidebar, Right-click a blank space on the Sidebar and select Properties. Uncheck Start Sidebar when Windows starts.

Contributing Editor Lincoln Spector writes PC World's Answer Line column and blog.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.
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