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Optimizing Performance

Windows Vista has so many slick new multimedia features and applications that computers often "feel the pain" of these heavy applications. It will be your job to configure and maintain these computers so that they are tuned for optimum performance. With applications such as Media Center, Movie Maker, DVD Maker, Meeting Space, and Photo Gallery, and with high-demand gaming application support, you must know where to look to identify which resources are most in demand. You also must know what tools you have available to improve the performance of those system resources.

We first look at the tools in Windows Vista that help you analyze how well the system is performing and which of these four subsystems is getting hit the hardest.

Task Manager

Task Manager, affectionately referred to as Taskman, is probably the fastest and easiest way to get a quick look at the performance and health of the system. You can access Task Manager by right-clicking the taskbar and selecting Task Manager; you also can perform the three-fingered salute (Ctrl+Alt+Del) and select the Start Task Manager option, as shown in Figure 2.30.

Figure 2.30

Figure 2.30 Start Task Manager.

When Task Manager has started, click the Performance tab to get a quick view of the health of the computer's CPU and memory utilization, as shown in Figure 2.31.

Figure 2.31

Figure 2.31 Task Manager Performance tab.

The Networking tab shows how busy the network interface card(s) are. The Processes tab shows which processes are the biggest consumers of the computer's resources. You can sort ascending or descending by clicking the CPU or Memory labels at the top of those fields, as shown in Figure 2.32.

Figure 2.32

Figure 2.32 The Processes tab.

Performance Information and Tools

Another tool to look at is the Performance Information and Tools utility. This is located in Control Panel, System and Maintenance, Check Your Computer's Windows Experience Index (WEI) Base Score.

This brings up the window shown in Figure 2.33.

Figure 2.33

Figure 2.33 The Performance Information and Tools utility.

If this is the first time the WEI analysis has been used to initiate the analysis of the computer, click the Rate This Computer button. If WEI has run already, you will see the components' subscores and a base score determined by the lowest of the subscores, as shown in Figure 2.34.

Figure 2.34

Figure 2.34 The Windows Experience Index base score.

These subscore values range from 1 to 5.9, with higher values indicating better performance.

Notice that two of the five components address graphics and gaming graphics. This evaluation is nontechnical, using subscore numbers that don't directly tie to any measurement other than serving as a comparative scale of which device is performing the worst. This information is aimed at the home user, who might not be technical in any way, other than being a rock star inside numerous games. This type of user just needs to know what device to spend more money on, without understanding why or how it works that way. But this is still a place where you need to know to look for performance-related information. If you are technically minded, you can click the View and Print Details link to look at the details. If you do something to the computer that might improve the performance, you can click the Update My Score link.

A system with a base score of 1.x or 2.x is useful for running office productivity applications but not multimedia applications.

A system with a base score of 3.x is useful for running office productivity applications and some lower-end multimedia applications, but it might struggle with some advanced features or applications.

A system with a base score of 4.x or 5.x is useful for running office productivity applications, high-end multimedia applications, and the Windows Vista advanced features or applications.

Reliability and Performance Monitor

Another tool that allows for detailed analysis of the performance of the computer's various components is the Reliability and Performance Monitor, available under Administrative Tools. This tool was formerly known as PerfMon in earlier versions of Windows. As you can see in Figure 2.35, you get a quick look at the utilization of the four major subsystems in the computer on the Resource Overview.

Figure 2.35

Figure 2.35 The four main resource subsystems in the Reliability and Performance Monitor.

As you click the arrows on the right side of the four summary bars below the graphs, you get detailed information about the various processes using the subsystem component. Again, you can sort these columns by clicking the column title. See Figure 2.36.

Figure 2.36

Figure 2.36 Subsystem details.

You can also use this tool to record detailed resource consumption information about the local computer or even a remote computer using subsystem Objects, Counters, and Instances in Performance Monitor. You can review these recorded logs later.

Now that you know which resource needs help, you need to know a couple tricks to improve their performance.

Improving Disk Performance

The disk subsystem can become one of the bottlenecks in the system. You need to know how to optimize the performance of the disks in the computer.

Defragmenting the Hard Drive

When a computer begins to move too slowly, defragment the disk. As a computer writes content to a hard disk, it writes it in the available spaces (some big, some little) on the disk. When you edit the files, the computer usually has to write those new changes on a region of the hard disk that is separate from the original pieces of the file. These separate pieces of the file are called fragments. Over time, a hard drive can develop millions of fragments. Now when the computer accesses the file, it must move its relatively slow read/write heads on the drive to the location of each fragment. This physical motion dramatically decreases the performance of the disks and your programs.

Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID)

Another possible improvement to the performance of the disk subsystem is to implement a RAID array of disks. The fastest RAID array is called RAID 0, or a striped volume. The striped volume requires 2 to 32 physical disks connected locally to the computer. The system then reads and writes to these disks simultaneously to improve performance. The performance benefit increases as you add more disks to the RAID 0 array. The formula to calculate the performance benefit is time = 1 / n, where n is the number of physical disks in the array. Ten disks means reads and writes occur in 1/10 of the time.

To create a RAID 0 array on Windows Vista, you must first have at least two hard disks with free, unallocated space on them. Then launch the Computer Management utility in Start, All Programs, Administrative Tools. Then under Storage, select Disk Management. Right-click one of the new disks and select New Striped Volume, as shown in Figure 2.37.

Figure 2.37

Figure 2.37 Creating a RAID 0—Striped Volume array.

Walk through the wizard and add the second disk to the array. The wizard also prompts you to convert the two Basic disks to two Dynamic disks. When you complete the wizard, you should see the new RAID 0—Striped volume, as shown in Figure 2.38.

Figure 2.38

Figure 2.38 The RAID 0—Striped Volume array.


The price of nonvolatile, removable media, such as USB thumb drives, SecureDigital (SD) cards, and CompactFlash (CF) memory, has dropped dramatically in the past few years, while the performance of these devices has greatly improved. That's a good combination.

ReadyBoost uses this high-speed Flash memory in USB thumb drives, SD, and CF devices to cache the contents of the pagefile on the hard drive. The pagefile is used to simulate additional, true physical RAM in a computer to make the computer think it has more RAM than it really does; however, the pagefile lives on the relatively slow hard drive. Accessing this Flash memory is 8 to 10 times faster than accessing the hard drive.

The recommended size of ReadyBoost memory is one to three times that of the physical RAM in the computer, with a minimum size of 256MB. These Flash memory devices usually contain a combination of fast memory and slow memory. ReadyBoost can use only the fast Flash memory.

To configure ReadyBoost on your computer, first plug in a high-speed Flash memory device. After Windows Vista has successfully installed the device as a new drive, open the Explorer application (not Internet Explorer) to view your drive, files, and folders. Now right-click the Flash memory drive and select Properties. Click the ReadyBoost tab. See Figure 2.39.

Figure 2.39

Figure 2.39 Configuring ReadyBoost.

Select the Use This Device setting to enable the device for ReadyBoost. You can then adjust the amount of free space on the device to allocate to ReadyBoost. Whatever space on the device you allocate to ReadyBoost is now unavailable for your use for storing data. If the ReadyBoost dialog is not available, it means that the device is too slow or doesn't have at least 256MB of free space. Watch for the ReadyBoost–capable indication on the packaging of the Flash memory when you're buying your Flash memory.

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