Speeding up your booting and minimizing RAM usage

One can never have too much (free) RAM. As with quite a few short computer proverbs, this one holds almost too true. As years have passed from old operating systems, which used as little as 8 MB of RAM, something was bound to happen. Our dear Windows OS has turned from a resource hog by the standards of 486es to an even bigger resource hog of today’s P4s and A64s. Despite all the new components and large-sized memories that are already measured in gigabytes, something always decides to hog up the RAM. Poof – instead of 1 GB of free RAM, you are lucky if you have half of that available. And if you’re trying to run Windows XP on something as low as 256MB or even 128MB, even booting up becomes tedious.

The way your machine boots, the speed of your machine and the amount of RAM that gets used up are interconnected for the following reasons:

  • during booting, the fewer components that are loaded, the less the strain on the hard-drive and the less RAM is used
  • the fewer programs, the less the CPU is used, again contributing to the speed
  • the more free RAM you have available, the less of a need for virtual memory

Speeding up your computer and minimizing RAM usage can generally be divided into three categories: the first one we’ll call common sense, the second one we’ll call bootstrapping and the third one, runtime. The names might seem odd, but they will become clear once you read through them.

Common sense

The first, most obvious and easiest solution is to use your gray matter and help your computer get faster on a basic level. There are several things to be done here, and they’re all pretty straightforward.

  • clean up your unused programs – even though you don’t use them, any of their residue might cause a slowdown, however slight. If you’re sure you won’t be using the program for over a month, uninstall it.
  • defragment your hard-drive occasionally – a once- or twice-a-month defragment, left to run overnight, will do wonders for both the start-up speed and using programs once you’re already inside the OS. If you want a more powerful defragmenter than what comes with your copy of Windows by default, you can either pick a payware solution like O&O Defrag and Raxco PerfectDisk, or you can looks into freeware alternatives such as Power Defragmenter and DG-Defragmenter.
  • disable compression and indexing inside Windows – both of those use a lot of resources unneccessarily. The indexing service does little to speed up your searching, but does very evil things to your hard-drive speed – fortunately, it can be disabled in every drive’s Properties box.
  • make sure the system is virus- and spyware-free – this one is pretty self-evident. A healthy computer will be faster than its infected counterpart – viruses and spyware can slow down a modern-day machine to the speeds of a 486, or worse.

Just observing those four basic steps should give you a net boost during normal work. However, in order to speed up the startup time, you need a slightly different approach – and more experience than the basic moves.

Bootstrapping

When it comes to setting up a fast-booting machine, all of the advice from the “common sense” section applies. A defragmented drive will produce a faster booting sequence, since the disk head won’t have to rabidly jump around the hard-drive looking for the next piece of a big file. Having a virus-clean machine will obviously help during bootup since no viruses or malware will occupy the memory and CPU and kep leeching off the resources. So, in order to speed up running, we’ll “strap the boot sequence” to fit only what it needs to start up – and little else.

To make fine adjustments to the boot-up sequence, two tools are neccessary. One is the built-in Manage Computers tool, accessible through either the My Computer right-click option labeled Manage (in Windows 2000) or the Control Panel – Manage link (in Windows XP). The Services section contains a list of background applications that serve various purposes inside the OS, from your graphic card’s low-level drivers to removable media usage and the Windows Installer. By consulting an online list of services (available from Microsoft for Windows 2000 and Windows XP, respectively) you can gauge which service you’ll need and which ones can be disabled or set to manual (application-controlled starting). Of course, some services are best left alone, but in all reality, if you’re optimizing an old laptop that doesn’t even have a modem, you probably won’t need the Messenger or DHCP Client services – think what you need, consult the lists and act accordingly.

The second tool needed is none other than the Spybot Search & Destroy, the tool normally used for removing spyware. By switching it into Advanced Mode (and taking heed of the warning), then going to the Tools – System Startup section, you can switch your startup programs on and off. Again, care is required, as you do not want to switch a vital component off and lock yourself out of your own computer. The rule of the thumb is: if the Key section is System.ini (and there should be six or seven entries listed originating from there), it’s mandatory, and best left switched on. For all else, do an online search for the exe and decide whether you really want it on or off.

By using just those two tools you might be able to cut your booting time in some way – possibly even up to a half of its original value. But what do you do once you start using something really intensive?

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Comments (2)

  • Jeff says:

    A Solid State Drive (SSD) does an awesome job of speeding up boot time!

  • Yep, on an optimised system the HDD is usually the bottleneck.

    On a slow PC, I always check the hard drives’ properties to make sure it hasn’t decided to drop from DMA to PIO mode.

    If it has, it’s worth running a full chkdsk on the drive.