Vista Performance

I was out of town and I FORGOT MY LAPTOP’S CHARGER. On reaching the hotel, I had only enough juice to check my mail and maybe make one reply. Scanning my inbox, there seemed to be one message I could send that might plausibly be useful. It turned out to have a huge impact for some of our users. What was this wisdom?….

Through some combination of experimentation and googling a separate compatibility problem, I had stumbled on a Windows Vista setting buried pretty deep in preferences:

Start -> Control Panel -> Control Panel Home (as opposed to Classic View) -> System and Maintenance -> Performance Information and Tools -> Adjust Visual Effects -> Visual Effects tab.

The default is “Let Windows choose what’s best for my computer”, and on some machines, this is just fine. But on other computers – even some that are sold as being “Designed for Windows Vista” – the performance is terrible or unreliable.

A really big hammer is to change this setting to “Adjust for best performance.” It will make your computer look early nineties ugly, but on some hardware, it seems to free up enough resources (perhaps after rebooting) to make your computer rock again.

If this trick works for you, it may be worthwhile to find a finer grained knob to tweak. For example, you might use the checkboxes individually, or only set desktop right-click -> Personalize -> Window Color and Appearance -> Open classic appearance properties for more color options -> Windows Vista Basic or Windows Standard.

However, there’s a real question about what’s going on here. In some cases, it seems to have a dramatic improvement. But I can’t seem to measure the improvement in a controlled way (e.g., rebooting in between, not running other programs, etc.). Is it a placebo effect? Does it depend on the history of what else has been run? Maybe other conditions are really what matters and the desktop setting is coincidental? I don’t know. But it feels like there’s too much smoke here for there to not be some sort of fire.

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.

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