This website describes extensively how to speed up the computer by changing the software settings. When the computer is still slow, it is time to check the hardware for possible upgrades. The RAM memory and the relatively slow hard disk are the weakest links in the hardware concerning the system performance. A relatively slow hard disk results in a delay while insufficient RAM memory can be the cause of a really slow system!
After the Windows system files (and other programs starting along with Windows) are loaded from the hard disk, they are placed into the RAM memory. When these files consume almost all available RAM memory, then there is not enough memory left for the programs still to be started. When the RAM memory is fully consumed, Windows used the paging file (pagefile.sys, also known as the virtual memory, an especially for this purpose reserved space on the hard disk). Because this paging file is much slower then the RAM memory (because of the relatively slow speed of the hard disk), the use of the paging file will degrade the system performances significantly.
A shortage of RAM memory is recognized by the continuous rattling of the hard disk (the light at the front of the computer indicating the hard disk activity keeps blinking). When a software approach didn't result in the usage of less RAM memory (by disabling the unneeded automatically started items), then there is only one option left: increasing the RAM memory. The system performances can improve miraculous!
To work decently with Windows, XP need at least 1 Gb (and 2 Gb for heavy use) and Vista at least 2 Gb of RAM memory (for Vista Basic 1 Gb should be enough). For the usual 32 bits version of both Windows XP and Windows Vista, it is not useful to place more then 3 Gb RAM memory because of the limitations of the 32 bits architecture. On the other hand, the 64 bits version of Windows Vista needs at least 4 Gb to work properly. The tool CPU-Z (download: www.cpuid.com/cpuz.php), tab Memory shows the current amount of installed RAM memory. When the computer has less the 1 Gb of RAM memory, then upgrading the memory will result in a significant improvement. When new RAM memory is bought, make sure it is the right type of memory, suitable for the motherboard (the type of memory is shown by CPU-Z as well). RAM modules are available in different speeds, but not all motherboards support the highest available speed.
The read and write speed of the hard disks determines the overall performances as well. All (system) files are read from the relatively slow hard disk, before they are loaded into the RAM memory. The time to boot Windows and programs (opening big files included) is determined mainly by the speed the hard disk is able to read them. Every new generation of hard disks is faster then the ones before, which means that an older computer almost always has a relatively slower hard disk. For this reason, it is interesting to find out whether an improvement is within reach by replacing the hard disk by a newer, faster one. After replacing the hard disk, Windows has to be reinstalled or all data has to be imaged from the old to the new hard disk.
TIP: Because the earlier mentioned paging file (the virtual memory) uses the hard disk, replacing the hard disk will indirectly improve the system performances as well.
For years now, I prefer a RAID 1 configuration (RAID means Redundant Array of Independent Disks) where two (identical) hard disks are mirrored (both contain the same information). A change of a file is done on both hard disks, which is very useful when one of the hard disks breaks down. Although the mirroring ends, the computer still runs on the remaining hard disk! The side effect of this RAID configuration is a faster computer as well. In theory the hard disk is twice as fast because a file can be read from two hard disks at the same time.
MY OWN EXPERIENCES WITH A RAID 1 CONFIGURATION
That a RAID 1 configuration improves the performance, was noticeable at the moment I forgot to rebuild the RAID 1 configuration after a BIOS flash has been done. Because the hard disks were no longer mirrored, they were separately available. The partitions on both hard disk all received a disk letter, and the partitions on both hard disks could be changed within Windows. Before I knew what was going on, both hard disks were degraded and no longer usable for rebuilding the RAID 1 configuration!
Now the RAID 1 configuration could not be rebuilded anymore, it was necessary to continue on a single hard disk (while the second hard disk was disconnected). Although it was a fast computer, it was the first time I was annoyed by the heavy use of system resources by the installed commercial security suite... Although this security suite didn't cause any noticeable delays, running Windows on a single hard disk it was.
By the way, the RAID 1 configuration was restored by placing two new (faster) hard disks. The last used hard disk was used to image all information to the newly created RAID 1 configuration. Because I was not sure the operating system was damaged, an previously created image of the operating system was restored. Because of the new hardware, it was also necessary to repair the Windows Vista boot process (the BCD) with the Vista installation DVD. To complete this operation, a new image has been created.
As can be concluded from this story, a system with mirrored hard disks has a big advantage concerning the safety and speed, but is more complex when problems arise...
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