Tag Archives: optimizing windows

EMET protects against what your antivirus cannot–and it’s free

A few years ago, Microsoft quietly released a security tool called EMET–the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit. EMET is now in version 4.0, and it’s probably the best security tool you’ve never heard of. And that’s a real shame.

Modern versions of Windows and modern CPUs include several security-enhancing technologies that aren’t necessarily switched on by default. EMET is a wrapper that forces software to use these technologies, even if they weren’t designed from the get-go to use them. The idea, then, is that if a badly behaving data file tries to exploit a traditional vulnerability in one of these programs, EMET steps in and shuts it down. A real-world example would be if you visit a web page that’s playing a malicious Flash video, or that contains a malicious Acrobat PDF. The malicious data loads, starts to execute, and the minute it misbehaves, EMET slams the browser tab shut. You won’t know right away what happened, but your computer didn’t get infected, either. Continue reading EMET protects against what your antivirus cannot–and it’s free

So, would I rather be a full-time author?

When I wrote my take on used-book sales, I originally included a question, then took it out because it turned into a sidebar. But it’s a valid question.

Would I rather be a full-time author? Continue reading So, would I rather be a full-time author?

Ways to speed up an aging laptop

Yesterday Lifehacker did a feature on laptop tweaks and upgrades, that basically came down to reinstalling the OS, adding memory, and upgrading to an SSD. All of those are good things to do of course, but there’s more you can do. I posted a response there; I’ll elaborate a bit here, where I have more room to do so.

There are tons of links here to previous content I’ve written; optimizing aging machines is a recurring theme for me. I’ve been writing on that topic for 11 years now.

Continue reading Ways to speed up an aging laptop

Optimizing Windows’ startup sequence

In days of yore, it was possible to go by one simple rule. When several minutes passed between the time your desktop appeared and the time you could actually do something, you could just run MSConfig and disable anything you don’t recognize. Back when a typical PC started up maybe a half-dozen things and a sick PC started up 12-18, that was manageable.

Not so much today. Not when there are 22,528 known things (as of 30 Nov 2010) that insert themselves into system startup.

I didn’t make that 22,528 number up. How did I know?

Continue reading Optimizing Windows’ startup sequence

Slimming down Windows XP for SSDs and nettops

I found a very long and comprehensive guide for using Nlite to reduce the size of a Windows installation.

The guide is geared towards an Asus Eee. But it should work well on pretty much anything that has an Intel CPU in it.A couple of tweaks to his settings will make it suitable for AMD-based systems. Just remove anything Intel-specific, and add back in anything specific to AMD, and there you go.

And if you have a multi-core or hyperthreaded CPU, leave multi-processor support in.

I also recommend slipstreaming SP3 and all the hotfixes you can. Then you don’t have to run Windows Update, them, and you don’t have to clean up after it either. I haven’t investigated all of the whys and wherefores, but I’ve noticed that the more you slipstream ahead of time, the smaller your Windows directory ends up being. I have some systems at work that are constantly bursting at the seams on their system partitions. Other systems, which were built later from a copy of Windows with more stuff slipstreamed in, have a lot more breathing room.

Using the i64x.com instructions, you can pretty much count on getting a Windows XP installation under half a gig in size. That makes life with a small SSD much more bearable, since a typical installation tends to take a couple of gigs these days.

I’ll add some tips of my own. Inside the Windows directory, there are some subdirectories named inf, repair, and servicepackfiles. Compress those. That’ll free up some more space–at least a couple dozen megabytes in most cases.

If you’re really cramped, compress the whole Windows directory. Boot time actually decreased by a couple of seconds when I did this (down to 12 seconds from about 14), but software installations slowed considerably. But for everyday operation, you could almost consider NTFS compression a performance trick. It makes sense; an SSD can sometimes saturate the bus it’s connected to, so data compression lets it shove 20-50% more data through that saturated bus.

The downside is that when you install something that lives in the Windows directory, it has to not only copy the data into place, but also compress it. Installing the .NET Framework on a system with a compressed Windows directory takes a while.

A good compromise is to install pretty much everything you think you’ll need on the system, then start compressing.

It’s difficult to make a case for compressing the entire drive, however. Most modern data file formats are compressed–including all modern media formats and Office 2007 documents–so turning on NTFS compression on directories storing that kind of data gives no benefit, while introducing overhead.

Psst… Wanna compete with Best Buy?

Best Bait-n-Switch is offering a service where they’ll remove crapware from a PC for 30 bucks.

You can offer to do the same thing for 30 bucks, but do a better job. Here’s how.Of course, the first thing you do is go into Add/Remove Programs and remove everything in sight, unless it’s something the client actually wants. That’ll take about 20 minutes, tops, and it’s probably the extent of what Best Buy does. That’ll help, but it doesn’t bring back all of the new PC peppiness.

Next, you need to install and run a couple of utilities. Start out with CCleaner to remove any stray registry entries that may linger behind. Hopefully there won’t be too much. Then grab the unbeatable Donn Edwards bundle of JK-Defrag, NTREGOPT, and Pagedefrag.

Run NTREGOPT to remove the slack space from the registry, then run Pagedefrag and reboot. You’ll end up with a defragmented pagefile and a fresh-as-a-new-install registry.

Finally, run JK-Defrag to move all the useless data to the end of the drive, and all the stuff people actually use to the front. It’ll do a much better job than Microsoft’s built-in defragmenter, even on a new system.

The tuneup should take less than an hour, and most of it is time you can just walk away from the system and let it do its thing. You can advertise your service as better than Best Buy’s and compete solely on that, or beat them on price by a few bucks while providing a better and more worthwhile service.

If you’re feeling really industrious, you can even consult the appropriate Black Viper services list and disable unnecessary services to free up a little RAM and CPU time. If you don’t want to do a lot of reading, Computer Browser and Remote Registry are two services that always make sense to disable in home environments. My personal list used to be a lot longer, but Windows’ defaults are a lot more optimal than they were 5-8 years ago. The other stuff I always used to disable is disabled by default now.

And here’s one last piece of valuable advice you can give your clients. Rather than buy the Norton or McAfee antivirus product that’s probably installed on their computer as trialware, delete it and have your client buy NOD32 instead. The price is comparable to the other products, but it consumes a lot less CPU time and memory than the rest. So if you want antivirus protection but also want the computer to stay peppy, that’s the best choice in town.

Windows 2000 in 32 megs of RAM

I can’t remember if I linked this before or not, so here’s Windows 2000 on 32 MB of RAM.

Of course I find this interesting. And his advice is pretty good. My first choice for an OS in 32 megs of RAM would be Windows 95, and probably Windows 95a at that (and gee, some idiot wrote a book about that), but if you need better reliability and stability, Windows 2000 is a good second choice.

One piece of advice worth mentioning that he didn’t mention: If there’s a modem on the system, lose it, especially if it’s a Winmodem. That’ll save lots of precious RAM and CPU cycles.

This author says used book sales don\’t hurt authors or publishers

In case you didn’t know it, Amazon.com sells used books as well as new books. This New York Times story (via News.com) says authors and publishers still don’t like used book sales because they say it hurts new book sales.

I happen to be a published author. I say they need to quit whining.In case you didn’t know it, here’s how authors are generally paid. Authors get a royalty on each copy of the book sold. The royalty varies. On a typical Dummies book, the royalty is about 25 cents. Other publishers pay closer to 10 percent of the cover price. When you buy a book for $25, the author will probably see $1.50-$3 of it.

When the publisher agrees to take the book, the author gets an advance, usually of a few thousand dollars. Celebrities might get half a million or more. A first-time author might get less than $10,000. Generally the advance is determined based on expected sales. So I’ll always get a fraction of what a marketing machine like Phil McGraw gets, since he can essentially turn his daily TV show into an hour-long commercial for his book until he’s happy with the sales.

The advance is paid back by withholding royalties. So, if I were to get a $6,000 advance to write a book and got a royalty of $1 per copy, I would start seeing royalties after 6,000 books were sold.

Some people say used book sales hurt authors and publishers because these books exist and are bought and sold outside of this royalty structure. If you buy a used copy of Optimizing Windows, I don’t see a penny of it. Unfair, right?

Wrong. I got my royalty on that copy when the copy sold the first time.

The only time that a used book sale truly hurts the author or the publisher is when a copy that was sent to a reviewer or an otherwise free copy ends up on the used book market. This happens, even when the free copy is stamped “Not for resale” or something similar. But even then, the harm is minimal. Optimizing Windows got a huge burst in sales when Sandy McMurray reviewed it. Thanks to him, the book made Amazon’s Top 10 in Canada and even hit #1 a couple of times. He made me thousands sales. I don’t give a rip if he resold his review copy–it’s still a huge gain for me. As far as I’m concerned, if a review results in two book sales–which it inevitably will–that free copy did its job.

And, sadly, books go out of print. Once that happens, the only way to get a copy is to buy a used one.

I have no problem at all with used books. It keeps books circulating, and I believe that people who buy used books also buy new books. They’re also more likely to talk about books, which will result in more sales of both used and new books.

Besides, if you buy a book and you don’t think enough of it to keep it, shouldn’t you be able to get some of your money back out of it?

Finally! A $60 RAMdisk on a PCI card

PC World: Taiwanese hardware maker Gigabyte Technology has stumbled upon a faster way to boot up PCs based on Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system.

Please allow me to quote something I penned back in 1999: “I’d love to see someone design and release a battery-backed hardware RAM disk for PCs… Such devices existed in the early 1990s for the Commodore 64/128 and the Apple IIgs and permitted these systems to boot their graphical operating systems before the PCs of their day had managed to bring up a C: prompt. A similar device for today’s PCs would do more to boost system performance than any other innovation I see coming down the pipeline any time soon.”You can find the paragraph, in context, on page 214 of Optimizing Windows for Games, Graphics and Multimedia.

Enough self-congratulation. I’m glad someone finally made this device, which is called the Gigabyte i-Ram PCI ramdisk. And here’s the great news: The device is going to cost about $60 without RAM. 512-meg DIMMs can be expensive or cheap. A quick scan turns up some that I’d be willing to trust for $41 from Newegg.com.

It plugs into a PCI slot but it only uses the slot for power. Data itself is transferred via a serial ATA cable. This improves compatibility, I suppose, but I would have liked to have seen the serial ATA hardware integrated onto the board. But that would have increased costs, and arguably most of the people who will want this already have serial ATA. At least the target market does. I don’t know if this is going to prove more popular with people who want to hot rod their Pentium 4s, or people who want to increase the life expectancy of an older PC. This thing would do wonders for Mom’s PC, or my sister’s PC, and their primary interests are word processing and e-mail. They would love the speed and the quiet.

I’ve got all sorts of ideas for this thing. The article says it’ll be out in July. I want one BAD.

What kinds of ideas? For one, I’d love to eliminate the biggest source of latency in my PCs. I tend not to hit the CPU all that hard most of the time, but I sure do hit my disks hard. I’d love to eliminate the last mechanical piece in the system. Let’s face it: Hard drives crash. This thing gets wiped out if it loses power for 12 hours, but how often does that really happen? And if you’ve got a UPS and you shut the system down, shouldn’t it last indefinitely? Backing the data up to a real hard drive on the network somewhere, or onto a memory stick will solve that issue. Between that and a Ghost image of the system partition, you can recover from a power outage fast.

And who doesn’t want an ultra-quiet PC? Get a cool-running CPU and video card, and maybe, just maybe, your PC can survive on its case fan alone again. With this on a mini-ITX board with an external power supply, a completely fanless, ultra-quick PC might be possible.

And I can see all sorts of applications for this thing for my new employer.

I’m as excited as a puppy when company comes over bearing dog biscuits.