Easier deep Firefox SQL optimization

Last year I examined ways to optimize Firefox’s SQLite databases. I’ve since found I like it better when I just put the Firefox profile in a ramdisk, but that may not be an option in all cases.

If you don’t want to go the latter route and would like to avoid the command line jockeying, give Speedyfox a look. And even if you’ve put Firefox in a ramdisk, this program can be useful. You won’t notice any speedup inside a ramdisk, but SQL optimization saves storage space, which is always at a premium inside ramdisks. Read more

Best public DNS – finding the best for you

Best public DNS – finding the best for you

If your Internet connection is slow, it almost always helps if you optimize your DNS. But there’s more to the best public DNS than just speed. I’ll tell you how to find the fastest DNS, but using a DNS that offers improved security gives your computer protection beyond what your antivirus and firewall provide.

Sometimes it’s enough, and it’s definitely cheaper than buying a new router. Even if you do get a new router, using fast DNS helps. Here’s how to find the best public DNS to use, to improve your speed and your security.

Read more

A better registry cleaner

Note: I wrote this back in the Windows XP days. It worked really well under XP, but if you’re going to run the registry cleaner portion in Windows 7 or Windows 10, be sure to create a restore point first.

I’ve been messing around with a registry cleaner called CCleaner. I like it a lot better than the commercial tools that used to come with Norton Utilities and the like, and I like it better than the freebies that we used to use like Microsoft’s Regclean.

And you’ll never beat the price.CCleaner runs on Windows 95, 98, 98SE, ME, NT4, 2000, XP, and Vista.

One thing that I liked about it is that the program is intelligent and relatively dummy-proof. If you click around and do all of the defaults, it’s not likely to harm your computer. I inadvertently wiped out my Firefox browser history (I wanted to keep that) but that’s not a showstopper. It will populate itself again in a few weeks. Unlike commercial utility suites, where I’ve written 20-page explanations how to use them safely, this program doesn’t really need any explanation.

CCleaner actually does more than just clean up the Registry, although it does a fine job of that. It also does a great job of weeding out useless temporary files. I ran it on my old laptop and it found 386 megabytes of junk on my crowded C drive. I’ve been manually cleaning it up by searching it by hand, and I think I do a pretty good job of finding a lot of stuff, but what can I say? The program found 386 megs of stuff that I didn’t.

There are three benefits to getting rid of that cruft. First, Windows needs quite a bit of free space just to function properly. When you start getting too little free space, the system just acts goofy. Second, large numbers of temp files in the system directory just seem to make the system act funny. This was a bigger problem in Windows 9x than in the newer NT-based Windows versions, but there’s still no reason to have hundreds of those laying around. In my desktop support days, just getting rid of temp files used to clear up all sorts of mysterious problems. And finally, not having all those large and useless files on the disk makes your defragmentation programs work better. Those programs need free space to work with, and they don’t have to work as hard when they don’t have hundreds of extra worthless files to move around.

Cleaning the Registry is another important job, since a lot of uninstallation programs don’t do a very thorough job of cleaning up after themselves. The extra bloat chews up memory and slows down searches for the legitimate data the programs you actually use need. Since I tend not to install many programs and I use most of the ones I do install, CCleaner didn’t find a whole lot in my Registry, but it found some stuff to clean up.

So what happened after I ran it? The most noticeable effects were that my Start menu was a lot peppier, and my Web browsers loaded and ran a little bit faster. I understand the Web browser speedup, but the Start menu puzzled me a bit. Not that I’m complaining–it’s irritating when you press Start and have to wait for your list of programs to come up.

CCleaner isn’t a miracle worker and it won’t turn my P3-700 into a Core Duo, but the two systems I’ve run it on do run noticeably faster afterward. It was certainly more than worth the 10 minutes it took for me to download it and run it on each.

So what about the commercial utilities suites? Skip them. In this day and age, there are better, free alternatives for everything those utilities suites could do. CCleaner is one of the superstars. In coming days, I’ll talk about free substitutes for the other most important components of the utility suites.

Speeding up Openoffice

This week the usual sources were flooded with stories about how slow and bloated Openoffice is. I guess this came on the heels of the release of version 2.0; it’s never been much of a secret that Openoffice was big and slow. It’s descended from Staroffice, after all, and it was big and slow too.

Speedup tips ensued.A tips summary appeared at The Inquirer, but I’ll elaborate on them a bit.

First, fire up one of the apps and go to Tools, Options. Click on Java, then uncheck the box that says Use a Java Runtime Environment. This can speed up loadtime by a factor of 10, and I’m not kidding. On my machine, it used to take 30 seconds for one of the applications to load; now it takes 2-3.

This is an old trick; I remember back in 1996-97 we used to disable Java in Netscape to speed it up considerably. Disabling Javascript used to help too. It’s hard to live without at least Javascript these days, alas. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need a Java-enabled word processor though.

Another tip involved clicking on memory, going to Graphics Cache, and changing the value for Use for Openoffice.org to 64 and Memory per object to 8. I wouldn’t do this on low-memory machines but if you have a lot of RAM it does seem to help.

I used to avoid Openoffice because it was slow. If I wanted to wait 30 seconds for my word processor to load, I’d buy a Commodore 64 and hook a 1541 up to it again. The memory usage still bugs me, but on high-memory machines, I’m finally comfortable using it, and that’s good. It’s very nice to have a free office suite that’s practical to use available.

Why my ramdisk techniques don’t work with XP

I got a question today in a roundabout way asking about ramdisks in Windows, specifically, where to find my instructions for loading Win98 into a ramdisk, and how to do the same in XP.
I haven’t thought about any of this kind of stuff for more than two years. It seems like two lifetimes.

The original instructions appeared in my book, Optimizing Windows (now in the half-price bin at Amazon.com), and instructions to use DriveSpace to compress the disk appear here. You can get the freeware xmsdisk utility this trick requires from simtel.

These techniques absolutely do not work with Windows NT4, 2000, or XP. Despite the similar name, Windows NT/2000/XP are very different operating systems than Windows 9x. Believe it or not, they’re much more closely related to IBM’s OS/2 than they are to Windows 98. Since there is no DOS laying underneath it all, there’s no easy way to do the trickery that the bootable ramdisk tricks use. What these two tricks do is literally intercept the boot process, copy Windows into the ramdisk, then continue booting.

There’s a $99 piece of software called SuperSpeed that gives the NT-based operating systems this capability. I haven’t used it. I imagine it works using the same principle, hooking into the boot process and moving stuff around before booting continues.

The downside, no matter what OS you use, is the boot time. XP boots in seconds, and my book talks about the trickery necessary to get 95 and 98 to boot in 30 seconds or less. But any time you’re moving a few hundred megs or–yikes–a gig or two of data off a disk into a ramdisk, the boot process is going to end up taking minutes instead.

Is it worth it? For some people, yes. It’s nice to have applications load instantly. A lot of things aren’t CPU intensive. You spend more time waiting for your productivity apps to load than you do waiting for them to do anything. Web browsing and e-mail are generally more bandwidth- and disk-intensive than they are CPU-intensive (although CSS seems determined to change that).

But a lot of games aren’t especially disk-intensive, with the possible exception of when they’re loading a new level. So loading the flavor-of-the-week FPS game into a ramdisk isn’t going to speed it up very much.

Of course, XP is far, far more stable than 98. Windows 9x’s lack of stability absolutely drives me up the wall, and for that matter, I don’t think 2000 or XP are as stable as they should be. Given the choice between XP or 98 in a ramdisk, I’d go for XP, with or without speedup utilities.

I’ve made my choice. As I write, I’m sitting in front of a laptop running 2000 (it’s VPNed into work so I can keep an eye on tape backup jobs) and a desktop PC running Linux. I have a 400 MHz Celeron with Windows 98 on it, but it’s the last Win9x box I have (I think I had 4 at one point when I was writing the aforementioned book). Sometimes I use it to play Baseball Mogul and Railroad Tycoon. Right now it doesn’t even have a keyboard or monitor connected to it.

I guess in a way it feels like hypocrisy, but I wrote the first couple of chapters of that book with a word processor running in Red Hat Linux 5.2 (much to my editor’s chagrin), so I started down that path a long, long time ago.

Optimizing BIOSes and optimizing DOS

Optimizing the BIOS. Dustin Cook sent in a link to Adrian’s Rojak Pot, at www.adriansrojakpot.com , which includes a BIOS tweaking guide. It’s an absolute must-read. I have a few minor quibbles with a couple of the things he says, particularly about shadowing and caching your ROMs with Windows 9x. He says you shouldn’t do it. He’s right. He says you shouldn’t do it because Microsoft says not to do it with Windows NT, and Windows 9x “shares the same Win32 architecture.” It does and it doesn’t, but that’s flawed logic. Shadowing ROMs isn’t always a bad thing; on some systems that eats up some usable memory and on others it doesn’t, depending on the chipset and BIOS it uses. But it’s pointless because Windows doesn’t use the BIOS for anything, unless you’re in safe mode. Caching ROMs makes very little sense; there’s only so much caching bandwidth to go around so you should spend it on caching memory that’s actually being used for something productive. So who cares about architecture, you shouldn’t cache and shadow your ROMs because Windows will ignore it one way or the other, so those facilities are better spent elsewhere. The same thing is true of Linux.

Still, in spite of this minor flaw I found in a couple of different spots, this is an invaluable guide. Perfect BIOS settings won’t make a Pentium-90 run like a Pentium III, but poor BIOS settings certainly can make a Pentium III run more like a 386DX-40. Chances are your BIOS settings aren’t that bad, but they can probably use some improvement. So if you want the best possible performance from your modern PC, visit Adrian’s. If you want to optimize your 386 or 486 or low-end Pentium, visit the site I mentioned yesterday.

Actually, it wouldn’t be a half-bad idea to take the downloadable versions of both guides, print them, and stick them in a binder for future reference. You’ll never know when you might want to take them with you.

Optimizing DOS again. An awful lot of system speed is psychological. I’d say maybe 75% of it is pure psychology. It doesn’t matter so much whether the system really is fast, just as long as it feels fast. I mentioned yesterday keyboard and screen accelerators. Keyboard accelerators are great for people like me who spend a lot of time in long text files, because you can scroll through them so much faster. A keyboard accelerator makes a big difference in how an old DOS system feels, and it can improve the responsiveness of some DOS games. (Now I got your attention I’m sure.)

Screen accelerators are a bit more of a stretch. Screen accelerators intercept the BIOS calls that write to the screen and replace them with faster, more efficient code. I’d estimate the speedup is anywhere from 10 to 50 percent, depending on how inefficient the PC’s BIOS is and whether it’s shadowing the BIOS into RAM. They don’t speed up graphics at all, just text mode, and then, only those programs that are using the BIOS–some programs already have their own high-speed text routines they use instead. Software compatibility is potentially an issue, but PC power users have been using these things since at least 1985, if not longer, so most of the compatibility issues have long since been fixed.

They only take a couple of kilobytes of memory, and they provide enough of a boost for programs that use the BIOS that they’re more than worth it. With keyboard and screen accelerators loaded in autoexec.bat, that old DEC 386SX/20 feels an awful lot faster. If I had a copy of a DOS version of Microsoft Word, I could use it for writing and it wouldn’t cramp my style much.

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