4 ways to improve performance in Windows 8.1

I’ve been toying with Windows 8.1 Public Preview in VirtualBox for almost a month now and I can say that I’m generally pleased with the product; however, there are still a few changes I had to make to optimize the OS for my desktop.  That being said, I’m always looking for ways to squeeze every list bit of power from Windows.  In this guide, I’m going to show you 4 tricks to improving the performance of this nascent OS.

  1. Set CPU Priority to High
  2. Disable Unimportant Services
  3. Cut down the visual effects
  4. Use a Solid State Drive

1. Set CPU Priority to High

Windows 8.1 apportions a certain percentage of the CPU to different Apps.  By default, Windows sets the priority of most processes to Normal – but did you know there are actually 6 different priority levels?  In order of increasing resource usage they are:

  • Low
  • Below Normal
  • Normal
  • Above Normal
  • High
  • Realtime

You can set nonessential processes to Below Normal or Low which automatically liberates CPU power for your most important Apps.  Then you can set the priority to High for your primary applications like Adobe Photoshop or Internet Explorer.  Just keep in mind that these settings aren’t sticky; in other words, the values are ephemeral and vanish once you close the app.  On the flip side, your priority settings will remain effective for as long as the Apps are running in memory.

One caveat: curious types will wonder what the Realtime priority is.  This priority is reserved for low level system critical processes.  If you set your App to Realtime you will ineluctably crash your computer at worse or encounter a myriad of stability issues at best; therefore, I recommend avoiding your itch to go Realtime

High is more than adequate.

Windows 8.1 Prioritize CPU Resources

2. Disable Unimportant Services

The first time you boot a virgin copy of Windows all is serene.

The desktop is tranquil with sparse icons.

The taskbar is barren with only a lonely Internet Explorer icon and manila folder icon.

When things are new your computer performs best.  But over time you install applications and end up goobering the system.

Behind the pretty veneer of your beautiful desktop, there are undoubtedly applications called services running, lurking like hungry sharks feasting on your resources.

To track down and disable these hungry boogers press the Windows Key + r to open the run dialog box then enter this:

services.msc

The services dialog box whooshes onto the screen.

Sort the list to see all your running services first by clicking the Status tab.  Then start reading the Names of your services to see if you can find something you don’t need.  If you have a hard time deciding what to disablg, click the service and read the description that appears in the left pane.

Once you find something to disable, double-click it, choose the Dependencies tab and observe the other components that depend on the service you’re thinking about killing.  If you disable this service all services that depend on it will cease to function so you really need to know what you’re doing here.

In my case, I found TightVNC Server on my computer.  Since there are no dependencies and I don’t need this I’ll just disable it by clicking Stop in the General tab.  You can also take a less drastic approach and simply set the service to Manual in the General tab instead.  But the bottom line is whether you choose to Stop the service or set it to Manual the service is effectively off after rebooting.

If you need a little help, the smart folks at 7Tutorials published a list of services you can safely disable in Windows 7; you can also disable these in Windows 8.1 without ramifications.

Windows 8.1 Check Dependencies on Service

Windows 8.1 Disable Unimportant Services

3. Cut down the Visual Effects

Windows 8.1 comes enhanced a plethora of little effects like fading tooltips, sliding menus and taskbar animations all designed to enhance the look and feel of the OS.  Usually this is benign and the impact on system performance is miniscule; however, when speed throttles; especially if you’re using a Virtual Machine, you can boost your system performance by disabling a few things.

From the Desktop, press the Windows Key + x to open the Power User menu, then open the Control Panel.

Now choose System, click the Advanced System Settings link in the left pane and choose the Settings Button under the Performance Tab to conjure your performance options.

Change the Visual Affects setting to Adjust for best performance. That’s all you need to do here but on the flip side, your system is going to look slightly more austere and might feel a bit drab, but remember, we’re going for performance not aesthetics. Now isn’t the time to be fastidious.

Adjust Windows 8.1 to get the best performance

4. Use a Solid State Drive

Solid State Drives (SSD) seem to always speed things up, if you’ve had contrary results please let me know in the comments, but from my experience installing a good SSD like the Samsung 840inevitably decreases time to boot, makes the OS feel more responsive and improves my general enjoyment of the system.

SSDs are a marvels of engineering and are really interesting when you stop to consider how they work.

Traditional hard drives take an average of 7 milliseconds to seek a file (known as Seek time); however, SSDs can seek the same file in a faction of that.  For example, it usually only takes a SSD .01 milliseconds to find a file.

But that’s not the only benefit.

In addition to transforming your computer snail into a veritable Porsche, the SSD is more reliable because it has no moving parts.  The device is solid, hence the name Solid State, and with no moving parts there is virtually zero maintenance and therefore zero worry.

If you’re really serious about cranking up performance you simply can not afford to ignore SSDs, especially since prices have become more affordable in the last 2 years.

Samsung SSD 840

The Bottom Line

When your copy of Windows 8.1 starts to crawl you can maximize performance by tweaking the CPU priority of selected Apps, setting unwanted services to Stop or Manual and ditching the visual effects.   If that’s not enough, you should contemplating a good SSD. Read the reviews online and see what everyone is talking about.

 

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