Windows 7 tweaks - Let's have 'em!


Updated: December 1, 2012

In general, Windows does not need any tweaking. Changing default settings will ever so steadily take you away from the most standard, most lenient configuration into a world of unknowns and maybes. Seven months from now, you will happen to be fighting a weird issue that could be stemming from some innocent little tweak somewhere.

However, some tweaks can be applied safely, without causing disruptive changes to how Windows behaves and works. So far, I've give you two security guides and one extensive customization howto for Windows 7. Now, we will explore several more useful tips and tricks that could help you squeeze fresh oranges from your proverbial Microsoft juicepot. Now, this collection may seem like a jumble, so feel free to ignore.

Teaser

Performance

Some claim that Windows performance deteriorates over time. This is completely untrue, and only depends on how messy users are. If you keep your machine in a pristine state and do not go wildly about scarring the disk with junk and leftovers from botched installs and uninstalls, the performance figures will remain true and steady. Now, you can also check how fast your installation is compared to the global pool of Windows installations. You can find the Performance Information and Tools applet in the Control Panel. It will grade different pieces of your hardware, comparing to the latest set in the database. Over time, as new hardware is released, the values will go down, but that does not mean your actual installation will be any slower. Lastly, do note the figures tell only part of the picture, so don't get too hung up on numbers.

Performance info

Windows Resource Monitor

Another most handy tool for evaluating, analyzing and understanding your system behavior is the Resource Monitor. This tool extends the basic Task Manager by offering detailed information on your hardware utilization, including CPU, memory, disk, network.

The Resource Monitor comes with a lot of data, so some of it can be a little hard to digest, but if you are a skilled user, you can use it for high-level analysis of memory leaks and possible disk bottlenecks, network congestion, overall throughput, and other elements of your computer's daily behavior when graced with Windows 7. I find the tool quite useful, especially when it comes to disk and network, as you can instantly see how many ports you have open and using, what programs are hogging the resources, and more.

Resource monitor

Event Log pimping

Too many people give this extremely valuable messaging facility a pass, when in fact, it is one of the most important pieces of your Windows toolbox. Using the Event Log smartly can help you diagnose numerous tiny problems, inconsistencies and annoyances.

A very useful feature, in addition to examining logs and errors, is the ability to connect to remote machines and monitor them from a single computer, without mucking about like an amateur. When you have multiple machines in your setup, this becomes quite useful. Look at the actions in the right column. One of them reads Connect to Another Computer. You can then choose a member of the Homegroup, specify a name or IP address or search for network peers. You can also connect as another user if needed.

Connect to another comp

Connecting to another machine

Disk power options

By default, Windows will try to be supposedly green and conserve power when it can, which also means turning off your hard disks after a while. I find this to be an unnecessary saving of approx. 2-3 watts per hour, especially since disks need to spin up and warm up to their steady state temperature, to say nothing of the slowdown. In order to keep disks working at all times, fully lubricated and handsome, you can disable this option for your current power plan, under Power Options in the Control Panel.

Disk power options

Windows ReadyBoost

This sounds like some energy drink that will laxatize your bowels, but it is in fact a medium-latency memory offloading for your system. If you happen to be lean on RAM, rather than going to local disk and churning the pagefile, you can use external media for that purpose. Supposedly, Flash-based memory of external devices might be fast enough to allow a comfortable use of this extension. I took the screenshot of the help page for this feature, as I did not have a readily available example to show, but some of you might find this useful. Now, they call it instant RAM, but I'd call it, a poor man's choice. Still, worth being aware of the feature and ignoring it when and where needed. Or using it.

ReadyBoost

Mobility Center

This is not a Special Ops corny slang, it's the name of another handy utility, which comes active only on mobile devices, like laptops. This one stop-shop, so to speak, please don't hit me, allows you to turn on and off various mobile features of your machine, without having to go into the Control Panel and look for complicated menus. The options include Wireless, sound, power, display brightness, external projectors, and syncing. The Mobility Center is activated by the Super + X key combo. Quite useful overall and saves some mouse clicks.

Mobility Center

Parallel defrag

If you're using mechanical disks for storage, like most people do, you will have heard that they ought to be defragged once in a while, the reason being, the way NTFS filesystem stores data leads to a slight performance degradation over time. All right, so you're convinced and you let your system do its nightly scheduled defrag, one partition at a time, and this indeed, takes time. So why not make the process faster? How, by parallelizing it!

Windows 7 allows you to run multiple defrags at the same time. You can initiate the process from the command line. This is where the non-GUI use of Windows comes handy. Open the command prompt as administrator and execute:

defrag /c /h /r /u

If you're worried, you can consult defrag options with defrag /?. Optionally, you can use the /m switch instead of /r. Check to see what gives.

More good stuff

I have several more useful tips, but this time, I would like to refer to some other external resources, which have already covered the topics in detail. So, this is also a good reading section.

Virtual router

You can make your laptop into a Wireless hotspot. This sounds like an awesome idea and something I will be testing soon. For now, though, you might want to read the rather neat and splendid techradar.com piece on this subject.

God Mode

Now, not Doom, Duke Nuke 'em or Hexen, just some geeks having fun. Windows God Mode is less awesome than it sounds, though, it's just an ability to expand all available Control Panel options in a single menu without having to dig through, sort of like what the classic Gnome 2 control center used to offer. If you're interested, Tom's Hardware has an article on that one.

More reading

My Windows customization guide

Security for Windows 7, parts one and two

You might also like admin user tips and the Classic Shell thingie

Here's a very important piece on WMIC, the Windows secret weapon!

How to know which files are in use - and how to recover your Windows 7

And there's a lot more, so you'd better explore the Software section thoroughly

Finally, a ton of Windows 7 articles on howtogeek.com - must read

Conclusion

There you go, a simple and safe tweaking guide, as much as possible. You should not dabble if you do not need, unless you're possessed with a nerdy disease to change everything, but if so, then I've just provided you with a handful of useful and rather conservative tips. A bit on performance and performance monitoring, disk usage, some mobility tips, and a wealth of other resources and reading that should keep you busy for quite a while.

That would be all, I guess. Some of you may have expected registry games and all kinds of third party utilities that could transform Windows into Mac, but that's not gonna happen. Truly, I do not believe in ruining your operating system for the sake of fun, so you should refrain from doing so too. Overall, Windows is well optimized as is, even in its very average, common, mass-usage, least dangerous configuration designed for normal people, and which should really suit everybody. Honestly, there's little else you should do, and this tutorial provides just that. Take care.

Cheers.

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