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  • Always keep firmware and OS up to date
    Keeping your device firmware up to date is critically important to maintaining a fast and healthy system. Not only does having the latest firmware help to protect you from potential attacks and other vulnerabilities, but it often includes bug fixes or efficiency improvements that make it easier for your device to perform its intended task. In a nutshell, firmware is simply software loaded onto a ROM or similar chip within a piece of hardware. Not all hardware requires or includes firmware, in fact most do not, but many do. Common example of devices that include firmware are storage drives, display adapters, wireless adapters, and many more. By making sure your firmware is current, you ensure that you always have the latest features enabled, and that any bugs or vulnerabilities are corrected. These improvements are often subtle, having only a minor or indirect effect on your experience. Your device won’t suddenly compile code any faster, or process photo edits more efficiently, but it saves you the time and trouble having to re-image your device should you fall victim to an attack.
  • Keep your disk clean and manage your storage
    Keeping your disk clean helps improve the performance of Windows 10 in a number of ways. As an Operating System, Windows is doing a lot of things at once, and whether you’re compiling code for your newest application, editing videos or photos, or simply playing your favorite games, Windows is constantly juggling the tasks you throw at it with along with several other tasks and services that run silently in the background. We’ll talk a lot more about some of those background services in a later post but for now what matters most is knowing that all those tasks are reading and writing data to and from your drive in exactly the same way that your open applications do, and that means they are all competing for bandwidth. A traditional spinning-disk drive has the least available bandwidth and is often the biggest performance bottleneck in a device. Even a simple SATA SSD has exponentially greater bandwidth and will make a significant difference in the responsiveness of your OS, application load times, and more. While all of the tips in this blog will help to improve performance, no single change will be a simple or a noticeable as the upgrade from a spinning-disk drive to an SSD. If you aren’t currently using an SSD, that should be your first priority. If you’re already using an SSD and you want to speed things up a bit, the first order of business should be reducing the number of applications that compete for bandwidth on your device. A good place to start is to look at your list of installed applications and remove any of them that you don’t regularly use. Give priority to programs that perform the most read/write operations. If you’re unsure which programs read or write the most, open up Task Manager, select the Process tab, and sort by disk usage. This can help you determine which applications are the worst offenders. It’s also a good idea to separate your storage into multiple drives if your systems permits. Using one physical drive for Windows and a second physical drive for your applications and storage is not only the best practice, it also ensures that your programs aren’t competing with Windows or eating into your I/O threshold. Another important tip is to use a browser that allows you to cache to RAM such as Firefox. By default, all your browsing activity is cached to your local drive, meaning that every image, every video, and every block of text on every page you visit is stored (at least temporarily) on your drive, and while it usually doesn’t consume to a huge amount of storage space since it gets wiped regularly, it represents a lot of reads and writes that can be avoided if you simply configure the browser to cache all those files to RAM instead. As an added bonus, since RAM is significantly faster than an SSD, your typical website will also load a little bit faster. Something else to try is keeping your documents, photos, and videos on an external drive. Not only does this free up tons of space and, by extension, a small amount of bandwidth, it also prevents you from having all of your eggs in one basket. If the documents, photos, and videos in question are of any value, you’ll want to have them backed up anyway and not tied to your device. It’s not a simple task and it’s more complicated than a simple one-and-done. Managing your storage requires a little bit of regular maintenance and TLC. Plan ahead if you are building a system and make sure that it has more than enough storage, as a consequence of how drive controllers’ function, higher capacity equates to faster read and write operations, and better longevity!
  • Uninstall Bloatware
    Bloatware is a sort of strange category in the software world. Unlike Malware or Spyware, which describe applications distributed with malicious or deceptive intentions, Bloatware isn’t really specific to the software itself. Bloatware is often used to describe software that comes pre-loaded on devices like smartphones or tablets, and while that is an accurate use of the term, it really doesn’t paint a complete picture. Bloatware, at the end of the day describes any software that adds unnecessary bloat to the system – in most cases, it just means software that you don’t want, or didn’t intentionally install. Microsoft allows system builders to configure their own OOBE (Out of Box Experience), which is to say that it lets companies like Dell, HP, Asus, and many others to customize what windows looks and feels like when installed on their hardware. Part of this process allows them to include software that installs when you first log into Windows. Now, most of the time this is harmless. I call it benign, but ignorant. Device manufactures seem to think that because you purchased a laptop from them that you must also want to use half a dozen media viewers, checkup utilities, cloud storage monitors, and various other items that you probably have no intention of ever using. By itself, this is only mildly annoying, and the process of removing most applications is as simple as opening the control panel and uninstalling it. There are instances where this is not the case, and the uninstallation process is more involved, requiring registry edits, or the removal of background services. There isn’t a process that works for every piece of bloat and the unfortunate reality is that you won’t ever be able to fully remove all traces of the pre-installed apps without an extraordinary amount of work. Sound bleak? It is. The best step is simply not to waste your time sorting out which applications you want to keep and which ones you want to remove. It’s better to simply download the latest version of Windows directly from Microsoft and install it yourself, cutting out all the bloat in one swift motion, and preventing any accidental omissions. Just make sure that once Windows is installed, you download all the latest drivers for your hardware!
  • Disable visual effects
    There is a very aptly named menu within Windows 10 called Performance Options. You can find this menu by simply pressing the Windows key and typing ‘adjust the appearance and performance of Windows’. Each of the options in this list represents as visual effect within windows that can be enabled or disabled by simply checking or checking the corresponding box. Each of the visual effects is unique, and consumes a very small amount of system resources. The beauty of this menu is that you can pick and choose which visual effects to enable or disable, creating the experience that is tailored to your preferences. The value added by making these changes will vary based on your device hardware. In modern systems with speedy quad core processors and 16GB of RAM, you may not even notice a difference. However, if you are running more dated hardware with slower single or dual core processors, and 8GB of RAM or fewer, the difference can be more pronounced.
  • Manage Paging File
    Page files, sometimes called swap files, are a bit of a relic. In a bygone age, system resources came a much higher premium, and RAM was both scarce and expensive. This led software engineers to find creative workarounds for loading memory intensive applications without the necessary RAM. What a Page file functionally does is reserve a portion of your storage, be it on a traditional HDD or a more modern SSD, and allow applications to use that storage as if it were RAM. While there are a few very niche use-cases for this, the average user will never really see a benefit – in fact, what you will notice is an accumulation of bloat as you attempt to multi-task. Examples include: Having multiple applications open at the same time. Having multiple tabs open in your browser. Working in a particularly large Access, Excel, or SQL dataset. Using creative applications such as Adobe Photoshop, Premiere, or Audition. Putting aside the larger discussion about whether or not this feature was ever a good idea, the RAM this process simulates is no longer at the premium it once was. When Windows XP was released in 2001, it required a minimum of 64 MB (yeah, that’s right, Megabytes) of RAM. And this was at a time when having 256 MB (exactly one quarter of a Gigabyte) was almost excessive. Hard drives at the time were averaging 16 to 20 GB, and ultra-expensive, premium drives that offer up to 36 GB of storage were so far outside the price range of the consumer that they may as well not have existed at all. With modern machines now averaging between 8 and 16 GB of RAM, most applications run with plenty of headroom to spare, and the need for a Page File is simply no longer there. It’s also important to know that it has never been simpler or more affordable to upgrade your RAM. A single 16GB DIMM average just over $100, and 8GB DIMMs are regularly available at under $40. This means that if you find yourself in one of those unusual situations where you actually need more RAM, just go buy more – why have Windows manage a messy page file that provides a subpar experience? Disabling the page file is super easy, all you need to do is visit the ‘Performance Options’ menu, and click on the ‘Advanced’ tab. Click on the ‘Change…’ button in the Virtual Memory section, and uncheck the box labeled ‘Automatically manage the paging file size for all drives. Then, click the radial button labeled ‘No Paging File’ and click ‘Set’. You will need to reboot for these changes to take effect, but once you log back in you will be using RAM the way God intended, and not relying on your HDD or SSD to pull double duty.
  • Disable System Restore
    System Restore is an interesting feature within Windows that, in my view as long since outlived its usefulness. It has been a part of Windows for over twenty years across its many iterations. At the time, IDE drives were the norm and the SATA drives had not yet been introduced to market. Under these conditions, operations such as installing Windows on a new PC was an extremely lengthy endeavor. This meant that it was a better investment of your time to have Windows periodically create restore points so that, in the event of a critical system failure, you could potentially revert back to the state it was in at any one of those points. Two things have really eroded away the modern user’s need for this feature. In the first place, storage hardware is orders of magnitude faster and more efficient that it was twenty years ago, and installing a fresh copy of Windows on a new PC is only about 5-10 minutes of work. This means that getting up and running again after a complete system failure is far less of a setback than it was before. Additionally, the modern computing environment has changed dramatically, and users have more options than ever before when it comes to protecting their data. Removable media has evolved quite a bit, and the easy with which critical data can be stored on network drives, or external disks means that the loss of an operating system is even less critical. If your system does suffer some form of attack or failure, you are better served by following Ripley’s advice and nuking it from orbit… just to be sure, and then reinstalling the OS from scratch. Not only is this the safer approach, it’s actually quite a bit faster than restoring from a backup, and by disabling System Restore, you free up additional system resources that can be better put to use on, well, anything else. Disabling System Restore is relatively straight forward. As with so many features, you can find this one in the System Properties menu, under the System Protection tab. There isn’t much to do here other than look at your existing settings, which will let you know which drives are currently being including the Restore Points, so just click on the Configure button to continue. Here we can see just how much storage Windows is using for this “feature”. Because Windows reserves a portion of your drive space as a percentage, the amount of storage you lose will scale up as your drive size increases. The included example is from a 240GB SSD. If your system uses a larger disk, a larger portion will be reserved by Windows for these operations. The first thing to do is click the Delete button, confirming that you want to remove any existing restore points (Windows creates one by default when you first install). Confirm the deletion and then select the radial button labeled Disable System Protection. This will prevent Windows from creating any additional restore points, or reserving any of your storage space. Once that’s done, reboot and enjoy!


Tips, news and suggestions for keeping your technology & business processes working for you!

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