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Published: Saturday, 8/31/2002

A few steps can boost PC performance

Looks can be deceiving. Beauty's importance can fade. As time passes, dazzle and charisma can take a back seat to plain, old-fashioned performance and efficiency.

If you've reached that point with your computer - and are ready to sacrifice a little of its appearance for a little more speed - read on.

This column explains how to tweak a PC's operating system (OS) to improve performance. That means programs may run faster, for instance, and menus may display quicker.

You'll sacrifice some of the visual effects displayed on the monitor. But in many instances, you may not notice or care.

Making the changes takes no special skill. And you can experiment safely, changing the settings and then reversing changes you don't like. The instructions are for Windows 98, 2000, Me, and XP.

First a few words of background.

The whole package of visual effects that lets people interact with a computer is called the “interface.” It is exactly that - the point where human and machine meet.

Windows XP's interface, for instance, bristles with visual effects. The wizardry creates softer-looking boxes; fading menus; brighter colors that look almost translucent; icons with a 3-D appearance; cartoon-like animations, and other touches.

A computer's central processing unit and other hardware, however, must work hard to keep the visual effects running on a second-by-second basis. Those demands can bog down the computer's performance in running programs.

That's especially true for computers with slower processors and smaller amounts of random access memory, or RAM.

Most visual effects are turned on at the factory. If performance is your No. 1 priority, experiment with turning off some or all of the effects. Tinker until you get the right balance of speed and appearance. If the results are good, keep the changes. If not, turn them back on.

Avoid knee-jerk responses. Allow a few days to see if you can live with less razzle-dazzle, rather than reversing the changes immediately.

Windows 98, 2000, Me:

Right click on a empty space on the Desktop, the background screen that appears after starting the computer. Choose Properties, Effects, and mouse click to uncheck items in the Visual Effects box.

Windows XP:

Click the Windows Start Button, select Settings and Control Panel. If you use the classic view, click the System icon, the Advanced tab, and under Performance click the Settings button. If you use the category view, click on Performance and Maintenance. Under “Pick a Task” select “Adjust visual effects.”

The Visual Effects tab offers four options. Two ( “Let Windows choose what's best for my computer” and “Adjust for best appearance”) result in most visual effects being turned on. “Adjust for best performance” turns them all off. “Custom” lets you select. Experiment. When done, click Apply and OK to make the changes take effect.

Another speed option in Windows XP is choosing between the new Windows Start Menu and the old “classic” menu. The new menu looks better. Classic may display faster. Right click in the Taskbar, the strip that runs along one side of the screen. Select Properties and the Start Menu tab. Make your pick and click Apply and OK.

Windows 98, 2000, Me, XP:

Displaying images in the highest-quality color also can slow the system. To try lower color quality, right click on the desktop. Select Properties, Settings, and pick a lower color quality. Click Apply and OK.



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