Windows Performance Secrets

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PCs are getting faster all the time--but your PC is not.

Sure, you can upgrade it, but how do you know which changes will give you the most speed for the least money? Should you buy more RAM, a new graphics adapter, or a processor upgrade? Answering these questions and getting objective, reliable information about how all these options will affect your PC has been an almost impossible task.

Until now.

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Overview

PCs are getting faster all the time--but your PC is not.

Sure, you can upgrade it, but how do you know which changes will give you the most speed for the least money? Should you buy more RAM, a new graphics adapter, or a processor upgrade? Answering these questions and getting objective, reliable information about how all these options will affect your PC has been an almost impossible task.

Until now.

Windows Performance Secrets strips away the mysteries of PC performance and gives you in-depth information on all the factors that control your PC's speed. Whether you're running Windows 98, Windows 95, or Windows NT 4.0, this book will guide you to better performance. Using Ziff-Davis' industry-standard Winstone and WinBench benchmarks, the authors have packed the book with hundreds of test results that tell you exactly how much performance gain different upgrades will really give you. And, you can learn how to wring the most possible performance from your PC without ever spending a dime! The book even includes two CD-ROMs with complete copies of the benchmarks, so you can do your own performance studies.

The authors are top industry experts on PC performance, the founders and leaders of the Ziff-Davis Benchmark Operation, the group that created these benchmarks. Their years of experience in PC performance show in the detailed, concrete advice available throughout the book, as well as in the clear explanations of vital technical concepts. If you want the most performance from your PC, don't miss this book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780789717528
  • Publisher: Que
  • Publication date: 9/1/1998
  • Edition description: BK&CD ROM
  • Pages: 592
  • Product dimensions: 7.44 (w) x 9.14 (h) x 1.45 (d)

Read an Excerpt


Chapter 1: Coctail Party Tips

To understand the secrets of performance and to get the most performance possible from a PC, you have to do more than just buy new parts or change software settings.You have to understand the basics workings of a PC and the factors that determine its performance.The first step in gaining that understandinthe to realize that performance analysis is a discipline in its own right, a discipline with its own technical and intellectual underpinnings. Learning those basics will take you a long way toward being able to boost PC performance.

In this chapter we explain those basics. Our goal here is to give you the background you need to make the most of the material in the chapters that follow.We readily admit that you can get plenty of the value of this book by skipping this information and jumping right into the test results.You can, for example, skip to Chapter 9, "Optimizing Your System's RAM," locate our RAM recommendation for your system, and you and your PC will be fine. Doing so, though, would limit your ability to know how to react as the operating system and applications you're running evolve and their RAM requirements change. If instead you take the time to learn the key elements of performance analysis, you'll be able to cope with such changes easily.

By understanding the factors in PC performance you'll be able to better extrapolate from this book to almost any performance-sensitive situation you may encounter.To make sure you have the knowledge you need to face such situations, in this chapter you will learn:

  • Why performance matters
  • The ways most people think about PC performance, and review the factors thatdetermine it
  • The way your interactions with your PC help define what you perceive as its performance
  • Why, despite so much advertising to the contrary, there's a lot more to your PC's performance than the megahertz (MHz) of its processor
  • That the processor is certainly a major factor in how well a PC performs, but that the right supporting players can make a PC look dramatically better-and the wrong ones can cripple it
  • The factors that contribute to the overall performance of your PC
  • What bottlenecks are
  • That perhaps the most important concept in performance analysis is the bottleneck, which can cause an otherwise good system to perform poorly
  • Specifically how bottlenecks affect performance
  • That no matter what you do, in the end, every system has bottlenecks: It's the nature of performance
  • How one piece of a system can slow down the rest of that system, sometimes dramatically
  • How to find the bottlenecks in a system
  • Why it's important to use the right benchmark
  • The differences between benchmarks that characterize the performance of the whole PC and those that gauge the speed of only one part of the PC

1.1. Cocktail Party Tips

PC performance is much easier to discuss informally than it is to define precisely. In most conversations, if someone mentions PC performance, you know at an abstract level what they mean: How fast the PC goes.

More precisely, most folks intuitively understand that performance is a measure of how much work a PC can do in a given amount of time. The more work you can accomplish in a fixed amount of time, the better.

Most people also intuitively understand a corollary, that doing the same amount of work in less time is another way to express better performance. If your spreadsheet recalculates more quickly, your performance is better.

Pretty much everyone will also agree that more performance is better.Whether the work you're doing is spell checking, spreadsheet recalculation, or playing video clips, a PC that performs better will make your computing experience better.That's about where the agreement ends, however. Dig deeper, and you're likely to find that what one person means by performance may be very different from your own conception. People who stay in the same application all day, for example, may not care at all about how long that application takes to load. They might even count on using that load time each morning to get their coffee. If, by contrast, you start and stop different applications all day, the time your PC takes to launch those applications might be the single thing that annoys you most about the system's performance.

Clearly, the critical part of the PC performance equation is the definition of the work the PC needs to do.That definition will vary from person to person, because each of us uses our PC differently. What each of us quite rightfully wants is a PC that is fast at doing the work we demand of it...

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Table of Contents

I Achieving Maximum Performance
1 Performance Basics 3
2 Benchmarks and You 15
3 Benchmarks and Your Current PC 43
4 Benchmarks and Buying New Systems 53
II Software Optimization
5 Windows 98 Software Tuning 63
6 Windows 95 Software Tuning 97
7 Windows NT Software Tuning 129
III Hardware Optimization
8 Optimizing Your System's Processor 165
9 Optimizing Your System's RAM 223
10 Optimizing Your Graphics Subsystem 289
11 Optimizing Your Disk Subsystem 347
12 Optimizing Your CD-ROM Subsystem 389
IV Special Situations
13 Power Saving and Portables 435
14 Optimizing for Games 467
App. A Using Winstone 98 485
App. B Using WinBench 98 513
App. C Uninstalling the Benchmark 543
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First Chapter

Chapter One

Performance Basics

1.1. Cocktail Party Tips
1.2. Does Performance Matter?
1.3. Slices of the Performance Pie
1.4. Passing the Bottleneck

To understand the secrets of performance and to get the most performance possible from a PC, you have to do more than just buy new parts or change software settings. You have to understand the basics workings of a PC and the factors that determine its performance. The first step in gaining that understand in the to realize that performance analysis is a discipline in its own right, a discipline with its own technical and intellectual underpinnings. Learning those basics will take you a long way toward being able to boost PC performance.

In this chapter we explain those basics. Our goal here is to give you the background you need to make the most of the material in the chapters that follow.

We readily admit that you can get plenty of the value of this book by skipping this information and jumping right into the test results. You can, for example, skip to Chapter 9, "Optimizing Your System's RAM," locate our RAM recommendation for your system, and you and your PC will be fine. Doing so, though, would limit your ability to know how to react as the operating system and applications you're running evolve and their RAM requirements change. If instead you take the time to learn the key elements of performance analysis, you'll be able to cope with such changes easily.

By understanding the factors in PC performance you'll be able to better extrapolate from this book to almost any performance-sensitive situation you may encounter.

To make sure you have the knowledge you need to face such situations, in this chapter you will learn:

  • Why performance matters
  • The ways most people think about PC performance, and review the factors that determine it
  • The way your interactions with your PC help define what you perceive as its performance
  • Why, despite so much advertising to the contrary, there's a lot more to your PC's performance than the megahertz (MHz) of its processor
  • That the processor is certainly a major factor in how well a PC performs, but that the right supporting players can make a PC look dramatically better--and the wrong ones can cripple it
  • The factors that contribute to the overall performance of your PC
  • What bottlenecks are
  • That perhaps the most important concept in performance analysis is the bottleneck, which can cause an otherwise good system to perform poorly
  • Specifically how bottlenecks affect performance
  • That no matter what you do, in the end, every system has bottlenecks: It's the nature of performance
  • How one piece of a system can slow down the rest of that system, sometimes dramatically
  • How to find the bottlenecks in a system
  • Why it's important to use the right benchmark
  • The differences between benchmarks that characterize the performance of the whole PC and those that gauge the speed of only one part of the PC

1.1. Cocktail Party Tips

PC performance is much easier to discuss informally than it is to define precisely. In most conversations, if someone mentions PC performance, you know at an abstract level what they mean: How fast the PC goes.

More precisely, most folks intuitively understand that performance is a measure of how much work a PC can do in a given amount of time. The more work you can accomplish in a fixed amount of time, the better.

Most people also intuitively understand a corollary, that doing the same amount of work in less time is another way to express better performance. If your spreadsheet recalculates more quickly, your performance is better.

Pretty much everyone will also agree that more performance is better. Whether the work you're doing is spell checking, spreadsheet recalculation, or playing video clips, a PC that performs better will make your computing experience better.

That's about where the agreement ends, however. Dig deeper, and you're likely to find that what one person means by performance may be very different from your own conception. People Who stay in the same application all day, for example, may not care at all about how long that application takes to load. They might even count on using that load time each morning to get their coffee. If, by contrast, you start and stop different applications all day, the time your PC takes to launch those applications might be the single thing that annoys you most about the system's performance.

Clearly, the critical part of the PC performance equation is the definition of the work the PC needs to do. That definition will vary from person to person, because each of us uses our PC differently. What each of us quite rightfully wants is a PC that is fast at doing the work we demand of it.

If all you ever do with your CD-ROM drive, for example, is install a new application every month or two, do you really care much about that drive's speed? Probably not. On the other hand, if you regularly run applications that access databases on CD-ROMs, the drive's speed may matter greatly. It could make the difference between your being able to work steadily on a project and your having to spend lots of wasted time watching the drive churn. Similarly, a hot 3D graphics card is of little use if all you run is Word and Excel, but it could be critical if you're a Quake II junkie.

The second most common PC party question we hear is how to maximize the performance of a PC. (The most common question is whether Bill Gates really is evil. We'll help you with the performance question, but you'll have to decide your own answer to the one about Gates.) The simple answer is, find the system's bottleneck, the part that is slowing the system the most, and fix it.

Because we all use our PCs differently, to get any more specific than that you have to understand what the questioner does with his or her PC. Don't let vendor claims or statistics tempt you into drawing quick conclusions. If you don't first gain an understanding of how the questioner is using his or her PC, any advice you give will be just a guess.

Don't believe the guy who instantly answers, "You need a faster hard disk." He may be right for some folks, but he'll be wrong for at least as many. The right answer is another question: "What do you do with your PC?"

The remaining chapters in Part I will give you some general information on how to use this book and the benchmarks it includes to take the answer to that question and propose useful performance improvements.

1.2. Does Performance Matter?

Every now and then, we run into people who claim PC performance really doesn't matter. "PCs are fast enough" they'll say, or, "At some point soon, PCs will be fast enough, and you won't care about performance anymore."

Those people must never upgrade their software.

Tomorrow's software almost always requires more computing horsepower than the programs you're running today. New software provides new capabilities, and those capabilities need hardware support. We could argue all day about whether this should be true, but almost no one would argue that it isn't true. If you're not convinced, compare the minimum requirements on some of your older software to those of your most recent applications.

None of this would matter, of course, if the newer software didn't attract users. If we were content to run the same programs forever, the performance requirements of new software wouldn't matter to us. Most folks, though, find enough value in new releases that regular software upgrades are a fact of computing life.

We all could, of course, choose to run the newer applications on older hardware and simply tolerate slower performance, but we rarely elect to do so. We want to spend as little time waiting on our computers as possible.

That's a sensible desire. Computers may be expensive, but people are even more expensive. Making people wait for their computers for as little as even 10 minutes a day adds up to almost 50 hours a year. At only $10 per hour, that's $500 of productivity lost. Move into common white-collar salary ranges, and the cost per year quickly approaches that of a new computer. Worse, we know we wait a lot more than 10 minutes a day on our computers. (And we try for a pay rate greater than $10 an hour!)We recently heard an analysis of how much time Americans wait annually for Windows to start. The total number of person-hours was greater than the number of hours all the people at Microsoft work in a year. Little things really can add up.

The potential time and money savings alone are reason enough to put a little effort in boosting PC performance. In addition, consider how much you have invested in your computer hardware and software. You've probably sunk from $1,000 to $3,000 or more into your PC. If, by investing a few hundred dollars more, or some of your valuable time, you can make that purchase work better and potentially last longer, that's a good deal. By optimizing your PC's performance you can get both more for your money and put off an expensive new PC purchase a little longer.

To be fair, for some people their current computer is fast enough. (We have a friend happily running Word for DOS 5.0 on a 486, and we're glad for folks like him.) If you're content with your PC and the applications it runs, and if you don't plan to change those applications, this book's biggest benefits for you will be theoretical.

However, we need and want to run the hottest and most interesting of the current and future applications. You can blame Microsoft and others for developing slow, bloated applications that require more hardware support, but we don't want to give up any of the cool features of those programs. If, like us, you always want more performance from your PC, you've definitely come to the right place.

1.3. Slices of the Performance Pie

As we noted above, the most important factor in PC performance is how well the entire system operates. Like a pie, though, your PC is composed of a number of different slices that combine to make up the whole. We usually refer to these slices as your PC's subsystems. Common subsystems that affect almost everyone are your hard disk, graphics, and processor/RAM. (We often lump together the processor and RAM because of how tightly related they are in a modern PC. We'll delve into this issue in later chapters.)

Subsystem is one of those computer-boy terms that can easily feel both intimidating and unnecessary. After all, most ads are for components: CPU chips, hard drives, graphics cards, and so on. So you might reasonably ask, why not just refer to those components and drop this extra term?

The reason is that components alone simply cannot tell the whole performance story. In a modern Windows PC, no hardware component ever acts entirely on its own. Instead, to do its job, each piece of hardware has to interact with other hardware components, firmware, device drivers, and other software.

Consider, for example, the hard drive in your PC. When you think about disk space, you think of that drive. And if you needed more space, you'd probably just go out and buy another drive. Yet that drive is really part of the hard disk subsystem, a subsystem that includes your hard disk controller, the RAM caches on both that controller and the drive itself, the Windows disk and controller device drivers, and the Windows disk-caching software. Each time you use your disk, all these pieces must cooperate to get the data you want or to store the data you're saving. All these pieces are interrelated, and the way they work together determines the "hard disk" performance you experience.

As you can see in Figure 1.1, not all of these pieces contribute equally to your PC's performance. In a typical system running typical business applications, the processor/RAM subsystem has the biggest influence on performance. The disk and graphics subsystems are roughly equal to each other, with disk being slightly more important to most users. These two combined are still less important than the processor/RAM subsystem.

Remember that Figure 1.1 is just a guideline. Not all users, of course, run typical business applications. Nor are all PCs configured to get maximum performance from each subsystem. Different applications also stress these subsystems in different combinations. Consequently, sometimes you'll care more about the performance of an individual subsystem, such as your graphics subsystem, than this breakdown would indicate. The bulk of Part III, of this book, "Hardware Optimization," deals with maximizing the performance of each these subsystems.

In addition to these three main subsystems, other subsystems contribute to the performance of some more specialized applications or functions. Your PC's CD-ROM, full-motion video, 3D, sound, power management, and networking subsystems can all affect performance in different applications. When you're running such an application, one of these subsystems may even be one of the most important performance factors in your system. Play a game that uses 3D graphics, for example, and 3D speed will be vital. (Your hard disk subsystem will also pretty much fall out of the performance pie during such games.) Parts of Chapter 10, "Optimizing Your Graphics Subsystem," Chapter 12, "Optimizing Your CD-ROM Subsystem," and the chapters in Part IV, "Special Situations," deal with all of these subsystems except networking. We'll leave to another book the job of exploring networking issues.

For most applications most of the time, however, these subsystems have little or no effect on performance.

One factor that plays an important role in almost all aspects of PC performance is the operating system you're running, whether it's Windows 98, Windows 95, or Windows NT 4.0. The operating system is effectively part of each of the subsystems, because it's the software that orchestrates all the work your PC does. Think of it as the crust that holds together both the whole pie and each of the slices. To maximize performance, you need to make sure you have correctly set up and tuned your operating system. We examine this part of the performance pie in Part II, "Software Optimization."

1.4. Passing the Bottleneck

Knowing the role of different subsystems in overall PC performance is vital, but that knowledge alone won't help you improve the way your PC performs. To do that, you have to get into finding and fixing bottlenecks.

A bottleneck is something that's slowing the overall system. Picture a bottle of water with a very narrow neck. The width of that neck determines how quickly you can pour water from the bottle. No matter how big you make the bottle or how much water you put into it, you still can't pour water from it any more quickly than the narrow neck will allow. Widen the neck, though, and you'll be able to pour more quickly. The neck places a limit on the bottle's pouring performance.

Similarly, when you're doing something on your PC, something is putting a limit on the speed your PC can perform that function. That thing is the bottleneck. Find it, conceptually widen it (that is, make it faster or replace it with something faster), and the whole PC will run faster.

A great and all-too-familiar example of the bottleneck phenomenon occurs regularly during Web browsing. You can have a fast PC communicating with a fast server, and yet the Web pages flow down your screen like molasses. You know your PC can display images a lot more quickly than that, because you've seen it do so on many occasions with many different applications. The problem is that your PC is not the bottleneck; the modern is. No matter what processor you put in your computer, or what graphics card, or how much RAM you give the system, the modern will still make most pages appear as if drawing each pixel is a monumental task. Plug the same computer into a T1 connection, and browsing the same Web pages will almost certainly be a rather different experience.

If you haven't already figured it out, once you have a faster connection, the bottleneck in Web browsing may well then become the Web itself. In that case, adding more connection speed or a faster computer would not yield much improvement in your browsing experience, because you'd be optimizing the wrong parts of the performance equation.

Consider the example in Figure 1.2. The bars represent the time it takes a PC to do a particular task. For ease of explanation, we've set the time to be 100 seconds. The individual parts of each bar show the time the PC spends in each subsystem as it's doing that work. The original configuration reflects a typical PC subsystem balance, much like the one we described earlier.

When you look at this example, it's clear that the PC is spending about two-thirds of its time in the processor/RAM subsystem, so that subsystem is the main bottleneck. If you did not know that fact, however, you might elect to focus on the wrong subsystem. You could, for example, buy a hot new graphics adapter and quintuple the performance of the graphics subsystem. Though that faster graphics adapter would certainly boost your performance, the overall performance improvement would be only eight percent.

Clearly, knowing what to optimize is vital.

It's also important to have realistic expectations about the level of performance improvement a change will deliver. To continue this example, let's say you've read an ad for a new graphics card that will "quintuple your graphics performance." You'd like faster graphics and this level of improvement sounds good, so you buy the card. You take it home, install it in your PC...and the PC feels barely different.

Did the graphics card vendor lie to you? No. As Figure 1.2 shows, the time in the graphics subsystem really did shrink by a factor of five, so the card is in fact five times faster than the previous adapter.

You may, however, have been deceived, and you certainly allowed yourself to have unrealistic expectations.

This example shows why you have to identify the biggest bottleneck and concentrate your optimization efforts there if you want the biggest possible performance gain. Here, even if your graphics card was infinitely fast and took no time to do any of its operations, the most you could speed up the overall system on this type of work would be 10%. Change the type of work, of course, and the balance of the time the PC spends in each subsystem might also change.

Let's now look at a hypothetical unbalanced system, one with an obvious bottleneck. Figure 1.3 shows a PC with a clear graphics bottleneck, the kind of system that might result from sticking an outdated graphics adapter into an otherwise modern PC. In this example the PC is spending so much of its time in the graphics subsystem that this graphics bottleneck is masking the performance potential of the rest of the system. Quintuple the performance of this graphics subsystem, as we did in the optimized configuration in this chart, and you get a very large overall performance boost (about 40%). Before the optimization, the rest of the system was basically twiddling its thumbs waiting for the graphics adapter to do its thing.

Any major subsystem in your PC could be a bottleneck that's inhibiting its overall performance. We have encountered systems in which the bottleneck was the processor, the amount of RAM, the hard disk, the graphics adapter, and even the operating system. In special situations, even other subsystems--CD-ROM, 3D graphics, network--can be the bottleneck.

In later chapters, we will look at how you can test a system to determine which subsystem is most likely to be the bottleneck. However, you can often make a pretty good, educated guess about which part of your PC is your major performance problem: It's usually the oldest part. To pick an easy example, if you've already upgraded your processor, added RAM, and put in a new graphics adapter, it's a pretty good bet that your hard disk is the bottleneck.

The bottleneck might also be something far more fundamental in your system: The motherboard, and the bus on that board. If you've done a lot of PC upgrades, you may well have already seen this happen. At some point, you have to replace the motherboard. A new motherboard will typically let you run faster processors, work with faster RAM, and move data along a faster bus than was possible on your previous system. Even if you replace nothing else, the PC is likely to perform better.

A new motherboard will naturally make something else the bottleneck, and you'll have to find out what it is. That's why we calling it chasing bottlenecks.

1.5. From Here...

This chapter explained both the importance of PC performance and the concepts you need to find and eliminate performance bottlenecks. The next step is to understand how you can use benchmarks to measure and improve PC performance.

The following chapters provide more information on how you can use benchmarks both to understand the value of upgrade options for your current PC and to evaluate different systems when you're considering buying a new PC.

[] Chapter 2, "Benchmarks and You," explains how benchmarks work and how you can use and understand them to your advantage.
[] Chapter 3, "Benchmarks and Your Current PC," discusses how to use benchmarks to increase the performance of the system you already have.
[] Chapter 4, "Benchmarks and Buying New Systems," shows you how to use benchmarks to buy the new PC that performs best for your needs.
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