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Enhancing Windows performance

By , winhelp.us logo. Last updated: 2020-10-07

How to improve and rate Windows XP, Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 and 10 performance

Some users feel that Microsoft Windows performance degrades over time. Extremists tend to format disk drives or SSD-s and reinstall Windows completely, but that is hardly the correct choice: please see the non-destructive reinstallation guides for Windows instead (Windows, Troubleshooting Windows section in the site menu).

Microsoft Windows 7, 8.1, and 10 performance degradation after applying the January 2018 updates

The Spectre and Meltdown hardware bugs in Intel processors (CPU-s) forced Microsoft to release patches for all supported Windows versions in January 2018. The patch details and download links are listed on the Microsoft Security Advisory 180002 page.
Because this patch disables some hardware features, it negatively affects the performance of Intel CPU-based devices. Spectre vulnerabilities also require a microcode update by Intel and device manufacturers: the links are in the List of OEM /Server device manufacturers section of the Protect your Windows devices against Spectre and Meltdown page.

Users of newer Windows 10 devices probably do not see performance degradation after applying the patch, especially if the Intel CPU was produced in 2016 or later. This means Skylake, Kaby Lake, and newer processors.
Windows 10 on older Intel hardware - Broadwell, Haswell, Ivy Bridge, and other pre-2016 stuff - will perform somewhat slower, especially when using disk-intensive software. My own examples of these are Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom Classic.

Microsoft published a cumulative update for Windows 10 October 2018 Update (KB4482887) on the 1st of March, 2019. It enables the Retpoline Spectre mitigation and significantly speeds up disk-intensive operations with older Intel CPU-s. The aforementioned Adobe products saw a noticeable speed bump on my old i5 desktop after enabling this.
However, the mitigation is not on by default. See the Enhance Lightroom performance with Retpoline fix guide on how to add some Registry keys to enable the mitigation for not only Lightroom but basically your whole device after installing KB4482887.

Users of Windows 8.1 and 7 devices will most probably notice a more significant drop in performance. This might or might not be addressed with future updates: please do note that Spectre patches also require microcode updates by Intel and device vendors.

Hardware requirements for an average Microsoft Windows device

Good hardware ensures better performance. The details below are often considered unimportant, but following the guidelines can make your Microsoft Windows computer much faster.

Memory / RAM

Because this is so often completely overlooked, let's review the recommended memory (RAM) configurations for average performance in Microsoft Windows:

  • devices running 64-bit editions of Windows Vista or newer should have at least 8 GB of RAM installed,
  • devices with 32-bit editions of Windows Vista and later should have 4 GB of RAM installed (this is also the maximum usable amount of memory supported in 32-bit/x86 Windows),
  • a Windows XP device should have at least 2 GB of RAM installed.

The quickest way to find out details about Microsoft Windows is to use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Pause. The latter key might be named Pause/Break on some keyboards.
Alternatively, right-click or touch and hold (My) Computer or This PC in Start menu/screen or Desktop and select Properties from the menu.

In Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, and 10, see what's written in the System section, the Installed memory (RAM), and the System type lines.

In Windows XP, verify the amount of RAM in the Computer section.

To determine the exact type and speed of RAM modules installed (and if there are free slots for additional memory), use free HWInfo or Piriform Speccy. You need memory type and speed data while buying the new module(s).

If you have never added or replaced RAM, please have this done by a professional - you might completely ruin your device if you are not careful!
Please create a full backup of your device before attempting anything.

Storage

Another way to a much quicker Microsoft Windows device is to use a fast hybrid drive (aka SSHD, Solid State Hard Drive) or an SSD (Solid State Drive) for the drive where Windows and programs are installed.
SSD is not an option for Windows XP and Vista devices due to the lack of support for the TRIM command: the drive will get very slow over time without this hardware command.

Please do note that the new SSHD or SSD needs to be at least as large as the existing drive you plan to replace (there are some paid programs that can move only Windows and installed software to the new drive, but I have never tested those). The free HWInfo or Piriform Speccy also help here to determine your current drive's interface and size.

Many SSD-s come with some feature-limited disk cloning software (beware Samsung tools, these will NOT do their job properly); well-known free tools for cloning drives are Macrium Reflect Free (here's their tutorial for version 7), AOMEI Backupper Standard, and EaseUS ToDo Backup Free (never mind the Windows version here, it works with older and newer ones, too).

If your new drive is larger than the current one, please see the Disk Management tutorial for information on extending partitions/volumes after cloning and replacing the drive.

As replacing a system drive (the one where Windows resides) is not a suitable job for beginners, please have this done by a pro.
And please do remember to create a full backup of your device before attempting anything.

Follow these guides to speed up Windows

  • Free up disk space in Windows - when available disk space falls below 10%, Windows always slows down. You can also use free CCleaner for removing unneeded files.
  • Set the paging file to a fixed size in Windows - if the paging file (virtual memory) is adjusted dynamically, the file gets fragmented and this will hinder Windows performance.
    This step is not needed if Windows is installed on SSD (Solid State Drive).
  • Use Defraggler for defragmenting disks in Windows - fragmentation is the most common cause of sluggish performance. Defraggler is much faster and gives much better results than the default Disk Defragmenter in Windows. It also provides boot-time defragmentation and is able to defragment only selected items. For Solid State Drives (SSD), Defraggler performs the TRIM function that is required to keep the drives working fast.
  • Troubleshoot performance in Windows Vista and later - Event Viewer in Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1, and 10 contains information on which applications and drivers cause slow performance, startups and shutdowns.
  • Use ReadyBoost in Windows Vista and later - if properly configured, ReadyBoost can improve boot time and application response times a lot. You need a high-performance USB flash drive for this. ReadyBoost is disabled if Windows is installed on SSD (Solid State Drive).
  • Disable visual effects in Windows - if nothing helps, try turning some or all eye-candy off to improve Windows responsiveness.

Windows Vista users can speed up their PC-s by modifying Indexing options. Open Control Panel, Power Options, and click Change plan settings for the active power plan. Click the Change advanced power settings link on the bottom left and then click Change settings that are currently unavailable. Now expand Search and Indexing, Power Savings Mode, and set both items to Power Saver. The balanced and high-performance options might work fine on very fast hard drives or SSD-s, but not on typical drives you find in Vista-age laptops and desktops.
Windows Vista, Advanced Power Options, Search and Indexing. Set 'Power Savings Mode' to 'Power Saver' in battery and plugged in settings.

Additionally, you can get some performance gain by disabling unneeded services. You might also want to check if the file system is fine - messed up files or unreadable blocks do slow down Windows.

Windows XP users can also read the Use UPHC for faster logoffs in Windows XP article to get rid of sluggish logoff times.

Trying Clean Boot mode makes sure that no third-party/non-Microsoft software, driver, or service is causing Windows to run slower than expected.

Oh, and don't forget to run a full anti-virus scan - malware can slow down your system to a crawl! Windows Defender is included for free with Windows 8/8.1/10, and Windows 7 users can still install the free Microsoft Security Essentials.

Using Windows Experience Index (WEI) in Windows Vista, 7, and 8 for identifying weak points in hardware

Windows Experience Index rates the performance of your computer's processor (CPU), memory (RAM), graphics adapter (video card, aka GPU), and primary hard disk (the drive where Windows is installed). The index can reveal slow hardware that should be upgraded to enhance Windows performance. You can also use it to determine if using ReadyBoost is necessary.

Windows Experience Index is displayed in the System Properties window of Windows Vista, 7, and 8. Windows 8.1 and 10 do not have this score visible, but it can be revealed using Command Prompt and PowerShell as described at the end of this article.
The easiest way to access it is to use the keyboard shortcut Windows Key+Pause/Break. You can also right-click Computer in the Start menu or on Desktop and click Properties, or type "wei" into the Start menu/Start screen Search box and click the appropriate result.
Windows Vista, Computer right-click menu. Click Properties.

In the System Properties/View basic information about your computer window, see the Rating line in the System section.
If the line states Windows Experience Index: Unrated (in Vista) or System rating is not available, you need to run the assessment tool first by clicking the link. System Assessment Tool actually runs automatically from time to time, so your PC might have a score even if you have not run the tool it manually.
Otherwise, a number is displayed with the Windows Experience Index link. If the number's background is gray, the hardware configuration has changed and you need to update WEI. Click the link to see individual subscores.
Windows Vista, System Properties. WEI rating is in the System section. Windows 7, System Properties. WEI rating is in the System section.

The Rate and improve your computer's performance window opens. In Windows Vista, Windows Experience Index gives ratings from 1.0 to 5.9; in Windows 7 from 1.0 to 7.9; and in Windows 8 from 1.0 to 9.9. The higher the score, the better the performance.
If WEI has not yet been established, click Rate this computer. The Windows System Assessment Tool will take a few minutes to complete.
Windows 7, Rate and improve your computer's performance, Your Windows Experience Index has not yet been established. Click Rate this computer.

If there is a rating, check the subscores for each component. The final result (Base score) is always determined by the lowest subscore - so even if only one component is rated at 1.5 and all others at 5, the Base score will still be 1.5.
Windows 8, Rate and improve your computer's performance. Base Score is determined by the lowest subscore.

In the example above, it is clear that the graphics card needs to be replaced. This is quite easy on desktop computers, but impossible on most laptops (and tablets).
After you've replaced some hardware, click Re-run the assessment to update the Windows Experience Index.

Windows 8.1 and 10 methods of assessing hardware performance

In Windows 8.1 and 10, you need to launch elevated Command Prompt: open Start, type cmd, right-click (or tap and hold) Command Prompt and select Run as administrator.

Then type winsat prepop and press the Enter key to run the assessment.
Windows 8.1, Administrator Command Prompt. Type 'winsat prepop' without quotes and press Enter to run Windows System Assessment Tool.

Windows System Assessment Tool will evaluate hardware performance within the next few minutes. Please do not use your PC during this time.

Next, open Start again, type powershell, right-click Windows PowerShell, and choose Run as administrator.

Type Get-WmiObject -Class Win32_WinSAT and press the Enter key.
Windows 8.1, Administrator PowerShell. Type 'Get-WmiObject -Class Win32_WinSAT' without quotes and press Enter to see the results of Windows System Assessment Tool.

This lists the results of the WinSAT test:

  • CPUScore - rating for the processor(s).
  • D3DScore - rating for the 3D graphics.
  • GraphicsScore - rating for the 2D graphics.
  • MemoryScore - rating for the memory (RAM) throughput and capacity.
  • WinSPRLevel - the base score of your PC, always the same as the lowest score of the above.
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