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Running Microsoft® Windows® 98
Author Craig Stinson
Pages 848
Disk 1 Companion CD(s)
Level Beg/Int
Published 05/20/1998
ISBN 9781572316812
ISBN-10 1-57231-681-0
Price(USD) $39.99
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Chapter 16: Optimizing, Maintaining, and Troubleshooting

This chapter takes up three interrelated topics: how to get your system running as well as it can, how to perform routine maintenance on your system so that it always hums along happily, and what to do when things go awry. Windows 98 provides several new or improved tools to help you keep your system in good order. If you have adequate hardware to begin with and you use these maintenance tools regularly, the odds are good that you’ll never have serious problems. In case you do run into trouble, however, Windows 98 also provides direct links to Microsoft’s Internet-based support services, as well as better diagnostic information to assist support personnel.

Getting Optimal Performance from Windows 98

Aside from the speed of your microprocessor, the elements of your system that have the most bearing on Windows’ performance are memory (RAM) and available hard disk space. Windows loves memory. No matter what you run, but particularly if you run large, computation-intensive programs such as graphics editors and computer-aided design programs, you can scarcely have too much RAM on board. In any event, you shouldn’t even try to run Windows 98 with less than 16 MB (megabytes), and if you’re getting unsatisfactory performance on a system with less than 64 MB, one of the first things to consider is plugging in some additional memory.

Windows uses your hard disk as “virtual memory”—that is, as an extension of main memory. When things get overloaded in memory, Windows automatically writes some data from memory to a “swap file” on your disk—a process called paging. When Windows needs that information again, it reads it back from the swap file, at the same time (if necessary) swapping something else out.

Because disk access is far slower than memory access, paging impedes performance. Increasing the amount of memory on your system improves performance by minimizing paging.

In earlier versions of Windows (prior to Windows 95), users could choose between a permanent swap file and a temporary one. The permanent swap file provided faster access, but walled off a sizable block of disk space that could no longer be used for program and document storage. A temporary swap file provided flexibility at the cost of slower paging.

The permanent/temporary tradeoff is no longer available in Windows, and indeed is no longer necessary. Windows normally manages the paging process in the most efficient manner, without requiring you to make any decisions or intervene in any way.

The only time it might make sense to get involved in setting paging parameters is if you have two or more hard disks and one of them is significantly faster than the one on which Windows is installed. Windows normally pages to the drive on which it’s installed, and if you think you can gain performance by pointing it to a different drive, you can do so as follows:

  1. Right-click My Computer and choose Properties from the context menu. (Alternatively, launch System in Control Panel.)

  2. Click the Performance tab, and then click the Virtual Memory button.

  3. In the Virtual Memory dialog box (see Figure 16-1), select the Let Me Specify My Own Virtual Memory Settings option button, and then select the disk where you want paging to occur. Then click OK.

Virtual Memory dialog box
Click to view graphic (8 KB)

Figure 16-1.
You can use this dialog box to override Windows’ default paging parameters, but usually there’s no reason to do so.

A better solution, if you happen to have a drive that’s dramatically faster than the one where Windows installed, is to reinstall Windows on the faster drive.

The dialog box shown in Figure 16-1 also lets you specify a minimum and a maximum size for your swap file. Unless your hard disk space is severely limited, there’s no good reason to change these parameters. And if your disk space is severely limited, it’s far better to address the disk-space problem than to constrain Windows’ page file.

Freeing Up Hard Disk Space

If available hard-disk space falls too low, you will begin seeing error messages from programs and from Windows itself. You may see these even when you have 100 MB or so of free space, simply because Windows is running out of room to page. Here are some ways to reduce the population density of your hard disk:

  • Uninstall programs that you don’t need.

  • Uninstall Windows components that you don’t need.

  • Delete or move documents that you don’t need.

  • Switch to the FAT32 file system, if you aren’t already using it.

  • Use DriveSpace 3 to compress your disk (an option not available on drives that are already using FAT32).

  • Use third-party compression tools to compress particular files.

Cleaning Up with Disk Cleanup

The easiest way to take most of these steps is to run Disk Cleanup, a utility program supplied with Windows. Figure 16-2 shows a sample of the work that Disk Cleanup can do. The program lists several categories of potentially expendable disk files and shows you how much space you could recover by deleting each category. The More Options tab, meanwhile, provides access to the Windows Setup program (so you can delete unneeded components of Windows), Add/Remove Programs (so you can get rid of programs you aren’t using), and the FAT32 Drive Converter (if your disk isn’t already using the FAT32 file system).

To run Disk Cleanup, open the Start menu and choose Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Disk Cleanup. Disk Cleanup begins by asking which drive you want to clean up. Select a drive and click OK.

TIP: A Faster Way to Launch Disk Cleanup
In a Windows Explorer window, right-click the icon for the drive you want to clean up and choose Properties. On the General tab in the properties dialog box, click Disk Cleanup.

Disk Cleanup dialog box
Click to view graphic (10 KB)

Figure 16-2.
The easiest way to recover disk space is to use Disk Cleanup, a utility supplied with Windows.

Uninstalling Unneeded Programs and Windows Components

To see a list of programs that can easily be uninstalled, launch Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel. To uninstall a program, select its name and click the Add/Remove button.

To uninstall Windows components that you don’t need, launch Add/Remove Programs and click the Windows Setup tab. You can uninstall a whole category of components (Desktop Themes, for example) by deselecting the associated check box. Or you can uninstall some of a category’s elements by selecting the category name and then clicking Details. In the Details display, deselect the check boxes for any items you want to uninstall.

You might also want to consider uninstalling unneeded components of some of your programs. Perhaps you don’t need 3000 clip-art images, a French dictionary (assuming you don’t write in French), or the help files for a programming language in which you don’t program. Try launching Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel and running the uninstall routine for your largest programs. Many uninstall programs let you remove particular components without getting rid of the entire program. If your program doesn’t have this capability, you can simply back out of the uninstaller without removing anything.

Deleting or Moving Unneeded Documents

When looking around for document files that are good candidates for deletion, be sure to include the following:

  • The contents of your Recycle Bin

  • Old files with the extension .TMP

  • Files with the extension .CHK

The Maintenance Wizard can help you get rid of files that you don’t need. (See “Automating Maintenance with the Maintenance Wizard.”)

To get rid of everything in your Recycle Bin, right-click the Recycle Bin icon and choose Empty Recycle Bin. To remove items selectively, launch Recycle Bin. If necessary, choose Details from Explorer’s View menu to see the date on which each file was deleted. Click the Date Deleted column heading twice to sort the files by deletion date, with the oldest files at the top. These oldest files are probably your best candidates for removal.

For more information about the Recycle Bin, see “Restoring Deleted Folders, Files, and Shortcuts.”

When you delete files from your Recycle Bin, they’re gone for good, and they can’t be easily or reliably recovered.

Many programs create temporary files while you work. These files, which commonly have the extension .TMP, are normally deleted when you quit the program. If you have any kind of irregular shutdown, however (for example, if the program crashes, or if you turn off your computer without going through the normal shutdown procedure), the temporary files linger until you ferret them out and remove them by hand.

The Start menu’s Find command can help you do the ferreting. If Find turns up .TMP files whose creation dates lie before your most recent system shutdown (see Figure 16-3), you can be reasonably sure that it’s safe to delete those files.

Find window
Click to view graphic (28 KB)

Figure 16-3.
On August 28, a search of local hard drives for files with extension .TMP produced this list. The first five items are good candidates for deletion.

Files with the extension .CHK are sometimes created by the ScanDisk utility, described later in this chapter. After you verify that that your .CHK files don’t include any data that you want to salvage, it’s safe to delete these files.

Hold down the Shift key while you delete .TMP and .CHK files. Otherwise, those files will merely move to the Recycle Bin, and your deletion won’t free up any disk space.

After deleting unneeded Recycle Bin contents, .TMP files, and .CHK files, wander through your hard disk and see if you can find ordinary documents that can safely be archived onto removable media or a server. This will give your system a little room to breathe, allowing more efficient paging and forestalling the day when you have to face those low-disk-space error messages again.

Switching to the FAT32 File System

FAT32 (the letters stand for File Allocation Table) is an improved version of the file system that’s been around since the first version of MS-DOS. From the standpoint of disk-space conservation, FAT32’s principal advantage over FAT (the old system) is that it can use smaller “allocation units” on large disks. An allocation unit, also known as a cluster, is the smallest amount of disk space that the operating system can allocate to a file. If you create a 100-byte file on a disk whose allocation units are 32,768 bytes, that file will consume 32,768 bytes, of which 32,668 bytes will be wasted. On such a disk, you’ll also waste a huge amount of space if you create a file that’s 32,868 bytes long, because the operating system will have to give that file two entire allocation units. In short, large allocation units almost invariably waste large amounts of disk space. By switching from FAT to FAT32, you can usually increase the effective capacity of a disk by a significant amount.

The disadvantages and limitations of FAT32 are as follows:

  • You can’t access a FAT32 disk from operating systems that do not use FAT32, including older versions of Windows and Windows NT.

  • You can’t use DriveSpace 3 compression on a FAT32 disk.

  • Some disk-utility programs written for FAT drives won’t work with FAT32 disks.

  • You can’t use FAT32 on disks smaller than 512 MB.

The first point applies only to systems that “dual boot” Windows 98 and another, pre-FAT32 operating system. If, for example, you have both Windows 98 and Windows NT 4.0 on the same computer, Windows NT will not be able to access your FAT32 disk. Note that the inaccessibility of FAT32 drives to older operating systems does not mean that you cannot access your FAT32 disks across a network from an older operating system. You can still get to your FAT32 files from other computers on your network, regardless of which version of which operating system those other computers are running.

As for the inability to apply DriveSpace compression to a FAT32 disk, the increased storage efficiency of FAT32 means that you may not miss DriveSpace.

To find out whether a hard disk is currently using FAT32, launch My Computer, right-click the entry for the disk in question, and choose Properties from the ensuing context menu. Near the top of the General tab in the disk’s properties dialog box, you’ll see either FAT or FAT32.

To convert a FAT disk to FAT32, run Drive Converter (FAT32). If your Start menu hasn’t been dramatically rearranged, you’ll probably find that item by choosing Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools.

If Drive Converter (FAT32) has not been set up on your system, launch Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel, click the Windows Setup tab, select System Tools, and click the Details button. Select Drive Converter (FAT32) and click OK.

The Drive Converter (FAT32) wizard first asks you to save all open documents and close all running programs so that it can reboot your system in MS-DOS mode. Before it does that, it scans your system for any programs that appear to be incompatible with FAT32. If it finds any, it gives you the opportunity to decide whether or not to go ahead with the conversion. The wizard also invites you to back up your disk before you proceed. This is an optional step, of course, but a last-minute backup will probably enhance your comfort level. Finally, after completing the conversion (which takes only a few minutes), the wizard offers to defragment your new FAT32 disk. This step, too, is optional—but in most cases extremely time-consuming. The defragmentation process is described later in this chapter.

Using DriveSpace 3 to Compress a FAT Disk

DriveSpace 3 is a program that increases the effective capacity of hard and floppy disks. It does this by creating a “compressed volume file” (CVF) on a disk. When you save a file to a CVF, DriveSpace compresses the file on the fly—that is, without requiring any special action by you. When you read a file from a compressed disk, the file is automatically expanded. The net result is that, while you continue to work with your files the way you always have, your disk has much more room than it ever had before.

How much extra room you get depends on what kind of data your files hold. DriveSpace achieves its compression by identifying patterns in your data. Files that are highly structured—for example, a bitmap graphics file, in which certain pixel patterns appear over and over—can be compressed more than files whose contents are essentially random. Executable files and DLLs are usually less compressible than documents. In the typical case in which both executable files and documents are involved, you can expect the effective size of your disk to nearly double.

What about performance? Your computer’s processor has to do extra work when reading files from or saving files to a CVF. On the other hand, the smaller size of your compressed files means that your system has to perform fewer disk reads. Because the hard disk is a relatively slow component of your system, you may experience no performance penalty at all when using DriveSpace. And if your uncompressed disk doesn’t have room for an adequate swap file, you’ll undoubtedly get better performance by using DriveSpace.

The important tradeoff for using DriveSpace is not performance but data security. When DriveSpace compresses a disk, it combines all the compressed files on that disk into a single file. Under ordinary circumstances you never see that file, because DriveSpace gives it hidden and system attributes. What you see instead is a virtualized disk that looks exactly the same as your disk looked before you ran DriveSpace, except that it’s much larger.

For example, suppose your C drive has a capacity of 400 MB and you currently have files filling all but 60 MB of that space. After running DriveSpace on this disk, you’ll still have a C drive, and your files will have the same size properties that they had before. That is, Windows will still report that drive C contains 340 MB of data. But drive C will now appear to be an 800-MB drive (or something close to 800 MB).

DriveSpace 3, DriveSpace, and DoubleSpace
DriveSpace 3 is an improved version of DriveSpace, which was introduced with Windows 95. DriveSpace, in turn, was an improved version of an MS-DOS–based tool called DoubleSpace. DriveSpace 3 can compress larger disks than DriveSpace could, and it offers a choice of two compression methods. One method gives you higher compression than the other, at a small performance cost.

With DriveSpace 3, you also get Compression Agent, a utility that can change the compression method applied to particular files, or even decompress particular files.

If you’ve installed Windows 98 on a system that has one or more drives compressed with the original DriveSpace or DoubleSpace, you don’t need to recompress those drives with DriveSpace 3—but you can if you want to.

To achieve the illusion that your files are the same size as before but your disk has ingested a packet of growth hormone, DriveSpace creates a new (uncompressed) “host” drive on your disk. It assigns this drive an unused drive letter, such as H. Then it compresses all your files and combines them into a single file on the host drive. That single file is your CVF. When you read or save a document, you’re actually interacting with some piece of the CVF, but DriveSpace deploys its smoke and mirrors to make it look as if you’re working with ordinary files on the original drive.

The only hazard in all of this is that corruption or accidental deletion of the CVF can wipe out a whole disk’s worth of data. Because the CVF does not ordinarily show up in Explorer windows, or in directory listings generated at the MS-DOS prompt, it’s unlikely that you would ever delete it accidentally. But the consequences would be severe if you did. Therefore, if you use DriveSpace, it’s more important than ever that you back up your data regularly.

Compressing a Disk

Compressing a hard disk with DriveSpace may take several hours, depending on the size of your disk. During this time, you will not be able to use your computer for any other purpose. You might therefore want to begin the compression process at the end of a work day.

To compress a disk, open the Start menu and choose Programs, Accessories, System Tools. On the System Tools menu, choose DriveSpace.

If you don’t find DriveSpace there, launch Add/Remove Programs in Control Panel, click the Windows Setup tab, select System Tools, and click the Details button. Select Disk Compression Tools and click OK. (If Disk Compression Tools doesn’t appear in the Disk Tools list, DriveSpace has already been installed. Unlike most Windows components, once installed you can’t remove DriveSpace, so it doesn’t appear in the list. In this case, use the Find command to locate and run a program named Drvspace.exe.)

DriveSpace’s initial display lists the drives on your system, including any that you have already compressed. Before applying one of DriveSpace’s commands, select the drive that you want the command to affect.

As a quicker alternative for compressing a particular drive, you can right-click the drive’s icon in a Windows Explorer window. Choose Properties from the context menu and then click the Compression tab. (This tab appears only on uncompressed drives.)

Before starting the compression process, be sure to visit the Settings command on DriveSpace’s Advanced menu. (See Figure 16-4.) Here you can select from the following compression options:

  • HiPack compression. This option gives you the highest compression ratio, thereby giving you the maximum possible disk space. As a tradeoff, you have to put up with slower disk reads and writes. As the dialog box says, this one is not a good choice on 486-based machines.

  • Standard compression. This option gives you less effective disk space than HiPack but provides faster access to your files.

  • No compression, unless… This means that files written to your disk remain uncompressed, unless your hard disk reaches a capacity threshold that you set. At that point, DriveSpace begins compressing anything you save.

  • No compression. This option allows you to save new files uncompressed to a drive that has previously been compressed. (Old files on this drive remain compressed.) The new files will

Disk Compression settings box
Click to view graphic (9 KB)

Figure 16-4.
The Settings command on DriveSpace’s Advanced menu lets you choose the degree of compression you want.

    probably take up less space on the DriveSpace disk than they would on an ordinary disk, even though they’re not compressed. That’s because, as part of the CVF, they don’t have to occupy integral multiples of the disk’s allocation unit size.

Compression Agent, described below, offers an even higher-compression option called UltraPack. After you’ve compressed a disk with DriveSpace, you can run Compression Agent to increase the compression of particular files or all files.

After choosing a compression option, click OK and then choose Compress from the Drive menu. In the Compress A Drive dialog box, DriveSpace displays before-and-after pie charts showing you how much additional disk space you can expect to achieve by compressing this disk, as shown in Figure 16-5.

If the uncompressed size of your drive is larger than 1 GB (gigabyte), the Compress A Drive dialog box also presents a message to this effect. DriveSpace 3 has a maximum CVF size of a little over 1 GB. When you run DriveSpace on a large disk, therefore, the system compresses only as much of your original disk as it can. Then it moves the remainder of the disk, uncompressed, to the newly created host drive. The host drive, in this case, remains visible in Windows Explorer windows.

Compress A Drive dialog box
Click to view graphic (8 KB)

Figure 16-5.
These diagrams illustrate the estimated effect of running DriveSpace on a 503-MB hard disk.

When you’re ready, click Start to begin the compression process. If you’re compressing a hard disk, DriveSpace first suggests that you create a Windows startup disk (a good idea). Then it checks your drive for errors. After getting a clean bill of disk health, it suggests you perform a backup (a splendid idea). Finally, it restarts Windows in a special mode and goes to work on your disk. If you’re compressing a floppy disk, DriveSpace goes about its business in Windows’ normal operating mode, but it slows down your system so dramatically that you won’t want to try to work until it’s finished.

Compressing Only the Free Space on a Disk

As an alternative to compressing an entire disk, you can ask DriveSpace to compress only the space that’s currently unused. DriveSpace turns this free space into a new compressed drive and assigns that drive an unused drive letter.

To compress the free space only, select the drive whose free space you want to compress, and then choose Create Empty from the Advanced menu. You’ll see a dialog box similar to the one shown in Figure 16-6.

This dialog box reports the drive letter that DriveSpace plans to use, the amount of space that will be compressed, the estimated capacity of the new compressed volume, and the amount of free space that will remain on your uncompressed volume. (The program leaves a small amount so that your uncompressed files have room to grow.) You can change any of these settings before beginning the compression process.

Create New Compressed Drive dialog box
Click to view graphic (6 KB)

Figure 16-6.
As an alternative to compressing an entire disk, you can compress just the free space that remains on the disk.

Compressing Floppy Disks

You can use the Compress command to compress an entire floppy disk. You cannot, however, compress only the free space on a floppy.

Compressed floppy disks are “mounted” by default. That simply means they’re made available to the system as soon as you’ve finished compressing them or whenever you insert such a disk in the drive. DriveSpace includes an Unmount command (on the Advanced menu) that lets you make a floppy’s CVF unavailable, but there’s no particular reason to use this command.

Formatting a Compressed Floppy Disk

To format a compressed floppy disk, select the disk in DriveSpace’s main dialog box. Then choose Format from the Drive menu. Note that the disk must be compressed before you can use this command and that you cannot use the standard Format command with a compressed disk. (To turn a compressed disk back into an uncompressed one, use the Uncompress command, discussed next.)

Decompressing a Compressed Volume

If you no longer want a drive to use DriveSpace’s compression services, you can “uncompress” it—provided enough room remains to accommodate all the files in their uncompressed state. If the drive does not have enough room, you’ll first need to move some of its files from the compressed volume to another drive.

To restore a compressed drive to its normal state, select the drive in DriveSpace’s main window. Then choose Uncompress from the Drive menu.

Using Compression Agent to Change the Compression Parameters of a DriveSpace Disk

Once you’ve compressed a disk with DriveSpace, you can use a program called Compression Agent to modify the way in which some or all of that disk’s files are compressed. Compression Agent lets you balance speed with performance in an optimal way by applying high-compression techniques to particular files. Compression Agent can squeeze your files using either the HiPack method or an ultra-high-compression algorithm called UltraPack. (You can also use Compression Agent to remove compression from particular files.) You can tell Compression Agent to use its UltraPack method only on files meeting a particular description, such as files that you haven’t worked with during the most recent 30 days.

For information about scheduling ScanDisk to run automatically, see “Automating Maintenance with the Maintenance Wizard.”

To run Compression Agent, open the Start menu and choose Programs, Accessories, System Tools. If you don’t find Compression Agent on the System Tools menu, use the Find command to locate and launch a program named Cmpagent.exe.

You can work while Compression Agent is active, but you probably won’t want to. To automate Compression Agent, so that it works while you don’t, use Scheduled Tasks.

For information about Scheduled Tasks, see “Starting Programs on Schedule.”

Using Third-Party Compression Tools to Compress Particular Files

If applying DriveSpace to an entire disk seems like a drastic solution to a storage problem, you might want to consider using a third-party compression tool such as Niko Mak Computing’s WinZip. These tools are somewhat less convenient than DriveSpace, because they don’t compress and expand files on the fly. Their advantages are that they can easily be applied to particular files (files that you don’t use often, for example) and they don’t radically alter the structure of your disk.

Optimizing Disk Performance with Disk Defragmenter

When you store files on a freshly formatted disk, Windows writes each file’s data in a set of adjacent disk clusters. One file might use clusters 3 through 24, for example, the next 25 through 31, a third 32 through 34, and so on. As soon as you begin deleting files, however, this neat pattern is likely to be broken.

For example, if you delete the file that occupies clusters 25 through 31, and then create a new file 20 clusters in length, Windows stores the new file’s first 7 clusters in 25 through 31 and the remaining 13 somewhere else. This new file, in other words, would be fragmented; it would occupy at least two noncontiguous blocks of clusters. As time went on and you added and deleted more files, the odds are good that more and more of your files would become fragmented.

Fragmentation does not affect data integrity, but it does reduce the efficiency of your hard disk. Fragmented files take longer to read and write than contiguous ones.

You can eliminate disk fragmentation and enhance Windows’ performance by using the Disk Defragmenter program that’s included with Windows 98. This program rearranges files, storing each file in a block of contiguous sectors. Disk Defragmenter can also move the programs that you use most often to a disk location that minimizes access time, thereby making your programs launch more quickly.

You can use Disk Defragmenter with any uncompressed local hard disk (including FAT32 drives) or floppy disk, or with any local disk that has been compressed with DoubleSpace, DriveSpace, or DriveSpace 3. You cannot use Disk Defragmenter with network drives, disks that have been compressed with programs other than DriveSpace and DoubleSpace, read-only disks, or locked drives.

It’s a good idea to use Disk Defragmenter regularly. The Maintenance Wizard, described later in this chapter, can automatically run Disk Defragmenter at prescribed times.

To run Disk Defragmenter, open the Start menu, and then choose Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Disk Defragmenter. If you don’t find Disk Defragmenter there, use the Find command to locate and run a program named Defrag.exe.

For information about scheduling Compression Agent to run automatically, see “Automating Maintenance with the Maintenance Wizard.”

You can also run Disk Defragmenter for a particular disk by right-clicking that disk’s icon in a Windows Explorer window. Choose Properties from the disk’s context menu, and then click the Tools tab in the disk’s properties dialog box. Finally, click Defragment Now. This method does not let you change defragmentation settings, however.

Disk Defragmenter begins by displaying the Select Drive dialog box, asking you to choose the drive you want to optimize. Make your selection in the drop-down list and then click the Settings button. In the Settings dialog box, you’ll find two check boxes. With the first, you can tell Disk Defragmenter to rearrange your program files so that your programs start more quickly. With the second, you can have your disk checked for errors before the defragmenting begins. It’s a good idea to vote yes on both these propositions.

While Disk Defragmenter is working, you can click a Show Details button to see a real-time diagram of the program’s progress. It’s a pretty display, but it slows down the defragmentation process. To get the fastest performance from Disk Defragmenter, skip the details display and don’t use the disk that’s being defragmented.

Other Optimizing Steps

Once you’ve ensured that your system has enough memory and an ample, defragmented hard disk, here are some additional optimizing steps to consider:

  • Eliminate real-mode (MS-DOS compatibility) drivers.

  • Disable background processing of MS-DOS–based programs.

  • Watch out for MS-DOS–based programs that hog extended memory.

  • Evaluate printing performance tradeoffs.

  • Evaluate video performance tradeoffs.

Eliminate Real-Mode (MS-DOS Compatibility) Drivers

Windows 98 supplies 32-bit drivers that run in your computer’s protected mode. These drivers provide better performance and security than the 16-bit, real-mode drivers that were used by Windows 3.x and MS-DOS. If you have installed Windows 98 on a system that previously used an earlier operating system, however, it is possible that Windows is continuing to use some of your earlier drivers. You can find out whether this is the case by doing the following:

  1. Right-click My Computer and choose Properties from the context menu. (Alternatively, launch System in Control Panel.)

  2. Click the Performance tab.

If your system is using any real-mode drivers, you will see some indication of that fact on the Performance tab in the System Properties dialog box. Figure 16-7, for example, depicts a system whose performance is impaired by the presence of a real-mode driver for several CD-ROM drives.

System Properties dialog box
Click to view graphic (11 KB)

Figure 16-7.
Check the Performance tab in the System Properties dialog box to see if your system is using any real-mode drivers.

If you see the words “compatibility mode” anywhere on this tab, your system is not giving you optimal performance. You can learn more about what’s going on by selecting each item in the list box in turn and then clicking the Details button. If your system requires a real-mode driver for some reason, you might need to live with less than ideal performance. In many cases, however, real-mode drivers can easily be eliminated. In the system shown in Figure 16-7, for example, a single statement in the Autoexec.bat file was slowing down all activity of the hard disks. Removing that statement restored the system to optimal performance.

To inspect or edit your Autoexec.bat or Config.sys file, use the Start menu’s Run command and run SysEdit.

Disable Background Processing of MS-DOS–Based Programs

When you run an MS-DOS–based program and then switch away to a different program, Windows continues to allocate some of your computer’s processing time to that MS-DOS–based program, even though it’s no longer running in the foreground. Letting an MS-DOS–based program run in the background may degrade your system’s overall performance unnecessarily. Unless you really need background processing, it’s a good idea to turn it off. You can do that as follows:

  1. Right-click the icon for the MS-DOS–based program, and then choose Properties from the context menu.

  2. Click the Misc tab.

  3. Select the Always Suspend check box.

Certain MS-DOS–based programs—for example, communications programs—might not function reliably without background processing. And with some programs (language compilers, for example), background processing provides a benefit that compensates for any performance degradation it may cause. You’ll need to decide on a case-by-case basis whether it makes sense to leave background processing on. But, as a rule, if you don’t need it, don’t use it.

Watch Out for MS-DOS–Based Programs That Hog Extended Memory

The default extended-memory setting for an MS-DOS–based program is “Auto,” which means that Windows imposes no limit on the amount of extended memory the program can have. Generally, that works out fine. Windows allocates as much extended memory to the MS-DOS–based program as it thinks it needs, subject to overall system constraints. But a few ill-behaved programs, when offered a large helping of extended memory, take every byte and hoard it, whether they need a large amount or none at all. If you find your system slowing down markedly whenever a particular MS-DOS–based program is running, try limiting the amount of extended memory that program may use, as follows:

  1. Right-click the icon for the MS-DOS–based program, and then choose Properties from the context menu.

  2. Click the Memory tab.

  3. Open the Extended (XMS) Memory drop-down list and choose an amount other than “Auto.”

For more information about memory settings for MS-DOS–based programs, see “Options on the Memory Tab.”

Evaluate Printing Performance Tradeoffs

When you send a document to a non-PostScript printer, Windows first creates an intermediate disk file, called a spool file or enhanced metafile (EMF). While the EMF is being created, you cannot work in the program that’s printing the document. (During this time, the program normally displays a dialog box that monitors the progress of the printing process.) As soon as Windows has finished creating the EMF, you can go on working in your program. At that point, if the print job is at the head of its print queue, Windows despools the EMF. That is, it converts the EMF to language specific for your printer and sends the printer-specific commands to the printer.

Exactly where each of the steps takes place depends on whether the printer is attached to your computer, to a server running Windows 95 or Windows 98, or to a server running another operating system (such as Novell NetWare or Windows NT).

If the printer is attached to a server running Windows 95 or Windows 98, the conversion of the EMF to your printer’s language takes place on the server. If the printer is attached locally or to a server running another operating system, the EMF-to-printer-language conversion occurs on your own computer. This process takes place in the background but still has some temporary effect on the overall performance on your system. Therefore, all other things being equal, you might want to give preference to printers attached to servers that are running Windows 95 or Windows 98.

Assuming a print job does not have to wait behind other jobs in a print queue, Windows normally begins despooling it as soon as the first page has been rendered into EMF form. Windows continues despooling pages as they become EMF-ready. This overlapping of the EMF-building and despooling processes gives you the shortest possible time from when you click OK until the last page drops into the tray. It also minimizes the size of the temporary disk files that Windows has to use. But it makes you wait a little longer until you can resume working in your program.

If you want to be able to get to work more quickly, you can tell Windows not to despool until the entire EMF has been created. To do this:

  1. Open the Start menu, choose Settings, and then choose Printers.

  2. Right-click the printer you’re going to use, and then choose Properties from the context menu.

  3. Click the Details tab.

  4. Click Spool Settings.

  5. Select the option button labeled “Start printing after last page is spooled.”

Note that this option requires Windows to create a larger temporary disk file and produces a somewhat later finish time for the entire print job.

For information about changing the resolution, see “Changing Display Resolution.” For information about changing color depth, see “Changing Color Depth.”

Evaluate Video Performance Tradeoffs

High screen resolutions and high color depths make your processor work harder than low screen resolutions and low color depths. If you work primarily with text, or if your video system is less snappy than you’d like, consider switching to a lower resolution or color depth. (Of the two factors, color depth has the greater impact on performance.)


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Last Updated: Friday, July 6, 2001