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June 29, 1998

Why wait? You can get Windows 98 ready for performance improvements now

Several changes have been made to Windows 98 to give it better performance and stability than Windows 95. Unfortunately for you, some of the performance improvements do not make themselves available to you immediately when you install Windows 98. To get the most benefit, you need to know about these features and how to optimize them.

One area that Microsoft's developers have concentrated on is speeding up the time that applications take to load. In a technical briefing I attended in Redmond, Wash., prior to the release of Windows 98, Microsoft executives showed evidence that Windows 98 could load Word for Windows 97 in less than 50 percent of the time Windows 95 required, and Adobe Photoshop 4.0 in less than 25 percent of the time, with optimization.

The optimizations that produce these speed-ups in application loading are dependent on several PC upgrades:

  • You must be running Windows 98.

  • You must run a WinAlign utility to convert your installed applications to work with the new optimization methods. WinAlign runs automatically during Windows 98 setup on a select list of applications that Microsoft knows are compatible with these methods.

  • You must convert your hard drive to FAT-32, or 32-bit file allocation table. I covered the steps of this process in last week's column. FAT-32 is a more efficient method of disk storage than the old FAT-16 used prior to Windows 98. You can typically gain 15 percent to 25 percent of free space on a large hard disk by converting it from FAT-16 to FAT-32. More importantly, FAT-32 stores data in 4KB clusters (on hard drives that are 8GB or smaller). These clusters are the same size as the 4KB "pages" that Windows uses to allocate memory. The benefits of this matchup will be explained in more detail in next week's column.

  • You must run each of your favorite applications at least four times. This allows a small background process called Taskmon to monitor your applications and log the files they need and the order in which they load.

  • You must run the Defrag utility that comes with Windows 98. Older defragmenters write files into a contiguous order on your hard disk. By contrast, the Defrag utility in Windows 98 writes files in the order your applications need them. This can drastically reduce the time it takes your hard disk to assemble the files needed to load your applications.

Microsoft has designed the optimizations described above to happen over a period of time for all Windows 98 users who convert to FAT-32.

Eventually, every user will run every installed application four times or more. And eventually every user will run Defrag (or schedule it to be run automatically, a process that the new Task Scheduler makes easy). This causes the new, more efficient loading patterns to be written to disk.

But why wait for all of this to take place gradually? If you are installing Windows 98, you might as well get its benefits sooner rather than later. (If you don't have Windows 98, save this column so you can take advantage of these features when you do install it.)

Before you implement these features yourself, however, you may want to know how much of a speed-up you've gained. To document this, you should first perform a simple test using your existing configuration.

  • Step 1. Create a shortcut in your \Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup folder for each of your major applications. To do this, find the executable file that launches each application. Right-drag each .EXE file into the Startup folder, then click Create Shortcut Here. Loading these applications when you first start Windows will allow you to clock how much time it takes to launch Windows and all your favorite applications. After the test, simply delete these shortcuts.

  • Step 2. Shut down Windows, then turn off the power and restart the system. Clock the launch time required by Windows and your suite of applications. You can do this before or after converting to FAT-32, which by itself has little or no performance benefit.

Next week, I'll cover in detail the specific steps needed to optimize the performance features in Windows 98.

Brian Livingston is the co-author of several best-selling Windows books, including the most recent Windows 95 Secrets (IDG Books). Send comments to Unfortunately, he cannot answer individual questions.

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