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July 6, 1998

Windows 98's WinAlign will make Microsoft apps load more quickly

One of the biggest performance improvements in Windows 98 involves loading programs. Such programs have been shown by Microsoft to load an average of 30 percent to 40 percent faster than ordinary programs. Here is how to get the most benefit out of this feature.

When you install Win98, its setup routine automatically runs a utility called WinAlign.dll. This rewrites applications so their executable sections begin on 4KB boundaries. Such an "aligned" program can run faster and consume less memory in Win98.

Aligned programs benefit from Win98's support of mapped memory I/O out of cache. This means Win98 can run programs from cache memory without also copying the program to an equal amount of main memory. This saves RAM and reduces the use of a much slower swap file.

WinAlign gives programs the greatest benefit after you have run Win98's Drive Converter. This converts your hard drive to a 32-bit file allocation table, or FAT-32, a more efficient way to store information than the FAT-16 used by older versions of Windows.

A FAT-16 drive gains free space by conversion to FAT-32. To estimate the savings, run the Fat32win.exe program found in the \Tools\Reskit\Config folder of the Win98 CD-ROM. You typically gain 20 percent or more additional space on hard drives larger than 1GB. On drives of 8GB or smaller, FAT-32 uses a 4KB cluster size, which works well with 4KB-aligned programs.

FAT-32 has been tested by Microsoft since its release in Windows 95B in 1997 and is now highly reliable. The Drive Converter warns you if it finds an incompatibility, mainly laptops with "hibernation" features. To avoid other conflicts, you should temporarily disable virus checkers before running Drive Converter. Also, DriveSpace 3 in Win98 will refuse to compress a FAT-32 drive.

If you have any concerns about FAT-32, you should read the details in the Windows 98 Resource Kit. Open the file Rk98book.chm found in the \Tools\Reskit\Help folder of the Win98 CD and read the "Disks and File Systems" chapter.

The WinAlign.dll utility currently aligns only Microsoft programs, including Win98 executables and Office 95 and 97 applications. Shawn Sanford, a product manager for Win98, says this is because Microsoft didn't want to disrupt other vendors' programs.

To see a list of the executables that are aligned, open the Winali.ini file found in the \Windows\System folder after installing Win98. You could add other programs to this list and WinAlign them, but I'd recommend waiting until other vendors come out with aligned versions of their software.

When you run programs, Win98's new Taskmon.exe process logs the order in which they load their files. You can see the logs by using Notepad to open files such as Win word.lgc in the hidden \Windows\Applog folder. Taskmon logs each program the second time you run it and every third time after that. Programs you have run eight times will be optimized first, then programs you have run five times, and so on.

The final step in optimization is to run Win98's Disk Defragmenter. It uses Taskmon's logs to write your program files to disk in the order in which they load fastest. Defragmenters that are not Win98-aware will undo this order, so use only updated utilities.

I'd be interested to hear readers' actual speed-ups, using the benchmarking that I described last week. Type "winalign" as the subject of your e-mail.

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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