How to make Windows Vista run faster

I’ve just published the latest installment in my Fixing Windows Vista series over at ZDNet.

Fixing Windows Vista, Part 3: Top Troubleshooting Tools

I’ve been working on this piece for weeks. Here’s a sample:

Today’s conventional wisdom, based on more than a year’s worth of relentless negative publicity, says Vista is hopelessly broken. In fact, my experience says the exact opposite is true. I proved the point in the first installment of this series, where I restored a sluggish $2500 Sony Vaio notebook to peak performance in a few hours. And I think anyone with a modicum of PC smarts can do the same.

In 2008, there is no excuse for a PC maker to ship a Vista-based system that is anything less than fast and reliable. Sadly, many of them still do a terrible job, loading new PCs (especially notebooks) with outdated drivers, crapware, and overbearing security software that can result in a terrible Vista experience.

If you unbox a new PC and it performs like a slug, you’re likely to just live with the frustration (and maybe even blog about it), because everyone knows that Vista sucks. Right?


I believe you have every right to expect excellent performance from Windows Vista, and I’m going to back that conclusion in today’s post, the latest in my Fixing Vista series, with details on how to use Vista’s built-in tools to find and fix the problems that stand between you and an excellent Vista experience.

I’ve also put together a screenshot gallery illustrating all the tools and techniques I discuss:

The Ultimate Vista Troubleshooting Toolkit

If you’ve got comments or questions, leave them here and I’ll try to answer them as soon as I can.

30 thoughts on “How to make Windows Vista run faster

  1. Ed,

    While Vista isn’t broken, in my opinion it is not any better than XP. You have shown in a previous series of posts that XP can be very secure. XP does what you need with some free or open source 3rd party software that makes it just as good as Vista. There is no reason at all to upgrade to Vista or until June 30th accept a system with Vista on it.

    As a technology support professional, I find XP much easier for my clients to navigate and understand. Vista is basically bells and whistles. Different names “Computer” for “My Computer” makes no sense, the changes to the “Network Places” with the additional clicks to get what you need is just extra steps that Microsoft thought were easier for end users to understand. Most of the clients that I have dealt with have thought that it was just plain confusing.

    Granted, there are a few good features, gadgets are one along with the new start menu and it’s search feature. The security of not letting programs write to the Program Files folder is another good thing.

    But these things don’t make up for the price to upgrade and the learning curve for users who have become used to XP conventions. Microsoft took too long to release Vista and the changes are for the most part cosmetic.

    While I have your first book on Vista and work on Vista machines, I do not recommend to any client that they get a Vista machine until they have to.

  2. I have been using Vista (retail version) since it was released. I second Ray’s comments. I am, in no way shape or form, a Microsoft basher.

    XP Pro is just a better OS.

  3. I have a home built 2g sempron, 1g ram. 256meg
    Visiontech Radeon X1550 video and Vista Ultimate.
    Number one problem is a hard freeze every couple of days or so. Only recourse is hard reboot.
    How do you troubleshoot this kind of problem?
    Realibility report only states inproper shutdown.
    Freezes are random and most of the time when
    the computer is idle. I do not use hibernate and the
    PC is a desktop. SP1 did not help and I have all the
    latest drivers installed.

  4. Raymond, you have a hardware problem. These can be a bear to troubleshoot. Have you run a full memory diagnostic? Could also be power-supply related.

    Do event logs show anything?

  5. Fred and Ray,

    If you think XP works for your needs and those of the users you support, I will not try to dissuade you. That’s your call, and you know your needs better than I do. But for me, and for a dozen users I support, Vista is a clearly better solution than XP. I tried using XP Pro for a few days last month. It was a nightmare.

    One size does not fit all, and one thing you will notice in what I do here is I don’t try to make absolute statements that one OS is better than another. I do think Vista has some advantages that a lot of people overlook, a topic for another post.

  6. I have to totally agree with the first few comments. I love Windows, don’t get me wrong. But lately Vista was just cramping my style and slowing me down with my work. Did a few tweaks mentioned and it helped a bit.

    Now I primarily use my XP machine and use Vista for my casual computer use and entertainment only.

  7. Barry, how did it “cramp your style” and “slow you down with your work”? My experience has been exactly the opposite. I’m not challenging your perspective, just wondering what sort of issues you didn’t like.

  8. Vista is a better home media machine, manages users better and more easily, and for lay personnel creates networks more easily.

    You guys prefer XP because you are “used to” it. But frankly, XP always had issues with activesync connections, WMP syncing, etc. It reminds me of how everyone hated XP when it first came out and wondered why the need to ever upgrade from NT.

    Vista just requires time to refamiliarize yourself with the usual tasks. Now Office 2007 on the other hand; DON’T GET ME STARTED!

  9. Edward,

    That’s quite a blanket statement that “You guys prefer XP because you are ‘used to’ it”. I use both OS, support both OS, work with both OS. I prefer XP because it cost less, does what is needed, and can be made to do anything that Vista does with free or mostly free 3rd party tools.

    I’ve spent more than enough time reading Ed’s book on Vista, read a lot of RSS feeds about Vista, actually tinkering with a Vista laptop that I own so that I am familiar with it. Microsoft gave us Vista with no rhyme or reason to changes. They are basically just for the sake of change. Even Mac OS X at least makes minor additions on a timely basis, instead of a 6 year gap that we had in Windows.

    The school board that I work full time for will not go to Vista because of compatibility issues. At the same time I’m using Linux on a server Ed donated to our school for our Science program. (Thanks BTW Ed)

    To sum it up, Vista doesn’t add enough to what XP already does to move to it full time.

  10. Ray, you write:

    “Microsoft gave us Vista with no rhyme or reason to changes. They are basically just for the sake of change. ”

    I emphatically disagree. I have met with many of the people who designed Windows Vista. I understand why they did what they did, and to say they did it for no reason implied they are stupid.

    This is a topic I obviously need to examine in a larger post. I can understand someone looking at the design decisions that went into Vista and saying they don’t like them. But to say there is no reason implies to me that you haven’t even tried to understand the differences.

    No offense, but come on, think about it for two seconds.

  11. I think I have my problem is solved, my keyboard just went bellyup.

    Richard, Mark Russinovich’s session on troubleshooting
    is a silverlight video! No Silverlight for me plus I’am on
    dialup. I have 30 years skills.

  12. I agree with most comments here: I like XP better than Vista. I have Vista at home and XP at work. My machine at home is a Q6600 with 8GB of RAM, home built. It took me a good month to stabilize it and find good drivers. Now it’s working decently well. I get one crash per week on average, and it’s always either SuperFetch, svchost.exe or the NVidia driver. I reboot my machine as soon as possible after such a crash (otherwise, I get a BSOD a couple of hours or so after such a crash). I send crash reports to MS each time. Was not able to pinpoint what is causing these crashes yet.

    I prefer XP because it is indeed more functional and more to the point than Vista. For example, I can tab into the address bar of explorer and type the path I want to go to, which I can not do in Vista. There are many more like that, but let’s not digress.

    I’ve been thinking of going back to XP on my home machine, but the idea of spending another few weeks rebooting and hunting for drivers (especially that XP requires a floppy to preload drivers) is holding me back. I’m stuck with Vista in a sense. Which is perhaps OK because I get to experience it and know what I’m talking about…

    Vista has improved since it was shipped, but today after more than one year being released, I still notice that:
    – Vista is unmistakably less stable than my previous machine running XP on 4GB + Athlon X2 4200+
    – many peripherals still have no drivers (like for example MS finger print reader!)
    – the Ultimate extras proved to be just a marketing scam (nothing of value available in the “Ultimate Extras” after 16+ months).
    – after more than 10 months using Vista on a daily basis, I still find it ugly and unpractical in many aspects (I hate the new explorer for example)

    There are a few very nice points (like searchable start menu, resource monitor, task manager), but they are overshadowed by all the bad stuff, and all in all I do not recommend Vista to any of my friends, and don’t think I would reinstall it on my future machine.

  13. Just curious, Joe. You cannot tab into the Explorer address bar using the tab key? How about the F6 key? I don’t use Vista and I’d like to know.

    I cannot afford to upgrade to Vista and will stick with XP for now.

  14. Ed:

    Great article. I can never get enough of stuff like this.

    I have had Vista on this computer since the day Microsoft released it. The computer was designed to run Vista Home Premium (my WEI is 5.1). It is now a year and almost three months later and I have never had any Vista problem whatsoever. My reliability rating constantly hovers at or near a perfect 10. I do everything “by the book” and, amazingly, everything works the way it is supposed to work. What a concept!

  15. Joe – Microsoft has shipped Vista drivers for the MS Fingerprint reader. Go to and download the driver. It works much better in Vista than it does in XP – for example, you can use the fingerprint reader to log in to Vista, where you could not use it to log in to XP. I gave up on the fingerprint reader in XP, because it wasn’t that useful; I use it all the time in Vista. Makes running as a limited user a treat – just use a different finger to authenticate the elevation prompt.

  16. It is true that I didn’t like XP when it was first released, I was happy with NT, and 2000 wasn’t much worse with all of the default preferences switched. I don’t care about lots of things that others care about, so those OSes were fine for me.

    However, when SP2 came out, I changed my mind on XP, and have heartily recommended it since.

    As a side-note, Windows default preferences are getting better, though it is harder now, because since Win95, I have always switched the state of every preference checkbox, and now I have to read the text and only switch 60% or so.

    As for your tweaks to make Vista run faster, didn’t you post earlier criticizing those folks who play around with their settings and then complain when their computer gets hosed?

    I agree that the vendors are messing up Windows on top of Microsoft, I assume they get paid to add all that stuff – it must add cost to their technical support, so they wouldn’t just add that stuff by themselves.

    I did see some vendors pre-installing “FREE OpenOffice”, rather than the trials of Microsoft Works, et al. so that is nice – trial software shouldn’t be installed on PCs.

  17. Jon D,

    “As for your tweaks to make Vista run faster, didn’t you post earlier criticizing those folks who play around with their settings and then complain when their computer gets hosed?”

    Was that directed at me? If so, I’m not sure I understand. My post shows how to use troubleshooting tools to discover and fix bottlenecks in performance. I certainly am not advocating random tweaks to the registry in the name of making things go faster. In fact, exactly the opposite.

  18. Ed, my customers are SOHO and residential users. They do not have budgets that allow for them to start all over again with scanners, printers, WiFi routers, and even USB thumb drives. (Come on, killing my older thumb drives off? Ridiculous)

    I run Vista on this laptop and use it every day. That said, there is little reason for my clients to invest in Vista when they can do everything they need to do with XP.

  19. Dan, you can indeed tab into the Address bar in Explorer, and F6 works too. Joe might be getting confused because when you tab to the Address bar, the focus goes to the beginning of the breadcrumb bar. At that point you can tap the space bar to highlight the current contents, or tap down to navigate through destinations.

    Joe, it sounds like you have some myths about what you can and can’t do.

  20. FredsRead, you make no sense at all.

    I have dozens of thumb drives here. They all work in Vista. So I don’t get that at all.

    Any WiFi router will work with Vista, because they use a web-based interface. Again, what on earth are you talking about?

    Most printers have drivers for Vista. All-in-ones are a major exception, because they contain scanners. If you don’t need that function, then a generic printer driver should work. If I had an AIO device or a scanner, I would investigate the driver situation before choosing to upgrade.

    But otherwise the objections you’re raising don’t match up with my real-world experience.

  21. Thanks for the heads up to check for misbehaving drivers. I got the old “Drinvers are interferring with sleep…” thingy. Turns out there are two different dates listed for the drivers. One in Device Manager and the other date is in the drop down dialog in the troubleshooter. Then, the driver from Lenovo has yet a third date! Oh well…the only problem I’ve ever had is my ThinkPad will go back into hibernate unless I show some sort of activity with the computer within a few seconds. Always been that way.

    Also, a Canon camera driver misbehaved till I removed the driver and then had Vista plant it again.

    My point is….Vista is doing pretty well, but not well enough to “walk on water”.

    Hibernate has always taken a long time in and out with Vista. I can only attribute that to all the toys Vista has to put on the shelf before it can hibernate vs. fewer things to stash in XP.

  22. Ed:

    I got Vista with a new laptop. Love the new search feature on the Start button; I just type the name of the program I want, and I get a list of options. Quick and painless. Now when applications ask where in the Start menu to put their shortcuts, I ignore the question and accept the defaults. (In 95 through XP, I would, whenever possible, force the shortcuts into subcategories, like Hardware or Research or Internet — and then cuss out programmers like the Google team who assume each program must be one click under All Programs.)

    One huge pet peeve already, and I’ve had this new system for just a couple of weeks: How the dickens are you supposed to update older copies of files?

    In XP, select the files to be copied, press Ctrl+C. Switch to the folder to put them in and press Ctrl+V. When asked whether to overwrite, choose “y” or “a” for “yes” or “all.” (Or choose “n” or “N” for “no” or “None.” And the Space bar is the same as Yes.) Done. Don’t even have to look at the screen if I’ve designated hot keys for folders.

    In Vista, select the files, copy them with Ctrl+C, switch to the destination, and press Ctrl+V. So far, so good. But now you’re asked three questions, and you have to tick a check box if you’re copying more than one file. As far as I can tell, the shortest way to answer the prompt with the keyboard is Shift+Tab, Shift+Tab, Space, Shift+Tab, Shift+Tab, Shift+Tab, Space.

    Vista requires seven keystrokes to XP’s single keystroke.

    Is there something obvious I’m missing here? I mean, granted, the dialog is much more clear to the newbie user, but for those of us who know what we’re doing, this is awful.

    Frankly, I suspect this dialog was created by the same keybo-phobes who designed the Shutdown options in Millennium. “Shutdown” and “Standby” both start with S, and if one is selected, then pressing S toggles the choice for you, so you can’t simply choose one from habit as you could in 95 and 98.

    Sorry to rant, but I really despise programmers who despise keyboarders.

    So anyway, other than creating a boatload of batch files or a command prompt, what’s the best way around this antiuser obstacle?

    — Tim

  23. Any WiFi router will work with Vista, because they use a web-based interface.

    Well, except Apple’s at least. Apple uses an application to set its router settings, and of course, unless you have the newest “Airport” Wifi router (the one with 802.11n support), the application won’t install or run in Vista. (Even more obnoxious is that the new application with the new router can control the older routers as well, but Apple doesn’t post that application on their website. Unless you can hack it out of one of their updates, you have to buy a new router. That is the near opposite of user/customer friendly image Apple tries to cultivate in its marketing.)

    Yes, I had Apple’s old router. I wound up buying a new one — from Linksys.

  24. I think too many times people blame bad hardware or bad software on the OS. I use XP Pro at work on my laptop and Vista Ultimate at home. I’m a firm believer that anyone who buys a new personal PC should get Vista. The features and benefits are evident (security, reliability, updated apps). If you have XP and you’re happy, it’s fine to stay with it but it doesn’t justify you bashing Vista. My wife wouldn’t give up Vista MCE for the world.


  25. @Joe:

    For example, I can tab into the address bar of explorer and type the path I want to go to, which I can not do in Vista.

    As Ed pointed out, you can press Tab until the focus is in the address bar and then press Space, but there’s an even easier way: Press Alt+D.

    That jumps directly to the address bar (you don’t need to press Tab multiple times) and selects the entire address, which you can type over or edit. This also works in Internet Explorer — and it works in XP.

  26. >”Microsoft gave us Vista with no rhyme or reason to changes. They are basically just for the sake of change.”

    I emphatically disagree. I have met with many of the people who designed Windows Vista. I understand why they did what they did, and to say they did it for no reason implied they are stupid.

    Well, they and their employer bear that burden of proof to the rest of us then, don’t they?

    When Microsoft make UI/OS changes–e.g., MS-Office 2007’s “ribbon” interface–without taking the initiative to explain why in clear and unequivocal language (like, say, a company which actually had respect for their customers would), what other conclusion should we draw from that fact than “Oh, here are these changes which we unilaterally made because we can; you have no choice; resistance is futile“? If that’s not the impression Microsoft wish to convey, then Microsoft–and no others–bear the burden of correcting it.

    Think of it as a test of character.

  27. “When Microsoft make UI/OS changes–e.g., MS-Office 2007’s “ribbon” interface–without taking the initiative to explain why in clear and unequivocal language…”

    The director of that project, Jensen Harris, wrote dozens of blog posts explaining the process and rationale of the Ribbon design. Just the way a company that respects its customers should.

    There is a Windows Media version here, as well as a PowerPoint presentation, and a PDF file:

    Here is an index of all the posts:

    Honestly, the level of discussion and transparency about this redesign is extraordinary, far beyond any project I’ve ever seen from any software company. That you pick this example is ironic.

  28. Ed,

    I just upgraded from vista basic to vista premium hoping for a faster laptop. Well, lately my computer is slower than before and my home computer has the same vista but it runs faster and it’s loaded with more programs! I love to play games and use online ones too so i need a computer that supports them. Is there anyway that I can make my windows vista premium faster?

    1. Sorry, I really don’t have an easy answer for that question. You need to find the thing that’s slowing you down and remove it. Simple to day, perhaps hard to do.

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