Configuring Windows for Performance, Usability and Security

This document applies to Windows 95, 98 and Me.
Related documents: Configuring System BIOS, Windows 95 software installation, Windows 98 software installation.

Contents

1. Introduction

2. Hard Disk Partitioning

3. Booting MS-DOS

4. The Windows Operating System

5. Disaster Prevention

6. Further Windows Housekeeping

7. Clearing Out Unnecessary Files To Make Space And Increase Performance

8. Functionality That Can Be Removed From Windows If You Don't Use It

9. various fixes / workarounds to common problems

10. Still to add to this document

11. Appendix

1. Introduction

You can configure Windows with all its user interface bells and whistles that have little functional value other than to slow the system down, and pay extra money for bigger, faster, hardware to compensate for your bad configuration; but why bother. This document details how to turn off all the extra fluff, and how to streamline it further so that the system runs at its fastest on the given hardware and saves you throwing away old equipment before its time is really up.

as far as performance goes, configuring a Windows system with the settings layed out in this document will really come-into-its-own on a computer with less resources than those you'd buy brand new now, yet it will enable any computer to run Windows faster and smoother. tuning the operating system for performance goes hand-in-hand with choosing lightweight software applications.

Use this document in conjunction with win-95-software-installation.html or win-98-software-installation.html ; those documents deal with the software worth loading onto a Windows sytem, this document deals with how to configure the underlying operating system that exists before you begin loading software onto it.
There are also details of settings worth making in many of the individual programs that make up a Windows system, in documents which can be found via software.html.

Thanks to David L. Farquhar for his book 'Optimizing Windows (for Games, Graphics and Multimedia)' (recently out of print), 2000, O'Reilly; which initially helped fill some of the holes.

Key

2. Hard Disk Partitioning

Stand-alone Windows 95/98/Me

Drive Function Volume Name Directories Size(MB) File System (95,98,Me) Cluster Size Partition Type
C: Windows operating system(+/-MB) + virtual memory WINDOWS \windows Win9x, min: 600
advised: 1000 + (1.5/2 X max physical (incl. foreseeable) RAM for virtual memory)
FAT16 32k primary
D: program files(+/-MB) PROGRAMS \ min: 600
advised: 1500+
FAT16 32k extended/
logical
E: 1. Windows' temporary files (+/- MB)
2. applications' (incl. browsers') temporary files / scratch space (+/- MB)
TEMP 1. \temp
2. \program-name
min: 400
advised: 1000
(2000+ for audio / still image / video editing)
FAT16 32k extended/
logical
F: users' Home space for their data; Windows installer (CAB) files (120MB) and various other uses (+/- MB) HOME \files\'username'
\mail
\software
\drivers
\freedb
\backup
\win98se.cab
rest of available space; or leave some for GNU/Linux FAT16 or FAT32 ??k extended/
logical
G: CD-ROM / CD-RW / etcetera . . . . . .
backup partitions (optional):
n/a invisible partition for 'WINDOWS' backup PROG-BAK n/a = FAT16 32k
n/a invisible partition for 'PROGRAMS' backup WIN-BAK n/a = FAT16 32k
partitions of an additional dual booting GNU/Linux system (optional):
hd# root n/a ? 100 EXT2 (83) ? primary/logical
hd# swap n/a ? = or 2x physical RAM size (and between 128MB and 2GB) LINUX-SWAP (82) ? logical
hd# everything else ? ? min: 800+
advised: 2000+
EXT2 (83) ? logical

Advantages of spreading operating system functionality over multiple partitions:

If you have a second hard disk, depending on how often its being accessed by programs, you can improve performance by locating Windows' virtual memory on that disk. This saves the virtual memory file from fragmenting the Windows partition. We used to also advise locating Windows' virtual memory on its own partition in a single disk system but it transpires that though this reduces fragmentation (a major performance hindrance), it forces the disk heads to move back and forwards too much between the Windows system files and the virtual memory, reducing the performance boost gained from the lack of fragmentation; where-as with the virtual memory on a separate disk the disk heads remain constantly around the same position on the disk where the virtual memory file is located

TEMP wants to be larger (i.e. by an extra 1GB) if an image manipulation (i.e. GIMP, Photoshop) or audio editing software (i.e. Audacity, CoolEdit) is using it

If you wish to have the GNU/Linux operating system installed concurrently with Windows, install Windows first, leave some partition space free (use something like Ranish Partition Manager or FIPS and Partition Resizer or Partition Magic or FDISK), and the GNU/Linux installer should prompt you to allow it to install in the free space and should then insert an operating system loader (LILO/GRUB/etc) in the hard disk's Master Boot Record (MBR) (the first sectors of the disk, that previously had Windows' operating system loader that took you into Windows automatically) which instead will ask you each time you switch on which operating system you'd like to run

the minimum and maximum partition sizes in the following table are based on a system presumed to be heavily used for a typical set of popular contemporary desktop uses, such as office suite applications (word processing, spreadsheet, database), various Internet applications (web, email) and graphics editing (i.e. GIMP/Photoshop) and other general uses; and assumes you have generous amounts of disk space to use (minimum of 3GB but for full flexibility its advisable to have 5.5GB or more). More leniant partition sizes could be used instead, for a system not intended for such a variety of applications and/or with smaller hard disk(s) (see further on)

if you're trying to cram this into a smaller hard disk, remember this:
WINDOWS wants enough to fit Windows, the Windows default Program Files, the program files for some applications that don't give you a choice where they get installed (most often device drivers).
PROGRAMS wants enough to cover all programs you can imagine needing to ever have installed.
SWAP wants enough space for the Windows virtual memory (the total RAM required, minus the physical RAM available)
TEMP wants enough to cover web browser cache (if you download files they'll be stored in here whilst they download) and all other applications' use of temporary space (some applications use large amounts of temporary/swap/scratch space)
LIBRARY wants to cover the Windows setup files (allthough these could live on a seperate CD) and any other software installers you want to keep on the hard disk at all times

for example, a system using Windows 98 could fit into:
WINDOWS: a very minimum of 300MB
PROGRAMS: 400MB
SWAP: 200MB+
TEMP: 200MB+
LIBRARY: 150MB (minimum for complete Windows installer and about 30MB for device drivers)
HOME: the rest of available space

How much larger is the WINDOWS partition likely to grow over time?
Occasionally there are applications (usually small hardware drivers) which will completely install their program files to C: without asking. Some applications (Quicktime, some Macromedia products) will install parts of their installation into %WINDIR%\SYSTEM32 (Windows NT) and this could be as much as 5 to 10MB.
Windows 2000 out-of-the-box (without adding extra language capabilities) could be perhaps 580MB; Service Packs save their files (SP2 is 150MB) in %WINDIR%\ServicePackFiles (so even currently unused updated system files are available when they're needed). The %WINDIR%\SYSTEM32 directory could easily grow to 500MB

3. Booting MS-DOS

MSDOS.SYS

[Win95,98,Me]
location: C:\MSDOS.SYS
download a copy that matches these settings, either for Windows 95 or for Windows 98 (at this point they're the same file)
file type: plain text
turn off its file attributes for Read-Only and Hidden before editing, and (preferably) restore them afterward

CONFIG.SYS

location: C:\CONFIG.SYS
file type: plain text
Windows doesn't need SETVER, HIMEM.SYS or EMM386.EXE to be run from CONFIG.SYS, but some specific DOS programs might

AUTOEXEC.BAT

[Win95,98,Me]
location: C:\AUTOEXEC.BAT
file type: plain text

4. The Windows Operating System

SYSTEM.INI

[Win95,98,Me]
location: %WINDIR%\SYSTEM.INI
file type: plain text

System Properties: Device Manager

System Properties: Performance

sounds

multimedia

Networking

Network Card (hardware)

Modem (hardware)

Taskbar & Start Menu

Internet Explorer

These are Internet Explorer (IE) settings (integrated with the operating system from Windows 95c onwards, unless you use 98Lite so as to not install it in the first place). as IE is installed by default and is an integral part of Windows these changes are worth making in case anyone or anything chooses to use IE or its components). We recommend you lock down Internet Explorer as tight as you can and use something like Netscape (or another Gecko-based browser such as Mozilla or K-Meleon) instead. Or, if you do really need to use IE, loosen off those insecure parts of it that you need in browsing and for only those security zones which are apply. It is not advised using IE on the open Internet because of its many security vulnerabilities.

it's probably worth running IERadicator (unless Windows was initially installed Windows using 98Lite) to remove a greater proportion of Internet Explorer (but I haven't used it in a while and need to check what it does and doesn't remove)

'control panel -> Internet Options' or 'Internet Explorer -> Tools -> Options' or right click on Internet Explorer desktop icon and choose Properties

Options for the IE that comes with Win95 OSR2.5 (is this version 3.x?):


Options for other versions of IE (applicable product version number(s) are in square brackets afterward...
(Win98 1st edn comes with IE4.01SP1?, Win98 2nd edn IE5.0, Win2k IE5.0, WinXP IE6.0)

is it worth removing all security certificates that come with the default installation?
what about updating the 'cipher strength'? (56bit to 128bit?)

Display (settings)

Windows Explorer

Desktop Aesthetic and Usability Improvements

(depending on how you use them, these can be either per-user or per-machine settings)

Miscellaneous

Add/Remove Programs -> Windows setup

none of these settings are necessary (unless you know you already use and need any of them). other than these few, everything else is a security risk or can be replaced with something far better for free.
some can be useful:

  • Multimedia: Volume Control

  • Networking: Dial-up Networking

  • some can be worthwhile to have around:

    some can be dangerous and we warn you against using them:

    The Registry

    TweakUI

    Control Panel -> TweakUI
    TweakUI (Tweak User Interface) is part of the Microsoft Power Toys collection of utilities for Windows and as such needs to be installed seperately. it is available from http://www.microsoft.com/ntworkstation/downloads/PowerToys/Networking/NTTweakUI.asp or http://www.annoyances.org/exec/show/tweakui

    worthwhile settings (currently this deals only with settings worth changing from the default):

    Thin Out Critical Directories For Performance Gain

    5. Disaster Prevention

    6. Further Windows Housekeeping

    7. Clearing Out Unnecessary Files To Make Space And Increase Performance

    8. Functionality That Can Be Removed From Windows If You Don't Use It

    (dont delete the directories, just the files)

    9. various fixes / workarounds to common problems


    10. Still to add to this document

    11. Appendix

    breakdown of Internet Explorer's Security settings