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By: The Button Man

Hardware wise, you should now be slightly less in the dark about what you should expect from your computer. So, the next stage is preparing Windows. The Windows 9x series isn't exactly the most efficient operating systems of all time. One of their worst crimes is in the area of memory management. The Windows 9x series just isn't very good at handling it. So it's an ideal area to kick off with.

Virtual Memory

First, defrag your hard drive. Yeah, it takes ages, but do it. If you can, disable virtual memory altogether before you do this. However, I'd only recommend doing this if you have at least 128MB RAM. Second, set up your virtual memory. This is gonna require some hard drive space, so if you don't have less than 1GB to spare, you may well wish to skip this bit by. Windows sets itself up to handle virtual memory itself. What this leads to is an expanding and contracting swap file, which gets fragmented (because your hard drive is fragmented), and seriously slows things down.

To set your virtual memory, right Click "My Computer," select the "Performance" tab, and select "Virtual Memory." Stop windows from handling virtual memory. Choose your fastest hard drive, and then set the amount of virtual memory you want. However, here's the trick: set the maximum and the minimum to the same amount. This creates a permament swap file, of a set size, on your fastest hard drive. Once permanent, Windows won't touch it again, so if you managed to get it in a non-fragmented section of hard drive space, you'll have sped things up to no end.

Finally, if you have Norton Utilities, go to to the "Optimize Performance" tab, and launch the Norton Optimization Wizard. Let it optimize your swap file. What this does is shift the swap file to the outer sectors of the hard drive, leading to (for a number of technical reasons to do with sector density and arm movement) faster access. Also, always use Norton Defrag - it's so much better than Windows Defrag.

Ok, so a lot of you are already familiar with the above instructions, and some won't be bothered to do them. So why have I mentioned it? It's almost inevitable that your swap file will be used during play. This could be for reasons such as low system RAM availability, or too little video RAM for texture storage. And all this slows down your game. So optimizing the swap file is vital for good performance. For reference, I have 256MB RAM, and a 500MB permanent swap file on the outer rim of my fastest drive. Sweet.

General Tweaks

There's much more that you can do for general system performance improvement. Virtual memory is always worth explaining, because so many people seem to leave Windows managing it - obviously an error. Briefly, here are more things you can do to improve performance:

  • Remove any useless running programs: Get rid of all of those programs that start at startup but seem to have no deactivation function. Go to "Start", then "Run" and type "msconfig." This little applet will let you customize the programs which try to launch at startup. Be careful when editing this list! And remember - it's better to stop the program from launching from its own preferences, rather than doing it like this.
  • Cache settings: You could do this manually, trawling through INI files. There are also plenty of tutorials on this matter on the 'Net. The easiest way, however, is to download the latest shareware version of Cacheman (you'll find it on Download.com), and use one of the preset options it has.
  • Conservative swap file usage: This is a function that a lot of people don't know about it, but to be honest, it's really not worth doing on a system with much less than 256MB RAM. What does it do? It "forces" (more encourages) Windows to use available RAM before using the swap file. Now, I told you Windows doesn't handle memory very well. It doesn't. It tends to use the swap file when there is still plenty of available memory. This should change this situation. However, if you have less RAM, it may in fact slow things down, since it will leave non-running programs in memory, rather than page them out to the swap file during play. This does massively reduce the amount of free memory available. However, if you have more RAM, it'll hold them in RAM, reducing paging if they happen do become active during play. It will also help force the game to use RAM rather than the swap file - no more paging out when you come into a new area with new textures.

    To use: edit you system.ini (Go to "Start", then "Run" and type "sysedit"). Under [386Enh] add the line ConservativeSwapfileUsage=1. Then restart your computer.

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