Upgrade Report [Hardware Tips: Give Your PC More Pep - 11/29/2005]

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November 29th, 2005

Hardware Tips: Give Your PC More Pep

by Contributing Editor Kirk Steers

Have you ever wondered how much faster you could make your PC? Here
are eight techniques that computer speed freaks use to squeeze every
ounce of performance out of their systems.

1. Overclock your PC and graphics card: When you overclock your CPU,
you set it to run it faster than its certified speed. This is usually
okay because the CPU is designed to go beyond its stated velocity
(chip makers build in a little cushion). With many PCs, you just
increase the front-side bus speed and/or the CPU multiplier settings
in your PC Setup program (which you enter by hitting F1 or Del after
you turn your system on but before Windows loads).

For more details on how to overclock your CPU and graphics card, see
last March's "Secret Tweaks" feature:

Keep in mind, however, that overheating a processor--or any other
chip, for that matter--can destroy it. Always do your homework before
you alter your system.

2. Push your RAM timing: Lower the CAS Latency setting, typically from
3 or 2.5 to 2. This makes your memory faster, but it can also cause
lockups on systems that use lower-quality memory chips. "CAS" stands
for "column address strobe." Visit Wikipedia (CAS Latency) for more on
this technology:

Also, check out my January 2004 column ("Choose the Right Kind of
Memory for Your System") on choosing memory:

3. Stop saving power: Disable any power-saving settings in your PC
Setup program. These may slow hard drives, the CPU, or other system

4. Isolate your swap file: Your PC's swap file--or virtual
memory--puts data onto the hard drive when your system's RAM gets
full. Unfortunately, accessing data on a hard drive is much slower
than accessing data stored in RAM. A PC that frequently accesses the
swap file for data may suffer a noticeable performance hit.

The best way to speed up swap-file access is to place the file on a
second hard drive--ideally one without any other program or operating
system files. If you can't put the swap file on its own hard drive,
place it in its own drive partition to minimize fragmentation, which
also slows memory access. Partitioning software such as Symantec's $70
PartitionMagic 8) makes creating partitions a breeze:

5. Toss your swap file: If your PC has at least 1GB of RAM, you may be
able to speed up your PC by disabling the swap file in your virtual
memory settings. Simply click "No paging file" in the Virtual Memory
dialog box. To open your virtual memory settings in Windows XP,
right-click My Computer, click Properties, Advanced, choose the
Settings button under "Performance," click the Advanced tab, and
select the Change button.

6. Get dual drives: Add a second hard drive configured as a RAID 0
array, which will increase your data transfer speeds. Many midrange
and high-end motherboards support RAID 0. If your motherboard doesn't,
you can add a PCI RAID controller card such as Adaptec's $75 ATA RAID

7. Check your AGP settings: Make sure the AGP Speed setting in your PC
Setup program matches your graphics chip set's maximum (4X, 8X, and so
forth). If your PC supports AGP 4X or 8X, enable AGP Fast Write, which
allows graphics data to bypass system RAM.

8. Open the gate: Pick the fastest speed for PC Setup's Gate A20
Emulation setting, to shift the source of a memory timing routine from
the slower keyboard circuitry to the faster chip-set circuitry.

Secure Your System From Boot-Up Disc Interlopers

All the Windows passwords in the world can't protect the contents of
your PC from someone who boots your computer from a startup disc in
its CD-ROM or DVD drive. With a second operating system running off
the disc, all the files on your system's hard drives are easy to
access. But CDRom-Lock, a free utility, lets you open, close, and lock
all of your optical drives by clicking a small icon in the system
tray. The program works only on machines running either Windows XP or
2000. Browse to CDRom-Lock to download your copy:

(Note that the author accepts donations.)

For more tips, browse PC World's Upgrade Center:

Send your tips and questions to:
kirk_steers at pcworld.com

Read Kirk Steers' regularly published "Hardware Tips" columns:

     "I don't care (if I get booed).  I don't know any of those people.  As long
as my kids tell me that they love me, I'm fine.  My motto is, when people talk
about me, I say, 'Who are they?  They're not God.'  If God was out there booing
me, I'd be upset."
             -- Bonzi Wells, Sacramento Kings
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