Software service for your hardware?

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From memory management to hard drive and driver optimisation, Robert Jamieson gives his top tips on how to spring clean your workstation for optimum performance.

Cleaning up your hard drive by getting rid of all those unwanted files and defragmenting can significantly improve your data access speed.

Last week I was touring with a CAM software company and was asked to add some tips to the PowerPoint slides about how I keep heavily used systems performing at their best. I have also had repeated requests to document my top tips in more detail, so here goes.

IÝm going to start off by apologising that this article is focused on Windows XP (x64 and 2000 are similar) and not Linux, though some of the principles are the same. As some of what I suggest is potentially dangerous to your data I accept no responsibility if you implement these and cause damage to your workstation!

Memory

Memory is always my first target, being one of the fastest storage devices. Yes, I know it gets cleaned on a restart but on start-up do you know what programs you are loading into it? The first thing to do is check the start-up off the Windows programs tab to make sure that you actually want everything in there to be in there. A more advanced version of this is ÙMSCONFIGÝ which you type in at the command prompt after clicking Start, then Run. Leave all the other tabs alone and click on startup at the top right. Listed here are all the programs that are really started on start-up. A lot you will not understand but you can identify what they are by stretching out the command path. I take out things like ýIBM messages¯ as all this does is tell me nice things about IBM! Often trialled programs and virus get listed here including a lot of IS forced updates therefore delete these but at your ISÝs wrath.

On restart, MSCONFIG will come up again so you can reinstate programs if you need to. There is a tick box in the bottom left to switch it off once you are happy. I managed to reduce the loading time of the old IBM laptop we were using for the tour by 30 seconds (it took 3 minutes before). Taking out these little programs also stops the fragmentation of your memory and makes it easier on memory page loading.

The next memory cleanup operation is to add the /3GB switch to the Boot.ini file in Windows to give you access to more memory (as long as your machine physically has it). By default Windows XP can only see 2GB of RAM but with this option supported applications can see 3GB. 3ds Max, Inventor and SolidWorks support this, for example. You can edit the boot.ini in Control Panel, System, Advanced, Start-up and recovery, Edit. Copy and past the line starting multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)Í and edit the description in the brackets with 3GB and add an extra /3GB /USERVA=2800 so it looks like for example
multi(0)disk(0)rdisk(0)partition(1)\WINDOWS=¯Microsoft Windows XP Professional 3GB¯ /fastdetect /3GB /USERVA=2800.
The userva switch pulls the memory usage back a bit giving graphics cards room to breathe. If you make a mistake the system might not boot so be very careful you know what you are doing!

Hard drive

I always set my swap space to be a same size (Min and Max) so that a certain part of the disk is always allocated. If you let it grow and need more virtual memory this could end up fragmenting the hard disk. 2GB is a typical value and you can find this in System, Advanced, Performance and click settings. Next click Advanced and click change near Virtual Memory. Then set the initial and max to the same value.

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Now that you have your swap space allocated what about the condition of the rest of your hard disk? If you clean out your temp files or junk on your drives and then defragment you can improve your performance for two reasons. The first is that all the data of one file is close together and can be read in one go. The second is that the outer part of a disk is faster than the inner part as in one revolution the hard disk heads pass over more area – more area equals more data. So how do you delete these files? The first place is the internet cache in IE (Internet Explorer) Tools, General, Delete files and cookies.

CAD applications can also create a lot of temp files and you will need to look at the applications path to delete these. Windows temp files can be stored in c:\windows\temp for example, even if they are very small lots of them need to be handled by the FAT (File Allocation Table) – the bigger the table the slower it is. I also do a search for files based on size, Search from explorer all files *.* and click ýWhat size is it¯ put in 2000 (2MB) and IÝm sure you will be surprised on what junk you have. Remember archiving data off to a DVD ROM is always a good idea. Once you have done this and emptied your Recycle Bin you can use Windows defragment tool. Right click on the drive you want to defragment, click Properties, Tools, and Defragment Drive. The downside to this defragmentation software is itÝs only a basic version and will not move or defragment the swap file. For this, you need to use software like Diskkeeper which is available as a fully functioning trial version!

Drivers

The next thing to do is update your drivers. For graphics check your CAD software companyÝs latest certificated driver. If this is hard to find go to your graphics brand ATI (AMD now) or Nvidia, for example. Once you have downloaded this check in the drivers options to select the CAD application you are using, right click on the Desktop, Properties then Settings, Advanced, Configuration and select your profile. In the later FireGL drivers this is set automatically but check the readme file with the driver to confirm this for your application.

Another issue I still see today which is worth a check up is the ýchipset driver¯ these control how the motherboard talks to the graphics card. DonÝt expect this to be automatically installed by Windows even if itÝs not listing a problem in device manager. The easiest way to fix this is to look for chipset update software from your workstation vendor. This can give a surprising boost in performance.

Servicing your car is expected but servicing your computer is not. It is typical that systems get furred up over time but the more drastic method of flatting a computer and starting again is so time consuming today especially if you have to acquire new codes for your software, so itÝs just not done anymore.

Robert Jamieson works for the hardware manufacturer AMD.

robert.jamieson@amd.com

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