Tuning Windows Vista’s Performance : Optimizing the Hard Disk

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Windows Vista uses the hard disk to fetch application data and documents as well as to store data in the page file temporarily. Therefore, optimizing your hard disk can greatly improve Windows Vista’s overall performance.

Examining Hard Drive Performance Specifications

If you’re looking to add another drive to your system, your starting point should be the drive itself: specifically, its theoretical performance specifications. Compare the drive’s average seek time with other drives (the lower the value, the better). In addition, pay attention to the rate at which the drive spins the disk’s platters. A 7,200 RPM (or higher) drive will have noticeably faster performance than, say, a 5,400 RPM drive. Many notebook hard drives are even slower than that!

Performing Hard Drive Maintenance

For an existing drive, optimization is the same as maintenance. For a hard disk, this means doing the following:

  • Keeping an eye on the disk’s free space to make sure that it doesn’t get too low

  • Periodically cleaning out any unnecessary files on the disk

  • Uninstalling any programs or devices you no longer use

  • Checking all partitions for errors frequently

  • Defragmenting partitions on a regular schedule

Disabling Compression and Encryption

If you use NTFS on a partition, Windows Vista enables you to compress files to save space, as well as to encrypt files for security. From a performance point of view, however, you shouldn’t use compression and encryption on a partition if you don’t have to. Both technologies slow down disk accesses because of the overhead involved in the compression/decompression and encryption/decryption processes.

Turning Off the Indexer

The Indexer is a Windows Vista background process that indexes the contents of a drive on-the-fly as you add or delete data. This greatly speeds up Vista’s new search features (including Instant Search) because Vista knows the contents of each file. However, you should consider turning off the Indexer for a drive if you don’t do much file searching. To do this, follow these steps:

Select Start, Computer.

Right-click the drive you want to work with and then click Properties. Windows Vista display’s the drive’s properties sheet.

On the General tab, deactivate the Index This Drive for Faster Searching check box.

Click OK.

Enabling Write Caching

You should also make sure that your hard disk has write caching enabled. Write caching means that Windows Vista doesn’t flush changed data to the disk until the system is idle, which improves performance. The downside of write caching is that a power outage or system crash means that the data never gets written, so the changes are lost. The chances of this happening are minimal, so I recommend leaving write caching enabled, which is the Windows Vista default. To make sure, follow these steps:

Select Start, right-click Computer, and then click Manage. After you enter your User Account Control credentials, Vista displays the Computer Management window.

Click Device Manager.

Open the Disk Drives branch.

Double-click your hard disk to display its properties sheet.

In the Policies tab, make sure that the Enable Write Caching on the Disk check box is activated.

For maximum performance, activate the Enable Advanced Performance check box. (Note that this option is available only with certain hard drives that support it.)


Activating the Enable Advanced Performance option tells Vista to use an even more aggressive write-caching algorithm. However, an unscheduled power shutdown means you will almost certainly lose some data. Activate this option only if your system is running off an uninterruptible power supply (UPS).

Click OK.

Converting FAT16 and FAT32 Partitions to NTFS

The NTFS file system is your best choice if you want optimal hard disk performance because, in most cases, NTFS outperforms both FAT16 and FAT32. (This is particularly true with large partitions and with partitions that that have lots of files.) Note, however, that for best NTFS performance you should format a partition as NTFS and then add files to it. If this isn’t possible, Windows Vista offers the CONVERT utility for converting a FAT16 or FAT32 drive to NTFS:

CONVERT volume /FS:NTFS [/V] [/CvtArea:filename] [/NoSecurity] [/X]

volumeSpecifies the drive letter (followed by a colon) or volume name you want to convert.
/FS:NTFSSpecifies that the file system is to be converted to NTFS.
/VUses verbose mode, which gives detailed information during the conversion.
/CvtArea:filenameSpecifies a contiguous placeholder file in the root directory that will be used to store the NTFS system files.
/NoSecuritySpecifies that the default NTFS permissions are not to be applied to this volume. All the converted files and folders will be accessible by everyone.
/XForces the volume to dismount first if it currently has open files.

For example, running the following command at the command prompt converts drive C to NTFS:

convert c: /FS:NTFS

Note, however, that if Windows Vista is installed on the partition you’re trying to convert, you’ll see the following message:

Convert cannot gain exclusive access to the C: drive, so it cannot
convert it now. Would you like to schedule it to be converted the
next time the system restarts? <Y/N>

In this case, press Y to schedule the conversion.

If you make the move to NTFS, either via formatting a partition during Setup or by using the CONVERT utility, you can implement a couple of other tweaks to maximize NTFS performance. I cover these tweaks in the next two sections.

Turning Off 8.3 Filename Creation

To support legacy applications that don’t understand long filenames, for each file, NTFS keeps track of a shorter name that conforms to the old 8.3 standard used by the original DOS file systems. The overhead involved in tracking two names for one file isn’t much for a small number of files, but it can become onerous if a folder has a huge number of files (300,000 or more).

To disable the tracking of an 8.3 name for each file, enter the following statement at the command prompt:


Note, too, that you can do the same thing by changing the value of the following Registry setting to 1 (note that the default value is 0):



The FSUTIL program requires Administrator account privileges. Click Start, All Programs, Accessories, right-click Command Prompt, and then click Run as Administrator.

Disabling Last Access Timestamp

For each folder and file, NTFS stores an attribute called Last Access Time that tells you when the user last accessed the folder or file. If you have folders that contain a large number of files and if you use programs that frequently access those files, writing the Last Access Time data can slow down NTFS. To disable writing of the Last Access Time attribute, enter the following statement at the command prompt:


You can achieve the same effect by changing the value of the following Registry setting to 1 (note that the default value is 0):

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