Windows has plenty of features that you can turn off to speed things up. Here's how to find the features you don't need.
The System Properties dialogue box
You've almost certainly been here before. This is where you change your network ID, manage System Restore, and launch Device Manager. You can also shut off some unnecessary features here.
To get to the System Properties dialogue box in Vista or Windows 7, click Start, right-click Computer, and select Properties. Then click one of three links - Remote settings, System protection, or Advanced system settings - in the left pane.
Alternatively, click Start, type sysdm.cpl, and press Enter.
In XP, click Start, right-click My Computer, and select Properties. Or click Start, Run, type sysdm.cpl, and press Enter.
Unnecessary cosmetic features: XP, Vista, Windows 7
Windows doesn't have to look as pretty as it does to do its job. And some aesthetic compromises can free up precious processor clock cycles for real work. To see your options for turning off these extras, click the System Properties dialogue box's Advanced tab, and then click the Settings button inside the Performance box.
This brings up another dialog box, where you can select which visual effects to keep and which to lose. Select Adjust for best performance to turn off all of them, or individually uncheck the ones you don't care for.
Error reporting: Windows XP
You've probably noticed that both Windows and the programs that run on it occasionally make mistakes. When that happens, the operating system attempts to send a report back to Microsoft. In theory, your report helps the company find bugs and improve future versions. Whether that reporting system really helps is open to debate. It certainly doesn't help you in the short run.
If you'd rather get on with your work after something goes wrong, you can disable error reporting. To do so in XP, click the System Properties dialogue box's Advanced tab, click the Error Reporting button in the lower-right corner, and select Disable error reporting. I recommend keeping 'But notify me when critical errors occur' checked.
You can also turn off error reporting in Vista and Windows 7, but not from this dialogue box. I explain how to proceed in the Services section.
Remote assistance: XP, Vista, Windows 7
If you're not providing or receiving long-distance support, or if you use a third-party tool to provide that support, there's no reason to leave the Remote Assistance feature on.
To turn it off, click the System Properties dialogue box's Remote tab. Uncheck Allow Remote Assistance connections to this computer (in Vista or Windows 7) or Allow Remote Assistance invitations to be sent from this computer (in XP).
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