Windows Vista Service Pack 1 (SP1) may not give your system much more oomph, but there are other ways to speed Vista up. Spending a few minutes (or a few pounds) optimising your Vista PC or laptop can help it get its groove on.

Get flashy

If you have an extra USB flash drive that you don't use for much else, Vista can cache disk reads on it, thereby boosting performance beyond what you'd get from your hard disk alone. Simply insert your flash drive into a USB 2.0 slot. If the drive is fast enough, a prompt will appear, asking whether you want to open the folder for the drive or use it to 'Speed up my system using Windows ReadyBoost’.

Choose the latter option, and follow the remaining prompts. When you're calculating how much space to set aside for ReadyBoost to use, Microsoft recommends that you let ReadyBoost use one to three times the amount of RAM on your system.

Play your cards right

USB thumb drives aren't the only way to boost system performance - fortunately, since USB memory sticks protruding from a computer (particularly a laptop) are easy to dislodge, and they can be a pain to remove and stow for travelling. If your PC has a reader for Secure Digital (SD) or CompactFlash cards, you can use those media in place of a USB stick to handle your ReadyBoost needs.

Seize control

Speeding up Vista isn't enough; you need to prevent the OS from slowing you down. The annoying Vista pop-ups that ask you to Allow or Deny many actions are examples of Vista's User Account Control (UAC) at work. The process makes you safer, but your productivity may suffer if you must constantly respond to UAC's demands.

One solution is to turn UAC completely off. To do that, choose Start, Control Panel, click User Accounts and Family Safety, and select User Accounts. Or just click Start, type ‘User Accounts’, and choose that option from the search results. Next, click Turn User Account Control on or off, and then click Continue when prompted by (what else?) UAC itself. Uncheck the box, and click OK. Choose a restart option when prompted to do so. After you restart, you'll no longer be bothered by UAC prompts.

Bear in mind, this simple method puts your computer at much greater risk, especially if you routinely log on as an administrator.

See if your hardware is slowing you down

In Explorer, right-click Computer and choose Properties. Next to Rating, click Windows Experience Index. The item with the lowest score is the biggest drain on your getting a better Vista experience. For example, if the lowest score is attributed to Graphics, it may be time to invest in a new graphics card.

NEXT PAGE: The importance of extra power and disabling services you just don’t use when it comes to speeding up your Vista PC.

Vista SP1 may not give your system as much oomph as you’d hoped. So we’ve rounded up nine of the best ways to speed up your Vista PC.

Sideline the sidebar

If you don't need the little gadget doo-das in the Vista sidebar, get rid of them. Right-click the Windows Sidebar icon in the taskbar tray and choose Exit. Open the Control Panel and launch Windows Sidebar Properties in the Appearance and Personalization category. Uncheck Start sidebar when Windows starts and click OK.

What would Windows do?

If you have an older or less capable video card, click Start, type ‘systempropertiesperformance’, and press Enter. Click Continue if prompted by User Account Control. Select Adjust for best performance. Or cherry-pick the options you can't live without. (Fewer checkmarks mean better performance.) Click OK.

Dis-Service yourself

Don't let unneeded software components waste memory or put a ball-and-chain on your Windows startup. Click Start, type ‘msconfig’, and press Enter. Confirm if prompted by User Account Control. But be careful! Click the Services tab, and uncheck only the services you're certain you don't need. To be safe, uncheck one, reboot, and see if everything still works fine before moving on to another. Do your homework via online help or a web search before experimenting!

Here are some services that you might be able to do without: if you don't work interactively with a remote computer, don't run programs from a server, and don't need Remote Desktop, uncheck Terminal Services. If you can live without Windows diagnostic and troubleshooting services, uncheck Diagnostic Policy Service, Diagnostic Service Host, and Diagnostic System Host. If you don't want Windows to index your files for searching, uncheck Windows Search. Other services options to consider disabling include Fax, Offline Files, Smart Card, Smart Card Removal Policy, Themes, and Windows Error Reporting Service.

Keep your disk in shape

The same advice you've heard for years is true for Vista, too: delete the useless clutter on your hard disk and defragment it. To do the former, click Start, type ‘Cleanup’, and press Enter. Specify the drive and files to clean and click OK. You may need to repeat the steps for multiple drives. To defrag your drives, click Start, type ‘Defragmenter’, and press Enter. Use this dialog box to set up a time to defrag your disk regularly at a time when you are away from your system. Vista has an automatic defragmenting feature that may kick in at inopportune times; scheduling your defrags will help ensure that these operations don't occur while you're working.

Be a power pig

If you don't mind spending more, you can boost your system's performance by adjusting its power options. In the Control Panel, launch Power Options in the System and Maintenance category. Select High Performance, close the dialog box and prepare yourself for a higher electric bill.

See also: Windows Vista SP1 review