Many netbooks and small laptops struggle to run Windows 7 smoothly, mostly because they run out of enough free memory. Fortunately, Windows 7 does have a few features that can push your system a bit to get some better performance. Here we shall discuss some of these features.

ReadyBoost: This is a technology that was first introduced in Windows Vista. It uses a suitable USB drive as cache memory. Reading data from hard disks sometimes take more time. Using this method, Windows keeps copies of files in a USB drive so that it can quickly access frequently used files and reduce read-write delays. ReadyBoost is more effective than normal disk caching as reading from a magnetic disk is time consuming due to multiple factors including the speed of rotation of the disk, disk read/write rates, and the time it takes for the magnetic head to fetch data. On the other hand, ReadyBoost uses flash drives which can access data much faster than magnetic disks and are hence ideal for caching.

Impact of ReadyBoost

The effect of enabling ReadyBoost on your computer depends on certain specifications.

The removable drive should at least have a capacity of 256MB. Windows Vista allowed just one device to be configured for ReadyBoost. Windows 7, however, allows up to eight devices for ReadyBoost for a total of 256GB of additional memory (i.e., up to 32GB for each device). Microsoft recommends that you keep the ReadyBoost cache size at least three times the size of your physical memory.

The access time for the removable drive should be less than 1 millisecond (ms), along with read speeds of 2.5MB/s for 4KB random disk reads and write speeds of 1.75MB/s for 512KB random disk writes.

For best results, use devices for ReadyBoost that come with the words “Enhanced for Windows ReadyBoost” featured on their packages.

If you have a Solid State Drive (SSD), ReadyBoost will be disabled because disk operations on SSDs are even faster than USB flash drives. The purpose of ReadyBoost is served by the internal drive itself.

Fast Magnetic hard drives (7200-10000RPM) might not show significant improvements in performance. Similarly, memory cards accessed via external card readers also won’t be effective due to slow fetching times.

ReadyBoost can come in handy when multiple programs residing on different sectors of the hard drives run simultaneously. The read/write head of the magnetic drive moves back and forth many times causing delay. ReadyBoost accesses these frequently used files from the flash drive instead.

Virtual Memory and Paging: The computer always performs operations in the Random Access Memory (RAM) because it has faster access time. Whenever a program is to be executed, the system first loads the program on to the RAM. Sometimes, running a lot of programs simultaneously causes the RAM to be fully occupied. The concept of paging lets the programs use more RAM than is physically available. Programs access a virtual block of memory even though each program actually resides within a separate address space, so the programs are protected from one another.

Page files reside on the computer’s hard disk drive and data stored in them are fetched to the RAM as required. Instead of loading an entire program in memory, it loads only those pages in memory first which are required at the start of the program. If, at any point of time, a required page is not available in memory, it is swapped in with another page already in memory that is currently not in use. Paging makes it possible to run a large program having, say 2GB memory, to run on a computer having just 512MB of physical memory.

There is, however, one disadvantage. If the virtual memory paging file is too large and the RAM is too small, not much data would be loaded into main memory at any particular time. As a result, there would be frequent swapping of data between the RAM and the hard disk (where the page file is) and would eventually slow down the computer’s performance.

Setting up ReadyBoost

If your USB device/flash drive supports Windows ReadyBoost, Windows will automatically detect it. Here’s how you enable Windows ReadyBoost on your computer running on Windows 7.

1. Plug-in a ReadyBoost supported USB device. The AutoPlay menu should appear after a few seconds.

2. Select the option “Speed up my System with Windows ReadyBoost”.

If the AutoPlay menu does not appear, go to My Computer >> Right-Click on the USB flash drive >> Properties. In the Properties window, select the ReadyBoost tab.

3. If your USB drive supports the ReadyBoost feature, you will see three options in front of you.

Do not use this device: The device won’t be used for ReadyBoost.

Dedicate the device to ReadyBoost: The entire drive will be used for ReadyBoost.

Use this device: Manually set the ReadyBoost cache size on the device with the help of the slider.

Note: For better results, allocate the ReadyBoost cache size to at least 1.5 times the size of your physical memory.

4. Click Apply and then OK to save the changes.

Setting up virtual memory size

The size of the virtual memory page file can be set manually. However, it is better to let the Operating System control the page file size. To set the Virtual Memory size in your computer in Windows 7, do the following.

1. Right-Click on My Computer >> Properties >> Advanced system settings (on the Left Pane). Click Settings in the performance subsection. Select the Advanced tab and click on Change in the Virtual Memory subsection.

2. If you want Windows 7 to automatically manage the Virtual Memory, keep the checkbox saying “Automatically manage paging file size for all drives” checked; otherwise uncheck it and select the drive you want to save your paging file to.

3. Select the Custom size radio button.

4. Type the Initial Size and the Maximum Size of Virtual Memory you want to keep and click on Set.

5. Click Ok to close the window.

Note: You can save page files in multiple drives.

For casual computing, 2GB-4GB of virtual memory is sufficient. If you are into gaming, you can set the virtual memory size greater than 5GB.

Other methods to improve performance

Disable Visual Effects: You can save some resources by disabling some visual effects on your Windows 7 computer. Right-Click on My Computer >> Properties >> Advanced system settings.

In the Visual Effects tab, uncheck some of the visual effects that are unnecessary for you. For example, if you don’t like the animation effects, uncheck the first three checkboxes. You may also disable transparent glass or shadows under windows and mouse pointer.

If you want to disable visual effects completely, select Adjust for Best Performance. Additionally, you may also use the Windows Classic Theme. Right-Click on Desktop >> Personalize >> Select the Windows Classic Theme.

Turn off Indexing: The indexing feature helps Windows to search files faster. It is useful if you perform file searches frequently. However, the indexing process consumes a lot of resources. If you do not perform a lot of file searches, you can disable Indexing to save some resources.

Right-Click My Computer >> Manage >> Services and Applications >> Services.

Look for the Windows Search service from the list of services. Right-Click on the service and select Properties.

In the General tab, click the Stop button to stop the service first. Then, choose Disabled from the Startup Type dropdown.

Click on Apply and then Ok.

Indexing feature will now be disabled. File searches will take more time, but the overall performance of your system should improve.