We all have 'em: favorite tweaks, tricks, and fixes we use to make Win98 work better or faster. Here are ten of the best.
Updated February 23, 2001
You do it. I do it. We all do it -- tweak our operating systems, that is. We invariably change some of Windows' default settings when we first set up or reinstall Windows. Sometimes, it's because the defaults aren't much good. Other times, it's because of a particular need or circumstance that warrants deviating from the Microsoft-dictated norms. And sometimes -- let's be honest -- it's, well, just because.
A short time ago in the Winmag.com discussion area, I posted my favorite Win98 tweaks and asked readers to post theirs. We received hundreds of great ideas, and picked the best and most widely applicable ones to present in this article. Chances are you can use some or even all of these to help you get the most out of Win98.
1. Lighten the Load
You probably have more applications running than you think: Press Ctrl+Alt+Del to bring up the Close Program box. Even with all the obvious top-level apps shut down, chances are you'll still see a bunch of invisible background applications running. (For a more complete list of hidden programs, run Winmag.com's WinTune utility.)
Each running app eats a little of your CPU time, with a net result of slowing things down. Some apps are worse than others. Microsoft Office's Find Fast is a notorious CPU hog, as are many anti-virus and "disk doctor" apps that run constantly in the background. For programs like these, use the Custom option in each program's Setup applet to control what runs in the background. Use Win98's System Configuration Utility to control which system-level tasks load at startup.
To launch System Configuration Utility, press the Start button and choose Run. Type "msconfig" without the quotation marks and press Enter.
2. Pick Up the Pieces
Defragging is always a good idea, but it's triply beneficial in Win98. You'll find the Disk Defragmenter icon in this Start submenu: Start > Programs > Accessories > System tools. (The program file is DEFRAG.EXE and it's found in the \Windows folder.) Defrag performs three tasks to enhance performance: It places the pieces of all your files into fast-loading contiguous areas of your hard disk, moves your most frequently used files to the front of the disk where they'll load fastest, and groups your applications' separate pieces into the most efficient load-order. Defrag often. For more information on how Win98 shortens application launch times, see Get the Most out of Win98: How It Performs
3. Be a Software Chiropractor
Win98's WAlign utility can restructure the way programs are stored on your hard drive for the fastest-possible access once they're loaded into RAM and your CPU's cache. You could see load times improve by 20 precent or more. But on its own, WAlign (which you'll find at \Windows\System\WALIGN.EXE) only works on Microsoft Office programs. To align other apps, you either need to spend $70 for the full Win98 Resource Kit (which has a more powerful version called WinAlign) or you can grab a free copy of Winmag.com's exclusive WMAlign utility at The Expert's Guide to Windows 98 WinAlign, where you'll find everything you need to know about understanding and using WinAlign.
4. Take Out the Trash
Win98 is a packrat. As you work, it collects a prodigious number of temporary files, and it does so for a good reason: The \Windows\Temp, \Windows\Temporary Internet Files, and Recycle Bin files all exist to give you fast access to items you might need again. But there's a point of diminishing returns. And you can end up with hundreds of megabytes of these files, wasting space and decreasing performance as the operating system tries to wade through the rubbish. To keep the trash to a manageable minimum, you should periodically run Disk Cleanup. You'll find this utilty on this Start Menu submenu: Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools.
5. How's Your Memory?
Win98 wants to manage your swap file (virtual memory) on its own. Windows is good at doing that for routine use: The swap file can grow or shrink as needed, and it doesn't have to be all in one place. But Win98 will work faster if the file is all in one place, and if the operating system doesn't have to constantly take time to enlarge or reduce the swap file area as you work.
To take control of your swap file, right-click My Computer and choose Properties. Click the Performance tab and the Virtual Memory button. Choose "Let me specify my own virtual memory settings." If you have more than one hard drive, place the swap file on the fastest drive you have. Now choose a minimum size for the swap file; a good starting point is to specify at least 2.5 times your system's RAM. Setting a large minimum size means the swap file will usually be large enough for your needs. Reboot when asked, and run Defrag to ensure the swap file's all in one piece. After you're done, you should experience noticeably less disk-thrashing.
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