Chapter 9: Maintaining and Optimizing Windows Vista Systems

Exam Cram

Techniques/concepts you'll need to master:

  • Use the Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor and Task Manager to identify bottlenecks.

  • Run Chkdsk to verify the integrity of the drive.

  • Run Disk Defragmenter to optimize your drive.

  • Configure the paging file for optimum performance.

  • Describe, enable, and configure ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive.

  • Run multiple troubleshooting tools, including the Memory Diagnostic tool, Network Diagnostic tool, Startup Repair tool, System Configuration tool, and the Problems Reports and Solutions tool.

  • Troubleshoot various computer problems in Safe mode.

  • Use Event Viewer to view errors and warnings when troubleshooting a problem.

Performance is the overall effectiveness of how data moves through the system. To be able to improve performance, you must determine the part of the system that is slowing down the throughput. Processor speed, the amount of RAM on the machine, the speed of the disk system, the speed of the network adapter card, or another factor can affect performance. This limiting factor is referred to as the bottleneck of the system.

Reliability is a measure of how often a system deviates from configured, expected behavior. Reliability problems occur as the result of application crashes, service freezes and restarts, driver initialization failures, and operating system failures.

Hardware, memory, and performance diagnostics are the heart of the Windows Vista self-correcting architecture. Hardware diagnostics can detect error conditions and either repair the problem automatically or guide the user through a recovery process. With potential disk failures, hardware diagnostics guide users through the backup procedure to minimize downtime and data loss.

Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor and Task Manager

Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor is a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in that provides tools for analyzing system performance. From a single console, you can monitor application and hardware performance in real time, customize what data you want to collect in logs, define thresholds for alerts and automatic actions, generate reports, and view past performance data in a variety of ways.

An important feature in Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor is the Data Collector Set (DCS), which groups data collectors into reusable elements. After a Data Collector Set is defined, you can schedule the collection of data using the DCS or see it in real time.

Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor consists of three monitoring tools:

  • Resource View

  • Performance Monitor

  • Reliability Monitor

To start the Reliability and Performance Monitor, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, right-click Computer, and click Manage.

  2. Expand System Tools and click Reliability and Performance.

Note - To be able to view the performance counters, a user needs to be in the Performance Monitor Users group or an administrator.

Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor will start with the Resource view display, which enables you to monitor the usage and performance of the major system subcomponents: processors, disks, network, and memory resources in real time (see Figure 9.1). You can then click the Detail button to see which processes are using which resources.

Note - If Resource view does not display real-time data when Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor starts, click the green Start button in the toolbar.

Figure 9.1

Figure 9.1

Reliability and Performance Monitor showing the Resource view.

Performance Monitor provides a visual display of built-in Windows performance counters, either in real time or as a way to review historical data (see Figure 9.2).

You can add performance counters to Performance Monitor by dragging and dropping, or by creating custom DCSs. It features multiple graph views that enable you to visually review performance log data. You can create custom views in Performance Monitor that can be exported as DCSs for use with performance and logging features.

Figure 9.2

Figure 9.2

Performance Monitor.

Besides combing through the Event Viewer, you can use the Reliability Monitor to give you an overview of the system stability and to view individual events that affect overall stability. Some of the events shown are software installation, operating system updates, and hardware failures (see Figure 9.3).

Another tool that you can use to view system performance is the Windows Task Manager. The Performance tab includes four graphs (see Figure 9.4). The top two graphs show how much CPU is being used, both at the moment, and for the past few minutes. (If the CPU Usage History graph appears split, your computer either has multiple CPUs, a single dual-core CPU, or both.) A high percentage means that programs or processes are requiring a lot of CPU resources, which can slow your computer. If the percentage appears frozen at or near 100 percent, a program might not be responding.

The bottom two graphs display how much RAM, or physical memory, is being used in megabytes (MB), both at the current moment and for the past few minutes. The percentage of memory being used is listed at the bottom of the Task Manager window. If memory use seems consistently high or slows your computer's performance noticeably, try reducing the number of programs you have open at one time or install more RAM.

Figure 9.3

Figure 9.3

Reliability Monitor.

Figure 9.4

Figure 9.4

Window Task manager showing the Performance tab.

To get a list of all individual processes or programs running in memory and how much processor utilization and memory use each application is using, click the Processes tab. You can also manually end any process here, which comes in handy when a process stops responding (see Figure 9.5).

Figure 9.5

Figure 9.5

The Process tab in Windows Task Manager can show you what processes are running, how much resources each process is using, and enable you to end a process.

Optimizing the Disk

One of the key components to the system is the disk. Because in Windows your applications and the data come from the hard drive, you must keep the hard drive optimized to keep your system performing well. Of course, as mentioned in Chapter 6, "Configuring User Account Security," it is important that you use the NTFS file system. You should then monitor free disk space, check your drive for errors, and defrag your hard drive on a regular basis.

Monitoring Disk Space

You should closely monitor disk space usage on all system drives. When a system drive fills up, the performance and reliability of Windows can be greatly reduced, particularly if the system runs low on space for storing virtual memory or temporary files. One way to reduce disk space usage is to use the Disk Cleanup tool to remove unnecessary files and compress old files.

Running Check Disk

You should periodically use the Check Disk tool (Chkdsk.exe) to check the integrity of disks. Chkdsk examines and corrects many types of common errors. It cannot fix a corrupt file, however. You can run Chkdsk from the command line or through a graphical user interface (GUI).

If you open an elevated command prompt, you can test the C: drive by entering the following:

chkdsk C:

Without the /f option, Chkdsk will report only the status of the C: drive and any problems that it finds. To fix the problems, you need to enter the following:

chkdsk C: /f

Warning - To fix errors, you must include the /f option with the chkdsk command.

To run the graphical interface of Chkdsk, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, and then click Computer. Under Hard Disk Drives, right-click a drive, and then select Properties.

  2. On the Tools tab, click Check Now.

If you are using the command prompt or the graphical interface and Chkdsk is in use, Chkdsk displays a prompt to schedule the disk to be checked the next time you restart the system.

Defragging the Hard Drive

When a file is created, it is assigned the number of clusters needed to hold the amount of data. After the file is saved to the disk, other information is usually saved to the clusters following those assigned to the saved file. Therefore, if the original file is changed or more information is added to it, the bigger file doesn't fit within the allocated clusters when it is saved back to the disk. Part of the file will be saved in the original clusters, and the remaining amount will be placed elsewhere on the disk. Over time, files become fragmented as they are spread across the disk. The fragmented files are still complete when they are opened, but it takes longer for the computer to read them, and opening them causes more wear and tear on the hard disk.

To reduce fragmentation, Windows Vista automatically defragments disks periodically using Disk Defragmenter. By default, Windows Vista runs Disk Defragmenter automatically at 4 a.m. every Sunday. As long as the computer is on at the scheduled run time, automatic defragmentation will occur. You can cancel automated defragmentation or modify the defragmentation schedule by following these steps:

  1. Click Start, and then click Computer.

  2. Under Hard Disk Drives, right-click a drive, and then select Properties.

  3. On the Tools tab, click Defragment Now to open the Disk Defragmenter dialog box.

  4. To cancel automated defragmentation, clear Run Automatically, and then click OK twice. To modify the defragmentation schedule, click Modify Schedule. Use the Modify Schedule dialog box to set the desired run schedule.

  5. Click OK twice to save your settings.

To manually defragment a disk, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, and then click Computer.

  2. Under Hard Disk Drives, right-click a drive, and then select Properties.

  3. On the Tools tab, click Defragment Now.

Note - Depending on the size of the disk, defragmentation can take several hours. You can click Cancel Defragmentation at any time to stop defragmentation.

Memory Usage and the Paging File

When your computer does not have enough memory to perform all of its functions, Windows and your programs can stop working. To help prevent data loss, Windows will notify you when your computer is low on memory. Other signs of low memory include poor performance and screen problems. You can also check the Event Viewer and the Windows Reliability and Performance Monitor.

Your computer has two types of memory: random access memory (RAM), also known as physical memory; and virtual memory, also known as a paging file. All programs use RAM, but when there is not enough RAM for the program you're trying to run, Windows temporarily moves information that would normally be stored in RAM to the virtual memory.

Virtual memory is disk space that acts like RAM, which allows the operating system to load more programs and data. Parts of all the programs and data to be accessed are constantly swapped back and forth between RAM and disk so that the virtual memory looks and acts like regular RAM. This is beneficial to the user because disk memory is much cheaper than RAM.

The RAM and virtual memory are broken down into chucks called pages, which are monitored by the operating system. When the RAM becomes full, the virtual memory system copies the least recently used programs and data to the virtual memory. Because this frees part of the RAM, it then has room to copy something else from virtual memory, load another program, or load more data. Windows Vista calls the virtual memory a paging file.

If you have low memory, you should consider

  • Installing more memory

  • Increasing the size of the paging file

  • Determining whether a program overuses memory

To determine how much RAM your system has, you can use the Welcome Center, Task Manager, or the System Information. Open System Information, and then follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and select All Programs

  2. Select Accessories, and then select System Tools.

  3. Select System Information. The total amount of RAM is listed under Total Physical Memory.

Windows Vista does a much better job of managing virtual memory than earlier versions of Windows. Windows Vista will set the minimum size of the paging file at the amount of RAM installed on your computer plus 300 MB and the maximum size at three times the amount of RAM installed on your computer. If you want to manually manage virtual memory, use a fixed virtual memory size in most cases. To do this, set the initial size and the maximum size to the same value. This ensures that the paging file is consistent and can be written to a single contiguous file (if possible, given the amount of space on the volume).

Warning - A high value for pages/sec counter in Performance Monitor most likely means that you are low on physical memory because pages/sec shows how often it has to access the paging file.

To manually configure virtual memory, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, and then click Control Panel.

  2. In the Control Panel, click the System and Maintenance category heading link.

  3. Click System.

  4. In the System Console, click Change Settings under Computer Name, Domain, and Workgroup Settings. Or, click Advanced System Settings in the left pane.

  5. Click the Advanced tab in the System Properties dialog box.

  6. Click Settings in the Performance section to display the Performance Options dialog box.

  7. Click the Advanced tab, and then click Change to display the Virtual Memory dialog box.

  8. Clear the Automatically Manage Paging File Size for All Drives check box.

  9. Under Drive Volume Label, click the drive that contains the paging file you want to change.

  10. Click Custom Size, enter a new size in megabytes in the Initial Size (MB) or Maximum Size (MB) box, click Set, and then click OK.

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