Chapter 9: Maintaining and Optimizing Windows Vista Systems

Exam Cram

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Increases in size usually do not require a restart, but if you decrease the size, you must restart your computer for the changes to take effect. We recommend that you don't disable or delete the paging file.

ReadyBoost and ReadyDrive

Windows Vista has several features that affect how disks are used, including the following:

  • Windows ReadyBoost boosts system performance by using USB flash devices as additional sources for caching.

  • Windows ReadyDrive boosts system performance on mobile computers equipped with hybrid drives.

With Windows ReadyBoost, USB flash devices with sufficiently fast memory (flash devices can be read up to 10 times faster than physical disk drives) are used to extend the disk caching capabilities of the computer's main memory. Using flash devices for caching enables Windows Vista to make random reads faster by caching data on the USB flash device rather than on a disk drive. Because this caching is applied to all disk content, not just the page file or system dynamic link libraries (DLLs), the computer's overall performance is boosted.

USB flash devices that can be used with Windows ReadyBoost include USB 2.0 flash drives, Secure Digital (SD) cards, and CompactFlash cards. These devices must have sufficiently fast flash memory and be at least 512 MB or larger in size. Windows Vista can use an amount of flash memory equal to twice the amount of physical memory (RAM) on the computer.

When you insert a USB flash device into a USB 2.0 or later port, Windows Vista analyzes the speed of the flash memory on the device. When you click Speed Up My System Using Windows ReadyBoost, Windows Vista extends the computer's physical memory to the device. The default configuration enables Windows ReadyBoost to reserve all available space on the device for boosting system speed.

To use Windows ReadyBoost with a USB flash device that you either already inserted or that you previously declined to use with Windows ReadyBoost, follow these steps:

  1. Click Start, and then click Computer.

  2. Right-click the USB flash device in the Devices with Removable Storage list, and then choose Properties.

  3. On the ReadyBoost tab, select Use This Device, and then click OK.

  4. For USB flash devices that do not support ReadyBoost, you cannot enable the device. The only option you'll have is to stop retesting the device when you plug it in. The Stop Retesting This Device When I Plug It In option is selected by default.

If the USB flash drive has both slow and fast flash memory, you will not be able to use the slow flash memory portion of the USB storage device to speed up the computer performance. As a result, you might not see all the memory of the USB device when it is added to your physical memory.

Windows ReadyDrive improves performance on mobile computers equipped with hybrid drives. A hybrid drive is a drive that uses both flash RAM and a physical drive for storage. Because flash RAM is much faster than a physical disk, mobile computers running Windows Vista write data and changes to data to the flash memory first and periodically sync these writes and changes to the physical disk. This approach reduces the spinning of the physical drive and thus saves battery power.

The flash RAM on hybrid drives can be used to provide faster startup and resume from sleep or hibernation. In this case, the information needed for starting or resuming the operating system is written to the flash RAM prior to shutting down, entering sleep, or going into hibernation. When you start or wake the computer, this information is read from the flash RAM.

You do not need to enable ReadyDrive. ReadyDrive is enabled for use automatically on mobile computers with hybrid drives.

Diagnostic Tools

Windows Vista has multiple tools for diagnosing and resolving problems. To proactively and automatically identify potential problems, Windows Vista includes built-in diagnostics that can automatically detect and diagnose common support problems. The Windows Vista built-in diagnostics can automatically identify and help users resolve the following problems:

  • Hardware error conditions

  • Failing disks

  • Degraded performance

  • Failure to shut down properly

  • Memory problems

  • Problems related to installing drivers and applications

  • Problems related to using drivers and applications

In most cases, the built-in diagnostics prompt users to make them aware of any problems as they occur and then help to guide users through resolving the problem.

Memory Diagnostic Tool

Bad memory can cause a wide assortment of problems with your system, including causing Windows not to be reliable. The Memory Diagnostic tool is used to diagnose physical memory problems, including memory leaks and failing memory. The tool also works with the Microsoft Online Crash Analysis tool to detect system crashes possibly caused by failing memory, which then prompts the user to schedule a memory test the next time the computer is restarted.

If you suspect that a computer has a memory problem that is not being automatically detected, you can run Windows Memory Diagnostic manually by completing the following steps:

  1. Click Start, point to All Programs, and then click Accessories.

  2. Right-click Command Prompt, and then select Run As Administrator.

  3. At the command prompt, enter mdsched.exe.

  4. You can choose to restart the computer and run the tool immediately or schedule the tool to run at the next restart.

The Windows Memory Diagnostic tool can also be run manually from Administrative Tools in the Control Panel or from the boot menu before Windows loads.

If you choose to run the tool at the next restart, Windows Memory Diagnostic runs automatically after the computer restart, allowing you to choose the type of testing to perform. When the computer restarts and the memory is tested, you are provided with an easy-to-understand report detailing the problem. Information is also written to the event log for future analysis.

While the test is running, you can press F1 to access advanced diagnostic options, including the following:

  • Test Mix. Choose what type of test you want to run.

  • Cache. Choose the cache setting you want for each test.

  • Pass Count. Type the number of times you want to repeat the tests.

Press the Tab key to move between the different advanced options. When you have selected your options, press F10 to start the test.

Network Diagnostic Tool

The Windows Network Diagnostic Tool, discussed in Chapter 4, "Configuring Advanced Networking," helps resolve network-related issues. When a user is unable to connect to a network resource, the user is presented with a repair option, which will run the Windows Network Diagnostic Tool. You can also choose to run the tool manually by using the Diagnose option on the Local Area Connections Status property sheet.

System Configuration

System Configuration is an advanced tool that can help identify problems that might prevent Windows from starting correctly. You can start Windows with common services and startup programs turned off and then turn them back on, one at a time. If a problem does not occur when a service is turned off, but does occur when turned on, the service could be the cause of the problem. System Configuration is intended to find and isolate problems, but it is not meant as a startup management program.

The System Configuration tool can be loaded from the Administrative Tools. The tabs found in the System Configuration tool include those listed in Table 9.1.

Table 9.1 System Configuration Tabs

Tab

Description

General

Lists choices for startup configuration modes:

  • Normal Startup. Starts Windows in its normal mode.

  • Diagnostic Startup. Starts Windows with basic services and drivers only. If Diagnostic Startup starts without a problem, it verifies that the problem is not the basic Windows files.

  • Selective Startup. Starts Windows with basic services and drivers and allows you to select individual services and startup programs. Selective Startup is used to isolate problematic services and startup programs.

Boot

Shows configuration options for the operating system and advanced debugging settings, including the following:

  • Safe Boot: Minimal. Boots Windows into Safe mode with a GUI, which runs only essential system services. Networking is disabled.

  • Safe Boot: Alternate Shell. Boots to the Safe mode (command prompt). Networking and the GUI are disabled.

  • Safe Boot: Active Directory Repair. Starts Windows in Directory Services Restore mode so that you can restore or repair Active Directory.

  • Safe Boot: Network. Boots Windows into Safe mode, which runs only essential system services but also enables networking.

  • Boot Log. Lists all the drivers that are installed during startup in the ntbtlog.txt file. The ntbtlog.txt file can be used to determine which driver failed if Windows cannot start properly.

  • Base Video. Boots to the Windows GUI in minimal VGA mode using the standard VGA drivers (640x480 resolution and 16 colors).

  • OS Boot Information. Shows driver names as the drivers are loaded during the boot process.

  • Make All Settings Permanent. Does not track changes made in System Configuration. Options can be changed later using System Configuration, but must be changed manually. When this option is selected, you cannot roll back your changes by selecting Normal Startup on the General tab.

Services

Lists all services that are registered with Windows and displays their current status (running or stopped). You can use the Services tab to enable or disable individual services so that you can isolate a problematic service that loads during boot up. You can select Hide all Microsoft Services to show only third-party applications in the services list.

Startup

Lists applications that start when the computer boots, including the name of their publisher, the path to the executable file, and the location of the registry key or shortcut that causes the application to run. This option is used to isolate problematic programs that load during boot.

Tools

Provides a list of diagnostic tools.

Advanced Startup Options

The Advanced Boot Options menu lets you start Windows in advanced troubleshooting modes. To access the advanced startup options, do the following:

  • If your computer has a single operating system installed, repeatedly press the F8 key as your computer restarts. You need to press F8 before the Windows logo appears. If the Windows logo appears, you will need to try again.

  • If your computer has more than one operating system, use the arrow keys to highlight the operating system you want to start in Safe mode, and then press F8.

On the Advanced Boot Options screen, use the arrow keys to highlight the Safe mode option you want, and then press Enter. Log on to your computer with a user account that has administrator rights. When your computer is in Safe mode, you'll see the words Safe Mode in the corners of the display. To exit Safe mode, restart your computer and let Windows start normally.

Some options, such as Safe mode, start Windows in a limited state, where only the bare essentials are started. If a problem does not reappear when you start in Safe mode, you can eliminate the default settings and basic device drivers as possible causes. Other options start Windows with advanced features intended for use by system administrators and IT professionals.

The options that are available are as follows:

  • Repair Your Computer. Shows a list of system recovery tools (Startup Repair tool) you can use to repair startup problems, run diagnostics, or restore your system. This option is available only if you install the tools onto the computer. If they are not installed, the system recovery tools are located on the Windows installation disc.

  • Safe Mode. Starts Windows with a minimal set of drivers and services.

  • Safe Mode with Networking. Starts Windows in Safe mode but also enables networking.

  • Safe Mode with Command Prompt. Starts Windows in Safe mode with a command prompt window rather than the Windows GUI. This option is intended for IT professionals and administrators.

  • Enable Boot Logging. Lists all the drivers that are installed during startup in the ntbtlog.txt file. The ntbtlog.txt file can be used to determine which driver failed if Windows cannot start properly.

  • Enable Low-Resolution Video (640x480). Boots to the Windows GUI in minimal VGA mode using the standard VGA drivers (640x480 resolution and 16 colors).

  • Last Known Good Configuration (advanced). Starts Windows with the last registry and driver configuration that worked when the last user logged on successfully.

  • Directory Services Restore Mode. Starts Windows in Directory Services Restore mode so that you can restore or repair Active Directory.

  • Debugging Mode. Shows driver names as the drivers are loaded during the boot process.

  • Disable Automatic Restart on System Failure. Prevents Windows from automatically restarting if an error occurs during boot. Use this option if Windows constantly fails and reboots.

  • Disable Driver Signature Enforcement. Allows drivers containing improper signatures to be installed.

  • Start Windows Normally. Starts Windows in its normal mode.

Startup Repair Tool

In earlier versions of Windows, corrupted system files were one of the most common causes of startup failure. Some of these problems would be fixed by replacing the corrupted files, whereas others would be fixed using the Recovery Console. At other times, the system could be recovered only by attempting to repair the installation or reinstalling the operating system.

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