Vista Performance and Visual Effects

The easiest way to find these settings is to hit the windows key and the pause/break button on your keyboard. This will take you to the Control Panel -> System window (which of course you could get to by going Start -> Control Panel or any number of different methods). From here you want to look on the left sidebar for the Advanced system settings. This is something that requires administrator privileges, so you will have to click thru the warning dialogue box or enter a password depending upon your system configuration. Once there you will see a Performance area, where you can click a Settings... button. This will bring up the window that we will be discussing in the rest of the article.

Use visual styles on windows and buttons

I am putting this first even though it actually comes at the bottom of the list. This is kind of your last resort if nothing is improving the performance of your computer. By unchecking this box you are going back to the 'Classic' look of pre-Windows XP computers (although you could have this classic view on Windows XP too if you wanted). My opinion is that you should only uncheck this if you really do not feel comfortable with the performance of your computer, and you have tried everything else. If you like the Classic look though, it's a great way to get further performance without much effort, and it might make you feel a bit more 'at home' with your computer.

Animate windows when minimizing and maximizing

This has a huge perceived performance impact, if not a real one. Basically by turning it on you have animations that are played to show your window expanding (maximizing) and shrinking (minimizing). Both of these activities are usually expected to take place very quickly, and really are not very interesting. Why Microsoft deigned to make them animated we can only wonder at. You can safely disable this and lose none of your user experience, but gain a nice and especially noticeable responsiveness improvement.

Enable desktop composition

This one is a little tougher. Basically the idea behind desktop composition is that programs no longer have to manage a complex repainting functionality when other windows move on top of them. Instead they submit their rendered state to the operating system, and the operating system 'blits' this imagery back onto the screen as required.

While this provides an accelerated and smoother user experience once everything is humming along, it takes more physical memory to store all of this information. I recommend enabling this feature, but try playing with it once you have everything else set up - you might find in your particular case that it works best disabled.

Fade or slide menus into view

Are they kidding? Apparently not. Perhaps I am just not much an eye candy person, but this really does not make sense to me. Why bother sliding and fading things in and out? It is a huge waste of time, both in the real world, and in computing resources. I suggest disabling this regardless of the performance difference it makes (and in fact it is both a fairly large real and perceived performance increase).

Fade or slide ToolTip into view

While it might seem that this follows the same logic as the one above, this is a situation where it is a much more personal choice. I do not like it when I am reading a tooltip and it disappears without warning - but this can happen. When it is set to fade out you can get a much less jarring experience. The difference is that Vista controls when the tooltips show up, but you control when the menus show up. It makes sense to have the menus do EXACTLY what you ask, while Vista is more polite with the things it controls. Minimal performance difference.

Show preview and filters in folder

This does not include thumbnails - instead this refers to folder previews and the like, which are very much an 'eye candy' situation. This option will make folders show up slower in the windows explorer, but overall the option will not have a huge performance impact. I would recommmend disabling this one.

It is interesting to note that this kind of functionality has been commonplace on Linux systems for years. Once again Microsoft shows its predilection for embracing and extending, even if the idea is rather suspect.

Show shadows under menus

Pretty obvious on this one - do you want a gratuitous shadow under your menus? You might be thinking that all of these options are rather useless, but that is definitely not the case. However, this one certainly is! And yes, it will have a performance impact on your computing experience. Disable it.

Show shadows under mouse pointer

This one is a little bit more useful because it makes the mouse easier to see. This can be quite a help if your eyes are getting on in age, or if you usually have trouble locating it. Note that you can usually press control (or enable the option under Control Panel -> Mouse) so that you get a great little circle around the mouse. This is something we may explore further in another article. Performance hit is pretty much negligble, but I leave it disabled.

Show thumbnails instead of icons

While this can be a major headache for slower computers, it really is a very good feature - especially if you ever use a digital camera. And who doesn't? I recommend leaving this one on if you possibly can, but it WILL slow down your windows explorer sessions. Without it you can still open an image pretty quickly, but at a quick glance cryptic filenames can be very frustrating.

Show translucent selection rectangle

Pointless, leave it turned off. It is eye candy that you barely get to see!

Show window contents while dragging

This can be useful if you have severe memory issues. If you cannot remember what you started dragging.25 seconds ago, should you really be dragging it at all? What if you forget where it is going? I suggest leaving this off, because on a slower machine it can make the animation really choppy, making the drag and drop process pretty tedious and error prone indeed.

Slide open combo boxes

Much like menu animations, this Vista setting is really not that useful. If you are an eye candy fiend, go for it. If not, I highly recommend turning it off for the minor performance improvement, and the snappier feeling that windows assumes.

Slide taskbar buttons

No, turn it off!

Smooth edges of screen fonts

This is very very important, especially on LCD monitors, but on any monitor you care to use. Leave this on if you can at all afford it, it makes a tremendous difference in the quality of typefaces on the user interface.

This is not to be confused with ClearType, which is solely for LCD monitors and also quite useful (but not nearly as noticeable to the average user). Smooth-scroll list boxes

Smooth-scroll list boxes

This just provides a slightly nicer feeling interface on list boxes (things where you see a list of items, in a box, and you can usually select multiples). When you scroll it provides an acceleration and smooth scroll, rather than a jerky movement. I prefer to leave this option turned off. It can make a fairly large difference on web pages, where the performance of re-rendering over and over can be significant.

Use a background image for each folder type

You should definitely leave this turned off. Per folder settings can cost a lot when trying to load the folders, and having specific background images in a folder is really not particularly useful. You might find it easier to recognize something at a glance this way, and if so, I can see using some solid colors - but really, try to stick to useful folder names and getting used to reading those instead.

If you are interested in having this feature enabled, you'll probably also want to know how to use it.

Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop

This can actually look pretty bizarre if you have the right (or wrong) background image. I find this to be excessive eye candy, but some people find it slightly easier to read icon labels. I suggest leaving this turned off as it can make a significant difference in performance - especially if you have a lot of icons on your desktop.

And...Done! That was the list

I hope those descriptions give you a better idea of what each one of the options is doing, and which ones you will want to turn on and off. For those of you that are wondering which to choose, or for those who really did not read the whole article, here is the recommended list:

Good luck with Vista! It can be slow, but it is a real treat nonetheless. I am sure we will have further performance tips down the line - until next time!

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