Driver-by: This should go without saying, but check the manufacturers’ web sites of every component you installed for up-to-the-minute drivers. If you’re not running the latest drivers for your videocard and/or soundcards, you risk system instability and miss out on free performance boosts. BIOS updates: Hardcore tweakers should regularly check for BIOS updates from the manufacturers of their motherboards. While you’re unlikely to get any more frames per second out of the deal, you may benefit from a more stable system with higher overclocking potential. Be careful, though—applying the update incorrectly can hose your motherboard. If this makes you nervous, don’t do it.
Swap meet: Although you’ll want Windows to manage the size of its swapfile, you’ll squeeze more muscle out of your machine if you actually host the file on a separate hard drive from your primary OS. So, yes, do that.
Clean living: Defragment your hard drive. Set up a schedule for running your favorite anti-spyware application. Scan your system for viruses. Delete huge files you don’t use anymore. You know—spring-cleaning stuff.
Low Profile: You can sweep all the background crap—applets, utilities, desktop junk—under the rug instantly by creating a new user profile dedicated exclusively to gaming. Name it “Pwner” or something clever like that. Install nothing else under this profile!
Virtual tweaking: For some reason, XP will sometimes default to a generic number for its virtual memory settings. Right-click on your My Computer icon and select Properties; click on the Advanced tab, then click on the Performance Settings button, and finally, click on the new Advanced tab. Here, you’ll see either a checkbox that indicates you want Windows to automatically manage the size of virtual memory, or a radio button that allows you to select “System managed size.” Check either one.
Self service: Many Windows “services” that run in the background are unnecessary and memory-hogging. Hit up blackviper.com and check out the list of services that are safe to disable. The tedium is worth the performance boost.
Task Scheduler: You can have XP automate a ton of tasks for you, like virus scanning and defragmentation. Hit up your task scheduler and make sure that nothing’s set for your prime gaming hours, or you’ll pay for it in performance!
Give yourself a ReadyBoost: You may get a performance bump when using a USB storage device with ReadyBoost in Windows Vista. Plug in your flash drive, right-click on the device in Windows Explorer, select Properties, click the ReadyBoost tab, select Use This Device, and then select the amount of space you’d like Vista to use.
Sideline the Sidebar: Turn off the sidebar before you launch a resource intensive gaming session. Gadgets like the RSS feed and CPU Meter will tax your processor as long as you have the sidebar open.
Lose control: While it won’t give you more frames per second in games, disabling Vista’s spastic User Account Control will save you countless hours of verifying, re-verifying, and assuring Vista that yes, you really do want to install that program.
Superfetch: This one’s tricky. Depending on how you use your computer, your performance may suffer as a result of Vista’s default RAM-maximizing pre-caching system. Try disabling it via the Services Console and benchmarking your system again to see if you get a little extra perf.
Desktop Search: Vista’s indexing service can be a system hog, as it’s often scouring your computer at the most inopportune times. Right-click on your hard drive in Windows Explorer and uncheck “Index this drive for faster searching.”
Service Pack 1: Microsoft recently released Service Pack 1 for Windows Vista. Is this update necessary? Our tests don’t show any framerate improvements in games, but we recommend applying the update for a whole slew of security and reliability fixes.