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How to boost Windows 8 performance

Get to know Windows 8's built-in tools for troubleshooting and speeding up your PC

November 12, 2013 06:30 AM ET

Computerworld - There's an unassailable rule of computing: No matter how fast your computer is, and no matter how well it runs, you want it to run better.

If you're looking to improve Windows 8, help is on the way. I've rounded up my favorite tips for doing system analysis, troubleshooting and fixing any problems you find, and in general speeding things up. No extra software is required; everything you need is built right into Windows 8.

If you've been around the Windows block a few times, you probably remember having to manually crank through an array of performance-oriented tasks: mucking around with page files, editing the Registry or using third-party tools such as disk cleaners. But over the years Windows has gotten much better at automating many of those tasks. In Windows 8, generally the best way to improve performance and know what's going on in your system is to use Windows' built-in tools, including the Resource Monitor, the Task Manager and the Reliability Monitor.

For some reason, however, several of the most useful administrative tools are hidden by default, so the first thing to do is unhide them: Press the Windows key + I to open the Settings charm, click the word Tiles, and then change the "Show administrative tools" slider to Yes.

With these hidden gems revealed, we can get started.

For more useful tips, see 10 Windows 8 tips, tricks and hacks. If you need help getting up to speed with Windows 8, see Windows 8 cheat sheet.

Troubleshoot sluggishness with the Resource Monitor

A little-known tool called the Resource Monitor does a very good job of tracking down performance problems and fixing them. Although it's not new -- it's been included in Windows since Vista -- it's still a great way to find out about the resources your system uses and to see what applications and services are making the most use of your system. Based on that, you can decide which apps and services to shut down and which to keep running.

To run it, type resmon at the Start screen and then click the resmon.exe icon that appears on the left side of the screen under Apps.

Note: If you're using a company-owned PC and don't have Administrator privileges, you may not be able to run the Resource Monitor. But never fear: You can still use the Task Manager and most other tools covered in this story to troubleshoot performance problems.

If you are able to get into the Resource Monitor, start on the Overview tab. It offers a snapshot of your system's resource usage, including CPU use, disk use, network use and memory use. (Story continues below the screenshot.)

Windows 8 Resource Monitor
The Resource Monitor can help track down causes of sluggish performance.

The screen is divided into two. On the left-hand side you'll see every process running on your system, by resource category (CPU, Disk, Network, and Memory), along with details about the usage of each process. (A process is any program that runs in Windows, from a tiny background task to a complex application such as a Web browser.)

On the right-hand side you'll see moving graphs of their cumulative use over time. You can see at a glance whether your CPU, disk, network or memory use is maxing out. If any are, you know you've got a problem, and you know the general category of problem.

For more details about any of those categories, click the appropriate tab across the top of the Resource Monitor. Each tab shows you what applications or services are making use of that particular resource, along with other useful information. For example, the CPU tab shows all the apps and services using the CPU, with a running average of CPU use for each app and service. Those that use the CPU the most are listed at the top; those that use it the least are listed at the bottom.

The display in each tab varies according to what's most useful. For example, the Memory tab shows, in addition to what programs and services are using memory, how much memory is currently used, cached, reserved for hardware and so on.

Once you've zeroed in on the problem, you can do something about it. If you've got apps and services overtaxing your CPU, for instance, you can close any of them by right-clicking it and selecting End Process from the drop-down menu. You might also consider looking for alternatives to those apps and services, and then using Resource Monitor later on to see whether those alternatives have lower resource usage.

Note that most of the information that the Resource Monitor displays is also shown in the Task Manager, another built-in performance tool we'll cover later in this article. Redone for Windows 8, the Task Manager has a more comprehensive set of tools and information than the Resource Monitor. That said, the Resource Monitor is still a useful tool for troubleshooting performance problems because it offers a quick at-a-glance look at your system, with in-depth information on each of its tabs.

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