Up and Running (Alibre Options Tutorial)

30 Sep, 2007 By: Pablo Lopez

Five ways to get Alibre Design and Windows up and running.

Alibre Design, like all MS Windows programs, is very dependent on your computer's free resources. Not everyone wants or needs to spend money on computer upgrades to get better performance. In this month's "Alibre Options," we'll touch on some of the major bottlenecks in Windows systems to squeeze out more performance. We'll discuss:
  • configuring the Windows page file
  • disabling unwanted programs running in the background
  • defragmenting your hard drive
  • cleaning out the temporary files of the computer
  • updating your system's component drivers.

Not all of these steps are required, but getting into the practice of doing a few of them will ensure that your computer runs to the best of its ability, which in turn will help Alibre Design and any other applications run more smoothly.

Defragment Your Hard Drives
Difficulty. Easy
Potential impact. Medium to large
What is fragmenting? Many times, your computer doesn't write a file to a single location on your hard drive. For example, when you install a program, copy and paste files, or save a CAD model, your computer writes the file until it runs out of contiguous hard disk space and then continues the file somewhere else on the hard drive. When this happens, your hard drive becomes fragmented, and there really is no way to avoid it happening.

Dangers of fragmenting. When a file is needed, the hard disk has to look in multiple places to find the entire file, wasting time. Some files, especially larger ones, can be fragmented several hundred times, depending on many factors. Highly fragmented files means slower file loading. If your fragmented files are Windows system files, you will experience slowness constantly.

The fix. Windows has a free defragmentation tool already installed on your system. Windows recommends that you have 15% of free hard disk space available before running the tool. You should get in the habit of using it at least monthly or more often if you notice that disks are fragmented quickly. Follow instructions in your Windows version's Help file.

To defragment a hard drive in Windows XP, start by opening My Computer. Right-click on the desired hard disk drive and select Properties. Next, click on the Tools tab (above) and select the Defragment Now button to bring up the Disk Defragmenter tool.

Now, select the Analyze option to check the hard drive. Windows will tell you if you need to run the Defragmentation tool. If prompted to, click the Defragment button.

Delete Temporary Files
Difficulty. Easy
Potential impact. Small to medium
What are temporary files? Everything you do, from browsing the Internet to installing applications to using Alibre Design, creates temporary files. When you no longer need them, they aren't always deleted automatically.

Dangers of temporary files. Excessive unused files cause multiple problems, such as disk fragmentation and other performance issues. If you never clean out your temporary file, they can eat up a substantial portion of disk space, depending on the size of your hard disk. There are temporary files all over your computer. They are not all in one place. They affect how most programs run, including Windows

The fix. The Windows temporary directory has many temporary files. To find this directory, go to Start / Run, type in %tmp%, and then press OK.

In the main Windows Temporary Folder, delete all files and folders. If you get an error about deleting a file, don't worry. If Windows won't let you delete a file in this folder, just move on to deleting the next ones.

Tip. Wait until you aren't doing anything on your computer before deleting temporary files. Don't delete them, or try to, while you are installing or if you have programs currently open.

Update Drivers for your System
Difficulty. Easy
What are drivers? Every piece of hardware, from your video card to your mouse, has software called drivers that make them work. We'll focus on drivers for your video card.

Dangers of using old drivers. It's not bad, but drivers are updated all the time. For important components, such as video cards, you should keep at least a relative pace with the new drivers because new drivers allow hardware to work more efficiently. It's good practice to check every three to six months for new video drivers. Drivers can affect every program you run, including Windows.

The fix. Figure out what model your video card is, go to the manufacturer's Web site, and download the new drivers. Video card manufacturers typically place driver links prominently on their main home page because it is such a commonly used item.

You could install the wrong driver, but many drivers won't let you install them if the correct hardware isn't detected to begin with. If you aren't sure what you are installing, don't install it. Most of the time, you will be 100% sure. Follow your manufacturer's instructions via the Help menu.

Helpful Links.
NVIDIA cards
ATI cards
Intel cards

The Windows Page File (Virtual Memory)
Difficulty. Intermediate
Potential impact. Medium to high
What is virtual memory? Virtual memory is a file used by Windows to simulate RAM when you run out of it (and sometimes even when you don't).

Dangers of virtual memory. This file resides on your hard disk and while hard disks are much slower than RAM, it's a necessary evil. It affects every program you run, including Windows. If your page file size is set too low, the system cannot properly simulate RAM.

The fix. Set the page file size higher so when Windows decides to replace the use of RAM with the Page File, it can do so more freely.

Windows recommends setting virtual memory to at least 2 GB (2048 MB). To get to the Windows configuration menu, open your Control Panel (Start / Settings / Control Panel). Click on the System folder to bring up the System Properties Window.

Next, click on the Advanced Tab and then on the Settings button under Performance to open the Performance Options window.

In the Performance Options window, click on the Advanced Tab and then under Virtual Memory, click on the Change button. This opens the Virtual Memory window.

In the Virtual Memory window you probably already have the System Managed Size button checked. To get the better performance, click on the Custom Size radio button. Type in 2048 (2 GB) in both the Initial Size and Maximum Size fields. Setting the Initial and Maximum Size to equal values minimizes hard disk fragmentation later on. More advanced users with multiple hard drives may find better performance by setting the page file to reside on a hard drive that doesn't have Windows. After you have set these options, Windows asks you to reboot the system to solidify the changes. While it's unlikely that this change will cause any instability in your system, if it does you can simply change the Virtual Memory settings back to System Managed Size.

Disabling Unwanted Processes from Starting with Windows
Difficulty. Advanced
Potential impact. Medium to very large
What are these processes? Most computers have processes (programs) running in the background that aren't used by the user, are viruses, or that the user doesn't realize are running. Not every process has a user interface, so just because you don't see programs does not mean they aren't running. Some processes, such as some Adobe processes for example, enable you to load Acrobat faster. If you don't care about loading Acrobat a little faster, you probably wouldn't mind the loader process not starting with Windows.

Dangers of these processes. Every process takes up system resources. Processes take up both RAM and virtual memory as well as use your processor. Over time, you can accumulate a large number of ambient processes that don't do anything explicit for you and this can cause sluggish performance. They affect every program you run, including Windows.

The fix. It's difficult to know what the processes do to determine if they should be shut down. Use Google to research processes and disable or shut down offending processes, with possible further action such as a virus scan.

To begin stopping unwanted programs from starting up with Windows, open up the Task Manager, by pressing <Ctrl> + <Alt> + <Del>. First, click on the Processes tab. If you look in the lower left corner, you see Processes: #; in this case, the number is 38

The process number is an indication of how many things are running on your computer. You want to have this Process Number of roughly 25- 45, generally the lower the better. Because no computer, user, or program is the same, it's impossible to give an optimal amount of processes. In the example above, we have Alibre Design, Firefox, Outlook, MSN, Avast Antivirus, MS Word, and a host of other programs to give you an idea of what 38 processes really entails.

Note that not all processes are started explicitly by you. Windows starts many of them and certain processes should not be disabled. Sort the list by User Name by clicking on the column header. Unless you are a very advanced user with previous experience, you should only end processes that fall under your user name (or Administrator, if you haven't set up a user name). Ending a process doesn't uninstall anything and usually processes are restored on reboot.

Now it's time to figure out what these processes do. Many applications you install -- for example, Adobe Acrobat, QuickTime, Real Player, and many others -- start processes automatically every time you start Windows, even if you aren't using the programs. These processes are typically neither very useful nor required for these programs to run. Some other processes may be viruses. To find out what a process does, look under the Image Name column, record the entry, and type it directly into Google. Below, we see that we have a process called ms32.exe running. We type it into Google and see results that indicate this may be a virus and that we should research it.

Killing a process versus disabling it at startup. You can click End Process in the task manager to end a process immediately. However, the vast majority of processes load into Windows when you start your computer because the offending programs have inserted themselves into various configuration files throughout your computer. To fix this problem, you can edit some of these configurations easily.

Open the System Configuration utility. Go to Start / Run and type in Msconfig, then press OK.

We type it into Google and see results that indicate this may be a virus and that we should research it.

Open the System Configuration utility. Go to Start / Run and type in Msconfig, then press OK. This opens the System Configuration utility.

To disable the automatic startup of these programs, uncheck the check box next to the items.

Unless you're experienced, you should only adjust items on the Startup tab. If you click on the Startup tab, you have access to programs that start up with Windows. Most users don't require the vast majority of these entries to be enabled, and disabling them typically doesn't change your Windows experience. However, you must not disable important programs, such as your antivirus utilities. To disable the automatic startup of programs, uncheck the check box next to the items -- this doesn't delete the entry, it only disables it. You can come back at any time and recheck any items if you get unexpected behavior.

Once you're satisfied with the changes, reboot the machine for the changes to take place.

When Windows comes back up you can always check the Task Manager to make sure the programs were disabled. The first time you clean out your automatic startup options via the System Configuration utility, you'll probably notice your computer runs noticeably faster, especially at startup.

Update Complete
There you have it -- five ways to get Alibre (and Windows in general) running like a superstar and without going out and buying new hardware.

About the Author: Pablo Lopez

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