We all want faster machines. Slow machines, especially ones that freeze up, constantly interrupt one's thought process and can pull them out of the zone. It's not just the extra 20 minutes spread throughout the day, it's also all the time lost to re-focus yourself after waiting for a long process. I'm no machine performance expert, but here are tips I've learned.
1. Run Defrag.
You can run this via the command line, such that you hook it up to a weekly script. This MSDN explains: "Disk fragmentation slows the overall performance of your system. When files are fragmented, the computer must search the hard disk when the file is opened to piece it back together. The response time can be significantly longer."
defrag c:\ /v /f
2. Clean up your hard drive.
A crowded hard drive makes your machine run slower - there's just less wiggle room for the operating system. I've heard some suggest that you should have at least 25% free. You'll need two big things for this: (A) a backup drive for offloading infrequently used files, and (B) a tool to find obsolete files. One good, free, tool is CCleaner, which detects most of the common spots for dead-weight files. Another tool, SequoiaView, shows all files sizes in a treemap graph so that you can easily see which files are taking up space.
3. Clean out your registry
If you're continually installing and uninstalling programs, your registry may get bloated, causing big slowdowns. Modifying your registry is dangerous and could irreparably corrupt your entire machine (i.e. back up your registry and machine data first). But, given the potential performance gain, it's still worth doing some easy changes. While there are several commercial registry cleaner products out there, CCleaner is free and works well - it plays it safe and only removes the obvious registry errors. CCLeaner has a feature to clean out much of the garbage from your registry.
4. Adjust your UI settings
Windows XP (I haven't touched Vista yet) lets you choose the balance between "pretty UI" vs. "fast UI". The idea is that pretty graphics (shading, rounded corners, transitions, etc...) take extra resources to render. If you're a developer who wants speed and doesn't care about gradient-shaded window panels, you can turn that stuff off: In "My Computer > Advanced > Performance Options", adjust for "best performance." This will make everything look like old, grey, boxes - but it will be faster.
5. Kill or Block certain "hog" processes and system startup apps
Background services are a big culprit for hogging resources, because these services could always be running. Skim through your Window Services to make sure that all the currently running (or automatic ones) are ok. If a service doesn't sound familiar, ask your IT department if you can kill it. In addition to services, applications that automatically start up when the machine turns on can make for a slow system startup. CCLeaner has an option for this as well, where you can explicitly block unwanted apps from automatically starting up.
6. Avoid running too many programs at once
This is pretty obvious. Under Task Manager, the Performance and Processes tabs can show you your CPU, Commit Charge, and stuff like that.
7. Uninstall the programs you don't need
The more stuff on your machine, the slower it will run. For example, if you no longer develop with VS 2003, remove it. This is also a good reason to avoid installing all those games on your poor, overworked PC. (But if your laptop requires a certain game on it to function, that may be understandable)
8. Use batch scripts to turn off processes when you don't want them
Sometimes you need that heavy service running in the background, but sometimes you don't. For example, SQL Server can take a lot of resources. Consider having a batch script that starts it up and shuts it down - not just opening and closing SQL Studio, but stopping the actual service. You can use the "net" command in a batch script to start and stop services:
net start "SQL Server (SQLSERVER2005)"
net start "Distributed Transaction Coordinator"
net stop "SQL Server (SQLSERVER2005)"
net stop "Distributed Transaction Coordinator"
9. Startup script
I try to avoid re-booting my machine because I loose all my sessions - open windows, loaded files, running applications, etc... One thing that slightly eases the pain is having a batch script (clickable from my desktop) that re-opens all my standard stuff, like NotePad, Browsers, Cmd, and Windows Explorer. I don't necessary want this as part of my startup, but it saves me a minute to just click the batch and have several applications all re-open themselves.
10. Run Disk Cleanup
Sometimes your machine may run slow because of a bad disk. Consider running Disk Cleanup. This MSDN article describes more (it also mentions freeing up disk space and defragmenting).
There's always more you can do. I found these other articles to be informative reads:
Or, just google for more ideas