Monitoring and Adjusting Performance
Windows 8 includes a great selection of tools to help you monitor and tune your system's performance. You've already seen a couple of them, notably the Performance Information And Tools applet described earlier in this tutorial. The following sections explore this tool in more detail, along with several others that will help you keep your system running at its best.
Performance Monitor, included in Windows 8, has also been available in previous versions of Windows. It provides an interface for viewing performance counters on your system. To run Performance Monitor, first open the Action Center (click the Action Center button on the tray and click Open Action Center). Then, in the left pane of the Action Center, click View Performance Information. Finally, in Performance Information And Tools, click Advanced Tools in the left pane and click the Open Performance Monitor link.
To save several steps when opening Performance Monitor, use Search and enter perfmon.
Performance Monitor is a very complex application. For this reason, we're covering only some of the basic functions of the application. To get more information, search for Performance Monitor under Windows Help.
When Performance Monitor opens, the Performance branch in the left pane is selected and the Performance Monitor window displays general information about the program, a system summary, and some links to learn more using Performance Monitor. Although the System Summary area shows current performance data, you'll probably prefer to see a visual representation. To do so, click Performance Monitor under the Monitoring Tools branch in the left pane.
The line crossing the screen as you watch the Performance Monitor plots your system's CPU activity. The graph has a timeline along the bottom and a percentage on the side. Only tracking the CPU doesn't provide much more information than what Task Manager provides. By adding counters to the grid, you can track your system's performance. To add more counters to the graph, follow these steps:
- Start by clicking the plus (+) sign in the toolbar located just above the graph.
- The Add Counters dialog box, shows all of the available performance objects for your system. In the left column, click the arrow to the right of the performance objects to expand and display the available counters for that object. For example, we have selected Network Interface.
- Depending on the counter you select, you may also have the option of selecting an instance of that counter. In the case of the Network Interface object, depending on your computer system, there might be multiple network interfaces, as shown in the Instances Of Selected Object list box. This fi gure shows the Bytes Total/Sec selected as the counter and the wireless adapter for the instance.
- Optionally, you can select the Show Description check box so you can view additional information about the counter.
- Click the Add button to move the selection over to the Added Counters section of the window.
- When you've selected all of the counters you want to monitor, click OK to return to the graph.
- The counter is added to the bottom of the window. If you select the counter in the list and click the highlighter icon in the toolbar, it highlights that specific counter. In this case, it has changed the color to a bold black. This is very helpful when you have several counters on the screen at the same time. When the highlighter is turned on, clicking any counter in the list causes that counter to be highlighted.
The scale of the graph is set automatically. In the case of the previous example, if the network utilization went off the screen, you're able to adjust the scale for that specific counter so you have more meaningful information instead of a line running off the top of the graph.
Data collector sets and reports
The Performance Monitor interface provides a mechanism to log the information and events that occur on your system. Besides just logging the information, it also provides a way for you to use reports to look at the information.
Data Collector Sets and Reports are very involved topics. For this reason, we cover the basics in this section and suggest searching Help for Data Collector Sets to get more details.
In the previous section, you learned about performance counters in Performance Monitor through the use of two examples, % Processor Time and Bytes Total/Sec. A data collector set, as its name implies, is a set of objects that collect data about your computer. So, you might create a data collector set that gathers data about specific items. For example, you could create a data collector set to gather information about network performance through the use of a variety of network counters. Or, you might create one to analyze drive performance by using multiple drive counters.
Within the Performance Monitor interface, you're able to create User-Defined Data Collector Sets, but let's start with the predefined Data Collector Sets. To get started, follow these steps:
- Click the arrow to the left of Data Collector Sets to expand the tree beneath it. Then expand the System icon beneath Data Collector Sets and click System Performance.
- Right-click System Performance and choose Start, or click the Start button in the toolbar. The system will start collecting data for the different components of the collector.
- Let the system run for a while, and when you're ready, right-click System Performance again and choose Stop this time, or click the Stop button in the toolbar. Stopping the collector may take a few seconds.
- Navigate to the Reports section within Performance Monitor and expand the System branch.
- Expand or collapse different areas by clicking the arrows next to each group. Use the vertical scroll bar to see all of the different report categories.
Generating system performance reports in Performance Monitor can help you understand where bottlenecks might exist in your system. For example, you can quickly identify an overtaxed CPU, problems with network saturation, or other issues.
In addition to creating performance reports with Performance Monitor, you can also create diagnostic reports. In the left pane, under Data Collector Sets, expand System and click System Diagnostics. Then, click Start in the toolbar. Wait as Performance Monitor creates the report. While the report data is being gathered, the icon next to the System Diagnostics branch shows a small green arrow. This is replaced by an hourglass while Performance Monitor generates the report. When the icon returns to normal, the report is finished. You'll find a new report under the Reports → System → System Diagnostics branch in the left pane. Click the report to view its contents.
As with a performance report, expand and collapse different categories in the report to view the information in the report. The information in the report can help you pinpoint hardware errors and other problems.
Creating data collector sets
You're able to create your own user-defined data collector sets, which involves adding data from one of the four categories. From the properties window of the collector, you can set a variety of properties for each type, such as the sample interval maximum number of samples, registry keys to monitor, and many more.
You can add the following four types of data collectors to your custom data collector sets:
- Performance Counter Data:
This information is the same information that you're able to gather from Performance Monitor, discussed earlier in the tutorial.
- Event Trace data:
This data is gathered when different system events occur on your system.
- Configuration data:
This data is gathered from changes that occur to the registry of your system.
- ConfigPerformance Counter Alert:
This data is gathered when a performance counter you specify reaches a point either above or below a value that you define.
As explained previously, creating data collector sets assumes a certain level of technical capability and knowledge about how the computer and its components functions.Here is mechanics of creating the data collector set:
- Open Performance Monitor and expand the Data Collector Sets branch.
- Right-click User Defined and choose New → Data Collector Set to start the Create New Data Collector Set Wizard.
- Enter a descriptive name in the Name text box.
- Decide whether to create the data collector set from a template or from scratch (manually). If you choose the Create From A Template option, you can add data collectors to the ones already in the template. Click Next.
- If you opted to start from a template, the wizard next prompts you to choose a template. Select one and click Next. Otherwise, the wizard prompts you to choose a type of data collector to add. In this example, let's assume you choose to start from a template, so choose Basic from the offered templates and then click Next.
- Specify the directory where you want the data to be saved and click Next.
- In the final page of the wizard, click Finish.
The new data collector set should now appear under the User Defined branch in the left pane. Let's assume that you now want to add some additional data collectors to the set. Right-click in the right pane (or on the new data collector set's name in the left pane) and choose New → Data Collector.
Performance Monitor opens the Create New Data Collector Wizard. Specify a name for the collector and choose one of the four collector types, as described previously in this section. For example, to add a performance counter, choose Performance Counter Data Collector. Then, click Next.
Depending on the type of collector you choose, the wizard prompts for information about the collector. Specify the information needed to configure the collector to obtain the data you're looking for, and then click Finish.
After you create the data collector set, you can use it just as you can the predefined ones in the System branch.
Another handy tool for monitoring system performance is Resource Monitor, which collects and displays real-time information about the CPU, disk, network, and memory. To open Resource Monitor, first open Performance Information And Tools from the Control Panel. Click Advanced Tools in the left pane, and then click Open Resource Monitor.
The Overview tab, offers summary information about each of the four categories. To view activity for a specific process, select the check box next to the process's image name in the CPU list. Then click the category header for a category to view the data filtered by the selected process.
Each of the other tabs in Resource Monitor provides data specific to the specifi ed category. For example, to see detailed information about memory utilization, click the Memory tab. The top area of each tab shows the running processes. You can filter by one or more processes by selecting them from the list. Deselect the Image check box to clear the filter.
Reliability Monitor provides information regarding your system's overall stability. It tracks data and generates a report similar, which indicates a relative reliability index from 1 to 10. Reliability Monitor uses five groups of information to determine the index, including application failures, Windows failures, miscellaneous failures, warnings, and informational events. To open Reliability Monitor, open Action Center, expand the Maintenance group, and click View Reliability History.
Reliability Monitor starts monitoring your system right after the operating system is installed and will keep one year's worth of data for analysis. Reliability Monitor requires 28 days of information before it will accurately determine a stability index. The line in the graph will also be dashed until Reliability Monitor has 28 days of information.
The icons on the chart in Reliability Monitor indicate the type of event that occurred on the specifi ed date. The letter i inside a blue circle is an informational event, such as an update being applied successfully to the system. A yellow triangle with an exclamation mark inside indicates a warning. An example would be a warning that a driver did not install successfully. Failures are indicated by a white X inside a red circle. Examples include an application hanging or Windows shutting down unexpectedly.
You can view the events for a particular day by clicking that day in the chart. Details for that day appear in the bottom Details pane. When viewing the graph in Weeks view, clicking a week in the graph shows all items for that week in the Details pane. Whichever view you use, double-clicking an item in the Details pane displays full information about the event.
Reliability Monitor is a great tool for keeping track of the events that have occurred with your computer over a long period of time. It can be particularly useful in identifying repetitive problems or problems with specific items.
Windows ReadyBoost uses flash memory, rather than your hard drive, for the paging file. This allows programs to get drive data more quickly, providing a faster, more fluid computing experience.
Using Windows ReadyBoost
Historically, PCs had two ways to store data: memory and the hard drive. Memory (RAM) is very fast. But it's volatile, meaning everything in it gets erased the moment you shut down the computer. The hard drive isn't nearly as fast. But it has persistence, meaning that it retains information even when the computer is turned off.
RAM is also more expensive than hard drive storage. For example, a typical desktop computer might have 2 gigabytes of RAM. The hard drive, on the other hand, will likely hold hundreds or even thousands of gigabytes (called a terabyte) of data.
Windows 8 automatically uses the paging file (discussed earlier in this tutorial) to store the data and conserve RAM.
The downside to using the paging file is that the processor cannot move data to and from it as quickly as it can with RAM. The paging file becomes a little performance bottleneck. Prior to Windows Vista, there was no real solution to the problem. Windows Vista introduced a solution called ReadyBoost that lets Windows 8 use flash memory for the paging file. For paging file operations, flash memory is about 10 times faster than a hard drive, which means ReadyBoost can get rid of many little short delays and offer a faster, smoother overall computing experience. Windows 7 and now Windows 8 support ReadyBoost.
brContrary to popular belief, ReadyBoost doesn't add more RAM to your computer. It improves performance by using flash memory, rather than the hard drive, to store and access frequently used disk data.
Windows 8 takes care of all the potential problems that using flash memory for disk data might impose. For example, it keeps the actual paging file on the drive in sync with the copy on the flash drive. So if the flash memory suddenly disappears (as when you pull a flash drive out of its USB slot), there's no loss of data. Windows 8 even compresses and encrypts the data on the flash drive using high-strength AES encryption. If someone steals a ReadyBoost flash drive from your computer, they will not be able to read data from it to steal sensitive information.
There are basically three ways to get ReadyBoost capabilities in your system. One is to use a hybrid hard drive, which puts the flash memory right on the drive. Another is to have ReadyBoost capability on the computer's motherboard. If you have neither of those, the third approach is to use a USB flash drive for ReadyBoost. This is a small device, usually small enough to fit on a keychain, which you just plug into a USB 2.0 or 3.0 port on your computer.
Not all flash drives are ReadyBoost-capable. They vary greatly in their capacity and speed. Windows 8 will only use a flash drive for ReadyBoost if it makes sense to do so. An 8GB flash drive with fast random I/O capability is a good choice for ReadyBoost.
If you already have a USB flash drive and want to see if it's ReadyBoost-capable, just plug the drive into a USB slot. After Windows 8 recognizes and analyzes the drive, you'll get some feedback on the screen letting you know that you can speed up your system by utilizing the available space on your device.
Some systems, such as newer laptops that use solid-state hard drives, will be fast enough that ReadyBoost will not provide any serious performance gains.
ReadyBoost requires that you use a USB 2.0-compliant or higher flash drive. Anything preceding USB 2.0 is too slow to work as a ReadyBoost device.
If you want to use the device as virtual memory, select the Speed Up My System option. After you've selected that option, the properties for the removable disk will pop up. You can also bring up that dialog box by opening your Computer folder, right-clicking the drive's icon, and choosing Properties.
Select the Use This Device option and then you are able to set the amount of space for ReadyBoost. By default, Windows sets the value to the recommended amount and also lets you know that the space you allocate won't be available for general use. When you've set your value, click OK.
ReadyBoost works by copying as much of the information as possible from virtual memory to the USB thumb drive. There is still a copy of all of the information within virtual memory; the system now knows to look at the ReadyBoost device first. If the system can't find the information there, it looks to the real virtual memory located on your hard drive. By keeping the original copy on your hard drive, you can remove your USB thumb drive without disrupting the computer.
Don't expect to see everything suddenly run faster with ReadyBoost. Its benefits might not be immediate. Remember, the main purpose of ReadyBoost is to eliminate the short delays you might experience when loading certain programs, switching among open programs, and performing other activities that usually involve a paging file. With time, you should experience quicker response times in those areas. You might even find your computer starts more quickly because it takes less time to load programs at startup.
Trading pretty for performance
All of the visual effects you see on your screen while using Windows come with a price. It takes CPU resources to show drop-shadows beneath 3D objects, make objects fade into and out of view, and so forth. On an old system that has minimal CPU capabilities and memory, those little visual extras can bog down the system.
To change settings that control visual effects, open Performance Information And Tools from the Control Panel. In the left pane, click Adjust Visual Effects to open the Performance Options.
The Visual Effects tab of the Performance Options dialog box lets you choose how much performance you're willing to part with for a "pretty" interface. The Visual Effects tab gives you four main options:
- Let Windows Choose What's Best For My Computer:
Use this option to enable Windows to automatically choose visual effects based on the capabilities of your computer.
- Adjust for Best Appearance:
If selected, all visual effects are used, even at the cost of slowing down performance.
- Adjust for Best Performance:
This option minimizes visual effects to preserve overall speed and responsiveness.
With this option, you can then pick and choose any or all of the visual effects listed beneath the Custom option.
How you choose options is entirely up to you. If you have a powerful system, the visual effects won't impact performance much, if at all. So, there's no need to turn off the visual effects. But if your computer isn't immediately responsive to operations that involve opening and closing menus, dragging, and other things you do on the screen, eliminating some visual effects should help make your computer more responsive.