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Windows 8 Productivity and System Performance Tips

Has a Windows PC ever seemed fast enough? One processor core, two processor cores, four processor cores, and more and more memory...no matter how powerful the hardware, you always want it to go faster.

In this tutorial, you'll find plenty of ways to improve system performance and get more productive when using Windows 8. Whether using the Task Manager to rev up your PC, using the new File History tool for recovering old versions of files, or finding out about free alternatives to Microsoft Office and more.

Three Quick System and Performance

Sometimes you want to delve deep into Windows 8, spending a good deal of time in order to wring out big performance gains.

Given that you're reading this tip, this isn't one of those times. Three quick tips that let you get more out of Windows by spending hardly any time at all. They'll let you schedule maintenance, display hidden administrative tools, and check your RAM for problems.

Schedule Windows 8 Maintenance

Windows 8 does a very good of maintaining your Windows 8 device in top shape behind the scenes-checking for software updates, performing system diagnostics, and performing security scans. It does this on a schedule of its own devising.

That schedule, though, might not be best for you. Maybe you'll be working while maintenance is going on, and Windows disrupts your work. Or maybe you'd like it to perform certain tasks more frequently or less frequently. But no matter what the reason, it's easy to change Windows 8's default maintenance schedule. To get started, launch Control Panel and then choose System and Security → Action Center → Maintenance.

To run any maintenance task manually, click "Start maintenance," and Windows 8 goes off and performs all of its normal maintenance tasks. It displays a small notification that "Maintenance is in progress."

To instead change the maintenance schedule, launch Control Panel and then choose System and Security → Action Center → Maintenance → "Change maintenance settings." From the screen that appears, choose the time of day you want the maintenance to be performed.

If you don't see the "Start maintenance" or "Change maintenance settings" options when you get to this screen, click the down arrow next to Maintenance.

Display Administrative Tools

Windows 8 has a whole host of very useful administrative tools, such as the Performance Monitor, Resource Monitor, memory diagnostics, and many more. But looking at the tiles on the Start screen, you wouldn't know that. That's a problem, because you can't even see what useful administrative tools Windows 8 has.

There's an easy fix. When you're on the Start screen, press Windows key+C, select Settings → Tiles, and turn on the "Show administrative tools" setting. When you do that, they'll all be within easy reach on the Start screen. You'll likely have to scroll all the way over to the right to see them, grouped together.

There's another way to get access to these tools. Right-click the lower-left corner of the screen, and a menu pops up with to several of them, as well as some tools not available as tiles, such as the elevated command prompt.

Perform a Memory Check

Now that you've turned on administrative tools, it's time to start using them. If you've found your system experiencing odd problems, you may have problems with your memory. Click the Windows Memory Diagnostics tile (you'll be reminded to save your work and close running programs if you haven't already), and then click "Restart now and check for problems". Your computer will shut down, and Windows will check for memory problems. Be patient, because the test can take some time. You can watch a progress bar as the test digs into your computer's memory.

Troubleshoot Performance Issues Using the Resource Monitor

The System Monitor is one of the best ways you'll find in Windows 8 for tracking down the source of the problem.
At some point in the life of your Windows 8 device it may become sluggish, slow down, or otherwise have problems. Tracking down these problems can be exceedingly difficult.

But there's also a very useful, lesser-known tool called the Resource Monitor that helps as well. It's extremely useful for tracking down the cause of sluggish performance. It shows you what kind of resources your system uses, and which applications and services are making the most use of your system.

To run it, type Resource Monitor at the Start screen, click Files, and then click the Resource Monitor icon that appears.

The Overview tab display a snapshot of your system-CPU use, disk use, network use, and memory use. On the righthand side, you see their use over time. On the lefthand side, you see details about their use. Click the down arrow next to CPU, Disk, Network, or Memory to display details. Or you can instead just look at the overview. The other tabs-CPU, Memory, Disk, and Network-show in-depth details.

The Resource Monitor is easy to interpret. If you see high usage on any of the tabs, you'll know you've got a problem there. Then, it's time to track down the cause. Each tab shows you which applications or services are making use of that particular resource. For example, the CPU tab shows all the apps and services using the CPU. It shows a running average of CPU use for each app and service. Those that use the most CPU are listed at the top; those that use it the least are listed at the bottom. So, for example, if you've got an over-taxed CPU, look at which apps or service overuse it. Close them to solve the immediate problem, and consider finding alternatives for the future.

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

Track Performance and Reliability with the Reliability Monitor

Here's the single best place to go in Windows 8 for getting the inside info on system performance and reliability.

Windows 8 offers a great tool for checking your system's reliability and tracking down potential causes of problems. It's the Reliability Monitor, and it offers a real-time, live snapshot of system performance, as well as a historical view of overall reliability, complete with detailed information about system crashes.

To run it, type Reliability at the Start screen, click Files, and click the "view reliability history" icon that appears. It shows how reliable your PC has been over time, gives it a reliability rating, and offers details about system crashes.

The blue line moving across the graph represents a number that Windows 8 calculates gauging your system's overall reliability on a scale from 1 to 10. Every time there's a system failure, application failure, and so on, the index drops-sometimes precipitously, especially if there has been more than one failure in a day. For example, on my Windows 8 PC, I had three failures in one day, and the reliability index dropped from over 5 to under 3.

For every day that your system doesn't have a failure, the index rises a little bit. But exactly how Windows 8 calculates the amount of drops and rises is rather mysterious. Even more important than the overall reliability index are the details of each system crash. Go to each day that has a crash, and see the cause: an application, an overall system failure, and so on. Look for patterns, such as if a certain application frequently crashes. If so, uninstall it, or look for an update that fixes the problem.

Beneath the moving chart, issues are grouped into categories, including Application failures, Windows failures, Miscellaneous failures, Warnings, and Information, so you can see at a glance what kind of issues you have.

Down at the bottom of the screen, click "View all problem reports," and rather than seeing a moving chart over time, you instead see a list of all of your problems, including summaries.

If you want details about each crash and system problem-excruciating detail, in fact-double-click any of them. Details include the file name and path, and the kind of information that might be useful to programmers to track down the cause of the problem. Click the "Copy to clipboard" link at the bottom of the page, and all the details will be copied to the clipboard. From there, you can paste it into a file and send it to tech support, who might be able to use it to help with troubleshooting.

Peer Deep into Your System with the Performance Monitor

If you're looking for x-ray vision into your PC's performance, here's where to go. Just don't expect to understand what you see.

Sometimes you want to see something just because you want to see it. Not necessarily because it might help you accomplish something, but because... well, sometimes it's not that clear why, but you just do.

This tool shows you more details about the inner workings of your Windows 8 system, hardware, and software than you could possibly imagine. Whether you understand what you see is another thing entirely.

To launch the Performance Monitor, type Performance Monitor at the Start screen, click Files, and click the Performance Monitor icon that appears.

It shows a moving snapshot of system performance in exquisite detail over time. You can easily add those details, so you can monitor hard disk performance, processor performance, browser performance, and so on.

Performance Monitor works by using what it calls counters, which are modules that track your system's use. To add a counter, right-click in the graph area, select "Add counters" and then scroll through the available counters. Some are easy to figure out, such as Processor or Print Queue. Others, such as Pacer Pipe or NUMA Node Memory, will be baffling.

Each counter is made up of one or more subcounters, often many more. And here's where things can get confusing, even when you think you have a sense of what a counter does. In the Processors subcounters, for example, it's clear what %Processor Time does, but not DPC Rate.
Add whichever you want, and then head to the graph to watch your system's performance