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Windows Vista hints and tips 9

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Speed up with more RAM

If Windows Vista is running slowly, you don't need a faster processor, you don't need a bigger hard disk drive, you need more memory. Nothing speeds up Vista like adding extra RAM and with the steadly fall of memory prices it doesn't cost too much to add some more. How much do you need and is there such a thing as too much?

Vista will use whatever memory you give it in the most efficient way possible. If you don't have much then Vista uses the page file on disk as an extension to memory, but this slows down the computer. If you have a lot then Vista will put it to use by minimising page file usage and maximising its caches.

The minimum is 512Mb (0.5Gb) and it cannot be installed with any less. (Watch out if your PC uses shared memory in which the video memory used for creating the screen display is taken from main memory - you can have 512Mb of RAM, yet still not have enough to run Vista because the video card has grabbed a chunk.)

The maximum amount of RAM Windows can use depends on the version of Vista and the type of processor and motherboard you have. Vista comes in two versions and there is a choice of 32-bit or 64-bit. Computers work in binary and the biggest number you can have in binary using 32 bits is 4,294,967,296 (use Windows Calculator in scientific mode to calculate 2^32). That looks a big number, but it is actually 4Gb. So the maximum amount of RAM that you can use with 32-bit Vista is 4Gb.

All the devices in a computer are what's called memory mapped I/O, which basically means that they appear to be memory addresses. So some of the 4Gb that 32-Bit Vista can access is actually reserved for I/O (input/output) devices. This means that even if you max out your PC with 4Gb of RAM, Vista will only use just over 3Gb. It's therefore not really worth putting in 4Gb because 1Gb is unused. The optimum amount of memory is therefore 3Gb. However, your PC may require you to add even amounts of RAM, so 3Gb might not be an option and you might have to install 4Gb, even though some won't be used.

Most people have 32-bit Vista and few people actually run the 64-bit version (there isn't much software for it, but that's a different story). However, if you did have the 64-bit version in theory it could access 18,446,744,073Gb according to Windows Calculator, but in Microsoft has placed limitations and Vista Home Basic can access 8Gb, rising to 128Gb with Ultimate.

Use more than 4Gb of RAM

In the previous tip we said that Windows runs faster if you add more memory, but the limitations of the 32-bit version of Vista means that the maximum you can use is just over 3Gb. The only way to use more RAM is to install the 64-bit version of Vista, but there are potential pitfalls to watch out for. For a start, you need a processor and motherboard that supports 64-bit processing and memory addressing. You will find that most modern motherboards and processors are OK, but older ones are not. Even if you have a brand new motherboard, you may need to tweak the BIOS settings to get it to work. With Intel Core 2 systems press F1 or Del just after switching on the power to enter the BIOS setup utility. Look through each page of settings for something called memory remapping and if it's there, make sure it is turned on. If you have a motherboard manual, look for this setting or for the memory configuration when using more than 4Gb. AMD systems are different to Intel and should support 64-bit processing without any changes.

Change the workgroup

If you have more than one PC it is useful to connect them using a network so that you can share files and printers. A large company might have hundreds of computers and it to make networking simpler Windows uses the concept of workgroups. Vista workgroupsA workgroup is a group of computers that can see each other on the network and can share resources like printers and files. A company might have one workgroup for the sales department, one for accounts, and so on. The PCs in different workgroups are kept separate and this makes the network easier to manage because each PC can only see PCs in its own workgroup.

When you are setting up your home network you need to bear this in mind because if your PCs are assigned to different workgroups they won't be able to see each other and you'll be scratching your head wondering why the network isn't working properly. Windows Vista automatically assigns computers to a workgroup called WORKGROUP, so all Vista PCs can see each other. Windows XP, however, sets the workgroup to MSHOME by default. This means that if you have XP and Vista PCs on the same network they won't be able to see each other!

The solution is to assign the same workgroup to all computers, so you must change the Vista PCs to MSHOME or the XP PCs to WORKGROUP. (You can use any name, such as MYGROUP if you like - there are some limitations, such as no spaces and nothing too long.) In Windows Vista click the Start button, right click the Computer menu and select Properties from the menu that is displayed. You'll see the workgroup name in the Computer name, domain and workgroup settings section. Click the Change Setting link (you'll need to be logged on as an administrator and click through the warning UAC dialog). In the next dialog, click the Change button and type the workgroup name, MSHOME, in the workgroup box. Close the dialogs to apply the settings and restart Windows.

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