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Speeding up MainBoss Basic performance

This file explains a number of problems that can cause a slowdown in MainBoss Basic performance. These are general system problems, e.g. difficulties with your disk drives. Dealing with such problems may improve the performance of every program you run, not just MainBoss.

Cleaning up your disk

For optimal performance, the disk that holds your MainBoss data should be as problem-free as possible. Here are a few suggestions to get rid of potential difficulties.

Get rid of "lost" files with CHKDSK.
System crashes and hardware errors may cause files to get "lost". This means that a section of the disk is marked as being in use, but the system no longer knows what it's being used for. That part of the disk isn't part of any known file, so it's just unusable space. If the data is still meaningful, it should be recovered; if not, the space should be freed up so that it can be used again.

You deal with lost space using a Windows command called CHKDSK (pronounced check-disk). CHKDSK completely scans a disk and cleans up any problems found. To execute CHKDSK, open a Command Prompt window and type a command like

chkdsk C: /f /r

(In place of C:, you can put the name of some other disk.) The "/f" option says you want to fix disk errors and "/r" says you want to recover any readable information.

When you enter the above command, CHKDSK usually doesn't run immediately. Most disks can only be checked during a system boot. CHKDSK therefore schedules a check to take place the next time you boot.

The checking process usually takes a long time...possibly an hour or more. Therefore, you should only do this when the computer won't be needed for quite a while.

Files recovered by the CHKDSK process are given names like FILE0001.CHK. Sometimes these recovered files contain identifiable data; more often, you won't be able to figure out what the files once were, so you might as well just delete them.

 
Defragmenting the disk
After you've cleaned up with CHKDSK (or even if you haven't), you may be able to improve performance by defragmenting the disk.

When a file is deleted from a disk, the file's space is freed up for future use. Often this free space occurs between two other files, so you now have a gap on the disk between those files. Your disk ends up with a lot of unused gaps between files. Windows will use those gaps to save other files...but if a file is too big, it has to be broken into pieces small enough to fit in the available gaps. Eventually, many files may end up split into multiple small pieces, decreasing the efficiency of all read and write processes.

Defragmenting cleans up a disk so that files are no longer broken into pieces. To defragment your disk, click the usual Windows Start button, then click Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Disk Defragmenter. This opens the disk defragmenter window. Select a disk from the list of disks. Clicking Analyze will tell you if the disk needs to be defragmented, while Defragment actually defragments the disk.

FAT32 file systems

The file system format of a disk drive determines how files are stored on the drive. On Windows machines, the two most common formats are called FAT32 and NTFS. FAT32 is older than NTFS and less efficient in several ways; converting a disk from FAT32 to NTFS can speed up performance and also save disk space.

To determine the file system format used on a disk, open a Windows Explorer window, expand My Computer, and right-click on the name of the disk drive. In the resulting window, click Properties. This displays a window providing information about the disk; in particular, you'll see a line with File system that tells whether the disk is NTFS or FAT32.

If the disk is FAT32, you can convert it to NTFS; this will speed up performance and will usually save disk space too.

For safety's sake, perform a full back-up of the disk before you start the conversion process.

To convert the disk, open a Command Prompt window and type the command

convert C: /fs:ntfs /v
(where you can replace C: with the name of whatever drive needs to be converted).

When you enter the above command, the conversion usually doesn't take place immediately. Most disks can only be converted during a system boot. The conversion is therefore scheduled for the next time you boot.

The conversion process may take a long time. Therefore, you should only do this when the computer won't be needed for quite a while. Also, your whole disk could be corrupted if the power is disrupted during the conversion process; therefore, you should only perform the conversion when you're confident there'll be no power failure.

Notes:

No TEMP variable

One frequently-seen reason for slow performance is that you have not defined a TEMP environment variable on all the machines where MainBoss is running. The value of TEMP gives the name of a directory where many programs (including MainBoss) can create temporary files. For each machine in your network, the TEMP variable should specify a directory on the machine itself, rather than on some other machine in the network; otherwise, performance will slow down significantly.

To check whether you have a TEMP environment variable defined, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Windows Control panel (click the Windows Start button, then Settings, then Control Panel).
  2. In the Control panel, double-click System. This opens a window that displays information about system settings.
  3. On the Environment tab of this new window, check under the list of System variables and user variables. If you already have a TEMP environment variable defined, you should see the name TEMP in one of the variable lists; the value of the variable should be the name of a directory on your machine (for example, C:\TEMP). Note that this should not be the name of a directory on a different machine in the network.
  4. If you do not see TEMP in the list, or if the directory is not on your own machine, you must create or change the TEMP value. In the "Variable" box, type TEMP and in the "Value" box, type the name of a directory on your machine. For example, you might type C:\TEMP. (If necessary, create this directory). When you have filled in the variable and the value, click the Set button, then click OK.

Insufficient memory

Your computer has a certain amount of memory (RAM) to store the programs you are running and the data used by those programs. If the computer needs more memory than it actually has, it simulates additional memory by writing to and from disk drives. This simulated memory is called "virtual memory", and using it is much slower than using real memory.

Every computer has to resort to virtual memory once in a while, but if it happens too often, you should consider installing more RAM. Here's a simple test to see if you need more memory:

  1. Start up all the programs you usually run simultaneously. This might include MainBoss, your e-mail program, your web browser, and so on. In other words, set up a typical workload.
  2. Right-click in the bottom right-hand corner of your screen (typically where the time is displayed). In the resulting menu, click Task Manager.
  3. You'll see the Task Manager window open. This Window gives a snapshot of what your system is doing. Go to the Performance tab.
  4. At the bottom of the Task Manager window you'll see several boxes. Compare the Total value in the Commit Charge box to the Available value in the Physical Memory box. The "Commit Charge Total" should be no more than 80% of the "Physical Memory Available". If the "Commit Charge Total" is too high, it means your typical system load probably requires frequent use of virtual memory. You'll see significant performance improvements if you install more RAM on your computer.
  5. While you have the Task Manager window open, look at the Peak value under Commit Charge. This is an indication of the maximum amount of memory (real and virtual) that you've used since booting your computer. Roughly speaking, it's nice if a "typical" peak value is also less than 80% of "Physical Memory Available". However, it's difficult to tell whether the value you're looking at is a typical peak that you hit frequently, or if this particular peak was a rare event that you don't have to worry about. Perhaps by watching the peak value over a period of time, you can get a clearer idea of what a typical peak is. (Remember that the Task Manager shows the peak since you last booted. If the current peak is unusually high, it will stay at that value till you boot again.)

Slowdowns due to disk errors

Hardware problems may result in errors when your system tries to read or write a disk. Normally, Windows just tries to read or write the disk again...but if errors occur repeatedly, Windows downgrades the disk and begins to read/write more slowly. If errors keep occurring, the disk is downgraded further and all activity on the disk slows down even more.

To determine if this has happened, follow these steps:

  1. Open Windows Explorer and right-click on My Computer.
  2. In the resulting menu, click Manage. This opens the Computer Management window where you can examine information about your computer.
  3. In the left hand panel of the window, click Device Manager.
  4. In the right hand panel, expand the entry for IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers (if there is one).
  5. Right-click Primary IDE Channel and click Properties in the resulting menu.
  6. Under Advanced Settings, look at Current Transfer Mode. If this mentions PIO, the disk is downgraded to the slowest performance setting.

Under normal circumstances, PIO means you need a new disk—the old one has been getting so many hardware errors that it's no longer reliable. In rare cases, however, a disk may somehow get downgraded to PIO even though the disk is still good. You can see if this is the case by following the steps. (For experienced Windows users only!)

  1. Leave the Computer Management window open, but close all other windows and exit all other programs.
  2. Right-click on Primary IDE Channel, then click Uninstall.
  3. Reboot. During the reboot process, the system will try to reinstall the disk drivers and set I/O to the fastest performance setting.

If the disk wasn't really having hardware problems, it will stay at the fastest performance setting. Otherwise, it will gradually get downgraded to PIO again; this is a strong sign that the disk really is dying and needs to be replaced.

Note: If you install a new disk drive, it's important to install the "drivers" associated with the drive (usually supplied on a CD in the same package that contains the disk). This CD provides your computer with software that lets Windows read and write to the drive as fast as possible. Without that software, Windows may only be able to read and write to the drive at its slow PIO setting.

Different versions of Windows

Windows comes in various versions. For example, Windows 7 has Home, Professional, and Server versions. One of the main differences between these different versions is how many external connections they allow (to other users and devices like printers). Home allows the fewest, Professional allows more, and Server versions allow as many as you like (although you must buy extra licenses to increase past a certain point).

What constitutes an external connection? A person or device using your computer at the same time you are. In particular, running a printer counts as an external connection. Therefore, if you're printing something while using your computer to do something else, you're using two connections.

If you attempt to establish more connections than your system allows, performance is deliberately slowed down. This is Microsoft's way of encouraging you to upgrade your operating system.

The real tip-off that Windows is deliberately slowing you down is often if performance drops noticeably when you try to print something. Since this behavior is built right into Windows, your only options are upgrading your version of Windows or decreasing the number of things you try to do simultaneously.

While we're talking about different versions of Windows, we should mention that the Server versions of Windows offer useful features that aren't found in Workstation versions of Windows. For example, they provide the ability to "mirror" disks: to set up your system so that everything written to a disk is also written to a duplicate "mirror" disk. That way, if one disk malfunctions, the duplicate disk still retains all data intact. This bit of insurance is often well worth the cost of buying extra disks and the more expensive versions of Windows.

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