superkvetch

What is it doing?

| Ever since I got a laptop with Windows® Vista®, I have been consumed with the question, "What is it doing?" You wake up the computer in the morning, ready to read e-mail, check the news, surf for porn, or whatever you do in the morning, and that little light for disk activity goes wild. Even when you're not doing anything more than just sitting there looking at an empty screen, no programs running, that light is blinking, blinking, blinking — sometimes so fast it is solid on. What is it doing? you wonder.

The question grew even more pressing after I upgraded from 2GB of memory to 4GB of memory. The system should work with blazing speed, right? Wrong! If anything, it seemed to slow down!

This morning I had had it. I would find out what was going on. Surprisingly, "what is going on with all this disk activity" makes a surprisingly good Google query. Numerous articles at the top of the list used almost those exact words in the title. Apparently I was not alone.

I read only two or three of the top articles before the culprit was identified: SuperFetch!

SuperFetch is a "feature" of Windows Vista that is supposed to speed up your work. As I understand the theory, Vista keeps track of all the programs and files you use the most and then tries to help you by pre-loading those into memory on the chance you'll want to use them again. Being already in memory, they will load faster and you can get on with it. That's the theory.

In practice, here's how I think it really works: Vista fills up all available memory with stuff you might want, and therefore has no memory left to deal with what you do want. Thus, before it can respond to your actual needs, it must first purge memory of some of that other stuff to make room for your actual work.

I disabled SuperFetch and ReadyBoost, another feature that is supposed to work in tandem with SuperFetch. And guess what? Disk activity dropped to normal levels. Programs and files opened faster than before.

This is so Microsoft! Loading up software with bells and whistles that may save a nanosecond for some people while complicating life for everybody else, thinking they know best. It's enough to make a person nostalgic for MS-DOS.

Then I went through the list of services running — mercy, there were a lot of them! — and for good measure disabled a whole bunch more that I could see no use for: Apple Mobile Devices service; iPod service; Bonjour service; CinemaNow service; Windows Mobile Devices service; Windows Media Center Extender service; Windows Mobile-2003-Based Device Connectivity service; Windows Mobile Device Connectivity service; and the list goes on.

And it's not just Microsoft. Apple, I find, is equally guilty. If you're not careful when you install the QuickTime viewer, you also get iTunes, even though you don't want it. And then those two things are always updating themselves with huge update packages approaching 100MB that take forever to install. And then, there is the ultimate inanity: When you click the Finish button after an update, the freakin' software goes and checks for updates again!

Last updated on Apr 13, 2018

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