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Prioritizing programs

Try out some of these underutilized tricks to improve CPU performance.

Although it is seldom used, Windows and most other operating systems have ways of prioritizing the CPU time allocated to various processes. There are many cases where you may want to consider something like this to deal with resource problems. For example, if you have several applications running on a server, and one is "mission critical" or "time sensitive" then you can adjust it to an "above normal" or perhaps even "high" state. Alternately, if you're tired of your anti-virus scanner starting up at 12:00 noon every Monday and slowing your PC to an unusable crawl, then you could assign that process a "below normal" or even "low" priority.

In Windows, there are several ways to set the priority, depending on the version. The easy way is to create a short-cut for your program, but instead of just using the program's name, use the "start" command and the priority keywords, which are

/LOW
/BELOWNORMAL
/NORMAL
/ABOVENORMAL
/HIGH
/REALTIME

Another method is more appropriate for processes already in progress. Simply go to the Task Manager (CTRL-ALT-DEL and select Task Manager), and click on the Processes tab. Then right-click on a process and select Set Priority.

While this idea is easy to implement globally -- for instance, if you're administering a large population of Windows servers or workstations you can use the shortcut method or even include the start command in login scripts -- you'll want to exercise extreme caution in doing so. Thoroughly test your application environment prior to rollout, as changes in process priorities could have unintended consequences.

While you're thinking about this, you may also consider another performance enhancement, which is to turn off unnecessary graphics. In Windows XP you can do this by right-clicking My Computer and going to System Properties, then clicking the Advanced tab, and the Performance button. You'll find a list in there of all those fancy animations like fading in and out of menus and tooltips, and shadows, and the bar that slides over your systray.


Tom Lancaster, CCIE# 8829 CNX# 1105, is a consultant with 15 years experience in the networking industry, and co-author of several books on networking, most recently, CCSPTM: Secure PIX and Secure VPN Study Guide published by Sybex.


This was last published in April 2005

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