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Speed up your PC by tweaking the BIOS
technofile  by al fasoldt
Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
Simple gray rule


Speed up your PC by tweaking the BIOS


Technofile for July 19, 1998

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers

No matter how fast your PC is, no matter how much extra memory you've added, you're probably not getting full performance out of it. In fact, chances are your PC is huffing and puffing when it could be snorting along at top speed.

But you can speed it up with a few small tweaks.

Am I talking about some new Windows utility program? Not at all.

The easiest way to speed up your PC has nothing to do with Windows. The secret is fine-tuning the BIOS.

If you've never heard of the BIOS, don't despair. Most users have no idea their PC has a Basic Input-Output System, and only a few ever venture far enough into the workings of the BIOS to give it a massage.

The BIOS is a set of basic instructions held on a chip inside the PC. The BIOS tells your PC what disk drives are plugged in, how much memory is installed, what sort of printing capabilities the PC has and so on. This part is not exciting at all.

But things get interesting when you look into the way the BIOS treats some of the esoteric parts inside your PC. The BIOS holds the key to how quickly your PC reaches into its memory banks, for example. It contains vital information on how to shuffle data on and off the bus (the main connecting pathway inside the computer). And it controls the timing of dozens of other functions.

You wouldn't need to adjust these important settings in the BIOS if PCs came from the factory properly set up. The sad fact is that they don't. Monitors don't. Haven't you seen the wasteful black border around the display? The manufacturer couldn't spare the time to adjust the picture. Windows doesn't. Have you noticed how slow your keyboard seems? How sluggish your arrow keys are? Your PC's Windows installation arrives with a slow-as-molasses keyboard repeat rate and a dozen other poor default settings.

And PCs don't in general. The companies that make them like to play it safe, so they keep all the speed stuff turned off or turned down.

To tune up your BIOS, you need a shareware program called TweakBIOS, by Miro Wikgren. You'll find it at http://www.miro.pair.com/tweakbios/. It's one of the few genuine bargains in serious software, costing only $15. (You can use it without paying, but the program won't save any changes you make to the BIOS unless you use the paid-for version.)

TweakBIOS is a DOS program, not a Windows program. It is designed to run before Windows boots up, in your PC's autoexec.bat file. (All PCs have—or should have—an autoexec.bat file. Even though Windows 95 and 98 don't need autoexec.bat or config.sys startup files, they are vital if you want to control many of the aspects of the PC's operation.)

TweakBIOS sneaks past the mundane BIOS settings that all PCs have and shows you all sorts of extra parameters that you can change to get more speed—or to get more stability, if that's more important. The changes you make are done only through TweakBIOS, and do not get saved directly to the BIOS itself. That means you'll be able to boot up normally, with regular BIOS settings, if you bypass TweakBIOS the next time you turn your computer on.

If you make a Windows 95 or Windows 98 startup menu, you can choose whether to run TweakBIOS each time you start up your PC. Choose this link for tips on how to make a Windows startup menu.


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