Every time you make a configuration change, that information is automatically written to the Registry. Change the system time, and the Registry is updated; change your desktop wallpaper, the Registry is updated; change the home page in Internet Explorer, the Registry is updated. The Registry is also updated whenever you install a new software program or hardware device. And it all happens automatically, in the background.
When Windows needs to do just about anything, it accesses the Registry to obtain the proper configuration information. In this sense, the Registry functions like a control center for your entire computer system; it defines how every part of your system looks and works.
Organizing the Registry
The Registry is organized into five major sections, called hives. Each hive is stored in its own system file on your PC’s hard disk.
These hives include the following:
- HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT. Contains information about registered applications, including file associations and OLE object classes. (This hive displays the same settings as the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Classes key.)
- HKEY_CURRENT_USER. This hive is a subset of the HKEY_USERS hive, pertaining to the current user of the PC. It contains all attributes for the desktop environment and network connections.
- HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE. Contains most of the settings for your PC’s hardware, system software, and individual applications.
- HKEY_USERS. Contains subkeys corresponding to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER hives for all users of the PC, not just the current user.
- HKEY_CURRENT_CONFIG. Contains information gathered when Windows first launches, such as settings pertaining to your PC’s display and printers. The data stored in this hive is not permanently stored on disk, but rather is regenerated each time your PC boots.
Each hive is further organized into a variety of keys and subkeys that can be represented by a series of folders and subfolders. For example, if you want to find configuration information for which programs Windows loads at launch, you would look in the following key: HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run.
The settings or data for each individual key or subkey is called the value. Each value in the Registry is defined by a value name (often called just the value), the type of data used for that entry, and the value of that data.
Editing the Registry
Most of the time you won’t need to bother with the Registry – it operates in the background, automatically updated whenever you change a Windows setting or install a new piece of software or hardware. However, if you want to speed up Windows’ performance or customize some hard-to-find settings, editing the Registry may be the only way to do it.
Tip: Most experts recommend that you make a backup of the Registry before you make any changes to it. Fortunately, backing up the Registry is as simple as setting a System Restore point before you make an edit. The System Restore point contains a backup of the Registry; if you have problems following a Registry edit, you can simply restore the Registry to its pre-edit state using the System Restore utility.
Launching the Registry Editor
You edit the Registry with a utility imaginatively called the Registry Editor. This utility is included with all versions of Windows, including Windows 7, http://www.itbusiness.ca/it/client/en/home/News.asp?id=52411″target=”blank even though you won’t find it anywhere on the Start menu or in the Control Panel. Instead, you launch Registry Editor by entering regedit into the Search box and pressing the Enter key.
The Registry Editor window has two panes. The left pane displays all the Registry’s hives and keys. All keys have numerous subkeys. The right pane displays the values, or configuration information, for each key or subkey. You display the different levels of subkeys by clicking on the right-arrow next to a specific item.
Editing and Adding Keys, Subkeys, and Values
You edit a particular Registry value by highlighting the subkey in the left pane and then double-clicking the value in the right pane. This displays the Edit Value or Edit String window, like the one. Enter a new value in the Value Data box, and then click OK.
Caution: Registry settings are changed as you make the changes. There is no “save” command in the Registry Editor. There is also no “undo” command. So be very careful about the changes you make – they’re final!
To add a new value to a subkey, right-click the subkey and select one of the New, Value options from the pop-up menu. Type a name for the new value, and then double-click the value to display the Edit Value (or Edit String) window. Enter the new value in the Value Data box, and then click OK.
You also can add new subkeys to the Registry. Just right-click the key where you want to add the subkey, and then select New, Key from the pop-up menu. A new subkey (with a temporary name) appears. Type a name for the new subkey, and then press Enter.
To delete a subkey or value, right-click the item and select Delete. Remember, however, that all changes are final. Once a subkey is deleted, it’s gone!
Editing the Registry to Speed Up Windows
Now that you know how to edit the Windows Registry, let’s examine a handful of Registry tweaks that can speed up Windows performance on your PC. They’re easy to do – as long as you’re comfortable using the Registry Editor.
Speeding Up Windows’ Menus
Want to make Windows’ menus display more quickly? You can do this by enabling this Registry tweak that removes the slight delay that is normally present between clicking a menu and Windows displaying that menu.
To perform this tweak, follow these steps:
1. Open the Registry Editor.
2. Navigate to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop key.
3. Right-click the MenuShowDelay item and select Modify.
4. In the Edit String dialog box, change the current value (typically 400) to something a bit lower – something around 100 typically works well.
5. Click OK.
Caution: If you set the MenuShowDelay value too low, menus will open if you merely move your mouse over them. You need a value somewhere above 0; otherwise, it will make Windows difficult to use.
Disabling Low Disk Checking
Windows constantly checks to see whether there’s enough free space on your hard drive. If there isn’t, it displays a low disk space warning. The problem is, all this disk space checking uses a number of system resources, and you probably know if your disk space is low, anyway.
You can speed up your PC by turning off this low disk space checking. Here’s how to do it:
1. Open the Registry Editor.
2. Navigate to the HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Policies key.
3. If the Explorer key exists, select it. If not, right-click in the rightmost pane and select New, Key. Name this new key Explorer, and then select it.
4. Right-click in the rightmost pane and select New, DWORD (32-bit) Value.
5. Name the new DWORD NoLowDiskSpaceChecks.
6. Right-click the new NoLowDiskSpaceChecks item and select Modify.
7. In the Edit DWORD dialog box, change the value to 1.
8. Click OK.
Note: A DWORD is a special type of data value used for some Registry entries.
Moving the Windows Kernel into Memory
Anything that runs in system memory runs faster than if it runs from your hard disk. To that end, you can speed up Windows itself by moving the Windows kernel into RAM, by executing this Registry tweak:
1. Open the Registry Editor.
2. Navigate to the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\
3. CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management key.
4. Right-click the DisablePagingExecutive item and select Modify.
5. In the Edit DWORD dialog box, change the value to 1.
6. Click OK.
You must reboot your system for this tweak to take effect.
Caution: If you experience system problems after performing this tweak, re-edit the value of DisablePagingExecutive back to 0.
Bonus Tip: Clean Up the Registry for Faster Performance
Editing Registry entries isn’t the only way to use the Windows Registry to speed up Windows. That’s because the Windows Registry itself can slow down your system’s performance. Let me tell you how.
Remember, the Registry holds the settings for every single program and utility stored on your system. Over time, all the different programs you install and settings you configure create lots and lots and lots of entries in the Registry – even after you uninstall the programs or no longer need the settings. That’s because Registry settings often aren’t deleted when you remove a program from your PC; this contributes to Registry “bloat” with lots of unnecessary or orphaned entries.
So the more programs you install over time, the larger the Registry gets. And the larger the Registry is, in terms of both file size and number of entries, the longer it takes for Windows to load it on startup – which slows down your system.
The fix for this problem is deceptively simple: Delete all the orphaned and unnecessary Registry entries. That’s easier to say than to do, however. How do you know which entries are necessary and which aren’t? Plus, do you really want to do all that work by hand, using the Registry Editor?
How Registry Cleaners Work
Fortunately, various third parties have recognized this issue and come up with their own solutions, in the form of Registry cleaner utilities. These programs automatically scour your Registry for redundant, invalid, or orphaned entries, and delete them. The process is easy as pie.
What kind of impact does a Registry cleaner actually have? It depends, to some degree, on how “clean” your Registry was to begin with. If a cleaner finds only a dozen or so entries to delete (out of the thousands of valid entries), the performance impact is minimal. But if you have a greater number of useless entries (or a smaller number of total entries), a Registry cleaner will have a larger percentage impact on your system’s performance. So you might notice a very small change in speed or a very large one, depending.
Caution: There is the slight chance that a poor-quality Registry cleaner program may incorrectly identify a working entry as an unnecessary one, and thus delete a setting that Windows needs to run. For that reason, you should set a restore point (using System Restore) before cleaning your Registry. You can always go back to that precleaner restore point if your system has problems after the cleaning.
A large number of Registry cleaners are available today. The best of these include the following:
- Auslogics Registry Defrag, free
- CCleaner, free
- EasyCleaner, free
- Registry First Aid, formerly $27.95 now free
- Registry Healer, $19.95
- Registry Mechanic, $29.95
- RegSeeker, free
- TuneUp Utilities, $49.95
- Uniblue RegistryBooster, $29.95
- WinCleaner, $29.95
- Wise Registry Cleaner, free