Adjusting Visual Effects to Improve PC Speed

Windows Computer
Karlis Dambrans/Flickr

With Windows Vista, Microsoft introduced the Aero Glass theme that, for its time, gave Vista PCs a sleek new look. Aero continued to influence Windows 7, and (believe it or not) elements of Aero are still in Windows 8, 8.1, and 10 despite Microsoft opting for a flatter look over the transparent style of Windows Vista and 7. 

Unfortunately, if your computer isn't powerful enough, Aero's various effects can really put a performance hit on your PC despite the overall sleek look. But like all things Windows, Microsoft offers a way for you to cut down on the effects and adjust them to your heart's content.

How to Adjust Visual Effects on Your Windows Computer

The key to adjusting these effects is the "Performance Options" window accessed via the Control Panel. This location is pretty much the same no matter which version of Windows you're using. For Windows Vista, 7, and 10 go to Start > Control Panel > System > Advanced System Settings. Since Windows 8 users lack the Start menu it's a little different. Open the Charms bar by either placing your mouse in the lower right-hand corner and moving up, or tapping the Windows key + C. Next, click Settings in the Charms bar and then on the next screen select Control Panel. After that you can follow the same path by clicking Control Panel > System > Advanced System Settings.

Selecting Advanced System Settings opens the "System Properties" window. In that window select the Advanced tab if it's not selected already, and then click the Settings button under the "Performance" heading. 

This opens a third window labeled "Performance Options" where you can easily set your preferences for visual effects in Windows.

Benefit of Adjusting Visual Effects

For aging Vista computers especially, reducing the performance load of visual effects can result in speed increases for your computer. Even better you can even do this without much (if any) noticeable change in the look and feel of the Aero Interface.

At the top of the "Performance Options" window you will see four choices that effectively let Windows automate your Aero settings:

  • Let Windows choose what's best for my computer (This is the default setting)
  • Adjust for best appearance (If you choose this setting all effects will be used. This setting requires the most amount of operating memory)
  • Adjust for best performance (Most effects will not be used. This setting requires the least amount of operating memory of the three automated options)
  • Custom (This setting lets you choose the settings you want to use)

Anyone who wants a quick solution should probably choose Adjust for best performance. If that setting improves your performance, and you don't mind how Windows looks, then you're good to go. 

If you'd like a little more control over which effects are used and which aren't then select Custom

What to Do After Adjusting Visual Effects

Now you'll be able to edit all the various settings available to your system. A check mark next to an effect indicates that it will be used. A good approach is to try unchecking a few settings at a time, see how your system operates, and then decide whether or not you need to make more adjustments.

The list of effects is pretty straightforward and should be easily understandable for most users.  A few items you should consider unchecking right away (based on what's in Windows 10, but other versions of Windows should be similar) are Save taskbar thumbnail, Show shadows under thumbnail, and Show shadows under windows. That last item may be something you want to keep as it takes some getting used to when you remove the look of shadows from open windows.

If you are really having problems with performance, however, consider getting rid of most of the animation effects such as Animate controls and elements inside windows. If there are any translucency effects you can also look at dumping those. But as we said, take it slow. Remove a few effects at a time, see how your system responds, and how you react to any visual system changes. 

Updated by Ian Paul.