Adjusting Visual Effects to Improve PC Speed

A few tweaks can help a struggling computer

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 impact performance on your PC. 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.

This guide specifically applies to Windows 10.

How to Adjust Visual Effects on Your Windows Computer

Windows 10 includes many visual effects, such as animations and shadows, that look great but can slow down your PC. This is especially true if your computer doesn't have a lot of RAM. To reduce the number of effects Windows utilizes:

  1. Type "performance" into the search box on the taskbar and select Adjust the appearance and performance of Windows.

    Screenshot of a Windows 10 search for the word
  2. Under the Visual Effects tab, select Adjust for best performance.

    Screenshot of performance options in Windows 10 with 'Adjust for best performance' marked
  3. Select Apply, then select OK.

  4. Restart your PC.

Benefit of Adjusting Visual Effects

Reducing the performance load of visual effects can result in speed increases for your computer, especially if it's an older model. 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, there are 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. But, if you want a little more control over which effects are used and which aren't, select Custom

What to Do After Adjusting Visual Effects

Now you can edit all the various settings available to your system. A check mark next to an effect indicates it's in effect. 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're really having problems with performance, though, 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.