Listen to Windows 95
Although it's not very insistent about telling you, Windows 95 keeps very good records about whether it uses low-performance 16-bit drivers on your system. Right-click on My Computer, select Properties, and click on the Performance tab. You'll see a listing of the major subsystems in your PC and whether there are any problems. When things are running right, all the subsystems should show 32-bit (or Not Installed). If you see any 16-bit drivers, it means that Windows 95 doesn't support some hardware or software being used in that subsystem. If it's a hardware problem, you may be able to get updated 32-bit drivers from the vendor. Software problems are often due to older versions of disk compression products like Stacker or large-disk software such as Disk Manager.
Add More Memory The minimum practical memory (system RAM) for a Windows 95 installation is 8MB. Although the base operating system can run in 4MB, some of the applications and accessories like Exchange require more. Without enough memory, Windows 95 will end up swapping to disk, which is a real performance killer. In addition, the design of the Windows 95 user interface encourages you to multitask, and if you run more applications at once you'll need more memory to maintain good performance.
Use a Windows 95 Video Driver
Although Windows 3.1 video drivers generally work with Windows 95, many features are not available. For example, you cannot have animated cursors with the older drivers, and you cannot change video resolutions without rebooting. Also, Energy Star power saving is not supported with Windows 3.1 drivers. Finally, Windows 95 drivers are generally faster and more stable than Windows 3.1 drivers and use fewer system resources. If Windows 95 shows your system using the standard VGA driver, check with the vendor to see if there's a new driver available. You may be able to find an updated Windows 95 driver through a vendor BBS, online services such as CompuServe or America Online, or through the Internet.
Keep an Eye on AUTOEXEC.BAT
When you install older Windows 3.1 or DOS applications on Windows 95, they may try to place unnecessary programs or configuration lines into your AUTOEXEC.BAT files. These programs will waste memory and may even cause incorrect operation. One common example of this is SHARE.EXE, which is put into AUTOEXEC.BAT by many database programs. Another is SMARTDRV.EXE, the Windows 3.1 disk cache. Windows 95 has built-in support for file sharing and disk caching, so neither of these programs is necessary.
Use System Monitor To Check Performance
Does your system seem slow and unresponsive at times? Try using System Monitor to nail down the culprit. (System Monitor is included on the Win95 CD, but doesn't install in the Typical scenario.) In the Windows 95 default Start menu setup, you'll find System Monitor in the Programs/Accessories/System Tools folder. Or you can just select Start/Run and type SYSMON. The first thing you may want to monitor is Kernel Processor Usage. With no programs running, this measure should be near zero. As you work on your computer, occasionally check the System Monitor screen.
Don't Pay for AutoPlay
Windows 95 introduces a new feature called AutoPlay that will automatically run a CD-ROM when you put it into your drive. Unfortunately, this feature can cause a major performance hit on some PCs, particularly if there's no CD in the drive. Windows 95 will check the drive every second or so to see if you've put in a disc, and that can slow the whole system. If you notice that your system occasionally seems to slow down and has jerky operation, first try putting a CD into the drive to see if that solves the problem. If you prefer, you can turn AutoPlay off completely. To do this, right-click on My Computer, select Properties, and click on the Device Manager tab. Select the CD-ROM drive (not "CD-ROM," but the specific drive name) and click on the Properties button. Under the Settings tab, uncheck the Auto Insert Notification box.
To bypass the CD AutoPlay function, press and hold the Shift key while inserting a CD.
Make Mine Automatic
Microsoft recommends that you let Windows 95 manage the swap file size automatically, but you may find that your current settings have the swap file manually set for a specific size. This probably occurred because Windows 95 migrated your Windows 3.1 permanent swap file settings when you upgraded. To change your swap file settings, right-click My Computer, select Properties and click on the Performance tab. Then click the Virtual Memory button under Advanced settings. It's usually best to select Let Windows Manage My Virtual Memory Settings.
Smooth Out the CD
If video playback is a bit jumpy on your system, you may be able to get better performance by tweaking the supplemental CD-ROM cache size. Right-click My Computer, select Properties and the Performance tab. Click the File System button and then the CD-ROM tab. On systems with more than 12MB of RAM, set the supplemental cache size to large and the access pattern to quad-speed. This will provide the largest read-ahead buffer. On systems with only 4MB or 8MB of RAM, select a small cache size and single-speed access pattern, which will conserve RAM.
Use Power, Get Performance
To get the best performance from your system, check that any BIOS settings for power conservation are disabled. These settings often reduce CPU speed after a short period of inactivity, such as when you stop typing or moving the mouse. If you have a notebook PC, the BIOS may have separate performance settings for connections to AC power. That way you can get maximum performance when plugged into the wall and just sacrifice performance when on battery power to lengthen the battery life.
Enable Your RAM Cache
Memory performance is more critical than ever under Windows 95. If your system is the slowest in the office and you can't figure out why, check your BIOS settings to ensure that the memory cache has not been disabled. The specific names of the BIOS settings vary depending on the BIOS manufacturer, but will generally be something like Enable Internal Cache, Disable/Enable L1 Cache or Enable CPU Cache.
Increase Conventional Memory
Because of compatibility problems, do you still have to load many 16-bit drivers in CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT under Windows 95? If so, you may be running low on conventional memory. If you run out of conventional memory, you will not be able to start new applications and may have system reliability problems. Conventional memory is the part of memory below the 640KB address point. It's also sometimes called DOS memory. For compatibility reasons, Windows 95 uses conventional memory to load DOS device drivers. It also uses a small amount of conventional memory for each active application. To reduce the use of conventional memory, first be sure that all the programs in CONFIG.SYS and AUTOEXEC.BAT really need to be loaded. If they are necessary, try using MemMaker to load them into upper memory blocks (above 640KB).
Quick Like a Server
If your PC is on a backup power supply, you can increase performance by selecting the network server performance profile. This profile aggressively buffers data in memory, which reduces time-consuming disk operations. However, a power failure or other crash would be more likely to cause data loss in this case, so it's better to use this profile only if you have a stable configuration with some form of backup power. To change the profile, right-click My Computer and select Properties, then click the Performance tab. Click the File System button and you'll see a setting for Typical Role of This Machine. Change this to Network Server.
Pump Up You Modem
Looking for the maximum performance out of your modem? If you have COM ports with a 16550 UART, a buffered serial port chip, you can squeeze a bit more performance out of the ports with a simple tweak. Select Modems from Control Panel, select your modem and click on the Properties button. Under the Connection tab, click on the Port Settings button. If the Use FIFO Buffers item isn't grayed out, you've got buffered serial ports. Set both the Receive and Transmit Buffer all the way up to High for best performance.