Most users of Windows 7 and Vista simply use the Microsoft default settings for almost everything on their computers. In my experience, they are likely unaware that there are a myriad of customizable settings in Windows that can be used to improve performance, enhance security, change appearance, speed the boot process, and otherwise control just about anything that Windows can do. Some of these settings choices are built into Windows but are often hard for the non-geek to find and modify; many other settings and customizations are available but require a third-party utility in order to access and change. Many of the system utilities available have some capacity to alter some of the system settings, but now there is a free utility, GIGATweaker, that claims to be able to alter more Windows settings than any other utility available.
GIGATweaker is a free download from the author’s Web site at 7room.net/gigatweaker. The latest version available is 220.127.116.110 and is explicitly designated on the Web site for Windows 7, both 32 and 64 bit builds. According to the readme file available after the program is installed, this software will also work well on Windows Vista 32 and 64-bit builds. The author, Pavel Mikhaylov, says GIGATweaker is a “completely portable and lightweight tool with built-in Startup Manager and Uninstall Manager. All changes made by GIGATweaker in the system are transparent through informative console.” Once downloaded, the software can be installed on a computer’s hard drive or installed on a flash drive and used as a fully functional portable utility. GIGATweaker has been awarded a 5-star or other top rating by many of the popular download Web sites, as shown at its awards page at 7room.net/gigatweaker/awards.
I downloaded the installer file from the Web site by clicking on “Download version with installer” the right side of the Webpage. The installer file, g3_setup.exe, is a 1.95mb file that downloaded quickly and installed in a matter of seconds with only minimal user intervention. Immediately after the install, the user has the option to view the readme file and to start the program. When starting the program for the first time, before the program itself actually loads, the software displays a screen “Welcome to GIGATweaker 3.1” and asks if the user would like to create a restore point (recommended). I strongly agree with this recommendation that the user should create a restore point just in case a change is made to the system settings that the user is not satisfied with and cannot easily determine how to undo any selected changes. The user can always restore the computer from an earlier restore point, often without the loss of any data files, by going to Start - All Programs - Accessories - System Tools - System Restore and selecting “Restore System Files and Settings.”
As soon as I created a restore point, the GIGATweaker console appeared with the main menu on the left side of the window, with the different sections available by utilizing the slider. The console, which is the “front end” interface, is easy to follow and understand, as it is logically divided into sections: Administration, Display, Customization, Communication, Maintenance, and GIGATweaker.
The Administration section offers tweaks that cover the system, security, files and drives, restrictions, and system information. Clicking on a selection opens a series of context sensitive tabs on the right half of the window, with a brief explanation of each of the choices. The user needs to be aware of the ramifications of some of the potential tweaks that are available. For example, under Administration – Security is a tab marked “User Account Control” (UAC) that allows the user to disable the UAC if desired. Above the checkbox used to disable the UAC is the statement, “User Account Control (UAC) is a Windows function which prevents unauthorized changes to your computer.” Microsoft generally recommends that the UAC remain enabled, as it displays a warning in the center of the window whenever a program loads that may make changes to the computer, a process that many types of malware try to do. Many users find that the UAC popping up frequently asking if a program is legitimate is an irritating distraction, as many times more legitimate programs are interrupted from loading, and that most malware would be stopped prior to this point by the security software. Many technically competent users knowingly accept the risks and choose to disable the UAC.
There are also security concerns about flash drives and CDs being the vector used to spread malware to a computer when the “AutoPlay” feature built into Windows allows the flash drive or CD to automatically load software or play when inserted. AutoPlay can be selectively disabled under the Administration – Files and Drives – AutoPlay tab.The Display section included options for Windows Explorer (the file manager) and Visual Effects. Under the Explorer tab, by my personal choice, I have the file system show hidden files and folders, show protected operating system files, and show extensions for known file types. By default, Windows disables these selections to make it more difficult for users to delete or otherwise manipulate critical system files, but I find it useful to see everything, including file extensions.
Under Customization, the user can select from a variety of tweaks that can improve system stability, optimize the system and startup process, control the context of menus, and improve memory management. For computer with less than optimal memory, a tweak that I perform on most computers is under Customization - System - System tab - Force DLL unload from memory. This tweak can improve performance by forcing Windows to unload unused DLL’s (Dynamic Link Libraries) from memory, which may increase the amount of memory that is available for applications.
The Communication section includes network performance and security features, as well as tweaks to modify the functions of the Internet Explorer Web browser. As with the previous categories of tweaks, GIGATweaker explains what the networking tweaks will do if selected.
One way that many users can improve performance and speed the boot process is to control which programs load when the computer is booted; too many programs loading slows the boot process and consumes valuable resources, which may degrade performance. From the Maintenance category, the Startup Manager tab can be selected, which displays the programs loaded at boot. By unchecking the box adjacent to the program, the selected program will not load at boot, speeding the process and freeing up system resources. If the program is later desired to load at boot, the box can be re-checked. Information may also be displayed about each startup item, and unwanted entries can be permanently deleted, if desired. Also available under the Maintenance menu is an Uninstall Manager, which performs similarly to Windows integral Add/Remove programs function. The Windows Utilities selection in the Maintenance category used a tabbed display to implement dozens of Windows built-in utilities, including system utilities, Windows tools, network functions, Windows enhancements, and some interesting advanced Windows functions such as creating a “Windows master Control Panel” where all of the Windows control panel and system settings can appear in a single menu on the desktop or start menu.
Under the GIGATweaker menu are tabs for customizing GIGATweaker and displaying information about the program. Among the settings available are the choice to create a log file, something that may be useful in troubleshooting any problems that may arise from the use of the program.
As a free program, GIGATweaker is an excellent utility to customize Windows 7 and Vista in order to increase performance, functionality, security, and appearance. As long as the user creates a restore point before each use of GIGATweaker (the selection “Restore Point” is prominent on the bottom of the console), the user may find that GIGATweaker is capable of making Windows work the way you want it to work.
Listen to Ira Wilsker’s weekly radio show on Mondays from 6-7 p.m. on KLVI 560AM.