Two years after the release of Windows 95, Windows 3.1 has still not relinquished its title as the most widely used operating system. Although Microsoft is hoping users will upgrade to Windows 95, many still haven’t. If you’re among the millions still using Windows 3.1, with a few tweaks you can keep it running smoothly. “Windows 3.1 is not as flexible as Windows 95,” says Nathan Brennan, vice president of marketing and consulting at NT Communication Consultants Inc. in Atlanta, which specializes in telephone, computers and network integration and Web site design. “Windows 95 can fluctuate its settings according to the application you’re running. With 3.1, you have a cap.”
To optimize performance within that cap, Windows 3.1 comes with several built-in tools including SMARTDrive, disk-caching software and CHKDSK, diagnostic software. SMARTDrive speeds access to information stored on the hard disk. It creates a map that guides the CPU to the information it needs to run applications residing on the hard disk. This map is stored (or cached) in an area of extended memory. When an application asks for information on the disk, SMARTDrive intercepts the request and checks the map to see where the data resides. If found, the information is passed on to the application. If not, SMARTDrive retrieves the data, along with its location on the hard disk, and stores this data for future use. However, your system allocates 1MB to 2MB of extended memory to SMARTDrive, which takes real memory away from your Windows applications and forces them to use the much slower disk-based swap file.
In Mastering Windows 3.11, a comprehensive manual for both Windows 3.1 and 3.11 (SYBEX Inc. 1993, $39.95) Windows expert Robert Cowart explains how to set the size of the SMARTDrive cache. First, go to the C:\ prompt in DOS. Then type SMARTDRV.EXE followed by the number of kilobytes you want for the minimum cache size, followed by the number of kilobytes you want in the cache at a minimum. For example, to create a cache that is 2 MB (2048K) maximum and 256K minimum, you would type SMARTDRV.EXE 2048 256. A good SMARTDrive-to-RAM ratio is 1 meg for each 5 megs of installed RAM.
Increasing virtual memory settings can also enhance system performance. Brennan suggests adjusting virtual memory settings to double the amount of RAM you have. Therefore, if you have 8 megs of RAM, your virtual memory should be set to 16 megs, which makes the computer perform as if it has 24 megs.
Another way to enhance performance is to create a permanent swap file. Swap files become an issue when you run out of RAM. Windows uses them to store files not currently in use to make room for immediately needed data. The less RAM you have, the larger your swap file should be. To check the impact your applications have on your swap file, go to Help/About in Program Manager. If you’re showing 2MB or more free memory, you have plenty of space and should set the swap file