PART 3 - WINDOWS-SPECIFIC TWEAKS/OPTIMISATIONS
What follows are some optimisations/tweaks for Windows which should improve your computer's performance in all areas, not just for Morrowind. If your system is not optimised, doesn't have the correct drivers or the right settings then you can expect problems. A game like Morrowind will highlight these weaknesses because it pushes your hardware and software hard, and if your system is less than optimal or stable, you'll get lockups, crashes, errors and bugs. It's in your best interests to learn how to tune up and maintain your PC properly to get the most out of it, and to reduce frustrating crashes and problems.
Note that the following is specifically for WindowsXP (Home and Pro), but should also broadly apply to Win9X/ME/2K.
Note: The following system optimization information and links are well out of date. For the latest version of this information see my System Optimization Guide which is always kept up to date.
1. The Latest Drivers/Firmware
It is absolutely important that you have the latest drivers for your graphics card, sound card and motherboard chipset, as well as the latest BIOS for your motherboard. Even your monitor, CD/DVD ROM, and hard drive have drivers or firmware you should find and install.
I will list the links for some common pieces of hardware, but basically all you need to do is go to a search engine like Google and type in the precise name and model of your hardware to find the drivers.
Nvidia Graphics Cards - The latest drivers for Nvidia cards can be found at The Official Nvidia Website. Currently the latest and greatest version is 40.72 and they're well worth installing, providing up to 25% performance increase over older detonators. Older and newer Detonators (including betas) can be found at Gurud3D.com and Abitboy's Website. Ideally however, you should at least install the latest 40.72 detonators for bug fixes and stability sake alone.
VIA Motherboards - The latest 4-in-1 drivers for VIA-based motherboards can be found at The Official Via Website - VIA Arena. The latest version is the 4.43 4-in-1s and they should be fine for most systems - especially newer Via chipsets like the KT400. I recommend the 4.40 4-in-1s for greatest stability on all via chipsets. For more information on how to install drivers for VIA motherboards, which to install, how to check version numbers, and all download links, check my Via Driver Guide here at the Tweaktown VIA forums.
Intel Motherboards - Check the Intel Tech Support website, and enter your motherboard model.
SoundBlaster Sound Cards - A commonly used brand of sound card, you can download the latest drivers for these from The Official Creative Website. Note in particular if you have a newer SB Audigy sound card, you must install the AudigyXP drivers because XP doesn't have native Audigy support. If your sound card doesn't support DirectX8.1 (e.g. older sound cards) then this will not meet Morrowind specs and hence you may have problems.
BIOS - Go to your motherboard manufacturer's website. If you're not sure which motherboard/chipset you have, download SiSoft Sandra 2002 which is an excellent and commonly-used benchmarking/system information utility. Run the "Mainboard Information" module, and check the manufacturer and chipset.
You should carefully follow the instructions given at the manufacturer's website on how to flash your BIOS as this can be dangerous if done improperly. It's very important to have the latest BIOS for your motherboard, as this can affect system stability and compatibility greatly.
CD/DVD ROM and CDRW - While not really related to Morrowind (unless you don't have the No CD patch and run off the CD), you can download all the latest firmware for your optical storage devices from this site, just to make sure everything's up to date.
Hard Drives - While the hard drive "driver" is actually the motherboard software for the IDE controllers, if you have an IBM drive you can (and should) update the firmware to prevent them from eventually becoming unusable. The failure rate on 75GXPs for example is quite high. You can download new firmware for these IBM drives here
For any devices or manufacturers not listed here, search around and make completely sure you have the latest drivers for your device. That may not solve the problem, but it does make sure that your device is completely up to date (and it's the first thing tech support will ask you to do anyway).
Finally, it's important that if you're installing non Windows-certified (WHQL) drivers, that you change the Digital Signing option in Windows so you can install them without problems. If your settings block the installation of drivers which aren't digitally signed (basically most of the new ones such as beta detonators and some 4-in-1s aren't because of the ridiculously high cost Microsoft impose on charging - $10,000 US per version of driver) then they won't install on your system even if it looks like the driver install ran fine.
To view and adjust this setting, go into Control Panel>System>Hardware>Driver Signing and I would recommend you select Warn - Prompt me each time to choose an action.
That way the system will warn you whether the drivers are signed or not, and in each case you can choose to continue or stop the install. In 99% of cases, installing a digitally unsigned driver is perfectly fine. If you're really paranoid, make a System Restore point before installing so you can wind back if you encounter problems.