2. Hard Drive Optimisation
One of the most important but overlooked areas of system performance is your hard drive. If this is not running properly, it will be a bottleneck in your system regardless of how fast your CPU and graphics card is. You need to make sure your hard drive is running as fast and as smoothly as possible to improve performance. Here are the most important tips:
Go to Control Panel>System>Hardware>Device Manager>IDE ATA/ATAPI
Controllers>Primary IDE Channel (and the same for Secondary IDE Channel)>Advanced Settings and make sure that for every device that's actually connected it says "DMA If Available", and that the DMA mode is the highest your device can run. For example, for ATA100 hard drives on an ATA100 compatible motherboard, the highest mode is UDMA 5. For IDE CD/DVD ROM and CDRW, the highest mode possible is UDMA 2.
- Write Caching
Go to Control Panel>System>Hardware>Device Manager>Disk Drives>[Hard drive name]>Policies and make sure there's a tick in the Enable Write Caching On The Disk box, and that of the two options available (and probably grayed out), you can see Optimize for Performance selected.
- Disk Cache Size
To get the most benefit out of DMA and Write Caching, you'll need to have an optimal Disk Cache size, and minimal use of the swapfile. These settings can be changed quite easily by downloading Cacheman, a utility which helps you set the various cache sizes on your machine. You only need to run it once, then under the Show Wizard menu, select All and follow the instructions to set the right cache sizes. Next, go to the Options button and make sure the Load Cacheman at Windows Startup box is unticked. We don't want it to load every time at startup - it only needs to be run once and the settings saved on exit. Reboot to activate the new cache settings.
- Swapfile/Pagefile/Virtual Memory Size
Now, you'll need the optimal swapfile size. The swapfile (or pagefile or virtual memory) is often misunderstood and confused with the disk cache (see above). The swapfile is an area of the hard drive where windows will swap information from the physical memory (RAM) into the virtual memory (pagefile) and back - in effect giving you more actual memory than you have physically installed. To optimise the size and use of the pagefile, go to Control Panel>System>Advanced>Performance>Settings>Advanced>Virtual Memory>Change and select Custom Size. Now the more memory you have, the less virtual memory you'll need. And if you make the minimum and maximum the same size, Windows will use fewer resources to continually calculate and resize the thing, and more importantly you will reduce CTDs. On my system with 512MB, I found that Morrowind needs around 768MB min/max pagefile to work without any crashes or problems. With less RAM you should set more virtual memory. Ideally make sure your RAM + Virtual Memory = around 1.1GB. If you have 1GB of RAM for example, set Virtual Memory to 100MB (but don't set it to 0 as some games need virtual memory to be present). Once done, click on Set.
- Defragmenting Correctly
Defragmenting your drive. Another misunderstood area of disk behavior, when information is written to your hard drive, over time individual files will be "fragmented" all over various areas of the actual drive, and this can slow the computer down in reading the entire files. By running the defrag utility you defragment the files. The best method of doing this is to first follow the steps in the item above, however this time select No Paging File and click Set. This deletes the swapfile for now. Next make sure all the main programs you want to use on your computer, including Morrowind are installed and all the large files you want on your hard drive are all there. Next, run the Defrag utility. Then once everything is defragmented, go through steps above again and reset your swapfile size to the size you chose. This will make sure that the swapfile is not itself fragmented (because defrag can't defragment the swapfile and will show it as "unmovable files" - so we have to use this method). It's best to run defragmenter straight after you copy/delete/create large files on your drive, and once a week to keep things running smoothly.
Having done all of the above, you can test your hard drive speed using a utility like George Breese's HD Speed Utility. As a benchmark, my ATA100 7200rpm 40gb drive with all the optimisations above does around 89MBs/39MBs on HDSpeed.