You might be surprised to know that the biggest performance improvement for NFSHP2 on most systems will come from general system optimization. That means if you suffer from "stuttering" in particular, or graphical glitches, crashes to desktop, freezes and so forth then it's more than 99% likely that it's your system that's at fault and not the game. Trust me...I'm a PC Doctor! The following information is very important for making sure that you get the most out of NFSHP2.
Note: The following system optimization information and links may be out of date. For the latest version of this information see my System Optimization Guide which is always kept up to date.
I highly recommend that if you run Windows XP (Home or Pro), without further ado you jump over to my comprehensive WinXP Tweak Guide and follow it from start to finish. Windows 98/ME users should hit Google and hunt around as unfortunately I don't have a specific guide to refer you to. There are many, many Win98/ME guides around, so take your pick.
Make sure you have the right BIOS settings. The most reliable BIOS guide available is Rojak Pot's Definitive BIOS Guide. If that link is not working, try this one. Note that you can download the whole guide in PDF format if needed. If in doubt, don't mess around with the BIOS as a bad setting there will cause a lot of grief. Set everything to their defaults unless you know better.
The latest device drivers are very important. In particular I'm referring to graphics card, motherboard, and sound card drivers, as well as the latest DirectX. I provide links to commonly used hardware below, but if I haven't covered your specific configuration, in the first instance check your manufacturer's website, and if you have no joy there, try Google.
To obtain the very latest graphics card drivers, check the following driver download pages for nVidia and ATi. I strongly recommend the latest drivers, even if you have an older card, because these drivers usually have bug fixes and stability and compatibility improvements if not a performance boost also.
To obtain the latest drivers for your motherboard, for Intel-based chipset motherboards check the Intel Support Site. For VIA-based chipset motherboards check the VIA Support Site. The VIA 4-in-1s in particular can be a bit confusing, so check our handy VIA Driver Guide/FAQ for all your VIA needs. For nVidia-based chipset motherboards (the nForce), refer to the nVidia drivers page link provided above. Also, make sure to check your motherboard manufacturer's website for any recent BIOS updates and install them as instructed. These may help a great deal, especially if you have an older motherboard with newer components or vice versa.
For sound card drivers, once again the latest is always the best, if only because you can be assured that you have the latest bug fixes and game compatibility incorporated into the drivers. For Creative SoundBlaster sound cards (including the Audigy), check the SoundBlaster Support Site. For Turtle Beach sound cards, check the Turtle Beach Support Site.
Updating other device drivers, such as optical mouse drivers and the like is recommended, but if you're running WinXP you'll find there is basic support for most any current peripheral.
If you find your controller is not supported for NFSHP2 (e.g. you're not getting force feedback on your FF steering wheel), then first try installing your device-specific drivers, and if that fails try the latest patch (see Patch section) which may add support for your device.
Overclocking is of critical relevance to most games. If your system is overclocked, even by a small amount, then please be aware that some games are sensitive to it. If you're experiencing bluescreens (BSODs), crashes to desktop, sudden reboots or frozen screens, then I guarantee that in the majority of cases it is due to a system component being overclocked too far. Even if your system is rock steady in other games/applications, the latest games like NFSHP2 will put a lot of pressure on the system and this will eventually show in the form of a crash. The solution is to reduce your overclock, or even go back to default. As painful as this might be, it will resolve many problems. A PC which crashes during the middle of a game is a lot more annoying than one running slightly slower than you'd like.
Ok, that's the basics. Thanks for bearing with me so far, but it's important to note that if you've followed the above advice, then you are likely to have a problem-free experience with NFSHP2 as well as most every other game. Now it's time to get down to some specific tweaks.