These are the tweaks I use every time I set up a Windows laptop, to make it faster, more power-efficient, and less annoying. Some of these are pretty standard and well known; others are more advanced and thorough.
Fresh Windows Installation
Skip manufacturer bloatware altogether and start with a clean slate. YOU decide what OEM packages you want to install back.
- Back up your files. If your laptop comes with a display calibration profile (like Razer Blade), then find the ICC file in Windows\system32\spool\drivers\color and back it up to reinstall it later.
- Use the Windows Media Creation Tool to make an installation USB drive.
- If you want features like Group Policy Editor (helpful for some tweaks below), you'll want to install the Pro version instead. In this case, download this ei.cfg file (right click, save link as) and put it in the \Sources folder of the created install disk. Putting this config file there enables the option to choose a different Windows edition. You'll need a license for Windows 10 Pro.
- Boot into the install drive using the Boot Menu or Settings/Update & Security/Recovery/Advanced Startup.
- Go through the installer. While doing so, make sure you choose the "Custom" option instead of "Upgrade", and delete all the partitions. Choose to install Windows in the resulting unallocated space—it will set up the partitions for you.
- Once you've booted into the system, wait for Windows Update to automatically install drivers - no need for any OEM software to do this. If a device is still missing drivers afterwards, you can selectively get that driver from the manufacturer website.
Reduce Startup Programs
Make Windows start up faster by disallowing unnecessary programs to automatically launch.
- Open Task Manager (you can press Ctrl+Shift+Esc).
- Go to the Startup tab and disable any programs you don't need to automatically self-launch every time you turn on the computer.
- You can also do the same thing for many programs like Spotify and Skype from within the application's own settings page.
Disable Intel's Cringe-worthy Graphics Features
Does the brightness or color of your display change by itself from time to time? Intel's "image enhancement" is probably messing with you. All these "enhancements" do is make the image inconsistent and worse.
- Open Intel Graphics Control Panel by searching "graphics" in the Start Menu.
- Go to the Video section.
- In "Color Enhancement", disable Total Color Correction.
- In "Image Enhancement", disable Skin Tone Enhancement, Contrast Enhancement, and Film Mode Detection. All of these mess up the color content.
- Go back to the Power section.
- Disable Extended Battery Life for Gaming to get maximum frame rates.
- Disable Display Power Saving Technology. This one messes with your display brightness. Make sure you set this for both "On Battery" and "Plugged In" and all power plans.
- A Windows version update may reset the Power settings, so set them again if that happens.
Disable Panel Self-Refresh
If your laptop feels choppy and doesn't feel like the display is operating at full refresh rate when scrolling, etc., this may fix it.
- Again in Intel Graphics Control Panel's Power section, disable Panel Self-Refresh.
- Make sure you set it for both "On Battery" and "Plugged In" and all Power Plans.
Nvidia Control Panel
Improves performance for gaming, CAD, etc.
- Right click on the desktop and open NVIDIA Control Panel.
- Select "Manage 3D Settings" from the left-side menu.
- Change the Power Management Mode to "NVIDIA driver-controlled". This mode is more responsive than the default power-saving one and will dynamically adjust GPU frequency according to load.
- In the other tab, "Program Settings", you can set different settings for individual programs. If a game or graphics-heavy program is laggy, check its settings and make sure it's set to run on the "High-performance NVIDIA processor".
- You can turn on Triple Buffering and set Maximum Pre-rendered Frames to 4 for programs in which you prefer smoothness over low latency.
Turn Off Transparency Effects
Makes the Windows UI smoother and snappier.
- Search "transparency" in Start to find the setting.
- Turn Transparency effects off.
Use Speed Shift Instead of SpeedStep
By default, Windows uses the software-based SpeedStep to scale the CPU frequency up and down according to load. This is an archaic method that is prone to lag. Switching to the new hardware-based Speed Shift Technology (SST) makes the computer more responsive yet more power-efficient, because the CPU can ramp up quickly when needed, as well as ramp down quickly instead of spending more time at high frequencies for nothing.
- Download ThrottleStop and put it in a convenient location like "C:\Program Files\ThrottleStop".
- You need both x86 and x64 versions of the Visual C++ Redistributable installed to run it.
- Open ThrottleStop. Click the "Turn On" button at the bottom.
- In the Options menu, tick AC Profile and Battery Profile, and set Battery Profile to 4. Now, Profile 1 ("Performance") will be active when plugged in and Profile 4 ("Battery") will be active when on battery.
- For both profiles, turn off SpeedStep and turn on Speed Shift.
- I recommend trying SST=64 for Performance and SST=160 for Battery. You can put in any integer between 0 and 255. The smaller the number, the more eager the CPU is to jump up to higher frequencies, which makes it more responsive. 255 favors lower frequencies the most, while 0 makes the CPU always stay at the highest frequencies. You want a smaller number (more speed) when you're plugged in. You want a bigger number for extending battery life.
- If you have ample cooling capacity, you can set SST=0 and enjoy the least latency possible when plugged in.
- Open the "TPL" menu and checkmark "Enable Speed Shift when ThrottleStop starts."
- Click "OK" to close the TPL menu.
- Click "Save".
- Follow this guide to have ThrottleStop run at startup. Check "Start Minimized" in ThrottleStop's Options to prevent its window from popping up each time. You can always find ThrottleStop in the system tray.
Make Your Own Power Plan
Nowadays, Windows 10 defaults to just the "Balanced" power plan and lets you use the Power Slider to pick the balance between performance and power saving. However, it seems to rely on SpeedStep, Power Limits, and other unsavory MicroShucks. Let's bypass those and customize a smart all-purpose power plan that works with ThrottleStop and is smarter and more efficient than Microsoft's.
- Search "choose a power plan" in Start to open the Control Panel page.
- On the left side menu, "Create a power plan".
- Select "High Performance" and click Next.
- If you don't see this option, follow these steps first.
- Put in your preferred sleep settings and click Create.
- Change plan settings, Change advanced power settings. Here, you can set different parameters for plugged in vs on battery.
- Here are the settings I change:
Lower the Critical Battery Level
By default, your laptop automatically hibernates when the battery goes down to 5%. That means the last 5% of your battery is basically usable, unless you wake up your almost-dead laptop and continue working, risking losing your work to a sudden hard shutdown because Windows will take no further action below 5%. Lowering the battery level at which auto-hibernation happens from 5% to 2% will literally give you 3% more battery.
Warning: You should still avoid letting your battery discharge too close to empty because it's bad for battery health.
Change Active Hours
Sometimes, Windows Updates can automatically start installing updates while you want to use the computer. You can change the Active Hours to prevent that.
- Search "active hours" in Start to find the setting.
- Go into "Change active hours" to set the time frame in which you don't want Windows Update to run.
Benefits: Increases overall efficiency by making the CPU and iGPU run at a voltage no higher than necessary. The processor will generate less heat and therefore throttle less, and also use less battery.
- Open ThrottleStop's FIVR menu.
- Notice in the top left corner there are again the four profiles. Start with the Battery profile.
- Use Offset Voltage to lower the voltage of the CPU Core, CPU Cache, Intel GPU, and iGPU Unslice.
- Keep the CPU-related voltages the same, and keep the GPU-related voltages the same. -80mV CPU and -40mV iGPU are safe values to start at. The appropriate values are different for each machine, so you need to test them if you want the optimum.
- To test whether the undervolt is stable on battery, unplug your laptop and open ThrottleStop's TS Bench menu. Set the Size to 1024M and click Start. You can also test using your favorite game or large program.
- If your laptop goes through these tests successfully without crashing, you can lower the offset voltage by 10mV and test again. Repeat this until you get a BSOD. Now raise it by 5mV and test again. Soon you'll find the optimal voltage.
- I reached a stable setting of -105mV core and -50mV graphics. You should get something similar.
- Plug in your laptop. Punch in the same values for the Performance profile.
- The same values are generally good enough, but you may be able to overclock slightly further when plugged in. But try unplugging while running a stress test to make sure it doesn't crash in those cases.
- Once you've gotten a stable undervolt, select "Save Voltages Immediately" in the bottom right corner to make it persistent across reboots.
- If at any time in the near future you get a blue screen, the first thing you should check is your undervolt. Make sure it's stable! Doesn't matter if it's 2 minutes after you've applied it or 8 months down the road. If you get an error like WHEA_UNCORRECTABLE_ERROR, it's probably because your undervolt isn't completely stable.
Overclock the GPU
Benefits: Improves graphical performance for gaming, CAD, etc.
- Install MSI Afterburner from the bottom of MSI's page. When installing, don't tick "RivaTuner Statistics Server" unless you know you need it.
- Open MSI Afterburner, and turn on the little Windows button under "Startup". This makes the settings stick after reboots.
- Click the OC button on the top left corner and click "Scan". This will automatically find an optimal overclock setting. It takes about 20 minutes.
- Click the checkmark button to apply the settings.
Benefits: Makes the laptop's speakers sound much better, with more bass, more balanced tonality, and more volume.
- If you use a MateBook X Pro, simply follow this. If not, you should either measure the frequency response yourself or use someone else's (such as NotebookCheck) measurements of your laptop model's frequency response.
- Set up DynamiQ by following the instructions on GitHub.
Use an Ad Blocker for Better Internet Hygiene
Benefits: The best way is keep your computer malware-free is to avoid downloading malware in the first place. Many ad blockers block malware domains and malicious ads. You can also enjoy the faster load times that the lack of ads gives you.
- I recommend Nano Adblocker, which is based on uBlock Origin. You can get it from the Chrome Web Store.
- It works best with Nano Defender, also on the Chrome Web Store. This is an anti-anti-adblocker extension, like the now-discontinued Anti-Adblock-Killer.
- Go in Nano Adblocker's settings and enable the filters you want. Make sure the Malware Domains lists are enabled.
For the More Adventurous:
These require a little more caution. You need to know what you're doing. If you consider yourself a "power user", you should be fine.
Disable User Account Control Notifications
Benefits: Gets rid of the annoying pop-ups whenever you run a program with administrator permissions. I know what I'm doing; just get out of my way.
- Search "user account control" in the Start Menu/Cortana and it will take you straight to the setting.
- Drag the slider all the way down.
Disable Windows Defender
Benefits: Windows Defender defends hardly anything besides Microsoft's corporate interests. The only things it's ever managed to flag for me is keygens and KMS activators. The most effective way to keep your computer secure nowadays is install security patches and don't download crap from the internet. Get an ad blocker with anti-malware protection instead. I recommend Nano Adblocker and Nano Defender.
- In Group Policy Editor, go to Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Windows Defender Antivirus and enable "Turn off Windows Defender Antivirus". Using the Group Policy ensures that Windows Defender doesn't re-enable itself or pull some other bullshit.
- Disable the "Windows Security notification icon" startup item in Task Manager so it goes away from the system tray.
- Download DisableAntiSpyware.reg (right click, save link as).
- Open the file and confirm Yes to apply the registry tweak.
If you want to revert this:
In Registry Editor, find these keys and change their values from 1 to 0:
- HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows Defender\DisableAntiSpyware
- HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows Defender\Reporting\DisableEnhancedNotifications
Disable Windows Security and Maintenance Notifications
Benefits: Windows Defender will keep trying to get itself re-enabled by bugging you with endless notifications. So let's shut them up.
- In Group Policy Editor, go to Computer Configuration\Administrative Templates\Windows Components\Windows Security\Notifications and enable "Hide all notifications".
- Download DisableNotifications.reg (right click, save link as).
- Open the file and confirm Yes to apply the registry tweak.
If you want to revert this:
In Registry Editor, find this keys and change its value from 1 to 0:
- HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Policies\Microsoft\Windows Defender Security Center\Notifications\DisableNotifications
Disable Power Limits
If you're using a MateBook X Pro, you're in luck: I've created a comprehensive guide to more than double its cooling capacity and extract 30% more performance. If you have a different laptop, many of those tricks are transferable/adaptable.
April 28, 2019
- Added Fresh Windows Installation tip.
- Refined ThrottleStop instructions.
April 30, 2019
- Added Active Hours tip.
- Added Triple Buffering and Maximum Pre-rendered Frames for Nvidia Control Panel.
May 9, 2019
- Added Startup Programs tip.
May 23, 2019
- Moved instruction to make ThrottleStop auto-start from Undervolt to Speed Shift.
July 14, 2019
- Updated Undervolt instructions to distinguish between plugged in vs on battery.
July 18, 2019
- Clarified that "High-performance NVIDIA processor" is not necessarily recommended for all applications, but mainly those that are graphically intensive.
July 23, 2019
- Replaced manual GPU overclocking instructions with OC Scanner. It's about time!
August 29, 2019
- Added instruction to disable "Extended Battery Life for Gaming".
- Added sections "Make Your Own Power Plan" and "Lower the Critical Battery Level".
April 5, 2020
- Added "Enable Speed Shift when ThrottleStop starts" step.
- Added "Disable Power Limits" as a separate section.