Four Simple Inexpensive & Free Steps To Speed Up Your Hearing Device Programming PC

Four Simple Inexpensive & Free Steps To Speed Up Your Hearing Device Programming PC

 Nothing is more frustrating to a hearing aid or CI patient than to wait while programming due to slow PC response, usually centered around slow NOAH or other SQL database access, or when a Windows reboot is needed. This article will show you how & what to optimize to speed everything up. These steps will help any Windows PC, especially older desktops & laptops; but are especially helpful for hearing aid & CI programming stations.

July 1st Update: Please see the “Landmines” section on the showstopper bug with ReSound Aventa/Beltone ProFit 2.95 before upgrading from WinXP.
“Buy More Memory…
It’s Cheaper Than Therapy”
~Dan Schwartz, AlphaNT Mailing List, c.1995

Overview:

This brief tutorial will give you all the knowledge you need to turn your older laptop or desktop PC into a beast for hearing device programming: We did this on our five year old $279 Acer laptop when we converted it into a semi-dedicated hearing aid programmer, and it now fairly flies. Unlike “gaming” or “home theater” PC’s which demand the fastest CPU’s and graphic processors (GPU’s), our needs are more driven by fast data I/O, so speeding disk access and increasing disk caching are the parameters we will leverage. The tasks are basically:

  • Read through the instructions first(!);
  • Gather PC hardware, operating system, and application data; and if needed update the flashBIOS;1
  • Max out the RAM your PC will hold: The more, the merrier, as unallocated RAM will be assigned to disk caching;
  • Clean up the hard drive and remove the “shovelware” which was pre-installed;
  • Upgrade from Windows 7, 8, or 8.1 to Windows 10;
  • Replace the hard drive with a solid-state drive (SSD) [see here];
  • Restore NOAH, install updated software, and fine-tune for robust performance.
Gather the software you’ll need:

Before starting, you’ll want to gather your various hearing aid & CI programming software DVD’s & memory sticks.  If you don’t have nearly the latest, contact each manufacturer and ask for fresh distribution media for a Windows 10 clean install. Also, we recommend backing up your NOAH database and upgrading to NOAH 4.5.1 4.6.0, available at this link.

Next, you’ll need to download & install these Windows tools; and also copy the installers to a memory stick, DVD, or your DropBox:

Note: Our longtime friends at Raxco have provided a generous discount to our Readers: Please see Bootnote 5 for the details & special link.

Max out the RAM:

The reason we “max out” the RAM is that the Windows NT kernel’s thread manager relies on virtual memory to “page (or swap) out to hard drive” when application memory runs low, to a file called PAGEFILE.SYS, usually on the C: drive (though it can be moved to the fastest drive — Unix operates similarly). Because of this behavior, database operations can bog down as the electromechanical hard disk drive is many times slower than RAM, so the entire NT operating system keeps reliably chugging along.2 Most laptop PC’s have two RAM DIMM slots, but they generally ship with either one DIMM or two smaller DIMM’s. Most laptops we’ve seen have an ultimate RAM capacity of 8gB; however some older ones may not recognize this unless you update the flashBIOS, especially if it originally shipped with Windows XP (NT5.5) or Vista (NT6) installed, and was later upgraded to Win7.

To find out how much RAM is installed, open the System Control Panel and you’ll see the operating system and installed RAM. For a more advanced look, go to
All Programs → Windows Administrative Tools → System Information.

Now, get the make, model, and service tag number (if applicable) from the label, and then go to the manufacturer’s support website to determine if there is a BIOS update available, and if so, download and follow the instructions to update. CAUTION: Make sure your laptop is plugged in & the battery fully charged, or your desktop is on an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), as a power failure during updating can “brick” your PC. [As we have previously documented, this same warning applies to flash upgrading ReSound & Beltone hearing aids, as unlike Phonak aids, they lack a “fail-safe.”]

Next, use the Kingston3 or NewEgg online “memory configurator” to determine which DIMM’s you need, then place your order with NewEgg, Amazon, or your favorite vendor. While you’re at it, you’ll find a spare 32gB or even 64gB USB thumb drive will come in handy, as will this inexpensive combo 2.5/3.5 inch hard drive docking station, so consider adding them to your order.

Be sure to follow ESD procedures when you open up your PC to remove &/or install components. If you don’t have a wrist strap, add one to your order.

Cleanup & optimize software; or backup and reinstall:

The first step for optimizing is to run your anti-malware program in thorough cleaning mode. For this duty we recommend a free trial of Sophos Endpoint Anti-virus,4 as if there is any malware it can spoil everything.

Next, determine if you want to back up and transfer everything to the new SSD; or reformat and reinstall from scratch, from either the original recovery DVD’s or from a bootable recovery USB memory stick, which is a so-called “sterile” install.

Our recommendation: If your PC is subject to frequent freeze-ups & crashes, is more than about 18 months old, running Windows 7 or 8.0, and/or (especially) if malware has wound its’ way into your system, go straight to a sterile install, which will provide for a new, uncorrupted NTFS file structure, a new, clean NT Registry, and be guaranteed free of any & all malware.

Whether you decide to upgrade “in place” to Windows 10 or perform a sterile install and then upgrade to Win10, you’ll need to clean out the “shovelware” which shipped with your PC, whether it is games, “support” apps, browser extensions, and so forth, using the Add/Remove Programs control panel, as when you upgrade to Win 10 this 3rd party crapware can cause all sorts of headaches. You’ll find the non-Microsoft apps fall into three general categories: Manufacturer-specific apps which provide support & updates (and often have background processes running); hardware “enhancements” such as basic CD/DVD burner software, WiFi connectivity & such; and games. Ask yourself this question as you go down the Add/Remove Programs list: “Do I really need this for my programming PC?” The answer is generally no, as they will all be replaced with Windows 10 versions anyway (but don’t uninstall your CD/DVD burning software, which is usually a “lite” version the PC OEM licenses for a few quid per copy).

For “in place” upgrades go ahead and do this cleanout now, as well as uninstall all Apple and Adobe software as these will be upgraded to Windows 10 versions. Also, if you run a 3rd party browser such as Opera, Firefox, or Chrome, export your bookmarks and import them into Internet Exploder, as for our business purposes IE11 is more robust and secure than the other browsers.

If you choose a sterile install, perform this cleanout after the reformat & Windows reinstall.

Next, whether in-place or sterile install, clean up the Windows Registry using Raxco PerfectRegistry, as you’ll be surprised at how many hundreds of turds are left behind. Until you enter a license key this runs in Demo mode, identifying all the problems but only fixing 15 per pass.

Once this is done, go ahead and run Windows Disk Cleanup, which dumps all of the temporary files & such.

Finally, go ahead and run either Diskeeper or PerfectDisk — Both work equally well, and both also detect and manage SSD’s, which are handled differently than conventional disk drives, as “write amplification” can become an issue… More on this later.

Phonak and ReSound landmines: We ran into two landmines with older Phonak iPFG 2.6 and ReSound Aventa 2.95 programming software, which is needed for older aids:

• Although the iPFG 2.6C installer works for Windows 7 & lower, the distribution DVD does not contain the older Microsoft libraries needed.  From MS Technet

In Windows 8,.Net Framework 3.5 is now a Feature on Demand. And to simplify the installation of common legacy versions of the .Net Framework, .Net 3.0 and 2.0 have been included in the same feature package as 3.5. That means if any of those three versions need to be installed, all the administrator needs to do is enable the single .Net Framework 3.5 feature in Windows 8.

While we encourage developers to create or upgrade their applications using .Net 4.5, we realize that many commonly-used apps exist that depend on older versions of .Net, and that it takes time for developers to upgrade their code and for customers to upgrade to the new apps. For these reasons we have provided a variety of methods by which customers can enable the legacy versions of .Net in Windows 8 [and Win 10 ~Ed.]

If you are performing a sterile install and trying to save the $25 to “skate by” with a 120gB SSD, then install only the iPFG 2.6C module and omit any multimedia or other accessory files before upgrading to Windows 10. If you plan on going the safe route by installing the 250gB SSD, then you can go ahead and install the entire Phonak Target package — See the discussion below on drive selection. The other workaround is use an earlier installer: We used the iPFG 2.6C installer from the Target 4.0 distribution disks and all went well.  This was a mistake on our part, as at some point when we tested this several months later, the .Net 3.5 “feature on demand was enabled by another software installer.

• We have had a recurring problem with Aventa 2.95 compatibility with Windows 7 & higher, at least when running in standalone mode, i.e. without running it on top of NOAH 4.x Update: We were just at a large Beltone dealer, and they are having the same problem with ProFit 2.95, to the point where they have not upgraded some of their programming stations to even Win7, let alone Win10.  Essentially, it crashes on startup when, after you enter the patient data, you launch the actual programming software and you get a SOLUS has stopped working error message; and the only way to get it to work is uninstall and reinstall it. Update: This is also the case when using NOAH. [Fortunately, the uninstaller wasn’t written too well either, as it leaves behind the patient data: Well-written uninstallers give you the option of leaving behind user data, or wiping everything out.]

The somewhat-workaround we developed involves launching Aventa in an NT compatibility layer and running it as Administrator, as follows:

  • Right-click Aventa’s teal A desktop icon and select Properties from the bottom of the pop-up menu;
  • Select the Compatibility tab;
  • Click Change settings for all users near the bottom of the property sheet;
  • Check the Compatibility mode box and select Windows XP (Service Pack 3) from the pop-up menu;
  • Click OK and close out the box.

This sometimes works; however we keep desktop shortcuts to both the Programs and Features control panel and Aventa 2.95 installer on the desktop so we can quickly remove and reload the program.

[What we strongly suspect is that even though the Compatibility Troubleshooter indicates SolusGN.exe will work in a Windows 7 compatibility layer, it appears at least one of the .DLL’s in the folder chokes on Win7 & higher. We suspect the rogue .DLL file is choking in WOW64, possibly only the AMD version…]

Update: We at the Hearing Blog are working in parallel on an inexpensive yet secure solution, since running WinXP is a no-no because two years ago M$ ended all support for XP (NT5.5), including security patches. We know of at least one method which works, but costs over $200 in licensing fees per installation. Stay tuned!

~

Upgrade to Windows 10:

This is actually the easiest step: If you don’t see an alert in the notification area on the taskbar prompting you to update, simply go to this link and follow the steps for the free upgrade. Since this can take up to several hours, do this towards the end of the day so you can go through the prompts and then let the installer run overnight, as it will require several automatic reboots. Alternately, if you wish to install or reinstall Windows 10 using a USB or DVD, you can download and use the free media creation tool and put the installer onto a DVD or memory stick.

Power User Tip 1: If you perform a network install, since this will involve quite a few gigabytes of downloaded data, we recommend directly connecting your laptop to your cable modem or router with an ethernet cable: This will insure robust data transfers, as when performing an OS upgrade there is a possibility the WiFi driver can go haywire, while the ethernet connection will just keep chugging along no matter what. By the same token, if you download the .ISO installer file, be sure to check the Verify after burn box.

When you arrive in the morning, you’ll have a fresh, more secure PC: Whether you were running Win7, 8, or 8.1, Win 10 is faster, more robust, and more secure with Windows Defender. Go ahead and walk through the setup screens if you performed an upgrade from sterile install.

Launch your browser, then download Adobe Acrobat Reader DC, and the standalone or app version of VLC Media Player, which is a well-behaved, protected mode (CPU ring 3) video and MP3 player. Do not install Apple iTunes, which contains QuickTime, unless you absolutely need it: QuickTime operates in real mode (CPU ring 0), and it is notorious for interacting with video drivers, causing all sorts of unexplained glitches & freeze-ups. Back in the early `90’s it was Nothing Microsoft on a Mac; however when QuickTime for Windows was released, our recommendation quickly switched to Nothing Apple on a PC.

Whether you performed a sterile or in-place upgrade, open the Program Features control panel and again go through the list, ripping out anything you don’t need.

Next, run PerfectRegistry to clean it up again, reinstalling it if you performed a sterile install. Finally, run Diskeeper or PerfectDisk, again reinstalling it if you performed a sterile install.

If you performed an in-place upgrade, you can now put your PC back into production with the original hard drive: It will both boot and run somewhat faster, but it will be more robust and secure, especially when you fine-tune it in the Wrapping up section.

However, this next step is what will turn even an almost-obsolete laptop into a programming speed demon:

Converting from the spinning hard drive to a Solid State Drive:

This step is where, your PC becomes a programming beast! If you want to select an SSD optimized for fast booting and database use, you want a high 4K random read & write transaction rate: Although cheap SSD’s can still have decent sustained read & write rates, our needs are different. Samsung and Intel also build very good SSD’s, but they are pricey, and the difference isn’t that great.

Kingston_SSD

Kingston SSDNow V300 Series 2.5″ 240GB SATA III Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)

We at The Hearing Blog will make the drive selection easy for you, as you can buy this Kingston 250gB notebook kit, and everything you need is included for under $80 (Datasheet). If you already have an external case, or if you ordered this dock which can handle both a 2.5 & 3.5 inch SATA drive, then you can save $10 by ordering just the drive.

Note 1: You can try to “skate by” to save $25 for a 120gB SSD if you really know what you’re doing. Not Recommended. However, it’s tricky, and you’ll lose your recovery partitions as there will not be quite enough room for them. We did install it on our laptop by playing all sorts of tricks, including a couple which took RegEdit; but the extra time it took was not worth it in hindsight. When you look at the links for our recommended SSD’s you’ll see buttons for 120gB & 480gB devices as well, and you’ll see the price differences. We know future OS upgrades will involve temporarily transferring software & other files to an external HDD or memory stick to free up space; and if we had to do it over again, we would have spent the extra $25 for the additional 120 gB.

Note 2: If you are an audiology student, upgrade your laptop straight to this 480gB SSD for $139 & move the old hard drive to the included external case for backups & archiving, as you’ll be saving big multimedia files as well.

How to upgrade the drive: First, install AOMEI Backupper if you haven’t already: Use this software for the cloning instead of the Kingston software which came on the CD, as it can be buggy.

Once your new SSD arrives, install it in the external case and plug it into (preferably) a USB 3.0 port if you have one; else plug it into any other USB 2.0 port; and let Windows load the driver.

Note 3: Do not plug the drive into a USB hub, as sometimes funky things can happen with large data transfers.

Launch Backupper, then on the home screen select Clone on the left.

Note 4: You do not need to launch Disk Management: Backupper will automatically detect the unpartitioned, unformatted drive and handle everything automatically, including cloning any hidden MBR, EFI, OEM & recovery partitions.

Then, from the AOMEI support website:

System Clone/System Migration

If you want to change a new drive for better speed and performance or just want to migrate your operating system to another drive (such as migrate to SSD), System Clone is a good feature to realize the purpose. It will clone all the related partitions which are necessary for operating system to the destination drive.

To Clone Your Operating System

1. In the Home Screen, select Clone on the left column, then select System Clone.


Choose System Clone
2. Select a destination location to migrate your system to the location, and then click Next. If the selected location is a used partition, a window will pop up to prompt that this partition will be deleted or overwritten, if you want to continue, please click Yes.


Select Destination
 



3. When you review Operation Summary Window, you will see two optional functions. You can tick the Sector by sector clone option to copy all sectors of system partition no matter whether it is used or not, but it will take much more timeDon’t do this. You can also tick the Align partition to optimize for SSD option to optimize the performance if the destination disk is an SSD — Do this.


Operation Summary
4. Click Start Clone to perform the operation.

For more detail with screenshots, see How to do System Clone?

Tips:

  • You don’t need to select the system partitions manually, the program will select the partitions by default.
  • The destination location cannot be the source disk.
  • Make sure that the selected drive is large enough to accept the system partitions.
  • After cloning successfully, shut down the computer, and  remove the source drive from the computer, then restart the computer to enter BIOS to set the cloned system disk as the first boot device, then boot from the destination disk. After that, you can connect the source drive to the computer again as a secondary storage device.
  • System Clone is locked in AOMEI Backupper Standard version, you need to unlock it first.

Note: If you have a single hard drive PC and you replace the internal hard drive with an SSD, then you don’t need to go into the BIOS setup.

Wrapping up:

If you began with a sterile install, (re)install NOAH version 4.51 and then either reconnect to your NOAH server or restore your backup. Next, reinstall your HiPro driver and/or re-pair your NOAHlink.

Then, reinstall any hearing aid &/or CI programming software: We recommend custom installs where you select the options, as sometimes many gigabytes can be wasted on unnecessary foreign language packs and/or multimedia you’ll never use: You’ll need to keep at least 30gB free, as Windows NT needs it for the paging (swap) file as well as operating system upgrades. This is why we recommend the 250 gB SSD.

After you install each manufacturers’ software, launch it to verify it works, and also set the various preferences: This sets up the additional NT registry entries needed for it to run. Also, if it’s programming software you commonly use, i.e. at least once a week, go ahead and connect a hearing aid to verify everything runs smoothly.

Next, if you plan on using this PC for anything besides just programming, i.e. Facebook, e-mail, chat, then (re)install your anti-virus software. If all you will be connecting to the Internet for is software updates and HA/CI manufacturer websites, then Windows Defender will pretty much keep you out of trouble, as long as you let it automatically check for and install updates.

Then, launch PerfectRegistry, scan and repair; then select the Defrag Registry tab. Click the blue Optimize Registry Now button, answer Yes, then click the green Optimize Now button, and answer Yes to reboot.

Finally, launch Diskeeper or PerfectDisk defragger and run a manual pass. If you use this PC for anything besides hearing device programming, or if you don’t upgrade the HDD to an SSD, consider purchasing a license.

Power User Tip 2: As we alluded to earlier, the only browser you need for a programming PC is Internet Explorer. However, here’s a trick which will speed up your browsing even more: Running it with the extensions (Flash, toolbars, etc…) disabled. Here’s how to do this:

  • Open up File Explorer and navigate to C:\Program Files
  • Search for iexplore.exe
  • Right-click and drag the icon to the desktop and select Create Shortcut here from the pop-up contextual menu
  • Rename the shortcut to IE (full)
  • Repeat the process and name the new shortcut IE (no Flash)
  • Right-click this new icon, select Properties from the pop-up menu, and where it says Target add the -extoff switch, i.e. it should say
    "C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer\iexplore.exe" -extoff

Power User Tip 3: Disable “Visual Effects.” Windows can give you all sorts of eye candy, but the bulk of it simply soaks up CPU & GPU cycles, which besides slowing things down also increases power usage and heating.

To kill off the unnecessary eye candy, open the System control panel and click on the Advanced systems settings link on the left. Click on the Advanced tab and then click on the Performance - Settings… button. Click on the Visual Effects tab, then click on the Adjust for best performance button. You’ll notice all of the checkboxes are cleared. Two effects we like, which draw little processing power, are Show window contents while dragging and Smooth edges of screen fonts (ClearType).
NT_Visual_Performance

You may want to try Smooth-scroll list boxes — Depending on hand-eye coördination, some users like this (we find it annoying).

Power User Tip 4:
Managing and optimizing the paging file PAGEFILE.SYS is best handled differently between a conventional HDD and an SSD, with respect to file fragmentation. By default all versions of Windows NT dynamically manage the size to both maximize stability and economize on disk space. While this economizing function was helpful 15 years ago, today with conventional hard drive space so inexpensive it’s no longer needed, so in fact if you “lock in” the file size, you’ll have one nice big chunk which speeds things along. However, since SSD’s are true “random access” devices (and to a degree SSD storage space is still somewhat pricey), it’s better to let NT manage the file dynamically, as you see no performance boost with a fixed file size.

To view the paging file configuration and optimize it for your storage device, open the System control panel and click on the Advanced systems settings link on the left. Click on the Advanced tab and then click on the Performance - Settings… button. Click on the Virtual memory - Change… button.

  • For an SSD, make sure Automatically manage paging file size for all drives is checked
  • For a conventional HDD, make sure Automatically manage paging file size for all drives is UNchecked. (more)
    NT_PAGEFILE_property_sheet
    Next, set the minimum and maximum sizes to at least twice the installed RAM size (16000 MB in this example); however if you keep a lot of browser tabs open, set it to three times the installed RAM. If you are not sure, err on the generous side.

After you adjust the paging file size, reboot; then launch Diskeeper or PerfectDisk and navigate to the Boot Time Defragmentation page, and enable Defragment Master File Table (MFT) and Defragment Paging File; and then reboot to complete the operation.
Power User Tip 5: If you are a heavy user and/or your SSD is within 15-20% of capacity, go ahead and purchase a copy of PerfectDisk or Diskeeper and let it automatically work to keep things from bogging down on your HDD or hold write amplification to a minimum on your SSD. To see how much disk space remains, go to
All Programs → Windows Administrative Tools → System Information.

Power User Tip 6: NTFS creates up to three time & date stamps on each file: Besides the standard file created and file modified, it can automatically update the last access time and date stamp on folders and files when NTFS traverses its B-tree folder structure, such as when you perform a file search. This was created to provide an extra layer of security on early servers, up to about a decade ago, but at the price of disk performance. To enhance NTFS performance you can disable this behavior and reduce NTFS’s operational overhead without impairing functionality, especially on workstations and laptops.

In the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\FileSystem Registry key, verify the NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate value of type REG_DWORD is set at the default value 1 (disabled) and not 0 (enabled). Starting in Windows XP this key is present, with a default value 0 in XP, and default value 1 in Win7 & up. However, we’ve seen some backup software (needlessly) re-enable traverse checking, so it’s always a Good Idea to make sure this is disabled.

Bootnotes:
  1. “BIOS” is the Basic I/O System, which contains the code to recognize the hard drive, boot up the computer, and load basic keyboard, video, USB/FireWire, and network (ethernet) drivers. Once the operating system loads into RAM, the BIOS drivers are generally flushed out and the OS loads its’ own high-performance drivers;
  2. Up through Windows XP (NT5.5) you could lock NTOSKRNL.EXE into RAM with an NT Registry switch for greater speed if you were only running a couple programs, but at the risk of really bogging things down as you launched more programs;
  3. For well over 20 years this author has been installing Kingston RAM in everything from Apple & HP laser printers to Macs to mighty DEC Alpha & IBM servers, as they have a lifetime warranty;
  4. For over 20 years Sophos has provided enterprise grade cross-platform server anti-virus software for NetWare, AS/400, and MacOS as well as Windows NT — We highly recommend them;
  5. Executive Software (now Condusiv) developed Diskeeper in 1994 for Windows NT3.51, writing the original MoveFile(0) API 9 for NTFS. Raxco has been around 35 years building enterprise tools not only for Windows NT but also its’ granddaddy, DIGITAL’s OpenVMS. Because of this plus our 20+ years’ of trouble-free experience with both software houses, we highly recommend anything they build. As a service to our loyal readers, Raxco has provided a 30% discount on PerfectRegistry and PerfectDisk: Use this link which puts both items in your basket; and then you can remove one or the other if all you want to license is PR or PD;
  6. We upgraded our year-old Lenovo desktop all-in-one from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 and then installed the 512gB SSD; while we repurposed our 5 year old Acer laptop to just hearing aid programming, by backing up, performing a sterile install of Windows 7, then the Windows 10 upgrade;
  7. Check out the Backblaze blog if you’re a storage geek: This cloud storage company open sources everything, including hard drive reliability statistics on their tens of thousands of spinning drives — They added 65 petabytes (65,000,000 gigabytes!) in 2015 alone — so you bet (just like with Jason Galster’s Starkey Evidence Blog) whenever the e-mail arrives announcing a new post, we immediately read it;
  8. For a more advanced look at cloning, see Clones and Clouds: The Force Unites in the aforementioned Backblaze blog.
  9. For a little bit of NT history, when Microsoft released Windows NT 4.0 in late 1996, Dave Cutler included a version of the MoveFile(0) API which provided basic built-in NTFS disk defragmenting functionality; while Executive and Raxco developed more advanced, enterprise-level defragging tools, including off-line, boot-time Registry and PAGEFILE.SYS defragging

~

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About the author

Dan Schwartz

Electrical Engineer, via Georgia Tech

One Comment

  1. Abram Bailey
    March 15, 2016 at 10:28 am

    This is tremendous information. Should be required reading.


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