Thursday, January 27, 2011

Improve Firefox Performance with Processor Affinity

Firefox seems to frequently stutter or lag while doing seemingly trivial tasks like scrolling or even typing following the most recent Firefox 3 update.
Enter the concept of processor affinity, which enables you to direct applications to utilize one or more specific CPU cores in your multicore system. I discovered a blog post where the author describes creating a shortcut in Windows Vista or Windows 7 which will execute a given application with a specific processor affinity configuration.


  1. Copy and paste to create a copy of your current shortcut to Firefox on the Desktop.
  1. Pick a single CPU core, in decimal, to dedicate to Firefox, according to the chart below. I chose CPU 3 on my quad-core system.
0001 = 1 (CPU 0)
0010 = 2 (CPU 1)
0100 = 4 (CPU 2)
1000 = 8 (CPU 3)

  1. In the Target box, copy and paste one of the following lines (the first for 32-bit Windows, the second for 64-bit), and change x to match the value you chose in the above step (change the paths as necessary if your Firefox lives in a different location).
C:\Windows\System32\cmd.exe /c start "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\" /affinity x firefox.exe

C:\Windows\System32\cmd.exe /c start "C:\Program Files (x86)\Mozilla Firefox\" /affinity x firefox.exe

  1. Click OK to accept the changes, then close and reopen Firefox using the modified shortcut.

Windows XP also allows for changing the processor affinity setting for a given process via the Processes tab in Task Manager, but this setting is applied only for that instance of the application, so you can't use the above method to have a shortcut which automatically sets the affinity every time. If you try it, you'll get this error message:

Invalid switch - "/affinity"

Fortunately, a freeware utility called RunFirst exists which will perform in a similar manner, except it will by default assign only the first CPU core in the system to have affinity with the application you're running it with. To use it, create a batch file to execute firefox.exe like this:
      RunFirst.EXE "C:\Program Files\Mozilla Firefox\firefox.exe"

Now, Firefox has its very own CPU core to use on my Windows 7 system, which is advantageous in that the other applications running on my system need only contend with one core being potentially monopolized by some CPU-expensive operations which Firefox initiates.

I tend to browse with many (read: dozens) of tabs open simultaneously, as well as a plethora of add-ons installed such as AdBlock Plus, DownThemAll, FireBug, GreaseMonkey, FoxyTunes, Stylish, FiddlerSwitch, and more. Mine is hardly a “vanilla” setup, and given that these various add-ons let alone Firefox itself are developed by a variety of developers with a variety of coding styles, even bugs, it’s entirely likely that I’m a victim of chaos, that an unfortunate confluence of events are conspiring to kick my browsing experience in the teeth. 

At least this way, I'm letting Firefox do it's thing on just a single core, rather than having it bleed over onto the others and potentially making my other running processes unhappy.

So far, Firefox seems to be significantly more responsive than before!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Just Another Day...

This is January 11, 2011, or 1/11/2011 in middle endian format.

Some in numerological circles claim that this day is one of opportunity, but not without hardship. Others interested in conspiracy theories feel intuitively that something "big" will happen this day.

Really, though, isn't it just another day??

The Gregorian calendar is today used by much of the civilized world to track and organize days. Remarkable as it is that the international community could agree upon using this convention to track the passage of time, it's nevertheless a tool, like the clock, even the chip in computers used to store the date and time.

That's not to say this day is meaningless. People will be born, die, get married, have a birthday, have sex for the first time, celebrate an anniversary, enjoy their first day of vacation, and countless other activities which will etch this date as meaningful to them or their loved ones for the rest of their lives. 

In the meantime, though, the world keeps turning, and we're just along for the ride. The earth continues to journey as part of the Milky Way galaxy from its point of origin in the distant past to wherever it's destined to go at a speed of around several hundred kilometers per second.

The day surely is meaningful, as we are living it here and now, experiencing it. It has value if for no other reason than that we're here to participate in and enjoy it. Nevertheless, it's just a convention. I seriously doubt the universe cares how we keep track of the time we occupy in life, since it's been here and will likely still be here far longer than we ever will.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Windows 7 to XP FIle Sharing Problems

Recently, I had serious issues with trying to enable file sharing between my newly-installed Windows 7 laptop and my Windows XP SP3 desktop.

Windows 7's Network and Sharing Center

I have a home wireless network, where my Windows 7 laptop, on wireless, normally shares files perfectly well with my Windows XP desktop. Inexplicably, one day the capability to share files via wireless ended; I couldn't even ping my XP desktop from my 7 laptop let alone browse its file shares, whether by computer name or IP address. And yet, over a wired connection, file sharing performed flawlessly!

Here's a list of what I tried:
  • Updated drivers for network hardware.
  • Disabled Windows Firewall on both machines.
  • Verified internet connectivity from the laptop.
  • Ensured both PCs share the same workgroup name.
  • Verified connectivity over wireless, from the laptop to the router.
  • Completely reinstalled the TCP/IP stack on the Windows XP computer.
  • Deleted and recreated routes using the ROUTE command on both computers.
  • Reinstalled the Link Layer Topology Discovery (LLTD) responder on the XP box. 
  • Followed Microsoft's docs on enabling File and Printer Sharing under Windows 7.
  • Verified that shared folders on both PCs had proper permissions.
  • Removed remnants of Norton Internet Security with the Norton Removal Tool from the XP box, which I'd long since uninstalled but remnants of which still remained.
  • Followed Microsoft's steps for sharing files among different Windows versions, including rerunning the network setup wizards for each respective operating system.

In spite of all these steps, I still couldn't even ping the XP box from the 7 laptop, and I couldn't see the XP box from the 7 laptop in the network, although I could see, but not access, the 7 laptop from the XP box.

The solution turned out to be unexpected.

A few years ago, I replaced the factory firmware of my venerable Buffalo WHR-HP-G54 wireless router with DD-WRT, a free, open-source, Linux-based firmware which can be applied as a drop-in replacement for the manufacturer firmware, and can expand the features of your router to boot.

The firmware, as with most anything in IT, is evolving, and it'd been some months since I'd last updated the version of DD-WRT; it was v24 SP1 from around August, 2010, whereas the newest version is v24 pre-SP2. Some other DD-WRT users had reported issues sharing files on their own networks. DD-WRT itself has an option under Wireless => Advanced Settings called AP Isolation, which allows you to prevent wirelessly networked devices from interacting with one another, and presumably with wired clients, via the router (in my case, this option has always been disabled).

At this point, my options were exhausted, so I took the plunge and updated the DD-WRT firmware. Even though the latest version is technically still in beta, it seemed worth a shot; I've never had trouble since first installing DD-WRT, and the fact that it allows you to preserve your existing settings without wiping the router's NVRAM made it even more appealing.

The result? It worked! Suddenly, rather than being met with the dreaded System Error 53 when attempting to map a network drive letter from the laptop to the desktop or trying to browse to a shared folder via Windows Explorer, I got a prompt asking me to authenticate to the XP box using my credentials, and finally regained access!

If you haven't updated your router's firmware in a while, it might be worth a shot, particularly if you use DD-WRT as I do and have perhaps encountered what might be a bug in your current version of the firmware. 

If you still have the factory firmware, I'd strongly suggest you consider replacing it with DD-WRT or another like Tomato, which can not only offer your router and network more stability and performance, but also unlock features that the manufacturer might not even offer in their own relatively anemic firmware. 

Monday, January 3, 2011

IE8 Process Priority in Windows 7

I wanted to bump up the process priority of Internet Explorer 8 under Windows 7.

There are at least a couple of ways to do this. If the app is already running, you can open Task Manager, right-click the app on the Applications tab and click Go To Process, then right-click the process name on the Processes tab and Set Priority to one of the levels above the default, Normal.

I chose a relatively quick-and-dirty method to create a batch file to boost the process priority of IE8, in conjunction with the START command, which can be tested via the Command Prompt.

Generally, the syntax is as follows:

     START /Priority ProgramName

Where /Priority is one of several values (Low, BelowNormal, Normal, AboveNormal, High, RealTime), and ProgramName is the name of a particular executable (EXE) whose priority you wish to boost.

I began with a simple batch file as a proof-of-concept to instantiate a High-priority instance of Notepad.


start /HIGH notepad


Success! Now I wanted to do something similar with Internet Explorer 8, and have it run with High process priority. The result wasn't quite what I wanted.


start /HIGH iexplore.exe

I'm running the 64-bit version of Windows 7, and have both the 32- and 64-bit versions of Internet Explorer 8 installed. Ideally I would've liked the 64-bit version to run, but it looks like by default the 32-bit one comes up via a command prompt if I omit the path (as I have lazily done here). That's no big deal, nor is the fact that there are two processes named iexplore.exe (see this article on Loosely-Coupled IE [LCIE] by Microsoft's Andy Zeigler regarding why IE8 creates two processes for itself instead of one). The problem is that neither iexplore.exe process has the desired High priority. I got around this by saving the batch file in the 64-bit version of IE's program directory, which by default lives here: 

     C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer

Now when I execute the batch file, START properly starts up one of the iexplore.exe processes at High priority.

But wait, why did it start only one process at High, and the other at Normal?? I'm not sure. I do notice, though, that unfortunately the process which appears to represent the default tab of IE8 that opens is the one set to Normal priority, which isn't exactly what I wanted. I can tell that this seems to be the case when I keep an eye on that process' CPU usage as I try browsing, as shown below.

Furthermore, as I opened additional tabs, which in turned spawned additional iexplore.exe processes in Task Manager, each of these too had only Normal process priority. Only the first process (note that the process with PID 87996 is High, while the second with PID 89476 is Normal).

The end result of this is that despite having set the priority of iexplore.exe to High via the START command in a shortcut, it seems to set this priority only for the "base" instance of iexplore.exe, not the instance which actually seems to be dedicated to browsing; not much help if your goal is to have browsing take precedence among the other activities of your applications. 

It looks like I may need to find some Windows settings specific to Internet Explorer or process priority elsewhere, whether by hacking the registry or some other means.


I stumbled upon a post on AskVG which links to a utility, Prio, which extends Task Manager to include among other things a Save Priority option, as shown below:

However, according to some of the comments in the article, some users of Windows 7 64-bit have reported problems getting their changes to process priorites to "stick" between reboots. 

I've installed the utility in a manner suggested by one of the commenters, woodburyadpost, who suggested the following installation steps:
  1. Install. DO NOT REBOOT. 
  2. Uninstall. DO NOT REBOOT. 
  3. Reinstall (and, presumably, reboot).

Curiously, the very first time I installed the utility, I received no prompt asking me to reboot, whereas after following the above steps, the installer did suggest a reboot. Perhaps this indicates the installer is missing something the first time through whereby a component isn't getting copied or installed on the system properly?

At any rate, we'll see if this works, and if so, it'll be a handy utility to have!