Michael Maardt: PC since 1984 • on the net since 1990.

Get the most out of your PCWindows 3.11

Windows is a huge subject but here is a short piece that is relevant to the rest of the text.

I use Windows a lot, and like most people usually have both DOS and Windows programs running at the same time. You should not expect just to be able to install Windows, and then have everything work as fast as you are used from your DOS programs. Updating a screen in graphics mode takes considerably longer than updating a screen in text mode.

Windows 3.x is not an operating system. It is an operating environment, an extension to DOS, a graphic user interface, a more practical, more visual method of managing programs, files, directories, and so on than the traditional DOS command line.

Windows is especially relevant if you want to work with graphics ' layout, drawing programs and so on ' or if you want a quick impression of roughly how something will look when it is printed. You can use the mouse in all Windows programs, and you can click your way through nearly everything. Another convenience is that programs are similarly laid out, similar menu commands and so on (like the Macintosh). Furthermore, you don't have to know or remember many DOS commands.

You can run your usual DOS programs in the manner you are accustomed, by using the full screen. But, if you prefer, they can run in a window smaller than the whole screen. With some programs, you can move data from one window to the other. You can run several programs at the same time, and easily move from one to the other.

The problem with Windows (if you are used to the speed of DOS) is that it needs a fast CPU and loads of RAM. A 386DX/33 MHz with 4 MB RAM is the minimum for acceptable speed.

Windows needs XMS (extended) memory and appreciates a fast hard disk and graphic card. By default (assuming sufficient memory), Windows starts in 386 enhanced mode. Windows' standard mode ' WIN/S ' is about 10-20% faster. You could use this when you are only running Windows programs that require smaller amounts of memory.

Swap file

When there isn't sufficient memory available (because you've got more programs open than your RAM can hold), Windows uses the hard disk as extra memory, virtual memory. When you shift programs using Alt+Tab, everything that couldn't be held in RAM is summoned from the swap file. This is a material improvement in Windows speed ' banishing for ever those "out of memory" messages, provided you make your swap file large enough.

You can make your swap file temporary or permanent. The temporary one has to be set up every time Windows starts, which takes time and can only be recommended if you are short of space on your hard disk. If this is the case, then you would be better off cleaning/tidying up your hard disk so that you can find the space for a permanent swap file, which is much better.

The permanent swap file reserves permanent space on your hard disk. Before making this file, run a disk-optimization program or type


To set up a swap file in Windows: Select Main, Control Panel, 386 Enhanced, Virtual Memory, Change. How big should it be? A general rule is that your free XMS memory after booting (but including the swap file) should be equal to 12 MB. 4-8 MB is a suitable size for most people.

You can check, by watching the hard-disk lamp every time you use Alt+Tab, to see if the CPU has to access the swap file to fetch data. If, when you have many programs open and are moving between them, you can hear lots of hard-disk activity as information gets swapped to and fro, try increasing the size of the swap file. It can set at only a certain proportion of the available space on the hard disk. I would also recommend that you activate 32-bit disk access.

32-bit disk access

This gives faster communication to your hard disk by bypassing DOS and the slow BIOS when swapping to disk. DOS programs will also run faster in enhanced mode. If Windows tests your hard-disk controller and finds it compatible (conforming with) a certain standard (Western Digital 1003), then you are able to activate 32-bit access ' put a cross in the check box. For technical reasons related to the way that portable PCs save on battery use, Microsoft has not set this as the default.

(A) It is unfortunate that Microsoft has chosen to call this communication method "32 bit." Another name is FastDisk. It has nothing to do with the I/O bus or the CPU's address bus width. It is something technical that works with the 386's address register.

Windows uses a device driver that in protected mode communicates directly with the hard-disk controller, increasing throughput by approximately 20% and allowing more DOS programs to be run at the same time.

If you can't start Windows after activating 32 bit disk access, start it with


and turn the 32-bit disk access off.

Win 3.1 can run in protected or enhanced mode. While Windows is running in enhanced mode, every DOS program is given memory as if it were running on an 8086-based PC. If you have four DOS programs running, you are simulating four of the classic PCs. This mode is called Virtual 8086, shortened to V86 mode, and here the 386 processor simulates an 8086 processor, while it runs in protected mode.

The advantage is that you can run real-mode DOS programs with the advantages of protected mode, i.e. protection against memory conflicts. Furthermore, you appear to be running more programs at the same time. It looks that way, even though the 386 processor is in fact just shifting rapidly between the different programs, each of which have control of the CPU for a short, precise time. This is what is called multi-tasking. Every DOS program also has at its disposal all the available conventional memory, and this is why memory optimization is important.

In principle, a 486 processor behaves in the same way as a 386 here.

Miscellaneous tips for Windows

If you want to save Program Managers settings without quitting Windows, hold Shift down while you "exit" Windows ' using Alt+F4, for example. Your settings are saved but Windows does not close. You can then switch off Save settings on exit from the Options menu.

I find it difficult to read the green words in Windows Help. In WIN.INI under [Windows Help], try writing

Jumpcolor=0 0 128

Popupcolor=128 0 0

where the numbers give red, green and blue values. You can play around a little and see what suits you best. Thanks to Brian Livingston, who passed on this tip: Insert the following in SYSTEM.INI:



This has solved a lot of problems for many people. It specifies the maximum number of breakpoints. A breakpoint is 10 bytes that Windows uses to control DOS sessions. These are DOS programs that each run on their own virtual PC, which means that each program behaves as though it is alone on its own machine. To be even more accurate, a breakpoint is used by Windows every time it needs to communicate in real mode. To sum up the reason for this command: when Windows starts, it sets aside a certain number of breakpoints by default. When specifying this number, the programmers assumed that it would be more than enough. Unfortunately, this has proved not to be the case, and a Windows session can easily use more than the default number, leading to some rather unpleasant problems. Since I have added this line, I have had fewer program crashes.

As we all know, neither Windows 3.1 or Windows 3.11 is perfect, and both are prone to either lock up or crash at regular intervals. I have got into the habit of exiting from Windows and restarting it, or even rebooting the computer, about once every hour to flush out the memory. Many Windows programs slowly eat your memory up every time they are opened or closed (called memory leakage ' programs written in Visual Basic are especially prone to this). I would rather use a couple of minutes every hour to reboot in a controlled fashion than suffer unexpected crashes that might well lose my data. If your language version of Windows produces a comma when you press the period/full stop on your numeric keyboard, you can change it to a period/full stop using a text editor. For example, Danes would change the file WINDOWS\SYSTEM\KBDDA.DLL. Search for ,,**--++ and change to ..**--++ and that does the job. But the usual warning: before doing this make a copy of the file. Just in case. Your national keyboard driver has a similar filename.

Other ways to start Windows: type WIN/?

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You are on michaelmaardt.com • © Michael Maardt 21. Jul. 2018