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A lot of my colleagues and friends who are still using Windows XP use the Windows Classic theme (i.e. the Win98-like theme, unlike the XP theme). Some of them just like it, but some others say that they do so because it is lighter and it increases performance.

Is it true? If yes, what are the performance benefits and how significant? If not, is there any reason to use classic other than if you like it visually?

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My own opinion is that you will not see a difference in performance, unless it is really time (or many years past the time) to invest in a new computer. –  harrymc Oct 30 '11 at 17:42
    
I don't really understand, why don't you just try it and see? –  Mehrdad Nov 4 '11 at 18:36
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4 Answers

Short answer: disabling XP themes definitely increases system performance and reduces the memory load.

Longer answer: Themes are basically a collection of graphic images that are drawn to the display buffer instead of using the older logic of using solid colors and lines. Because these themes often require resizing and/or tiling (and in newer incarnations: animation), there is a lot more work going on to display the graphic element for a button vs. the work necessary to draw the button using the older logic.

The amount of the performance increase is debatable and I would imagine it to be highly variable upon your system's CPU, memory, and a few other factors that are probably negligible (such as video drivers and video memory -- is it shared or on the video card). Although there is (in XP) no acceleration going on, there is still work that has to be done to transmit the image to the video card, and so the drivers would have some small part to play.

On systems with lesser memory resources and/or those with slower processors switching to the classic theme will definitely help out since there is no requirement to store or draw the theme graphics. On systems with more memory and faster processes, the performance increase will be less noticeable.

For current day systems, it almost always boils down to personal preference; a current machine should not show significant gains (or losses) using either mode. One from the XP era, however, will almost certainly show gains in Classic mode.

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+1 - but even on a desktop machine that's more than a few years old (taking a guess, maybe 8) you shouldn't see a significant difference. The graphics operations will be optimised by the graphics card, so the main difference will be the memory used to hold those graphics - probably graphics card memory. I won't guess what the minimum graphics memory is, but if you have 1GB or more main memory you shouldn't care much - and if you have less, by now, you have bigger problems. –  Steve314 May 27 '11 at 4:44
    
I will attest that at 512mb, themeing makes a big difference in performance. I have a 4 or 5 year old HP machine that runs XP and has 512mb, and going to Windows Classic mode sped things up very nicely. (The processor is a reasonable processor; something north of 1.5GHz, so it shouldn't be the biggest factor.) –  Kerri Shotts May 27 '11 at 4:47
    
It’s not just performance that’s the issue, themes have other effects as well. –  Synetech May 27 '11 at 15:53
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Yes, obviously Classic Windows will be faster simply because there are less calculations to do. That’s also why it depends on the system. On fast systems, the performance improvement will be much less than on slower ones. It is the CPU that plays the role here since in XP, the theme is not done in the video card (yes, you’ll notice Explorer is slower without proper drivers, but you won’t see it faster if you have a better card because the acceleration is basic, eg no 3D stuff and the overlay surface is not used for windows).

I personally always use Classic Windows, even in Windows 7. It definitely feels snappier and more responsive, but on a more objective note, there are other issues with themes.

  • One issue with most themes other than the ones that come with Windows (Luna in XP), is that most themes tend to be designed without an eye for detail or usability. Specifically, I find it incredibly annoying when I swish the cursor into the top-right corner of the screen to click the ☒ button to close a window and find it does not work because the theme has offset the button or the window has a rounded corner even in maximized mode. I then have to move the cursor more carefully (and slower) to make sure that I hit the button instead of being able to just swipe it with a flick of the wrist.

  • Another problem with themes related to the aforementioned one is that when a theme has rounded corners (or even more irregular shapes), it makes taking screenshots more difficult because even when you use Alt-PrtScr, the background shows through. (Look at all the Windows 7 screenshots where you can see through the rounded corners and even worse, through the translucent borders to whatever is beneath.) Most people don’t even pay attention to the issue (granted, it’s not usually a big information leak), but for those that do, it makes it a lot more work than just grabbing a shot of a nice, even rectangle.

  • Another issue is that themes are just fat. The Classic Windows theme is simply thinner and takes up less space than other themes—the vast majority of themes are thick for some reason, with the rare one that is thinnner. (In Windows 7, you have to set the taskbar to small icons to get it to stop looking so stupid and tall in Classic Windows mode.) It’s no secret that reducing the chrome is the current (and probably continuing) trend in user-interface design, so having thick, showy borders is merely a novelty.

  • It’s no surprise that themes also use a lot more memory than basic chrome. Themes have fancy shading and textures which require a more memory to store than a simple, solid-colored rectangle. As a result, themes take up more memory (maybe not a ton more, but more nonetheless), and so depending on the amount of memory in the system and the running applications, it can contribute to a reduction of available memory and cause unnecessary paging which of course has a direct performance impact.

  • Finally, I find that whenever I try a theme, the novelty quickly wears off and I get bored of it. I don’t recall how long it took to get bored of Luna, but I really did like Windows 7 for some time (about a week or two). However, I eventually stopped noticing the things I liked about it, so there was no real reason to keep using it. Once I switched to Classic Windows, I stopped noticing the chrome of the UI just as quickly, and now I focus on what I’m actually doing in Windows as opposed to what it looks like. I know some people call it ugly or old-fashioned, but it’s more streamlined for better productivity and it’s only ugly if you use a bad color scheme (each new version of Windows updates the Classic Windows theme with a smoother palette so it automatically looks newer, not old).

So in summary, it depends on the system and the user. For people who like to trick out their cases with colors, shapes, and lights, for those who like to post screenshots of their fancy-looking desktops with wallpapers of dragons and naked ladies, and for those with super-fast systems, then go ahead and use a theme if you like. But for those with slow systems or people who use computers to do things (ie, the computer is a tool, not the focus), then there’s little reason to bother with a theme; it doesn’t exactly make the OS any easier to use or more user-friendly regardless of whether you’re a novice or a pro.

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Yes, but none of that has anything to do with drawing windows. As long as the adapter can do basic 2D acceleration, then you won’t see an improvement by having a fancier one; as long as you have the drivers installed that is, otherwise windows will be drawn kind of slow no matter want. You mentioned slow text, but that’s not really text in Windows, that’s still graphics. You still have the real text flash by if you boot into true DOS and do a > dir /s/a. –  Synetech May 27 '11 at 15:56
    
It doesn’t matter where the graphcis are processed, the fact is that themes have more work to do. As for text in DOS-mode, that was a response to what you said about text being slow on a fast system. Yes, “text” in Windows is slow without a driver regardless of the system. However if you reboot that same system and boot into DOS mode (or into the BIOS setup, or even switch a Windows command-prompt to full-screen), then the text will be fast, even without a driver. –  Synetech May 28 '11 at 16:17
    
Except that it does have less computations to perform. A solid, opaque, rectangle is much easier and faster to draw than a textured, jagged, translucent chamfer. And like I said, it’s not only performance thats affected. The OP asked if there are other effects that themes have, and clearly there are. –  Synetech May 28 '11 at 18:37
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Disabling the "Themes" windows service (via services.msc) saved up 54 MByte ram on my Windows XP machine (SP3). And it feels snappier. I disable it for a lot of relatives to, and they also notice a difference.

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Yes.

If are using Aero (I forgot what its called in XP), then if you go to Performance options & select "best performance", you have essential set yourself to Windows Classic.

All the "pretty" takes resources. Animations & fading & sliding & ... all use more resources then not having "pretty" enabled. (Looks awful IMO anyhow.)

The only option I do enable is drop shadows on desktop icons.

(I try to make my W7 look as much like XP Classic as I can.)

I would rather have a window "pop" open & be done with it & go on doing what I wanted to do, then sit around waiting (even if only for a part of a second) while it goes through pretty business. The delay is an irritant to me.

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There is a world of difference between Windows 7's Aero and XP default... I am sure that there is a difference, but I don't think that it is significant. Source? –  soandos May 27 '11 at 2:34
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My question is about XP and classic theme, and not about effects such as animation/sliding etc., or Aero. You can still run XP theme with Best performance (i.e. disabling those effect) –  Louis Rhys May 27 '11 at 2:48
    
According to this article, there is a performance increase...slowpctips.com/personalcom/… –  Moab May 27 '11 at 3:07
    
I was hoping for numbers, but guess not. I am curious as to what the memory etc difference is though –  soandos May 27 '11 at 3:24
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-1 Aero is not implemented in XP -- it originated with Vista. The default theme for XP is codenamed Luna –  Nate Koppenhaver Nov 4 '11 at 18:47
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