I was wondering if the computer performance benefits in any way by simply hiding desktop icons. I'm not sure if they continue running in the background anyway or if they are sort of ignored thus rendering a better speed.
From what I can tell they are not used at all. The icon isn't loaded, the whole thing is not rendered. Using the proper Windows method for having them "hidden" they are basically not there at all or ignored.
For me it is not faster, because while they are not actually on the desktop, I have them on tool bars (instead). The ones in the start menu are not rendered until they are being looked at. The majority of it is stored in the IconCache, and that speeds up getting the icons, as opposed to getting them out of wherever they are stored, often this can be inside programs and dlls themselves.
Different things refresh the views different, some 3rd party additions and all, might be using unnecessary desktop refreshes, the list of possibilities goes on. Agrees with Climenole, neither the shortcut, nor the program is running, and the superfetcher activity would not change either by the mere presence of the icons.
Faster? Performance? Sure, the quantity would be small, and depend on so many other things.
I was wondering if the computer performance benefits in any way by simply hiding desktop icons.
In general, no.
Two factors that affect loading the icons for shortcuts on the desktop are the number of desktop items (some people have a ridiculously cluttered desktop), and the source of the icons.
If the icon for a shortcut is stored in an
.ico file, then it can be loaded immediately, especially since icon files are usually quite small. However, if the icon is stored in a
.dll'/'.exe file, then they need to be parsed from the file’s resources, and if you have anti-malware software running, this may take some time while the file is scanned (which gets progressively worse as the size of the executable increases).
Even so, overall the performance impact usually only happens at startup. After that, the data for the icons is already in Explorer’s memory (as Psycogeek pointed out, the icon-cache), so it does not need to read them again and can display the icons very fast. (Note that if—for some reason—you do not have the drivers for your video card installed, then drawing all the icons on the desktop can indeed take—a little—more time than just drawing the background.)
For the record, icons and thumbnails for shortcuts and files are only loaded when they are needed, i.e., when the shortcut/file is shown. You can see this by opening a folder with lots of pictures in it in thumbnail mode. Watch the hard-drive activity light and you will see that it only flickers when you scroll down and show new files; that is, Windows Explorer does not automatically pre-load the icons/thumbnails for every file in a folder.
Of course the desktop is always visible, so if you have a lot of shortcuts on it, then Windows will load their icons on startup. In addition to taking some time to load them, it also uses up more memory. If there are very many icons visible, then that uses more memory which may have an impact on performance since there will be less free memory available to programs.
I'm not sure if they continue running in the background anyway or if they are sort of ignored thus rendering a better speed.
Those are just shortcuts to files, they do not run until you actually double-click them. There are similar shortcuts in the Start menu, but they too are not “running” until you click them.