I have bought the notebook that I am currently using some 4-5 years ago. It is a Toshiba Tecra A7 and back then it was a powerful machine with its Core 2 Duo T7400 (2,16 GHz) processor, 1 GB DDR2 memory, ATI X1600 256 BM (+ 256MB shared) video memory. Originally it had Windows XP Proffesional installed, but was marketed as Vista ready.
At first I kept my original system, afterwards I wanted to be a part of the whole Vista-aero-desktop-switching-madness, so I downloaded the necessary drivers from the Toshiba website and installed Vista. After a week or so I quickly reinstalled XP Pro, cause Vista was just too heavy. Even with all of the cool and resource demanding stuff turned off, my notebook was overheating just from normal internet use.
So I continued using XP until 3 months ago I decided my notebook was way too slow newer software and games and buying a new one is the only way to speed things up. I started looking for a new notebook, and in the mean time I decided to try out Windows 7, although I was pretty sceptical because of my Vista experience. After installing it, I quickly changed my mind, because Windows 7 was running so good, even with its default settings it was faster than my "optimized" XP. After a little tweaking, I managed to get a really low resource consumption - for normal use it was using no more than 450 MB of RAM. Having in mind that I had only 1 GB of RAM, of which around 600+MB had been used from XP at the time I had it installed, I considered it to be a really nice improvement.
Here are some of the things you can do to make Windows 7 faster and lighter:
1. Customize the start-up processes
Type msconfig in the search box you get after pressing the start button. On the System configuration window press the Startup tab to get the list of the processes that are loaded on startup.
Keep only things that you are sure you will need. It is useful to check this dialog every now and then, because when you install new software, it oftens puts some startup processes there, that will for example make the loading of that software faster, will check for updates etc, but in my opinion they only eat out memory.
After unchecking the unnecessary boxes, you will be prompted to restart.
2. Disable visual effects
Windows 7 looks great with all the smooth visual effects that enrich its interface, however they eat up a lot of memory as well. Memory that my computer did not posses. That is why off with you! Go to Control Panel -> Performance Information and Tools -> Adjust visual effects. Click on Adjust for best performance. Apply.
Now if you really want to optimize, you could also remove your background pic and use a single colour instead.
3. Turn off search indexing
The indexing of new files on your computer for a faster search afterwards can also slow things down - while indexing the files you may notice an increased processor activity and memory usage. So we want to avoid that in our quest for optimization.
Click on the start button, type index in the search bar and press enter (or choose Indexing options from the Control Panel).
Press Modify to exclude all unwanted locations. You may want to keep some folders here, but for a performance boost do not allow a huge folder or a whole drive to be indexed.
4. Remove desktop gadgets
Although they look cool and some of them are even useful, they eat up memory. And we can live without them. To disable them, go to Control panel -> Programs and features. On the left side of the window click on the Turn Windows features on or off link.
Uncheck Windows Gadget Platform, along with any other feature that you will not use. After you are ready you will be prompted to restart.
After I did these steps, my computer was running really fast and light, so I did not see a need of buying a new one. Instead, I bought an additional 2GB of RAM, so now i have 3 and I don't have problems running virtual machines, new software, even new games (well Mafia 2 doesn't run THAT smooth, but is still playable).