If you're looking to speed up Vista or customise the way that it works, and are willing to pay the money to do so, Vista Smoker Pro is a solid choice. It can optimise your memory, hard disk and overall Vista use.
Vista Smoker Pro 2.1, the newest version of the program, costs $30 (about £18) and there's a 7-day trial available. It features an improved, slick interface that makes it easier to use the various features.
When you run the program, you get an overview of your PC's functioning, including total RAM, available RAM and used RAM. You can then choose from one of four main categories of optimisation: Tweaks, Maintenance, Security and Passwords. Each of those categories has many settings you can change, and each of those settings in turn may have numerous sub-settings. All this means you can customise and tweak just about any part of Vista.
Sometimes it seems as if there's nothing too small to escape this program's notice. Want to optimise Vista for gaming? The GameBoost feature will shut down services and free up RAM and CPU cycles for you. You can optimise your CD drive, improve graphics performance, shut down services and tweak Internet Explorer to your heart's content. For those who dislike Vista's intrusive User Account Control feature, the program will let you change its behaviour. It will even let you remove arrows from shortcut icons on your desktop. There's also a good Auto Tuner feature, which will automatically run tweaks for you.
I had a few minor problems with this program; the Startup Manager, for example, didn't show me all the programs that run at startup. But overall, it worked well. One note of caution: it's a good idea to create a Restore Point before using this program, so that if anything goes awry, you can always get things back in order.
Given that there are a number of free tools that optimise Vista, you'll have to decide whether it's worth paying £18 for this program. It does give you tools that go well beyond what freebies offer - for example, no freebie offers GameBoost, and no freebie lets you make such a vast number of changes. If you're satisfied with the basics, you won't want to shell out. But if you need to tweak every aspect of Vista, it might be for you.