Performance of the ArcMap application is a pretty common issue for numerous users of ArcGIS Desktop software. Obviously, ArcGIS is a very big COM-project and this implies that there can be dozens of different aspects, both at hardware and software level, which may stipulate the performance degradation. Network resources used for sending data back and forth between the remote data sources and the applications may be bottlenecks as well. In this post, I would like to compile some of the possible ways in which one can make ArcGIS Desktop applications start up faster and increase their performance. They will not necessarily all be helpful in your case, but some may be. To get extra help, visit ESRI Knowledge Base on ArcGIS Desktop performance. I would recommend consulting a qualified professional, if it is possible regarding making changes related to the operating system environment. If you choose to do it yourself, then be cautious and proceed at your own risk.
Add RAM and upgrade the CPU on a machine
Considering ArcMap/ArcCatalog just as any other piece of software per se, it is worth noting that it requires RAM to run. Thus, the greater the amount of RAM that is available on the machine and the better the CPU resources are, the easier it will be to run the applications.
Perform disk defragmentation procedure
Hard disks can become fragmented, thus to defragment the disks can be required to do. How often one should defragment would depend upon how heavily a machine is used. Generally, if your PC is getting slower, then it is the right time to defragment. As a rule, it is useless to defragment unless you will not experience decreasing performance due to file fragmentation.
Delete ArcMap and ArcCatalog template files
Template files of these applications can be corrupted for a certain reason. These files store preferences, f.ex., what buttons and toolbars you have open when starting ArcMap. You can delete them manually (they are in “C:\Documents and Settings\UserName\Application Data\ESRI\ArcMap\Templates” and “C:\Documents and Settings\UserName\Application Data\ESRI\ArcCatalog\Templates” for ArcMap and ArcCatalog, respectively). Close any ArcGIS applications first, then make a backup of the file (rename it to normal.old, f.ex.), if those preferences are significant for you. After deleting those files, when starting ArcMap and ArcCatalog, new template files will be generated automatically. For ArcCatalog, deleting a file ArcCatalog.gx which is stored in C:\Documents and Settings\UserName\Application Data\ESRI\ArcCatalog can be an additional help to improve the performance of the ArcCatalog startup.
Another solution can be to make the Normal.mxt file Read-Only (right-click the file in Windows Explorer > select Read-Only check box). This implies that ArcMap will not be able to write to this file each time you open and close the application. This will prevent the file from becoming really huge and thus slowing down the ArcMap startup process.
Delete custom components that have been installed
The basic idea is that you have to find the components and their .dll files that have been registered with ArcMap/ArcCatalog, but are not accessible anymore and then properly unregister them. The detailed instructions are in the ESRI Knowledge Base article #30457.
Check the condition of your hard disks
You could run chkdsk utility at the command prompt on a regular basis (let’s say monthly) or at a specific time to improve the ArcMap startup performance. It can be that there is a bad cluster in a directory that ArcGIS reference during startup. It is worth noting that this problem may be present even after performing disk defragmentation or disk cleanup procedures.
Point out the name of your machine
Go to Start > Programs > ArcGIS > Desktop Administrator > License Manager and enter the name of the PC you are working on.
Customize ArcCatalog geoprocessing options and ArcToolbox window
Performance on closing ArcCatalog can be improved if you set the geoprocessing history option to Never save (Tools > Options > Geoprocessing tab > Results Management > Never save). If possible, close ArcToolbox window when you close ArcCatalog. The same applies to the ArcToolbox window in ArcMap.
I read a great presentation from ESRI regarding performance of ArcMap and ArcCatalog for 8.3 versions, yet much of it is still relevant. Another great white paper on ArcMap 8.1 performance; much of it is still relevant.