Make Windows XP Run Faster!
How do I make Windows XP run faster? My Windows startup is taking longer than ever, and once it finally stops churning, everything runs slower than it used to, when my computer was new. Any maintenance tips or tweaks to speed up Windows would be appreciated!
How to Speed Up Windows XP
See Speed Up Windows 7
Your computer and your car's engine are similar in one important way. Over time, digital sludge builds up inside a computer. It doesn't start right up like when it was new, it stalls unexpectedly, and performance is sluggish on the (information) highway. This article will show you, step by step, how to revive your computer, speed up Windows XP, and make it run fast and reliably.
But first, why does this happen? Think about what happens over time with your Windows computer. You're downloading, installing and removing software; applying service packs and security updates; tweaking your settings; browsing the Internet; maybe upgrading your operating system; and all the while defending against viruses and spyware.
With all that churn, your hard drive can get fragmented, clogged up with huge files, and littered with left over pieces of partially removed software packages. Your startup programs bloom like weeds as you add new software. Maybe a bit of nasty malware sneaks past your defenses. And the Windows registry, which tries to keep track of all the relationships between hardware, software and the operating system, starts to resemble the tangle of string and rubber bands in your junk drawer.
When cars get older and sluggish, we flush the radiator, change the oil and filter, install new spark plugs, and dump a quart of engine cleaner in for good measure. So that begs the question: Are there simple steps we can take that are akin to automobile maintenance? And is there something like engine cleaner we can pour into our personal computer to restore that "like new" performance? Actually, yes!
Here's my special recipe to clean that icky goo out of your computer's pipes, and tune up your hard drive, so Windows will start quicker, run more reliably, and go faster on the information superhighway.
If only it was so easy! But actually, it's really not so hard to take action on the items I listed above. You don't need a degree in computer science, a slide rule, an oscilloscope or any power tools. You might need a screwdriver. But maybe not, we'll see. Here's the scoop on how to implement each step.
Apply Windows Updates
If you run Windows and you use the Internet, you simply MUST stay up to date with the Windows system patches from Microsoft, that come out in response to the privacy and security exploits that are discovered every week. Failure to do so is an open invitation to hackers and crackers to invade your privacy and enslave your computer with viruses and spyware. To get the latest Windows fixes, open Internet Explorer, click on Safety, then Windows Update.
Clean out Viruses and Malware
Are you running a good anti-virus program, with automatic updates? Have you scanned your system for spyware and other unwanted pests? If not, see my article about free anti-virus programs for details on how to protect yourself from those risks. Viruses and malware can slow down your system a LOT, because they use your resources to generate popup ads, send spam, and often interfere with the operation of good programs.
Remove Unnecessary Software
You may have a bunch of software packages on your hard drive that are no longer needed, or they were gratuitously installed when you downloaded some other package. Toolbars, file-sharing programs, free email enhancers, online shopping "companions" and download managers are notorious for this practice. These uninvited guests can put a big drag on your startup time, cause web pages to load slowly, and generally bog down your computer. Go to Control Panel, then Add/Remove Software to see what packages are installed. Remove the ones you know you don't need, and do a web search to learn about the ones you're not sure about.
Update and Secure Your Software
Speaking of software, new security exploits are discovered daily on the Internet. It's important to keep your Windows operating system up to date and secured with anti-virus protection, as I've already mentioned. But the other software on your computer may leave you vulnerable to attack as well. Your web browser, office applications, PDF viewer and many others must be kept up to date. Some will prompt you to install an available update, but others will not. See my article Secure Your Software.
Scrub That Hard Disk
Both Windows and application programs tend to leave temporary files lying around on your hard drive, taking up space needlessly. A hard drive that is close to being full can cause Windows to act strangely, and will slow down or interfere with efficient disk access and virtual memory operations. And if you surf the web a lot, your temporary internet files folder can become quite large, causing Internet Explorer to slow down or malfunction. Cleaning up unneeded files, scanning for disk errors and defragmenting the hard drive can help to restore some zip to your system. First, open My Computer, right-click on the C: Drive icon, select Properties, then click on Disk Cleanup. (Optional: Select the More Options tab to find and remove even more unwanted files.)
To run a defrag, open My Computer, right-click on the C: Drive icon, select Properties, then Tools. Click the Check Now button to scan your disk for errors. When the scan is complete, click the Defragment Now button to run the defrag, which reorganizes your hard disk so Windows can find and access files more efficiently. (It's highly recommended that you close all running programs and disable your screen saver before running a defrag. Otherwise, updates to your files may trigger defrag to restart endlessly.)
Okay, Now Take a Breath...
We're more than half-way done with the process of cleaning the junk out of your computer. The rest of the steps may seem a little more geeky, and you can skip any or all of them if you don't feel comfortable digging a little deeper into the workings of the Windows operating system. But there is definitely bang for the buck here. Some of peskiest Windows performance problems can be solved by giving attention to these areas.
Slim Your Startup Selections
There are certain programs that Windows will start every time you boot up your system, and during the startup phase, they're all jockeying for a slice of your CPU. Extra or unwanted items in the startup list will defintely increase your startup time, perhaps by several minutes. To manage the list of startup programs, click on Start / Run, then type MSCONFIG. Press Enter, then select the Startup tab. If you see items in the list you know you don't need to run at startup time, UNcheck the box(es) next to them and press Apply. Some common examples are things related to AOL, iTunes, QuickTime, instant messengers, and video managers. If you're not sure about an item, no big deal. You can turn it off, restart your PC, and see if everything seems to work. If not, you can always go back and re-enable an item in the Startup list. This page may help you decide what to keep or drop.
Clean Your Registry
The Windows Registry is a database that enables the operating system to track the relationships between hardware and software. Unfortunately, problems with the registry can make Windows run slower. Sometimes an "orphaned" registry entry can confuse Windows during startup and cause a delay. And in general, slimming down your registry will make Windows run faster. There are several utility programs that will clean your system registry of unnecessary and erroneous entries. Read more about the Windows registry, and find some free programs you can use to correct registry problems in my article Do I Need a Registry Cleaner?
RAM and Virtual Memory Settings
When you run out of physical memory (RAM), Windows will use a chunk of your hard disk to create virtual memory. This is a nice feature, because it allows application programs to access huge amounts of memory. The only problem with virtual memory is that it's a lot slower than real RAM. So installing extra RAM is a good idea because it's pretty cheap and easy to pop in. Find out how much your system will accommodate and install the maximum amount. Extra RAM will probably do more to boost your overall system performance than anything else! See my article on How to Upgrade Your Memory for help with this task, and where the screwdriver may enter the scene.
But getting back to Virtual Memory, it's wise to let Windows manage the amount, unless you are a Wizard, with a capital W. Go to Control Panel / System / Advanced, then press the Settings button under Performance. Click Advanced again, then press the Change button under Virtual Memory. If System managed size is selected, you're all set. If you want to fiddle with the Custom Size options, be my guest! If you're getting errors about low virtual memory, see my article How to Fix 'Low Virtual Memory' Errors.
Turn Off Extraneous System Services
We're heading into uber-geek territory here, so be forewarned. Windows doesn't know exactly how you're going to use your computer, so it starts a whole bunch of system services that manage network connections, database access, error reporting, remote access and other nerdy-sounding things. You may not need all these services, and disabling some of them can reduce your startup time and system overhead. But choosing which ones to nuke is a bit daunting, unless you are an expert on Windows operating system internals. Here's my advice... look at these explanations and advice then disable only the ones that you're sure about. If you encounter a problem, you can always turn a service back on.
I hope these tips help to restore some zing to your Windows XP computer. You might so surprised at the results, you'll decide to put off buying a new computer for another year or two! If you have success with this recipe, or you have other Windows speed tips to share, please let me know. Post your comment or question below...
Posted by Bob Rankin on 19 Sep 2011
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Make Windows XP Run Faster! (Posted: 19 Sep 2011)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved