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Improving performance in WinXP - the basics by cdogg
Posted: 26 Oct 05 (Edited 20 Feb 06)

If you have an older version of Windows, see this FAQ:  FAQ615-3144

From time to time threads appear in the forums about PC's slowing down over time for no apparent reason, or about a problem with the PC locking up when certain applications are running.  Hopefully, this FAQ will give you a starting point and possibly a solution.

Controlling what starts up with Windows:

One of the most useful built-in utilities that WinXP has is msconfig.  It shows you all the programs and drivers that are launched at startup.  When you follow the steps below, be sure to search on the net first for any items or terms that sound unfamiliar.  

    Note:  If you have a lot on the startup tab that isn't self-explanatory or seems cryptic,
        then you might be heavily infected with spyware.  For that, skip to the Spyware section below and
        come back to the rest of this FAQ later...

1)  Go to Start -> Run
2)  Type msconfig and hit OK
3)  Go to the startup tab to prevent items from loading at bootup

The startup tab is going to be your main concern, though other tabs (such as the INI tabs) might contain some problematic entries as well.  On the startup tab, you'll probably recognize a lot of what's listed.  For the ones you don't recognize, search on Google or Yahoo for a description.  Be sure to try disabling from within the application's preferences before unchecking it here in msconfig.  Otherwise, some applications will think this is unintentional and replace the startup entry.

If you're familiar with the registry, then you'll know that the main point of reference to many of these startup entries will be found under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run.

Deleting temporary files:

1)  Go to Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Disk Cleanup
2)  After the scan completes, select all the categories and click OK


Turning off or limiting transitional effects

This is strictly optional and certainly not needed on higher-end PC's:

1)  On your desktop, right-click My Computer and go to Properties.
2)  Go to the Advanced tab, and click Settings under the Performance category.
3)  Select Adjust for best performance

    Note:  You can also further limit this by choosing "Custom" instead and only checking
        the options you want (or uncheck them all).


Upgrading hardware:

Check the specs of your PC (Start -> Run, dxdiag and hit OK).  If you have less than 512MB of RAM, slower than 1GHz CPU, or have an outdated video card (if you're a gamer), then you have much to gain by upgrading your PC.  

Increasing RAM to 512MB can help significantly.  There's another slight jump going from 512MB to 1GB.  Going any higher may only help in a handful of situations and is often not necessary.  The CPU speed usually has the biggest overall impact than any other single component upgrade.  Post in the hardware forum (forum602) for more info.


Defragging and speeding up hard drive performance:

1)  Go to Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Disk Defragmenter

This is not something you should have to perform too often, depending on how you use your PC.  When Windows is first setup, it is usually best to have the hard drive split into smaller sections (known as partitions).  The Windows system partition (C:) is best kept at a minimal size (20-30GB for example) for Windows' system files and critical apps that you will keep long term.  Long term is key here, because it means seldomly uninstalling or change in file structure which decreases the amount of fragmentation.  

Also on a smaller partition, a defrag doesn't take forever and can be done often.  Use the rest of your drive space for apps, games, utilities, etc., that you plan on keeping short term, splitting it into as many "logical" partitions as you like.  If your drive wasn't setup this way to begin with, you can use a 3rd-party app like Partition Magic to resize existing partitions and create new ones.

Something I won't get into here but might also be helpful to know is that adding a second hard drive can improve performance in several ways.  You can move the swap file to the secondary drive.  Or going one step further, you can even set up a RAID array configuration to boost redundancy and/or read/write performance (though to do both requires 3 drives or more).


Removing Spyware/Adware:

There are a lot of ways to accomplish this.  The fact is that the more ways you take to approach this, the more efficient it will be.

1)  Download and install Spybot.  Search for and apply all updates.  
2)  Do a scan and remove all that it finds.  Reboot.
3)  Do another scan and reboot again.
4)  Install Lavasoft's Ad-Aware.  Search for and apply all updates.
5)  Repeat steps 2 and 3.

If you believe you still have an infection at this point, visit the Virus/Spyware discussion forum (forum760) and look in the FAQ section.  You can install Hi-Jack This! and post your log in a new thread for help.  Also, there's a $30 app you can buy called ETrust Pestpatrol.  This tool is by far one of the best overall scanner/removal tools available.  Realize however, that heavy infections are hard to supress and clean up.  I've used all of the top spyware applications in many situations where only a format and "clean" install brought things back to normal.


Scanning and fixing the registry:

Not one of the most popular options, but quite a bit of junk can accumulate in the registry much like the garage of your house.  I've used Registry Mechanic, and there are several other apps available out there that can help with a little spring cleaning.  The older a Windows installation is, the more this option can help.  As applications are uninstalled, they often leave remnants behind.

Bottom line:
Removing Spyware/Adware and running a Registry checker tool are usually the best options to try first on a PC that seems to have slowed down with age.  Good luck, and let me know if you have anything you would like to see added to this FAQ.

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