20 tips to boost Windows XP's performance

Posted on Friday, Dec 01 2006 @ 17:08 CET by Thomas De Maesschalck
If you're still relying on 'Defrag' to improve system performance, you are behind the times. Defragmenting is the process of reorganizing all files on a hard drive so that each file is arranged into a single uninterrupted or contiguous location on the disk. Many system builders and technicians still believe that defragmenting a hard drive on a regular basis will keep a machine operating at peak performance. That was true with older PCs, but today we have 7200 rotations per minute disk drives with improved seek and latency times; many contain an 8MB cache buffer. For today's machines, defragmentation no longer has a big impact on system performance.

Defragmenting is still an important task. Excess power consumption and over heating can directly relate to a fragmented hard drive. If a file is not contiguous when the computer's operating system requests it, extra seeking on the disk is required. More importantly, if a hard drive crashes, the likelihood of successfully recovering data from the damaged drive improves greatly if the data is contiguous rather than fragmented. Defrag just doesn't cut it anymore when it comes to speeding up a PC.

The following tips will improve system performance on any PC running Windows XP and some will improve system security as well:

(Note - If your computer is on a Local Area Network or LAN at your business or you have a laptop that is at times on a workplace LAN, don't change ANY configuration settings without approval from your Network Administrator).

Before you begin, do a backup of your essential data

For details on performing a proper backup in Windows XP, go to Microsoft.com and enter 'Backup Windows XP' in the search bar.

There are a few basic system attributes that may need to be adjusted so that the system will allow you to make necessary changes:
  1. Make sure that you're logged on to your machine as an 'Administrator'

  2. Make sure that you can properly navigate 'System Files'- Open any folder and go to 'Tools' > 'Folder Options...' > 'View'

    Under 'Advanced Settings' make sure that the following boxes are checked:

    'Display the contents of system folders'

    'Show hidden files and folders'

    Make sure that the following boxes are NOT checked:

    'Hide extensions for known file types'

    'Hide protected operating system files'

  3. III. Enable the 'Run' feature in the 'Start' menu

    Hit the 'Start' button. If 'Run...' is not visible in the 'Start' menu do the following:

    'Right-click' on the 'Task Bar'. Go to 'Properties' > 'Start Menu'

    If 'Start menu' is selected, select and utilize 'Classic start menu' instead.

    (Many viruses replace the 'Folder.htt' file utilized by the Windows XP 'Start Menu' with a corrupt VBScript. Once infected, each time you utilize Windows Explorer to view a folder you will execute a virus that will dramatically slow down your machine.)

    After selecting 'Classic start menu' hit 'Apply' then go to 'Customize...' and make sure that the 'Display Run' box is checked.
Now, let's crank it up!

Eliminate all spyware
Utilize free programs such as AdAware by Lavasoft and SpyBot Search & Destroy by Safer Networking. Once these programs are installed, make sure that there aren't any items listed or checked in the 'Ignore' section. Be sure to check for and download updates before starting a scan.

Run a complete virus scan
Update your anti-virus software and run a complete system virus scan. Many viruses are designed for the sole purpose of draining system resources. Make sure that you only have one anti-virus software package installed. Unlike anti-Spyware programs, mixing anti-virus software is a sure-fire way to spell disaster for system performance and reliability.

Run 'Disk Cleanup'
Open 'My Computer' from the desktop. 'Right-click' on your main hard drive, (usually 'C:'). Select 'Properties' and press 'Disk cleanup'. Allow it to run. Once finished, the 'Files to delete' window will show the file categories on the disk that can be deleted or compressed. Check the boxes by those that you don't need and press 'OK'.

Check each hard drive with 'scandisk'
With time and heavy use, data and physical problems can develop that drastically decrease system performance. Defragmenting the drive can help, but there are other issues such as lost clusters and bad sectors that the defragmentation utility cannot touch. It's a good idea to run XP's built in error checking utility on your drives every 2-3 months. This utility will scan your disks for errors and optionally attempt to correct them.

Open 'My Computer' from the desktop. 'Right-click' on your main hard drive, (usually 'C:'). Select 'properties' then 'tools' and under 'error checking' select 'check now…'. Check both 'Automatically fix file system errors' and 'Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors'. Restart your machine. 'Scandisk' will run during startup and can take a while depending on the size of your drive.

Clean out your 'Temporary Internet Files' and 'Cookies' folder
'Start' > 'Settings' > 'Control Panel' > 'Internet Options'

Select 'Delete Cookies...'. When the confirmation window appears, press 'OK'.

Select 'Delete Files...'. When the confirmation window appears, check 'Delete all offline content' and press 'OK'. (If you checked the 'Temporary Internet Files' box during 'Disk Cleanup' this should only take a second or two.)

Change 'Days to keep pages in history:' to 0. If you visit certain Web sites on a regular basis, add them to your 'Favorites'. Don't utilize 'History' to keep track of frequently visited sites.

Press 'OK'.

Eliminate programs that run during startup
Preventing programs from running at startup can be frustrating because there is no single location from which to stop them all. Some programs run because they're in the 'Startup' folder, others because they're attached to logon scripts. Others run due to Registry settings. With a little determination and persistence, you will be able to prevent unnecessary programs from running during startup.

Clean out your 'Startup' folder C:Documents and Settings'your username'Start MenuProgramsStartup

Delete 'shortcuts' to unnecessary programs that run during startup. (You can also remove startup 'shortcuts' by going to 'Start' > 'Programs' > 'Startup', then 'right-clicking' on and deleting the 'shortcuts' you want to remove).

(Note - You can prevent all programs in your 'Startup' folder from running by holding down the 'Shift' key during startup. The items will still remain in the 'Startup' folder, however, and they will start the next time you boot).

Clean out your 'Scheduled Tasks' folder

Delete the 'shortcuts' to programs that you don't want to run automatically on a schedule.

Utilizing the 'System Configuration Utility'
The above steps will prevent most obvious programs from running during startup, but others are hidden. To view these programs, go to 'Start' > 'Run...' type 'msconfig' and press 'OK' or hit 'Enter'. You are now utilizing the 'System Configuration Utility'. Go to the 'Startup' tab and you will see the hidden programs that run during startup.

None of these programs are needed for Windows XP to startup properly. You do, however, want your anti-virus software and certain programs that your machine utilizes such as touchpad, graphics, audio and networking drivers to run during startup. This is where persistence pays off. Many times these programs aren't clearly marked. To identify one of these programs, go to 'Start' > 'Search' > 'For files and folders' > 'All files and folders'. Then select 'More advanced options' and make sure that 'Search system folders', 'Search hidden files and folders' and 'Search subfolders' are all checked. Then type the name of the unidentifiable program, ('SHSTAT', for example), then press 'Search'.

Once the program shows up in the 'Search Results' window, press 'STOP'. Then 'Right-click' on the program and select 'Open Containing Folder'. Now you are in the program's directory and should be able to identify it by reading the address bar. 'SHSTAT' resides in my ' C:Program FilesNetwork AssociatesVirusScan' folder, therefore, I want it to run during startup. 'Msmsgs', on the other hand, resides in my 'C:Program FilesMessenger' folder. I never use the Microsoft Instant Messenger, therefore, I would uncheck it in the 'System Configuration Utility'. Once you have unchecked each program that you don't want to run during startup, press 'Apply' then 'Close' and select 'Restart'. After startup you will receive a 'System Configuration Utility' message stating, "You have used the System Configuration Utility to make changes to the way Windows starts." Simply check 'Don't show this message...' then select 'OK'. I realize that this is a borderline ridiculous process, but until Microsoft comes up with a better way to modify hidden startup programs... oh well.

Eliminate services that run during startup
Constantly running processes that help the operating system run or that provide support to other applications are known as 'services'. Many 'services' launch automatically at startup and constantly run in the background. While you need many of them, some are not required and they can slow down your system.

To view 'services' go to 'Start' > 'Run' and type 'services.msc' then press 'OK' or hit 'Enter'. To stop a 'service' from running during startup, 'Right-click' on the 'service' and select 'Properties'. Change 'Startup type:' to 'Manual' and press 'Apply'. Then press 'Stop'. The following are some of the common services that can be prevented from running during startup:
  • Portable Media Serial Number Service
  • Removable Storage
  • Task Scheduler Service - Schedules unattended tasks to be run. If you don't schedule any unattended tasks, turn it off.
  • Uninterruptible Power Supply Service - Manages an Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) connected to your PC. If you don't utilize one, turn it off.
  • Wireless Zero Configuration Service - only if you don't utilize a wireless internet connection.
  • Telnet - (Certain versions of Windows XP Pro only) Unless you're a 'hacker'. Then you probably wouldn't be reading this article. Instead of changing 'Telnet' to 'Manual', go ahead and select 'Disable'.
Disable 'file indexing'
The 'Indexing service' extracts information from documents and other files on the hard drive and creates a "searchable keyword index." As you can imagine, this process can be quite taxing on any system.

The idea is that the user can search for a word, phrase, or property inside of any document or file. Windows XP's built-in search functionality can still perform these searches without the Indexing service. It just takes longer.

Open 'My Computer' from the desktop. 'Right-click' on your main hard drive, (usually 'C:'). Select 'Properties'. Uncheck 'Allow Indexing Service to index this disk for fast file searching'. Then select 'Apply changes to C:, subfolders and files', then select 'OK'. If a warning or error message appears (such as 'Access is denied'), select the 'Ignore All button'.

Empty the Windows 'Prefetch' folder

> C:WINDOWSPrefetch

Empty the Windows 'Prefetch' folder every 2-3 months. Windows XP can 'prefetch' portions of data and applications that are used frequently. This makes processes appear to load faster when called upon by the user. That's fine. But over time, the prefetch folder will become overloaded with references to files and applications that are no longer in use. When that happens, Windows XP is wasting a great deal of time and slowing system performance by pre-loading them. It is safe to delete everything in this folder.

Enable 'DMA' for each hard drive

'Start'>'Settings'>'Control Panel'>'Administrative Tools'>'Computer Management'>'Device Manager'

'Double-click' on the 'IDE ATA/ATAPI Controllers device' and ensure that 'DMA', (Direct Memory Access), is enabled for each drive connected to the Primary and Secondary controller. Do this by double-clicking on 'Primary IDE Channel'. Select the 'Advanced Settings' tab. Ensure the Transfer Mode is set to 'DMA if available' for both Device 0 and Device 1. Repeat this process with the Secondary IDE Channel.

Turn off unnecessary animations

'Start'>'Settings'>'Control Panel'>'System'>'Advanced'

Windows XP offers many settings related animated icons, fonts, window displays, etc. When enabled these features utilize valuable system resources. under 'Performance' select 'Settings' then select 'Adjust for best performance'.

Eliminate unnecessary 'fonts'


The more fonts you have installed, the slower your system will become. While Windows XP handles fonts much more efficiently than previous versions of Windows, too many fonts, anything over 500, will noticeably tax your system.

Speedup Windows Explorer

Every time you open a folder there is a delay before the folder's content appears. Windows XP automatically searches for network files and printers every time you open Windows Explorer. To correct this and to significantly increase browsing speed open 'My Computer' from the desktop. Select 'Tools' then 'Folder Options'. Select 'View' and uncheck 'Automatically search for network folders and printers'. Select 'Apply' then 'OK' and restart your machine.

Turn off 'System Restore'

'System Restore' can be useful if your computer is having problems, however, storing all the restore points can literally take up Gigabytes of space on your hard drive. To turn off 'System Restore' go to 'Start' > 'Settings' > 'Control Panel' > 'System' > 'System Restore' and check 'Turn off System Restore on all drives'. Then select 'Apply' and 'OK'.

Optimize Your 'Pagefile'

If you assign a 'fixed' file size to your 'pagefile' the operating system no longer needs to resize it to fulfill memory needs.

Windows XP sizes the 'pagefile' to about 1.5x the amount of actual physical memory by default. This is fine for systems with smaller amounts of memory, (under 512MB). If you have less than 512MB of memory, leave the 'pagefile' at its default size. If you have 512MB or more, change the 'pagefile' size ratio to 1:1.

'Right-click' on 'My Computer' from the desktop and select 'Properties' > 'Advanced'. Under 'Performance' choose 'Settings' > 'Advanced' > 'Virtual Memory' > 'Change'. Highlight the drive containing your page file, (usually 'C:'), and make the 'Initial size' of the file the same as the 'Maximum size' of the file. Then select 'Set' > 'OK' > 'OK' > 'OK'. Restart your machine.

Editing the 'registry' Microsoft Windows stores its configuration information in a database called the 'registry'. The 'registry' is the central storage for all computer configuration data. The Windows system configuration, the computer hardware configuration, information about installed programs, the types of documents that each program can create or use and user preferences are all stored in the 'registry'. Windows continually references this information during its operation. The 'registry' stores the data in a structured hierarchy of 'keys', 'subkeys', and 'named values'. Incorrectly editing the 'registry' may severely damage your system. Microsoft recommends that you backup the 'registry' before you edit it.

The only 'Key' that we will edit is 'HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE' or 'HKLM'. To backup the 'HKLM' key select 'Start' > 'Run...' and type 'regedit', then select 'OK' or hit 'Enter'. You are now utilizing the Windows 'Registry Editor'. On the left under 'My Computer' you will see the 'HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE' key. To backup the key, 'Right-click' on on the key and select 'Export'. In the 'File name:' block type 'HKLM_Backup'. Select the directory that you want to save the backup in with the 'Save in:' drop down menu at the top of the window and select 'Save'. Now you have backed up the 'HKLM' key.

The following edits are fairly simple and they don't require the alteration of any critical keys, so you shouldn't need to restore the backup. When editing the 'registry', however, you can never assume anything. Should you need to restore the backup, simply open 'regedit' again, 'highlight' the 'HKLM' key and select 'File' > 'Import...'. Browse to the 'HKLM_Backup.reg' file and select it. Select 'Open' then 'OK'. Restart your machine.

Force Windows to unload DLLs Dynamic Link Libraries, or DLLs, are files that contain data or functions that Windows programs can call when needed by linking to them. Every piece of windows software will include instructions to the operating system as to which DLLs it will need to access, and XP will cache these particular files into memory for faster access.

Unfortunately, Windows XP keeps these DLLs cached after the related program has closed, wasting memory. While DLLs are generally small files, enough of them can make a big dent. This 'registry tweak' will force Windows XP to unload DLLs used by a program once that program is closed.

Select 'Start' > 'Run...' and type 'regedit', then select 'OK' or hit 'Enter'. Navigate to:


Highlight the 'Explorer' folder. Then in the window to the right, 'Right-click' anywhere in the white space. Select 'New' > 'DWORD Value' and name it 'AlwaysUnloadDLL'. After creating the key, 'Right-click' on it and select 'Modify' and under 'Value data:' type '1'. Select 'OK' and close 'regedit'. Restart your machine.

Disable 'Last Access Update'

When you access a directory Windows XP wastes a lot of time updating the time stamp showing the most recent access time for that directory and for all of it's sub-directories. As the number of files and folders increases on your hard drive, system performance decreases.

Select 'Start' > 'Run...' and type 'regedit', then select 'OK' or hit 'Enter'. Navigate to:


Highlight the 'FileSystem' folder. Then in the window to the right, 'Right-click' anywhere in the white space. Select 'New' > 'DWORD Value' and name it 'NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate'. After creating the key, 'Right-click' on it and select 'Modify' and under 'Value data:' type '1'. Select 'OK' and close 'regedit'. Restart your machine.

Improve Boot Speed A great feature in Windows XP is the ability to perform a 'boot defragment'. This places all boot files next to each other on the disk and allows for faster booting. By default this option is usually turned on during installation but on occasion it is not.

Select 'Start' > 'Run...' and type 'regedit', then select 'OK' or hit 'Enter'. Navigate to:


Highlight the 'BootOptimizeFunction' folder. Then in the window to the right, view the 'Enable' key. If a 'Y' is present under 'Data', simply close 'regedit'. The feature is already enabled. If not, 'Right-click' on the key and select 'Modify' and under 'Value data:' type 'Y'. Select 'OK' and close 'regedit'. Restart your machine.

Speed up shutdown times

Having a fast machine during startup won't make you very happy if it takes forever to shutdown. You can disable the 'Clear Page File At Shutdown' feature to significantly decrease shutdown times.

Select 'Start' > 'Run...' and type 'regedit', then select 'OK' or hit 'Enter'. Navigate to:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESYSTEMCurrentControlSetControlSessionManagerMemory Management

Highlight the 'MemoryManagement' folder. Then in the window to the right, 'right-click' on the 'ClearPageFileAtShutdown' key. Select 'Modify' and under 'Value data:' type '0'. Select 'OK' and close 'regedit'. Restart your machine.

This article was written by our guest writer of the day, J.C. Hurst. He's the IT/Internet Marketing Director for The Ziegler Corporations located in Atlanta, Georgia.

About the Author

Thomas De Maesschalck

Thomas has been messing with computer since early childhood and firmly believes the Internet is the best thing since sliced bread. Enjoys playing with new tech, is fascinated by science, and passionate about financial markets. When not behind a computer, he can be found with running shoes on or lifting heavy weights in the weight room.

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