Despite Microsoft's best marketing efforts, you haven't yet upgraded to Vista. You still prefer your trusty old copy of Windows XP. And, despite your diligence in protecting your beloved XP machine from viruses and sneaky trojan horses, Windows is noticeably slower than when you first installed it. Don't panic -- there are a number of things you can do to get your XP system running faster.

Keep in mind though, that, while these tips listed below can help you speed up Windows and recover hard drive space, you aren't going to see the sort of speed boost you'd get from upgrading your key hardware components. If you're unhappy, for instance, with the write speed of your hard drive, a few of these tips may help, but not nearly as much as upgrading to an ultra-fast Serial ATA (SATA) drive capable of 10,000 RPM. Also, adding more RAM almost always brings life to an older, slower system.



1 Defragment Your Hard Drive
2 Improve Startup Times
3 Turn Off Unnecessary Services
4 Clean House
5 Optimize Your BIOS
6 Additional Reading


Defragment Your Hard Drive

Once the go-to solution for all speed problems in Windows, Windows Vista has largely eliminated the need for defragmenting by doing it automatically in the background. In Windows XP, however, defragmenting is still a fact of life.

Fragmentation happens when the computer writes files to disk without keeping everything together in one spot. Thus, if you just saved a large image you've been working on in Photoshop, part of it might be near the middle of the disk and part of it might be at the end, which means it takes longer for the disk to find it. Bring those separate parts together is what's known as defragmenting.

In XP, it's fairly simple process. However, note that you won't be able to use your computer while it's busy defragmenting. And if it's been a while since you defragmented, it can take some time. In other words, don't do this in the middle of busy day at the office.

To defragment your boot drive, open My Computer and right-click the disk you want to defragment. Select Properties and then click the Tools tab where you'll see the Defragment Now option. Just click Defragment and wait for the process to finish.


Improve Startup Times

Whenever Windows starts it automatically loads a number of programs, many of which you may not need. Unfortunately stopping programs from running at start-up isn't easy because there's several places these programs can live.

The three main places to investigate are the Startup folder, inside logon scripts and, in some cases, the Registry. By far the easiest of these is the Startup folder which can be found here:

C:\Documents and Settings\username\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

Just open the folder and delete the shortcuts to any programs you don't need when you start Windows.

Tip: You can also clean out the startup items by navigating to Start >> Programs >> Startup and then right-clicking items you want to remove.

To get to the other startup items, open up a command window and type msconfig. Look for the Startup tab and uncheck the box next to the program. Be careful though. Some items in here are required for Windows to function properly, and sometimes it's difficult to tell what a program actually is.

Tip: Maximize the window so that you can see the full file path to the application. In most cases, that will give you a better idea whether or not you need that application.

Another thing to clean is the Scheduled Tasks folder (C:\Windows\Tasks) where you can get rid of any programs that you don't want to run automatically on a schedule.

Keep in mind when you're disabling things that it's better to try them one at a time rather than disabling programs in large batches. That way if you restart and something isn't working you know the culprit.


Turn Off Unnecessary Services

Services are background processes that run silently without you ever knowing about them. Because Windows takes the everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach there's likely to be some unnecessary services running in the background.

To get rid of them go to Start >> Run, type "services.msc" and hit return. Double-click on the service you want to get rid of and change the startup type to Disable.

Here are some examples of services you may not need: Alerter, Distributed Link Tracking Client, Fast User Switching, Indexing Service, Netmeeting Remote Desktop Sharing, Secondary Logon, Telnet and Workstation. There are dozens more you sift through to see if you need them and run a few rigorous web searches to see if you need all of them.

Use caution. If you disable the Computer Browser service, for example, you might find that you can no longer connect to computers on your local network. Before you make changes to unknown services, see if you can find a source that quantifies the exact performance gain you'll see from making this change. Many will only reclaim a few megabytes of RAM.

Clean House

Like most people, you probably have a number of files and programs you don't need that are eating up hard drive space. When it comes to files it's your call, but for getting rid of programs we recommend the free application CCleaner which is faster and much more thorough than the default Add/Remove application provided with Windows. 


Optimize Your BIOS

The BIOS is a set of instructions that's hard-wired into your computer's motherboard. It stands for Basic Input/Output System, and it's responsible for initializing the hardware on your computer whenever it boots up. Tweaking your BIOS will only provide small performance gains on most computers, but on heavily-customized or recently upgrade older computers, it can make a noticeable difference.

Update Your BIOS. Most computer manufacturers and motheboard manufacturers regularly release updates to their BIOS versions. Check with the company which manufactured your computer or its motherboard for the appropriate download. You can usually find out which BIOS version you're running in the BIOS's settings. In the old days, they used to use floppy discs. Now, BIOS upgrades can be performed using bootable CD-Rs or installers that run within Windows. If you need to update your BIOS, the download should come with instructions.

Disable Unused Ports. Are you using that parallel port? What about the VGA port? Have a look at the back of your PC and see if there's anything that you don't have a monitor, scanner or some other peripheral attached to. Then, go into the BIOS when your computer boots and disable that port. You can usually find them in a menu called "integrated peripherals." If you need the port in the future, go back into the BIOS menu and enable it.

Turn Off Built-in Features On Your Motherboard. Most motherboards have a lot of the basics, like RJ-45 networking and sound, built-in. Some even ship with RAID controllers or other fancy hardware you're not using. If you've recently upgraded to a better sound card, you can disable the one that came installed on your board. Likewise if you installed a wireless card -- you won't be needing that Ethernet component any longer. Disable the built-in components you're not using by turning them off in the BIOS. Just like disabling ports, you can always turn them back on if and when you need them.


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