Friday, September 29, 2006

10 Free Utilities to Improve Windows XP Usability and Performance

Windows XP is a mark improvement compare to earlier versions of Windows. Windows XP contains a host of system utilities which keeps your computer working smoothly. However, you would be pleasantly surprised at how you can improve your Windows experience by adding some small free utilities. Below, I have listed 10 free utilities which does exactly that:

  1. Tweak UI is one of Mircosoft’s Powertoy for Windows XP. Tweak UI allows users to customize Windows XP by tweaking several hidden settings. Some of the settings include: visual effects, mouse control, Windows Explorer control, desktop icons, Start menu appearance and Internet Explorer control.
  1. CCleaner (a.k.a Crap Cleaner) is much like Windows XP’s Disk Cleaner; however, it can clean much more than just temporary files. CCleaner cleans obsolete files from dozens of popular software in several categories, such as web browsers, media players, multimedia, system utilities, security software and Windows components. It makes a good privacy tool as well because it can delete browser’s history, temporary files, cookies, MRU (Most Recently Used) items and logs. To make it more difficult to recover deleted files, CCleaner can run multiple passes to remove the files (e.g. 7 passes which meets the National Security Agency’s standard). An often overlooked tool is the registry cleaner. CCleaner will scan for registry errors and allow users to select which keys to remove.
  1. FreeRAM XP Pro is a memory management utility for Windows XP. It boosts Windows XP performance by optimizing memory usage. It monitors both the physical memory (RAM) and virtual memory (paging file). Besides displaying memory use, it finds the right balance between physical memory and virtual memory for best performance. Users can also manually free up physical memory by “pushing” unused processes in to the paging file.
  1. Cacheman is another system utility which tweaks the disk cache settings and prevents frequent swapping of the data to hard drive. Windows XP default settings are not optimized for systems with 512 MB or more of RAM. Cacheman includes some tweaks to correct the problem (e.g. disables the unloading of the DLL cache).
  1. Keepass is an open source password manager. If you are like me, you have a dozen or more passwords. It is hard to keep track of them all. You can store all your passwords in Keepass and the only password you need to remember is the one for Keepass. Keepass can also generate hard to break passwords.
  1. TCP Optimizer is a must have tool for anyone who uses the Internet. Simply start the program and select the type of connection you use and it will optimize settings.
  1. ERUNT / NTREGOPT is an alternative to Windows system restore. ERUNT creates backups of the registry. If for some reason your computer stops working properly, you can rollback to a time before the problem started by restoring ERUNT’s backup copy of the registry. NTREGOPT is a companion tool which defrags the registry.
  1. Lavalys Everest Home Edition takes an inventory of the hardware installed on your computer. I find Everest to be especially helpful when I decide to upgrade my computer. For example, Everest can identify the type of RAM installed and how many slots are open, which saves me the trouble of opening my computer to find out. It can also display the bios version and even provide the vendor’s name should I decide to update the bios. It displays all internal and external hardware along with the drivers used. It has limited capacity to benchmark a computer’s performance.
  1. Belarc Advisor takes an inventory of the software installed on your computer. For each item, it will include: the date installed, the version and the license key. It also lists the security patches installed.
  1. TrueCrypt is an open source encryption tool. If you use a shared computer, you might want to prevent other users from accessing your private information. Even if you are the only user, should your computer be stolen or otherwise compromised (e.g. hacker gaining control of your computer), you can rest assured that they can not access your private information. For instructions on how to use TrueCrypt, read “Geek to Live: Encrypt your data,” written by Lifehacker.com.

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