Restore Windows XP Performance
When you first took your computer out of the box, your computer was blazing fast. However, over time, you noticed that your computer gradually slowed down. Unfortunately, over time, your computer starts amassing useless temporary files, fragmented files on the hard drive, startup programs and the occasional spyware or other malicious files. Believe it or not, restoring your computer’s performance is relatively easy. What you need to do is to Clean It Up, Trim It Down and Lock It Up. Before going any further, you should create a system restore as a safety precaution. To create a system restore point, go to Start > Help and Support > Undo Changes to Your Computer with System Restore > Create a Restore Point > enter a name > [O.K.] > [Close].
Clean It Up
No matter how you use your computer, obsolete and useless files will clutter your hard drive. Removing these files will free up some precious hard drive space. But, that is not enough. You also need to defrag your hard drive. Ideally, you want your files to be consolidated on the hard drive for faster retrieval. But, in the real world, files are scattered throughout the hard drive. That’s why you need to defrag your hard drive.
Remove Obsolete and Useless Files: Windows XP comes with its own disk cleanup utility. You can find it at Start Menu > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup. If you have more than one hard drive, you need to select the hard drive you want to clean. Once you are in Disk Cleanup, select Download Program Files, Temporary Internet Files, Temporary Files and Recycle Bin. I recommend you don’t select Compress Old Files. After making your selection, click [O.K.].
Defrag the Hard Drive: Once again, Windows XP comes with a disk defragmenter. You can find it at Start Menu > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter. If you have more than one hard drive, you need to select the hard drive you want to defrag. Once in Disk Defragmenter, click [Analyze] to check the level of fragmentation your hard drive. Windows XP will inform you if you hard drive needs to be defrag. Of course, you can always click [Defragment] with or without Windows XP recommendation. Be patient; the process can take minutes or hours to complete depending on the level of fragmentation. Unfortunately, Windows XP’s defragmenter does not defrag the paging file. To defrag the paging file, you need to use the free utility PageDefrag. You don’t need to install it. Instead, click on it and select to defrag the paging file on the next reboot.
Remove Obsolete Registry Keys: This is very important. Unless you absolutely know what you are doing, Do Not make any changes to the Windows registry. This includes adding, deleting and editing any registry key. Even a slight error in the Windows registry can lead to your computer becoming unstable and even unusable. You will need a registry cleaner to scan and remove obsolete registry keys. There are several free registry cleaners so you don’t need to spend a dime. But, I should mention that in my experience, the paid versions are invariable better than their free versions. Broadly speaking, all registry cleaners can be divided in to 2 groups. The first group are aggressive and the second not so aggressive. Each group has its own pro’s and con’s. Aggressive registry cleaner will search deep and wide to find all obsolete or useless keys; however, they cast a large net and they occasionally mislabel a registry key as useless when in fact it is not. The second group plays it safe and only includes registry keys that are completely safe to remove. However, they will miss some useless registry key. I recommend you stick with the second group. In this second group, I recommend the free CCleaner and Easy Cleaner. If you want a more aggressive scan, use either Eusing’s Registry Cleaner or Regseeker. Finally, always create a system restore point before making any changes. All of these programs prompt users to create a backup of the registry keys before making any changes. If you don’t mind spending some cash, PC Tool’s Registry Mechanic, TuneUp Utilities 2007 and Iolo’s System Mechanic 7.0 are excellent commercial registry cleaners.
Trim It Down
Once you have completed cleaning the junk on your computer, you need to turn off the bells and whistles on your computer. Have you ever noticed that after installing a new piece of software, a new icon appears on your system tray? It is very common for programs to add themselves to the startup program list. Ask yourself, do you really need Real Player to load at startup? Having to start so many programs takes time and resources. You need to cut down on the number of startup programs. Startup programs aren’t the only things which take up resources. Windows XP has a lot of eye candy. All those animations, fading toolbars and pretty icons make your desktop look great but slow down your computer. By cutting down on the number of special effects, you can free up CPU cycles and RAM. In addition, there are several Windows services working in the background. Many of which you don’t necessarily need. Microsoft tries to anticipate which services Windows users need. As a result, several services are turned on by default, some of which you don’t necessarily need. You can free up resources by disabling unnecessary services. This requires caution since disabling the wrong service might make your computer unstable or unusable.
Turn Off Unnecessary Startup Programs: To remove a program from the startup program list, go to Start > Run > type “msconfig” (without the quotation marks) > [Enter] > click on the Startup tab > uncheck any program you don’t want > [O.K.] > Restart. It might be difficult to identify a program solely by its name. You can find out what a particular program does by searching for it on Bleeping Computer’s Startup Program Database. Just type in the name and click [Search]. In the rare case where it can not identify the program, you can also search for it on CastleCops’ Startup Program Database or search for it on the Process Library website. There are a number of programs that you want always to keep, such as your antivirus program, anti spyware program and firewall.
Disable Visual Special Effects: The simplest thing to do is to remove the desktop background. You can trade in your Star Trek theme desktop background for something that doesn’t need as much resources. Go to Start > Control Panel > Display > click on the Desktop tab > select None > and select a color for the background. Next, move on to disabling visual effects. Right click My Computer > select Properties > click on the Advanced tab > under Performance, click [Settings] > click the Visual Effects tab > select Custom > uncheck any special effects you can do without > [O.K.]. Personally, I do away with everything except Show Window Content When Dragging and Show Shadow Under Mouse Pointer. You can experiment.
Disable Unnecessary Windows Services: Again, this is an area in Windows XP which you need to know exactly what you are doing. Turning off the wrong service can cripple your computer. Create a system restore point before making any changes. Once you are done, go to Start > Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Services. Things you need to know. Under status, if it says Started then the service is currently active. Under Startup Type, there are 3 possible values: (1) Automatic – the service is always on; (2) Manual – the service is turned on when needed; (3) Disable – the service is always off. Only change one service at a time. Keep a list of Windows services you have changed and their original settings. Consult online guides like The Elder Geek website for a description of each Windows service. Another good source is the Black Viper list hosted on MajorGeeks’ website. Determine if you need a particular Windows service or not. If you are not sure if you need a particular service, set it to Manual. If it is needed, the service will turn on by itself. To disable a service, right click the service and select "Stop." Right click the service again and select Properties > under Startup Type, select either "Disable" or "Manual" > [Apply] > [O.K.].
Lock It Up
Unfortunately, spyware is a very common cause of computer slow down. A decade ago, there was little spyware. Instead, your common hacker was a computer savvy teenager who created viruses for the purpose of bragging rights. These days, malicious files are created for the purpose of making money. For example, a third party hired by an ad agency might create an adware application which downloads itself on to your computer without your knowledge and consent. The adware then changes your web browser’s settings so the browser is redirected to the ad agency’s website. Another common tactic is to install spyware on your computer and steal all your user ids and passwords. To fight against these newest attacks, you need to add security software to protect your computer. All computers should have at least an antivirus program, anti spyware program and a firewall. There is no shortage of good free security software. Remember, free does not mean inferior. Please read my post of free security software. To secure your computer, you need to set Windows XP to automatically download and install Windows updates. In addition, you need to install and update your security software regularly, secure Internet Explorer and disable Windows components which pose a security risk.
Set Windows XP to Automatically Download and Install Windows Updates: This is the single most important step towards securing your computer. To turn on automatic updates, go to Start > Control Panel > Security Center > Automatic Updates > click [Turn on Automatic Updates].
Installing and Updating Your Antivirus and Anti spyware Software: Be it your antivirus or anti spyware, you need to update it regularly. Most antivirus and anti spyware programs have an automatic update function; be sure to turn it on. Antivirus and anti spyware programs need virus and spyware signatures to detect and remove the latest threats. In addition, try to use an antivirus which has heuristic capabilities. Heuristic scanning is different from regular virus scanning. It does not use virus signatures to detect malicious files; instead, it focuses on detecting behavior which is common to all viruses. This is great when a new virus signature is not available. I highly recommend Antivir, which offers both real time and on demand heuristic scanning. In regards to spyware, unlike antivirus programs, you can install more than 1 anti spyware program. In fact, it is advisable to do so. I use Lavasoft’s Ad Aware, Spybot Search & Destroy and Microsoft’s Windows Defender without any problems.
Install a Firewall: The function of a firewall is to monitor communication between your computer and the Internet. Ideally, you want the firewall to monitor both incoming and outgoing traffic. Windows XP Service Pack 2 (SP2) comes with a firewall. If you haven’t already downloaded and installed SP2 then now it is a good time to do so. Unfortunately, the firewall is only unidirectional; it only monitors incoming traffic, which is less than ideal. Windows XP’s firewall assumes anything already running on your computer is safe and allows any of your computer’s applications to connect to the Internet. This is problematic. For example, let’s say a Trojan Horse was already on your computer when you installed SP2. Windows XP’s firewall will not stop it from collecting data from your computer and transmitting it to the Internet. There are several free bidirectional firewalls. I highly recommend Sunbelt-Kerio Firewall. Other good free firewalls are Comodo Firewall Pro and Jetico Firewall. These last 2 firewalls are more suited for advanced users since they will prompt a user to either allow or block a connection while Sunbelt-Kerio Firewall will make the decisions for you
Download signed ActiveX controls – [Prompt]
Download unsigned ActiveX controls – [Disable]
Initialize and script ActiveX controls not mark as safe – [Disable]
Run ActiveX controls and plugins – [Prompt]
Script ActiveX marked safe for scripting – [Prompt]
Active Scripting – [Prompt]
Allow Programmatic Clipboard Access – [Disable].
Remove Windows Services and Components which Pose a Security Risk: Unfortunately, Internet Explorer is not the only security risk in Windows XP. In fact, there are security vulnerabilities throughout the operating system. Microsoft included many services to Windows XP to provide users with more features; unfortunately, hackers have exploited these services to take control of your computer. For the best security, disable Windows services which allows remote access to your computer.
Remote Access Auto Connection Manager – [Manual]
Remote Desktop Help Session Manager – [Disable]
Remote Registry Service – [Disable]
Telnet – [Disable]
Terminal Service [Disable]
Universal Plug and Play Device Host – [Disable]
WebClient – [Disable].
Messenger (has nothing to do with MSN messenger) – [Disable]. (You can choose to uninstall Messenger, go to Start > Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs > Add/Remove Windows Component > select Messenger > Remove).