Optimizing Windows XP on an older machine

I have a new laptop at home, thanks to a friend of mine. It is an HP Omnibook XE GD. 850 Mhz AMD Duron, 256M RAM.  In the spirit of keeping it green, it’s a hand-me-down of a hand-me-down and I’m proud to have it.  I was able to load Windows XP without any trouble and it works quite well.

I’ve read a few web site with tips on Optimizing and Speeding up Windows XP, including:

There is a lot of information out there, some more useful than others. Here is what works best for me. Nothing on this list requires registry edits (RegEdit). These are all things you can easily do.

When mechanics build race car, they remove what they don’t need, then build up the suspension and chassis, re-tune the engine and put on racing tires. We’re going to do that to XP…

We don’t want the computer doing anything it doesn’t have to. Begin by getting rid of computer viruses and spyware. If you have anti-virus software, make sure it is up-to-date and do a full system scan. Clean off anything that is found.

If you do not have anti-virus software, go to TrendMicro.com and look under “Home & Home and Office” for the Free Online Housecall Scan. This will download some software to your computer and scan it. It does not leave behind a program that monitors your computer, it is a one-time scan. This is ideal, because once the scan is complete, it will not keep running, wasting CPU time.  An alternative is the open source ClamWin.  It doesn’t scan real-time, but is great if you want to scan “right now”.

If you WANT to have continuously running anti-virus software, AOL is giving away Active Shield (from Kaspersky) if you sign up for a free e-mail address. Go to www.AOL.com, scroll to the bottom and click on the Anti-Virus link. I installed this on my wife’s 200Mhz machine and it is hardly noticeable. This is no longer available.

Do NOT use “Complete” security suites. They usually do way more than you need and they keep the computer busy doing it. All you really need to add to XP is a little anti-virus software. The firewall built into XP is more than adequate. If you use Firefox browser and stick to your normal websites and don’t open e-mail attachments, you should be able to keep your machine relatively free of viruses and spyware.

Spyware blockers are bad news. They don’t really help you. The spyware is still running, battling it out with the blocker inside your CPU. Get rid of the spyware, then get rid of the spyware blockers. TrendMicro’s Housecall and AOL’s Active Virus Shield both do a great job of getting rid of spyware, but if you want a little extra reassurance, go to www.safer-networking.org and get a copy of Spybot Search & Destroy. It will scan you machine and remove the spyware. Spybot S&D has an immunize feature, but it will just slow you down. Once you are clean, you can remove the Spybot S&D.

Next, get rid of programs you don’t use. Every extra program and add-in either takes time when the system boots, or CPU time when it is working.

Programs to uninstall: Toolbars from Yahoo, Google, AOL and any others. You shouldn’t need more than one toolbar and if you use FireFox, you shouldn’t need any.

Screen Savers. There are lots of fun/free screen savers on the Internet. Most will take CPU time. Just set the power management to turn off the screen. You will blank your screen and save electricity also! If you want it password protected, select the Blank screen screen saver.

Remove Yahoo Widgets, Google Gadgets, Desktop Sidebar, Rocket Doc Weather Bug. Yes, they are fun, but with them, my system booted slower and ran slower. If you need a launcher, use the Quick Launch Toolbar. You can even move it off the TaskBar and to the screen edge.

Click Start->Control Panel->Add Remove Programs and start removing!

OK and Reboot when done.

desktop.jpgTune-up Settings: If you are using Wallpaper, remove it. If you have many icons on you desktop, get rid of them. Every time you open, close or move a window, the CPU has to redraw everything, including the desktop. If you clean off the desktop, there is less work for the CPU to do.

Start->Control Panel->Display-Desktop and set the background to None. OK

Since you are in Control Panel, disable all sounds. Start->Control Panel->Sounds and Audio Devices->Sounds and select the No Sounds theme. OK.

Now, we are going to trim down some of XPs visual effects.

Start->Control Panel->System->Advanced

Uncheck things labeled “Animate” “Fade” or “Slide”. I like to leave ON:

  • Show shadows under menus
  • Show shadows under mouse pointer
  • Show windows contents while dragging
  • Smooth edges of screen fonts
  • Use visual styles for windows and buttons

Now that we’ve removed anything we don’t need, we need to delete junk files and cleanup the registry.

The freeware CCleaner is a great little (2.6 meg) utility for this job.  I’ve used it on a few machines now and am quite happy with the results.  I use it to clean the C drive and to cleanup the registy.

If you don’t want to download CCleaner, you can use Windows Drive Cleanup: Open your My Computer (Windows key-E) right click the C: drive, click Properties, click Drive Cleanup. Click Temporary Internet files, Offline Webpages, Recycle Bin, Temporary Files, Temporary Offline Files, Offline files.  Click OK. This won’t make the system faster, but you should do this before you defragment the drive. To defragment, open your My Computer (Windows key-E) right click the C: drive, click Properties, click Tools, click Defragment Now, click Defragment.

Do NOT adjust the page file settings. It won’t make your system better and it can cause problems. The same is true of memory/cache optimizers. I have yet to find one that makes an improvement.

Keeping it Fast: Do NOT install software you don’t need! If you like to download and install trial software, do it on another computer, not your main computer. Installing software loads entries in the Registry and there isn’t a way to clean the registry. Once the registry gets messy, the only way to speed the machine is to backup your important files and reinstall everything. Don’t even think of trying RegClean, it was made for Windows 95!

While these tips won’t turn every computer into a race car, it will help you tune up an old machine and keep it running. The longer you can keep it running, the longer it will stay out of the landfill…

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