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XP performance tweaks

While we’re waiting for Vista to get better or Windows 7 (probably 3 years to go), or contemplating on a Windows alternative altogether like Mac’s Leopard or LInux’s Ubuntu, don’t throw your XP partition away just yet. Tweak it up to get the most of your PC’s hardware as well as in preparation for SP3.

1. Disable extra startup programs

If you notice, over time, your XP takes longer and longer to boot. This is due to the number of items that execute at start up. Such programs are loaded at boot time eats up precious resources like RAM and Processor cycles. Here’s how to remove them:

  • Go to Start and Click Run. Alternatively you can just use Win Key + R
  • Type “msconfig”, without quotations and hit enter or click the OK button
  • Once the system configuration utility pops up, click the startup tab, as shown in the figure
  • In the Startup tab you will see several boxes and some of them will selected (checked). Uncheck everything that you think is not necessary during startup (Adobe Reader, Windows Messenger etc.)
  • Hit OK and you will be prompted to restart your computer. You can restart now or opt to do it later.
  • After restarting a prompt regarding the changes you have made will be displayed. Simply check the option to not display the dialogue again.

2. Disable Extra Services

  • Via msconfig

On menu opened by msconfig command, there is also another tab for Services. Click it and check “Hide All Microsoft Services” option. This option will display you list of third party services. Uncheck the services that are undesirable. As usual you have to reboot to apply the changes.

  • Via services.msc
    • Go to Start and Click Run. Alternatively you can just use Win Key + R
    • Type “msconfig”, without quotations and hit enter or click the OK button
    • Disable the following services:
      • Alerter
      • Clipbook
      • Computer Browser (do not disable if you’re on a LAN because you’re PC won’t be able to “see” any computer in the network)
      • Distributed Link Tracking Client
      • Fast User Switching
      • Help and Support – (If you use Windows Help and Support leave this enabled)
      • Human Interface Access Devices
      • Indexing Service
      • IPSEC Services
      • Messenger
      • Netmeeting Remote Desktop Sharing (disabled for extra security)
      • Portable Media Serial Number
      • Remote Desktop Help Session Manager (disabled for extra security)
      • Remote Procedure Call Locator
      • Remote Registry (disabled for extra security)
      • Remote Registry Service
      • Secondary Logon
      • Routing & Remote Access (disabled for extra security)
      • Server
      • SSDP Discovery Service – (Unplug n’ Pray will disable this)
      • Telnet
      • TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper
      • Upload Manager
      • Universal Plug and Play Device Host
      • Windows Time
      • Wireless Zero Configuration (Do not disable if you use a wireless network)
      • Workstation (is required by some programs. You’ll rarely need it unless you’re a poweruser)

3. Adjust Display Settings

While XP has a better UI compared to past versions of windows, it consumes a good amount of resource.

  • Right click My Computer and select Properties
  • Click the Advanced tab
  • Go to Performance Tab > Settings (you have to click settings button in the performance section)
  • Uncheck everything except:
    Use visual styles on windows and buttons
    Use drop shadows for icons labels on the desktop
    Show translucent selection rectangle
    Show shadows under mouse pointer
    Show shadows under menus
  • Finally click Apply and OK

4. Folder Browsing

Windows automatically searches for printer and network files during boot time as well as when you’re browsing folders.

  • Open My Computer
  • Click Tools > Folder Options
  • In the View tab uncheck Automatically search for network folders and printers
  • Click Apply then OK and finally reboot to apply the change.

5. Indexing Service

With the advent of Desktop Search programs, Windows XP’s “Indexing Service” is more than useless. Aside from consuming a large amount of memory, it’s not really very handy.

  • Go to Start > Control Panel or My Computer > Control Panel
  • Double click Add or Remove programs.
  • Select Add/Remove Windows Components.
  • Uncheck the Indexing Service
  • Click Next to finalize

6. Size of Page File

Page file size is not constant by default which is necessary so that XP can tune it up or down depending on what you are doing. This eats up resources so why not just set a specific yet reasonable amount of disk space for it?:

  • Right click My Computer, select Properties then click the Advanced tab
  • Click the settings button under the performance section
  • Click the Advanced tab
  • Click Change button under the Virtual memory section
  • “Virtual Memory” dialogue will appear
  • Highlight the drive containing page file, which is C: by default
  • Select the custom size and set values for the minimum and maximum fields. (It’s recommended that the minimum is about 512 or half or your physical memory and the maximum is 1024 or as much as your physical memory whichever is higher)
  • Click Set and OK buttons to apply the changes

Note that if you have large enough RAM (2 GB and above) you can disable the Page file completely.

8. Enable Direct Memory Access (DMA)

Your PC saves files in this order: Processor > Memory > HDD. To speed things up a bit, why not allow DMA to let the processor access the HDD directly?

  • Right Click My Computer, select properties
  • Select the Hardware tab
  • Click the Device Manager button
  • Open IDE/ATAPI controllers (Primary and later Secondary)
  • Check if the option to set DMA is not grayed out and set the transfer mode to “DMA if Available” both for Device 1 and 0
  • Perform the same operation for other items in the list, if applicable.

9. Remove Widgets and Background

Desktop widgets like the Vista sidebar may add a bit of coolness to your system’s looks but also eats up resources. The same goes with a huge wallpaper. Remove the widgets from your desktop and resize your wallpaper to the maximum resolution that your Desktop is using. Also, you can remove the desktop background all together though I doubt anyone will go that far.

10. Run BootVis – Improve Boot Times

BootVis will significantly improve boot times

  • Download and Run
  • Select Trace
  • Select Next Boot and Driver Trace
  • A Trace Repetitions screen will appear, select Ok and Reboot
  • Upon reboot, BootVis will automatically start, analyze and log your system’s boot process. When it’s done, in the menu go to Trace and select Optimize System
  • Reboot.
  • When your machine has rebooted wait until you see the Optimizing System box appear. Be patient and wait for the process to complete

11. Remove Fonts for Speed

Fonts, especially TrueType fonts, use quite a bit of system resources even if they’re just sitting idly on your Fonts Folder. For optimal performance, trim down your fonts to just those that you need to use often as well as fonts that applications may require.

  • Go to Start > Control Panel or My Computer > Control Panel
  • Open the Fonts folder
  • Move fonts you don’t need to a temporary directory (e.g. C:\FONT2 or something similar) just in case you need or want to bring a few of them back. The more fonts you uninstall, the more system resources you will gain.

12. Disable Last Access Update

If you have a lot of folders and subdirectories on your computer, when you access a directory XP wastes a lot of time updating the time stamp showing the last access time for that directory and for ALL sub directories. To stop XP doing this you need to edit the registry. If you are uncomfortable doing this then please do not attempt.

  • Go to Start and Click Run. Alternatively you can just use Win Key + R
  • Type “regedit”
  • Click through the file system until you get to “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\FileSystem”
  • Right-click in a blank area of the window on the right and select ‘DWORD Value’
  • Create a new DWORD Value called ‘NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate’
  • Then Right click on the new value and select ‘Modify’
  • Change the Value Data to ‘1′
  • Click ‘OK’

13. Improve Swapfile Performance

If you have more than 256MB of RAM this tweak will considerably improve your performance. It basically makes sure that your PC uses every last drop of memory (faster than swap file) before it starts using the swap file.

  • Go to Start and Click Run. Alternatively you can just use Win Key + R
  • Type “msconfig.exe” then ok
  • Click on the System.ini tab
  • Expand the 386enh tab by clicking on the plus sign
  • Click on new then in the blank box type”ConservativeSwapfileUsage=1″
  • Click OK
  • Restart PC

Note: All of these techniques may not be available to you depending on you access rights on the system. Contact your system administrator in this regard.

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Comments ( 2 )

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  1. Larry Miller July 11, 2008 Reply

    Regarding 13. Improve Swapfile Performance

    This tweak is for Windows98, ME only. It will not work on any NT Platform system, including XP and Vista.

    On these systems the system.ini file is maintained for compatibility with old 16 bit applications only. System settings such as this will be completely ignored.

    Larry Miller
    Microsoft MCSA

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