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How to optimize Windows XP

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In this tutorial, I will show you a variety of ways to optimize the performance of your Windows XP computer by removing old programs, keeping Windows up-to-date, removing temporary files, and performing other various tweaks to improve your Windows experience.

Before we get started, it is recommended to please enter your System Details. It helps us in answering your questions.

It is highly recommended to create a System Restore point before making any changes to your system just in case something goes wrong. You can do this by following the instructions in this link, Configure System Restore in Windows.

Now that your System Details have been entered in your profile and you have created a System Restore point, follow the steps to optimize your computer below:

1. Click Start< Control Panel< Add/Remove Programs and uninstall any programs that you do not use.

If you are not sure on what programs can be removed safely, there are three tools that you can use to help you decide what needs to go. Personally, any programs that are not system drivers and that come pre-installed on any new computer probably are not necessary for your computer to work properly. These useless programs known as bloatware, a lot of the time will be running in the background so if you do not need these programs, they can be removed using the tools below:

PC Decrapifier.

Decrap My PC.

Should I Remove It.

2. While in the Add/Remove programs window click the button that says Add/Remove Windows Components and uncheck the checkboxes next to Indexing Service, MSN Explorer, and Windows Messenger. Then click the Next button. When the wizard finishes, click the Finish button to close the window.

3. Download and run ATF Cleaner. Save the program to your desktop. After the download completes, run the program. When it opens select all the checkboxes in the program then hit the Empty Selected button.

4. Run Disk Cleanup. Click Start< All Programs< Accessories< System Tools< Disk Cleanup. When it is done calculating how much free space you can save make sure you check all the checkboxes except for compress old files on the Disk Cleanup tab. Now click the More Options tab and under System Restore click the Cleanup button. When it asks you if you want to delete all but the most recent restore point click Yes. Now click Ok on the Disk Cleanup window to allow Disk Cleanup to remove unnecessary files from the computer.

If you want a more thorough cleaning of your system using the Disk Cleanup utility then follow the instructions in this link, How to Create and Run an Extended Disk Cleanup Shortcut in Windows.

5. Download and run the portable version of CCleaner. Save the zipped folder to your desktop. After you download the zipped folder on your desktop, right click the zipped folder and click Extract All. After the folder has been extracted open the regular folder. Run the CCleaner.exe program by double clicking on it. When you open the program, on the Windows tab select the following boxes:

Temporary Internet Files
Recently Typed URLs
Index.dat files
Last Download Location
Empty Recycle Bin
Temporary Files
Memory Dumps
Chkdsk File Fragments
Windows Log Files
Old Prefetch Data
IIS Log Files

You will see the program that looks like this:

Once those checkboxes have been selected, click on the Applications tab and deselect all the checkboxes on that tab. Then click on the Analyze button. After CCleaner has finished analyzing how much hard drive space you can free up, click on the Run Cleaner button. CCleaner will tell you that this process will permanently delete files from your system, and are you sure you want to proceed? Click on Ok to have CCleaner remove all the junk files that it found. CCleaner will then remove those files and when it is done, it will tell you that the cleaning has finished. You can now close the CCleaner program.

(Understand, that by deleting Internet cookies using either CCleaner or ATF Cleaner, if you had set your Internet browser to save your login information to your online e-mail account as an example, then you will need to re-enter that information again in order to log into that account. Internet cookies are small pieces of information in the form of small text files that are downloaded to your computer when you visit websites. These text files save your login information, so by deleting your Internet cookies, your usernames and passwords for your online accounts will need to be typed in again. If you do not want to re-input this information again then do not remove your Internet cookies using CCleaner or ATF Cleaner).

6. Disable any Windows Services that you do not use by following, Black Vipers Services Guide.

Information on Windows Services

A Windows Service is a special type of application that operates in the background. Services can have special privileges that regular applications do not. For instance, on a limited user account a service could access certain parts of the Windows Registry that a regular application could not access. Most Windows Services do not have a user interface and many of them are loaded when Windows starts.

I have been using Black Vipers website as a partial guide as to whether or not a service is needed for many years now and have never had any problems. The key here is you should only mess with Windows Services if you are willing to spend time researching about what each service does. Every computer user uses their computer differently so it is not really possible to recommend a general list of services that people can disable since some users will use a Windows Service that someone else will never use. However, I find that if you look at the information about a particular Windows Service from many different sources about what its purpose is, then you will have a greater understanding of whether or not you should disable the service.

I use Black Vipers guide along with many other sources found online about what each service’s purpose is so I can more accurately determine if I need that service running on my machine. My mentality is that if you have a process that is taking up your computers resources and you have no use for it to be running in the first place then why keep that process running? Sure on computers with today’s hardware, the difference in performance with disabling Windows Services may be marginal at best and may trim a few seconds off of your startup time but every little bit helps in the long run. Not only that, but disabling certain Windows Services can even improve the security of the system. The lower the amount of processes your system has running, the more resources your computer has available for when you want to play a game or perform intensive multitasking with programs that you do use. I have disabled dozens of Windows Services on many computers and I have noticed a slight increase in performance.

There is some truth that if you disable a Windows Service, you may break a feature of Windows that you use and could even render your computer unbootable. While this statement is correct, I have seen many users particularly novice ones who disable Windows Services without knowing the full impact of what they actually control. For example, a user may disable the Print Spooler Service and then wonder why their printer dos not work anymore. This shows that you need to be absolutely sure that the service that you are disabling will not disable some feature of Windows that you utilize. If you follow this approach, then you will have a lower chance of messing up your system.

Pre-work before modifying Windows Services

Before you make any changes to the Windows Services list, you should create a System Restore point just in case you need to restore your computer before you made any service changes. To create a restore point, follow the instructions in this link, Configure System Restore in Windows.

After the restore point has been created, you can now open the services window by clicking Start< Run and typing services.msc and hitting enter. Then, make sure you READ all of the information on Black Vipers service configuration webpage before making any service startup changes as the information that is listed there is EXTREMELY important.

Let’s now describe what each of the service categories on Black Vipers website actually mean and how you can interpret them. The services are sorted by different columns on the website. The columns that we will focus on are the name of each service, and the configuration mode that you want to follow. The service name allows you to click on each service to learn more about what each service does and what the default startup type is.

The service startup configurations are organized into three distinct categories; Safe, Tweaked, and Bare-bones:

  • Safe - If you are a basic computer user or you are not very comfortable with disabling Windows Services then you should follow the Safe configuration. The Safe configuration should be sufficient for most home users to follow with very little risk involved. The Safe configuration will have you disable services required for using smart cards and media sharing across large networks so for home computers that do not perform these functions, this configuration will work well for your needs.
  • Tweaked - If you are an intermediate or advanced computer user then you can follow the Tweaked configuration for more control over what features you have enabled. The Tweaked configuration will disable File and Print sharing, Network Discovery and other corporate network functions that many home computers will not use so if you do not share any files or printers between computers on your network, then the Tweaked configuration will be adequate for your needs.
  • Bare-bones - The last service configuration is the Bare-bones category. This category is NOT recommended to follow completely as security features like Windows Update, Security Center, Windows Firewall and wireless Internet functionality will stop working with this configuration. You should be very cautious when disabling any services that use the Bare-bones configuration.
Now this isn't to say that you need to follow each category exactly as shown on the website. You can disable certain services from all three categories listed as long as you know that you will not be using that particular service. As another option, you can look through each service individually by name, which will give you a greater understanding of what each service is used for. Then you can use the service configuration categories on Black Vipers website as a starting point to figure out how important each service is to the running of your system. The services listed under the Safe category are going to be safer to disable when compared to the services listed under the Tweaked or Bare-bones categories. Regardless of the service category that you choose or whatever services you decide to disable, make sure you perform research on the service in question before disabling it. I cannot stress this enough. Just remember to exercise some good common sense when messing with Windows Services. If you have a question about what a particular service does and you are unsure about its functionality, then feel free to ask about it on the PCHF forum.

7. Remove any scheduled tasks that you do not need running on the machine by following the instructions in this link, How to Edit, Disable, or Delete a Windows XP Scheduled Task.

8. Download Auslogics Disk Defrag. Save the program to your desktop. After the download completes, run the installer. Make sure to uncheck/decline any extra items in the installation wizard as they are not needed. After the installation finishes, run the program by double clicking on the Auslogics Disk Defrag shortcut. When you open the program click on Settings< Defrag Priority and select High Priority. Then click on Settings< Program Settings< Integration Tab. Select the Use Disk Defrag as your default defragmentation program checkbox. Now click on the Algorithms Tab. Select the Move system files to the beginning of the disk checkbox and select the Optimize file placement by Prefetch layout checkbox. Then click on the Disk Cleanup Tab. Select all the checkboxes on that tab EXCEPT for the Permanently wipe files that are being deleted checkbox. When done, click Ok to close the Settings window. When you are ready to start the defragmentation process select the small down arrow next to the word Defrag and select the Defrag button. The process could take a long time so please be patient.

9. Click Start< Right click Computer and click Properties. In the System Properties window click the Advanced tab< Under where it says Performance hit the settings button. In the Performance Options window click the Advanced tab and under Virtual Memory click the Change button. In the Virtual Memory window make sure your hard drive is selected and select the option that says System Managed Size and click the Set button. Now click Ok on the Virtual Memory window to close it. Now in the Performance Options window click the Data Execution Prevention tab and select the option that says Turn on DEP for all programs and services except those I select. After that is done click Ok on the Performance Options window to save the changes. Then in the System Properties window on the Advanced Tab under Startup and Recovery click on the Settings button. Under the System startup section uncheck both checkboxes that say Time to display list of operating systems and Time to display recovery options when needed. When done, click on Ok on all the windows to close them out and then reboot the computer.

NetMeeting is a program developed by Microsoft that allows users to chat, share files, and do video conferencing over an Internet connection. NetMeeting was available for Windows based computers up to Windows XP, after which the program was not included with later Windows based Operating Systems. If you have no need for this program then you can remove it to free up some more hard drive space.
To remove NetMeeting from Windows XP click Start< Run and type RunDll32 advpack.dll,LaunchINFSection C:\WINDOWS\inf\msnetmtg.inf,NetMtg.Remove, and hit enter.

11. To improve your Windows shutdown time, decrease the delay time when opening up menus, and close non responsive programs, I have provided descriptions for what these various settings do and a registry script that will make these changes automatically.

Here are the descriptions about what each of these settings do in the below registry script.

AutoEndTasks - Determines whether user processes end automatically when the user either logs off or shuts down Windows.

HungAppTimeout - Specifies how long the system waits for user processes to end after the user clicks the End Task command button in Task Manager. If this threshold is exceeded, the End Task dialog box appears, stating that the process did not respond.

MenuShowDelay - Determines the interval from the time the cursor is pointed at a menu until the menu items are displayed.

WaitToKillAppTimeout - Determines how long the system waits for user processes to end after the user attempts to log off or to shut down Windows. When the time specified in this entry expires, the End Task dialog box appears, stating that the process did not respond. If the value of AutoEndTasks is 1, the system ends the process automatically.

LowLevelHooksTimeout - Determines how long the system waits before the system ends Windows services automatically when they are not responding.

ForegroundLockTimeout - Specifies the time, following user input, during which the system keeps applications from moving into the foreground.

WaitToKillServiceTimeout - Determines how long the system waits for services to stop after notifying the service that the system is shutting down. This entry is used only when the user issues a shut-down command by clicking Shut Down from the Shut Down Windows dialog box. When the value of this entry expires, the system notifies the user that the service has not stopped. The user can either force the service task to stop or continue to wait. If the user waits, this value specifies the interval between repeated user notices that the service has not stopped. If all services stop before this value expires, the system shuts down; it does not wait for this value to expire.

NtfsDisable8dot3NameCreation - By default, NTFS creates an 8.3 filename every time it creates a long filename, which adds a bit of time to the file creation process. Disabling this feature can increase the performance on heavily used NTFS partitions that have a large amount of files with long filenames.

NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate - By default, each file and folder on an NTFS volume has an attribute called Last Access Time, which records the last time the file or folder was opened, read, or changed. This means even when you read a file on an NTFS volume, a write action occurs on that volume too. Normally this is not a problem, but if you have an application that tends to frequently access files for short periods of time, this feature of NTFS can really slow performance.

VerboseStatus - Windows has the option to display certain messages during startup and shutdown. These highly detailed status messages are referred to as Verbose Status Messages and tell us the processes or steps that the Windows operating system is taking during startup, shutdown, logon, and logoff operations. These verbose messages tell you what Windows is doing in the background while carrying out these operations.
To run the registry script, click Start< All Programs< Accessories< Notepad. Once Notepad opens, copy and paste the text in bold red below:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop]





[HKEY_USERS\S-1-5-19\Control Panel\Desktop]

[HKEY_USERS\S-1-5-20\Control Panel\Desktop]


Then click on File< Save and save the file with the attributes as illustrated in the below screenshot.

Filename: Name.reg
Save as type: All Files
Encoding: ANSI

When done click on Save. Now close Notepad and navigate to where you saved your registry file. Double click on the registry file to run it. You will be presented with a message that looks like this:

Click on Yes to continue and then click on Ok to confirm that the file has been imported into the registry.

12. Run Check Disk on the hard drive to repair any errors in the file system. To do this click Start< Computer. Right click on your hard drive and click on Properties. Then once the hard drive properties dialog box opens, click on the Tools Tab. Under where it says Error-checking click on the Check Now button. Ensure that both the Automatically fix file system errors and the Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors checkboxes are both checked. After that is done click on the Start button. Check Disk will ask you to schedule the disk check when you restart your computer. Click on Yes to do this and then restart your computer to allow check disk to run.

13. Keep Windows up to date by following this guide, Using Windows Update. Once Windows has all the latest updates from Microsoft installed, follow this guide for Securing Internet Explorer.

14. Please download Autoruns. After you download the zipped folder on your desktop, right click the zipped folder and click Extract All. After the folder has been extracted open the regular folder. Run the autoruns.exe program by double clicking on it. When you open the program click the Logon Tab and remove any items that you do not need running on startup. Then post a screenshot of all the startup entries on the Logon Tab in your next reply. Your screenshot should look like the following image below.

15. Download and run TCP Optimizer. Save the program to your desktop and then run the program. When the program opens, on the General Settings tab under Network Adapter selection click the option that says Modify all Network Adapters. Then at the bottom of the window where it says Choose settings, select the Optimal setting and click on Apply Changes. Click on Ok to confirm the changes and when prompted, reboot the computer for the changes to take effect.

16. State how many processes are running in the Windows Task Manager.

17. (This step is optional)

Disable the "Check Online for a Solution" Dialog (Error Reporting) in Windows XP, Vista, 7, and 8.

Let us know how the computer is running after performing the above steps.

Some guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Following these steps will help improve your computer's performance to a certain degree but will NOT fix a hardware limitation or remove malware infections that could be present on the machine.

  • In the case of your computer experiencing malware symptoms or you want to make sure your computer is completely clean of malware, it is advisable to please read this and post the requested logs in the Malware and Virus Removal Forum.

  • If your computer is still slow because of a hardware limitation such as a slow processor (CPU) or a low amount of memory (RAM) then we ask that you communicate clearly on why your machine is still slow so that our technicians can provide suggestions on upgrading the hardware for your computer.

  • If you were directed to this tutorial by a hyperlink on PCHF and you want us to help speed up your computer, then we ask that you post the contents of the following information in your next reply:

    Autoruns Logon Tab Screenshot
    Number of processes running in the Windows Task Manager

  • In case you were wondering, I did not provide any suggestions for what security programs you should install and run as that question is based on personal preferences and what some people use for security software may not work for others. If you have a question about what security software you should run on your system then search the forum for a similar topic or create a new thread in the appropriate section if you need your specific question answered.

  • Here is some information that with lack of regular maintenance, why do Windows computers slow down over time?

    Startup Programs: Examine a Windows system that is slow and you are likely to find many additional startup programs have been installed, lengthening the boot process, cluttering the system tray with useless icons, and consuming CPU, memory, and other system resources in the background. Worse yet, some computers may come with a huge amount of useless startup programs out of the box thanks to manufacturer-installed bloatware.

    Windows Explorer Plug-ins, Services, and More: Applications that add shortcuts to Windows Explorer’s context menu can make right-clicking on files take much longer if they’re badly programmed. Other programs may install themselves as a system service or as a scheduled task so they’re running in the background even though you cannot see them. Even if they are not in the system tray, useless programs can slow down your PC.

    Bloated Security Suites: Security suites like Norton and McAfee can be very bloated with extra features that you may not use, while consuming a lot of system resources to perform all their functions. In most cases you do not really need a full security suite, just a couple of good free security applications.

    PC Cleaning Tools: Paid PC cleaning tools are generally scams. Paradoxically, they can make your computer even slower if they add themselves as a startup program and run in the background. The scammiest PC cleaning programs may even install additional spyware and other junk on your machine.

    Temporary Files and Other Junk: Poorly written applications may clutter your system with useless temporary files and fill your registry with useless entries. The worst applications may not clean up properly after themselves, which will leave parts of their applications on your system even after you have uninstalled them. While an accumulation of Temporary Files will not slow down your computer, these files will take up hard drive space and can cause issues with downloading files or running programs.

    Internet Browser Add-ons and Toolbars: Legitimate browser extensions can slow down your Internet browser enough, but junk add-ons like the terrible toolbar can slow things down even more. Some toolbars and add-ons can show you obnoxious ads in your search results which can make your Internet browser very frustrating to use.

    Dust and Dirt Accumulation: Dust and dirt building up in computers can be a problem especially if that material inhibits air flow by blocking fan vents or insulating parts which can cause components to overheat. Regardless if you are using a laptop or a desktop computer it is recommended to clean your computer using a can of compressed air or an electric duster every 3 to 6 months. You should NOT use a vacuum cleaner though, How To Thoroughly Clean Your Dirty Desktop Computer.

    Overall, the main cause of a Windows system slowing down over time is installing junk software.
  • The following articles are very informative and will help you stay safe on the Internet:

    The Dangers of Downloading Free Software.

    How deceiving Ads trick you on download sites.

    The Top 10 Ways PUPs Sneak Onto Your Computer, and How To Avoid Them.

    Yes, Every Freeware Download Site is Serving Crapware (Here's the Proof).

    How to Avoid Installing Junk Programs When Downloading Free Software.

    Mac OS X Isn't Safe Anymore: The Crapware / Malware Epidemic Has Begun.

    How to install freeware cleanly - a catalog of the most dubious crapware installation methods.

    How did I get infected.

    Simple and easy ways to keep your computer safe and secure on the Internet.

    Even though this guide helps to optimize Windows XP, you should consider migrating off of Windows XP to a newer and safer operating system if possible. Here is why, Online Safety: Why You Should Give Up Windows XP For Good.

  • One last note: If you require expert and professional help for an issue that you can not fix yourself then you should contact a local computer technician to repair and optimize your computer for you as there is only so much our technicians on the PCHF forum can do to fix your computer problems.
Stay Safe and Happy Computing! :)

The PCHF Team
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