Pick up any PC magazine these days and you’ll find it includes an article about speeding up Windows. And because of the popularity of netbooks, they are more often referring to XP in preference to Vista.
The only problem is that most of these articles get it wrong.
The solution to a slow Windows is not to start switching off functionality. Most people are referring to these articles because their existing system has got slower and slower over time. Why should you then have to switch off Windows functionality to restore the speed you once had?
But before I get started, I’ll share one tip with you. Every year I wipe my hard drive and rebuild Windows from scratch. No, that’s not technically right, as I only do this once. Here’s what to do..
- Reinstall Windows. This is a good time to ensure your backup strategy works as it will accurately recreate the pain of, say, your hard drive crashing.
- Install all the appropriate Service Packs and most important applications (those that are unlikely to change and don’t have regular updates – your office applications, for instance).
- Make all the changes to Windows settings that you require (look and feel-style settings).
- Don’t copy your documents or anything else personal that you’ve backed up.
- Now, use image copying software to create a backup of the entire disk at is currently it.
So, every year you can rebuild your PC with the image you created – all you have to do is re-install the rest of your applications1 and your documents.
Actually, I’ll share another tip with you. Ignore most of what you read about improving XP performance. Most of it involves changing system settings and even modifying the registry – the pagefile, cache settings, network all come in for a good recommendation. Sadly, the vast majority of the advice is rubbish. If it was true 3 service packs down the line, don’t you think Microsoft would have made the change itself? Indeed, researching for this post I came across a prolific Microsoft employee2 who posts on sites debunking most of these myths.
So, what does work? Well, there are various ways for ensuring your PC remains at its peek of efficiency (or, at least, the best you’ll be able to). I do these once a month but the timing is up to you – if you’re getting a lot of problems fixed each time you run it, it may indicate that a more regular approach may be required.
- Uninstall software. As well as using disk space many will be running components in the background that will be slowing your computer down. Sounds obvious, but go through the list of installed programs and remove any that you simply aren’t using. Use JavaRa to remove old copies of Java.
- Make sure your software and drivers are up-to-date – these updates will often be more efficient and, even if not, are generally of an advantage to have. There is lots of software out there for checking whether software is up-to-date – FileHippo is my favourite – but I’d advice avoiding any that update drivers as I’ve only ever had problems from these3.
- Run CCleaner – not just the main cleaner but the registry cleaner as well4. This will clear down any redundant files from your file system and registry. I’ve tried other similar programs but have often found them to have damaged the registry – CCleaner has never done this to me.
- Use CCleaner to review and modify which programs are run during startup (click on Tools and then Startup). If you’re not sure what a program does, simply Google it.
- Uninstalled programs often leave empty folders behind – use Remove Empty Directories to suggest and, alternatively, remove empty folders.
- Now you’ve got your PC as clean and crap-free as possible, you will need to defragment it. File fragments are created as ever-expanding files are split into different parts so that they can be slotted onto your hard drive. Defragmenting will put all the files back together and make them quicker to access. Some defragmentation programs can even more the files around on your hard drive so that they are more efficiently accessed (e.g. some parts of the hard drive spin quicker than others, so putting regularly accessed files in these faster areas will improve performance).
- Defragment your PC using JkDefrag. Its default settings will be just fine, but will only work on your main system drive. If you have others you’ll need to investigate the parameters that can be passed to the program. This is a superb program, not very easy on the eye and not overly user-friendly, but it does its job incredibly well. It even comes with a screensaver option that will defragment your drive when the computer is not in use.
- Now run PageDefrag – this will defragment locked page files (these are files that are used as “virtual” memory)
- Lastly, run RegDefrag. Like your file system your registry can do with the occasionally clean, especially if CCleaner has been busy with it!
And that should be it. If you still have speed issues after all this then think about how much more software (and hardware) you’ve installed since it was a bit more speedy. It could be hardware to blame – running a regular benchmarking program might highlight problems. Otherwise, you may have got to the stage where you hardware simply can’t cope with your current build – memory is usually the quickest way to improve this situation (not just more memory, but quicker memory).