Speed Up Windows XP

When Windows XP is first installed it tends to run fast and gradually, the longer you use it and the more it becomes clogged up with different programs, registry settings and usage history it becomes much slower.

I’m asked on a regular basis whether it’s neccessary to re-install windows and in some cases whether a whole new computer is required.

In some cases, unfortunately, it is neccessary to re-install Windows XP to properley clean it up and get it running how it should. However, in many cases, some simple house-keeping and clean-up tasks are required to stop Windows XP running slowly and get it closer to how it ran when Windows was first installed.

For information purposes only (i take no responsibilty for anything that may go wrong during this process), here are some simple steps that i take to stop Windows XP running slow.

How to Speed up Windows XP

We’ll start with the simple steps first. Windows XP running slowly has many causes but the easiest to deal with first should be the state of the hard drive that it’s running on.

Speed Up Windows XP - Hard Disk Space

To see the status of your hard drive simple open up My Computer (from the Start Menu or by double-clicking the My Computer icon on the desktop). By default most people will have their primary hard disk assigned the letter ‘C’ and named ‘Local Disk’. Find this entry (or the drive that Windows XP is installed on) from the My Computer window, Right-Click the icon and select Properties.

You should now see the Properties window for your primary hard drive where Windows XP is installed. The important figures to take note of here are the ‘Capacity’ (the size of your disk), and the ‘Free Space’. These should followed by the letters ‘GB’ which stands for ‘Gigabytes’ and is the standard measurement of computer storage.

It’s important that at least 10% of the capacity of your hard disk is assigned as free space - otherwise most of the solutions outlined in this article will not help you much as the reason for Windows XP running slowly is more likely to be a lack of hard disk space.

If you have less than 10% free space you have two options:
  1. Purchase a new hard disk. This will require Windows XP to be re-installed.
  2. Remove programs and delete files until you have at least 10% free space.

Speed Up Windows XP - Delete Temporary Files and Folders

There are hundreds of files and folders created by Windows XP, web browsers and other programs which can cause Windows XP to run slow. Obviously many of them will be down to your own computer setup and the specific programs and applications you have installed. My rule of thumb is that generally if a folder is named ‘Tmp’ or ‘Temp’ it‘s contents can be removed without causing any problems - but this may be different for individual programs running on your machine.

Speed Up Windows XP - Viewing System Files

In most cases Windows XP is setup to restrict access to system files and folders and to hide file extensions. For the purpose of house-keeping you will need to disable this function.

  • From the My Computer window select the ‘Tools’ menu and choose ‘Folder Options’
  • Select the ‘View’ tab
  • Make sure that the ‘Show hidden files and folders’ option is checked
  • Make sure that the ‘Hide extensions for known file types’ is un-checked

Speed Up Windows XP - Temporary Internet Files

When you browse the internet using Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Goolge Chrome, Safari, Opera or any web browser files are stored on your computer. Some of these are called ‘cookies’ which are often used to track your internet habits or to keep track of whether you are logged in to certain sites. Some can be bad (such as tracking cookies) and some are more necessary. For example if you often use a site which remembers your password so that you don‘t have to login in every time you visit, this information will be stored in a cookie. This means if you follow the instructions below do not be surprised if you are prompted for your username and password on a site next time you visit when you are usually logged in automatically.

In Windows Explorer (from My Computer) browse to the folder
‘C:\Windows\Temp\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5’.
All files and folders in the Content.IE5 folder can be deleted.

In Windows Explorer (from My Computer) browse to the folder
‘C:\Windows\Temporary Internet Files\Content.IE5’.
All files and folders in the Content.IE5 folder can be deleted.

In Windows Explorer (from My Computer) type the following path in the address bar and hit Go (or press return)
‘C:\Documents and Settings\%USERNAME%\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files’
Delete everything in this folder.

In Windows Explorer (from My Computer) type the following path in the address bar and hit Go (or press return)
‘C:\Documents and Settings\Default User\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files’
Delete everything in this folder.

Speed Up Windows XP - Deleting Temporary System Files

In Windows Explorer browse to the folder
All files ending ‘.tmp’ can be deleted from this folder. Some files will not be removable as they may be in use - you can ignore these. Alternatively if you do want to get rid of everything you can boot into Safe Mode (hit F8 when your computer restarts before booting into Windows) and remove them from here.

In Windows Explorer (from My Computer) type the following path in the address bar and hit Go (or press return)
‘C:\Documents and Settings\%USERNAME%\Local Settings\Temp’
Delete everything ending ‘.tmp’ in this folder.

In Windows Explorer (from My Computer) type the following path in the address bar and hit Go (or press return)
‘C:\Documents and Settings\Default User\Local Settings\Temp’
Delete everything ending ‘.tmp’ in this folder.

Speed Up Windows XP - Removing Unwanted or Unused Applications

Often we will install programs and applications that we will use once or twice and never use again. Sometimes certain programs will be included with another program and it will never used or often we just haven‘t used something for a long time. To speed up Windows XP and conserve hard disk space and memory it is worth removing any applications that are never used.

  • Click on the ‘Start’ button
  • Choose ‘Control Panel’
  • Double-Click on the ‘Add or Remove Programs’ icon
  • Search through the list of programs and applications and ‘Remove’ or ‘Uninstall’ anything that is no longer required.

Make sure you know exactly what the program is before you uninstall and that you will definitely not use it. If you are not sure what an application is or whether it will be used do not remove it. To get anything back once it is uninstalled will usually require the installation CD.

Speed Up Windows XP - Stopping Programs from Automatically Running with Windows

Many programs will set themselves to start along with Windows XP. In some cases this is useful but the chances are that you won‘t use all of them everytime you start your computer. It is worth making a decision which programs you would like to start everytime you log on to Windows XP and which you would like to choose to start (from the Start Menu or Desktop Shortcuts). By default I choose to start Windows XP with the minimum of programs running. This ensures that Windows XP boots up and is ready for use as fast as possible. I can them select which programs i will use that will take time to load.

Speed Up Windows XP - Removing Applications from the StartUp Folder

In Windows Explorer browse to ‘C:\Documents and Settings’ Here you will find a list of each user set up in your copy of Windows XP. There will also usually be an ‘All Users’ folder which are settings that apply to every user on your system and a ‘Default User’ folder which are the default settings when you create a new user account.

  1. Double-click the folder named the same as your own username.
  2. Double-click the ‘Start Menu’ folder
  3. Double-click the ‘Programs’ folder
  4. Double-click the ‘Startup’ folder
  5. Delete any programs here that you do not wish to start with Windows
Repeat this process from step 2. for the ‘All Users’ and ‘Default User’ folders.

Speed Up Windows XP - Removing Applications from the Registry

Programs are also frequently started with Windows XP from settings in the System Registry. We can remove these programs so they will not start along with Windows XP. You should only make changes to the System Registry if you are confident you know what you are doing. I re-iterate that I take no responsibilty for anything that may go wrong with your system as a result of this guide.
  1. Click the ‘Start’ button
  2. Choose ‘Run’
  3. Type ‘regedit’ and click ‘Ok’
  4. If you are nervous about making changes to the registry you can create a back up by choosing ‘File’ > ‘Export’, selecting the ‘All’ option under ‘Export Range’ and saving the file
  5. Navigate through the registry to
  6. Delete any files from here that you DO NOT wish to start along with Windows
Repeat steps 5 and 6 for the following directory:
  • ‘HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run’

Speed Up Windows XP - Empty Items from the Recycle Bin

If you have items present in the recycle bin make sure you empty it. This usually resides on the desktop and you can simply Right-Click and select ‘Empty Recycle Bin’. The recycle bin is just a system folder that contains any files you have chosen to delete. Many files you can retrieve from here if you delete them by mistake.

Speed Up Windows XP - Setting and Increasing the Paging File Size

Memory is used in your computer to run tasks such as opening and closing a program and to load settings and process into the memory of the computer whilst those programs are in use. It‘'s much like when you and I write a letter using a pen and paper. When we begin a sentence we probably already have the whole sentence in our minds and then it takes physical time for us to transfer this onto the paper using the pen. A computer is the same. The pen and paper in this case are a program within the computer and although the program allows us to “write our letter”, running that program including settings, and even the process of clicking the icon to start it - is processed in the memory.

There will be physical memory in your computer known as ‘RAM’ (which stands for Random Access Memory). But there is also another type of memory which is used within Windows XP itself called the ‘Paging File’. We can easily increase the size of the paging file for greater performance and speed when using simpler processing tasks like launching a program or switching between application windows.

  1. On the Desktop, Right-click on the My Computer icon
  2. Select ‘Properties’
  3. Choose the ‘Advanced’ tab
  4. Under ‘Performance’ click the ‘Settings’ button
  5. On the ‘Performance Options’ screen select the ‘Advanced’ tab
  6. The paging file size is at the bottom of the window under the ‘Virtual Memory’ header and it will be measured in MB

How big your paging file should be is a complicated question to figure out. It will depend greatly on what you use your system for. If you surf the internet and check email it need not be so large but if you watch movies, records music or perform more memory intensive tasks the paging file should reflect this by being greater in size.

Likewise this file is an extension of your physical memory (RAM) so is affected by how much RAM you have currently installed in your system. If you have a lot of RAM your paging file does need to be used to such an extent so will not need to be so big, however if you have only a small amount of physical memory you would increase the paging file to a greater size to compensate.

One more factor in paging file size is the amount of hard disk space you have available. However large the paging file this will come off of your hard disk free space. If you are running low on hard disk space it may be simply that you can not afford to have such a large paging file. Having said this if you do not have a lack of hard disk space there are really very few downfalls to having a large paging file but many negatives for having a low paging file size.

The paging file initial and maximum size should always be a multiple of 8.
My recommendation would be that the paging file initial size should be a mimimum of 100MB. If you have less than 512MB of RAM i would increase this to be at least the same as the RAM, if not more. If you do any video or music editing it is worth setting the initial size to at least 1024MB in my opinon. You can push these sizes up or down if you find that your computer is running faster or slower.

In my experience Windows XP runs fastest when the paging file maximum size is double the initial size. Windows XP will then ensure to increase the size of the paging file if necessary.

Speed Up Windows XP - Reboot Your Machine Ready for Defragmentation

When you have completed all of the steps above it is worth re-starting your Windows XP machine before running a defragmentation program. This will ensure that there are no operations hanging around in the memory waiting to be run on a restart and that all is working properley on the machine. Plus it will give you a good opportunity to see whether your changes thus far have had any positive improvements on the time it takes for Windows XP to boot up.

Speed Up Windows XP - Defragmenting Windows XP

Welcome Back!

As Windows XP stores files it allocates patches on your hard disk where to physically store them. They will not move from the folder under Windows XP that you have stored them in but these files point to a physical location on the hard disk to retrieve the information contained within the file.

Over time as files are added, edited, moved and deleted, hard disks become fragmented. This means that the files are spread about across the disks with patches of empty space between them and not ordered very well. This makes Windows much slower as whenever you select a file or program it has to search for the location of this information. Windows XP comes with a defragmentation tool to correct this issue and it basically re-sorts all the files on your machine so that they are stored in a proper order and organised correctly, therefore making it much faster to retrieve information for a file when it is selected or used.

The defragmentation tool is extremely simple to use but can often take a very long time depending on the size and fragmentation of your own setup. It can often take upwards of 8 hours if you have never defragmented before!

  1. Right-click on My Computer on the Start menu or the Desktop
  2. Click ‘Manage’
  3. Under the ‘Storage’ menu in the left-hand pane choose ‘Disk Defragmenter’
  4. Your hard disks will be listed in the right-hand pane. You may have multiple disks and if so should run the defragmenter on each in turn
  5. Select the first of your disks (or C: if you only have one)
  6. Click the Analyze button
  7. A coloured bar will start to form in the center of the right-hand pane. The blue represents good or ‘well-ordered’ contiguous files. Green represents files that can not be moved anyway and Red represents the files that are ‘fragmented’ and could be moved to make your system more efficient.
  8. After analysis is complete a message will popup allowing you to ‘Defragment’. Click the ‘Defragment’ button to start the process

Depending on how fragmented your system is it may be worth running this process twice or even three times. If there is a lot of red or the colours are spaced out across the bar keep running the defragmenter until you have solid blocks of blue.

Speed Up Windows XP - Completion

That‘'s it! These are the basic steps that you should perform on a regular basis to keep Windows XP running smoothly. Hopefully you should notice a considerable difference to your slow Windows XP once these are completed.

Like this article? Let me know your thoughts or check out my other WebMaster Blog Articles.

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