How to speed up an old/slow 'Windows XP' Computer
This guide will show you how get the best out of your old PC bringing it back to life.
As time goes on computer components get cheaper and PC specifications get higher, due to this it means todays applications are usually made to make use of all that extra memory and CPU power in today's machines, so when you install todays software on yesterdays machines then you can sometimes start to run into problems.
Why does my PC slow down
The most common cause for computer slow down is low memory, the OS (operating system, such as Windows) does not have enough memory to hold all the files it needs to run all your programs so it 'pages' files or DLL's in the memory to the hard-disk in a special file called the "Page-File", this is 'Virtual Memory' the OS uses to temporarily store files from the actual memory to make up room for files it needs to run other programs you have called on, its the constant swapping of files to and from the Page-File on the hard-drive that causes the delay and slow downs of programs opening, responding and closing, the OS itself becomes affected too, such things as opening folders will be slower etc, As previously mentioned it gets worse when you run todays programs on much older PC's as their memory footprint is usually much larger than that of the same program many years ago and its usually the combination of both low memory and new software that causes slowdown on old PC's.
A good analogy is too think of your computer like an office...The hard-drive is the filing cabinet at the end of the room, your memory is the table at which your CPU sits and does all the work, the bigger the table (memory) it has then more work it can fit on that table to 'process' and less journeys to and from the filing cabinet to make room for other files on the table; thus increasing overall output.
So how can I speed up my old PC to get it like it was 5 years ago?
The first and best thing you can do is scoure eBay for cheap 2nd hand memory that fits your PC and increase the amount of memory in the machine, you will need to check to see what type of memory it has, how many ports and what the current sticks are so you can work out the right memory to buy. The mininum amount of memory I recommend is 2Gb (2 x 1Gb sticks) for all versions of Windows to run todays software (Jan 2012) although Windows XP/2000 will run quite well on 1Gb (2 x 512Mb) but is not recommended, especially if you run a lot of programs, you should always have 2 (or 4) sticks of memory installed so "dual-channel" configurations will work properly which doubles up memory speed making your system faster again, so you need 2 x 1Gb sticks of memory for your PC, its likely your old PC has anywhere from 128Mb to 1Gb of memory in any variation (e.g. for 1Gb installed you could have 1x 1Gb , 2x 512Mb , 4x 256Mb or even 1 x 512Mb + 2 x256Mb), this is why you need to find out.
If you have just two ports and anything less than 512Mb then your best removing the memory and putting it on ebay as theres always someone looking for old sticks, you should buy 2Gb (2 x 1Gb 'identical' sticks) from eBay 2nd hand. Identical specs is a must and preferably same brands too but thats not necesary, this is to ensure Dual-Channel will work. You can use applications to find out what memory type you have installed, how many slots and how much is in each - such as Crucial's System Scanner which will tell you what you need to know and offer prices but I recommend shopping on ebay for 2 identical sticks (unless your happy with crucial's prices) - you can also use System Information for Windows (free version at bottom), once installed click 'Memory' under the 'Hardware' section - Both programs will tell you the max amount of memory your system can take but Crucial tells you the highest spec memory your motherboard can take (as its possible thats not whats already installed). The specifics you need to know are (for e.g.) if its DDR or DDR2 and what spec, an example would be DDR (PC3200), this identifies the type of memory you need. Memory ports on motherboards are color coded, this is important if yours has 4 ports and your putting 2 sticks in, two ports will be one color and two another color, they may or may not be colored in pairs, one pair may be black & white and the other pair black & white instead of Black & black / white & white, make sure you put both sticks in same color ports regardles of how they are laid out, this means they will be running in dual-channel mode (if applicable), if you dont follow this rule then your memory will running at half the speed.
OK, So I have or haven't added extra memory, what else can I do to help make it faster?
There are many Tweaks you can make to increase performance of your system, at this point in time (Jan 2012) older systems are ones running Windows XP and below (2000/ME/98) so Iam going go assume that majority of readers will be aiming to tweak an old XP machine so most of the tweaks here will be for Windows XP.
The first basic procedures in situations like this are to do the following:-
- Clean out all temp folders and recycle bin
- Uninstall any unused programs or windows components
- Clean up the registry from defunct entrys
- Defragment your Hard-Drive
- Cleaning out Temp Folders / Uninstall un-used Programs and Components
Click START and go to Accessories / System Tools and click on 'Disk Cleanup' - this will open the Disk Cleanup Utility, select your system drive (usually C:/ and selected by default) and click OK and wait for it too finish scanning, once done go through the list and check all the entrys then click OK then 'YES' - once its finished it may close, re-open the disk cleanup uitility and click on the MORE OPTIONS Tab, under windows components click 'Clean Up' and uncheck items in there you do not use, things like MSN Explorer, Outlook Express (if you dont use it), Windows Messenger (if you dont use it), Indexing Service, Fax Services - but leave 'Accessories & Utilities' , 'Root Certificates' , 'Networking Services' and anything else you wish too keep then click NEXT. now on the Disk Cleanup utility do the same for INSTALLED PROGRAMS removing any old programs you no longer wish to use and again with SYSTEM RESTORE. Download and Install Ccleaner, run the program and click 'Run Cleaner' at bottom right, this will clean up other locations that Disk Clean-Up missed such as temp files from installed programs.
- Safely cleaning up the Registry
Download and Install Wise Registry Cleaner Free Edition, Once installed run the program and follow the instructions on screen to make a backup or system restore point, click SCAN then when done click 'START CLEANING', once cleaned it may show some 'orange' entrys left; just leave those, WRC only removes 'safe-to-remove' entrys that it knows removing them wont do any harm. A lot of techies say that cleaning the registry is a no-go area and is a "bad thing" to do - I would like to clarify that this is the case when using some reg cleaning programs because they can remove entries that are still in use which can lead to the system or programs not working properly or at all, there is also the debate that a registry full of redundant entries does not degrade performance, well this is true to some extent but more importantly it could affect the operation of some programs, for instance re-installing programs may take up old reg entries and then you can run into all sorts of problems, as long as you can get rid of "safe to remove" entries (whilst also making a registry backup and restore point beforehand) then there is no reason why you shouldnt clean the registry once in a blue moon, a computer that is 5 or more years old most definitley needs the reg cleaning in my opinion.
- Defragmenting the Hard-Drive
A hard-drive is a spinning magnetic disk which is read by a head that floats across the disk on the end of an arm (almost the same as a record player and needle/arm) as time goes on the files (and parts that make up the files) on a hard-drive become scattered across the drive platter, this is called 'Fragmentation', it takes a disk longer to read such files as it has to seek them from all over the drive, this causes a slowdown in performance, we use programs that 'Defragment' (or 'defrag') the hard-drive which gathers all the pieces and puts them together again all next to each other in order on the drive (contigous order) so the drive can read them quickly. There are some good Defrag programs available, the best one that I recommend is Raxco's PerfectDisk, I have tested all programs and this one seemed to make the system faster than any other, probably due to it defrag algorithm, it seems to have the best handling of layout.ini files which determines windows and programs booting speeds, you can use a free alternative instead, Auslogics Defrag is probably the best 'free' defrag utlility, it also defrags and optimizes, download and install it then run the 'Defrag and Optimize' option.
Now that youve done the basic cleanup and defrag we can now move onto tweaking XP and slimming it down so it doesnt use as much memory and is also quicker to boot.
Stopping Programs Running at Boot
When you install programs on your PC a lot of them are configured to run when windows starts, usually as tray icons for quick access or as background services, a lot of them you dont need to run at boot, I mean who wants a load of programs all to run at the same time when windows starts? exactly! you should only have windows security and programs of your choice running at boot and open applications as and when you need them, first thing to do is open the System Configuration Utility (MSCONFIG) by holding down the windows key (left of your space-bar) and press 'R' (this opens the RUN command), now type MSCONFIG into the run box and press 'Enter', once open click on the 'StartUp' Tab, these are the programs that are running when windows starts up, many of them you will not need to run at boot.. you can widen the 'Command' colomn title bar to see the full installation path-name for the programs, this will reveal what the program is or belongs too if its not immediatley obvious from the file's name. Typical suspects would be things like Soundcard & Graphics driver's tray applications, adobe speed launchers, quicktime, java updater, itunes...plus much more, any your unsure of just google the file name (e.g. jusched.exe) be sure too leave your anti-virus alone - once you have unchecked what you needed to then click APPLY and OK, some advisers would say to click on the SERVICES Tab and do the same thing but this is a big no-no because it actually fully disables services so they cant be used at all, the best way to stop services from running at boot is by using the 'services' utility (below).
Stopping Services Running at Boot
Now were are going to stop services you dont need from running at boot, as before hold down the windows key (left of your space-bar) and press 'R' (this opens the RUN command), now type SERVICES.MSC into the run box and press 'Enter', once the services window is open you can browse the list and disable what you do not need, now be aware that most of these must be left alone as they are needed for the OS to work but below is a list of recommended services to disable, to stop a service from running at boot you double-click on it and in the properties window change the 'Start-Up Type' from Automatic to Manual then click the STOP button to stop the service now (if its running) click APPLY and OK- this means the service will not run at boot but can still be called on as and when needed, if you choose disabled then it can not be used at all, its highly recommended you do not use 'disabled'.
- Distributed Link Tracking Client
- Error Reporting Service
- Help and Support -(if you dont rely on windows help, most dont)
- Indexing Service
- Print Spooler - (if you do not use a printer you can stop this service)
- Remote Registry (not available in XP Home Edition)
- Secondary Logon
- TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper
- Web Client
- Windows Time - (only disables sync of time across PC's on a network, not the actual date/time on desktop)
- Windows Media Player Network Configuration - (if applicable)
- Automatic Updates - (windows will not automatically install updates and nor will you be able to use windows update website, you can enable when you want to check for updates)
- Computer Browser - (only stop if the PC is not on a network and does not use internet at all)
- DHCP Client - (only stop if the PC is not on a network and does not use internet at all)
- DNS Client - (only stop if the PC is not on a network and does not use internet at all)
- Fast User Switching Compatability - (removes 'Switch User' ability)
- IPsec Services - (only stop if the PC is not on a network and does not use internet at all)
- Security Center - (when stopped it wont notify you if Anti-Virus or Firewall is turned off or out of date)
- System Restore - (disables system restore)
- Task Scheduler - (not many programs use this, its used to schedule updates or scans when programs not runnning)
- Themes - (resorts to 'classic' windows theme)
- Windows Firewall / Internet Connection Sharing - (only stop if you have a 3rd party firewall installed)
- Wireless Zero Configuration - (disables automatic configuration for wireless adapters - only stop if do not use wifi)
TWEAKING WINDOWS XP
Note some of these tweaks may be partially or non-effective depending on what services you have disabled above, it should be obvious (such as theme tweaks), some of these tweaks may seem like they would make very little difference if at all but all of them together can make a noticeable difference. NOTE: Tweaks that require you to acces the control panel explain it as if the CP is on its default 'Category' view, if you have it on 'Classic' view then please click 'Switch to Category View'.
- Adjusting Visual Effects - This tweak will lower the visual effects level of XP freeing up resources.
Hold down the Windows Key (left of your space-bar) and press the Pause/Break key on your keyboard, this opens system properties (another way is to right-click on My Computer and choose 'Properties') , click on the Advanced Tab and under Performance click Settings and check Adjust for best performance :- NOTE: this option turns off themes, if you wish to keep themes then instead choose custom and make sure all are unchecked except Use Visual Styles On Windows & Buttons. Now click APPLY then OK.
- Disable Remote Assistance - This tweak disables Remote Assistance functionality.
Using the method above (Windows Key + Pause/Break) open System Properties and click the Remote Tab and un-check Allow Remote Invitations to be sent from this computer, then click APPLY then OK.
- Disable Windows Startup/Shutdown Sounds - This tweak can shave a second or so off boot/shutdown times
click START / Control Panel / Sounds and Audio Devices - click Change the Sound Scheme (Sounds Tab) then in the program events window find and click on Exit Windows and then on the sounds drop down list choose none at the top of the list - do the same for Start Windows and then APPLY then OK.
- Disable Wallpaper - This tweak removes wallpaper to free up resources.
Right-click on a blank section of the desktop, choose Properties, click on the Desktop tab, in the area that says Background choose None, to change the color of the desktop, click on the arrow next to Color and pick your color, then click APPLY then OK.
- Disable Hibernation - This will disable hibernation freeing up resources.
Click START / Control Panel / Printers and Other Hardware then click Power Options in the left panel, in the window that opens click the Hibernate Tab and the un-check Enable Hibernation and click APPLY then OK.
- Disable Hard-Disk Spindown - This tweak will prevent windows from putting the hard-drive to sleep after X minutes.
Click START / Control Panel / Printers and Other Hardware then click Power Options in the left panel, in the window that opens click the Power Scheme Tab, under Turn-Off Hard-Disks select Never from bottom of list, then click APPLY then OK.
- Disable Indexing Of Files on Hard-Drive - This will free up resources improving performance
Click START / My Computer and right-click on the drive windows is installed on and choose Properties, uncheck Allow Indexing Service To Index This Disk For Faster File Searching, click APPLY then OK and wait for it too apply the setting to all the files.
- Disable Common Tasks Panel In Folders - This will free up resources improving performance, some people prefer too leave this option as common tasks options are handy in XP
Click START / My Computer and then click Tools / Folder Options, in the window that opens under 'Tasks' check Use Windows Classsic then click APPLY the OK.
NOTE: Make a backup in system restore before you start using these. Here in this section were going to be tweaking the registry to enable/disable/change parameters that can only be done via the registry, however I have all the registry hacks available to download and install yourself, simply download the .reg files and double-click on them to install into registry, reboot to take effect
- Speed Up Shutdown - Download - Reduces the amount of time windows waits for tasks to end and automatically ends 'hung' tasks, this can decrease the amount of time it takes for windows to shutdown.
- Disable Scheduled Task Search - Download - Stops windows from searching for scheduled tasks when browsing network folders.
- Disable User Tracking - Download - Prevents windows from tracking users program and file access.
- Set CPU Priority - Download - Gives CPU prioirty to foreground tasks.
- Disable 8.3 Name Creation - Download - Disables 8.3 name creation for long file names on NTFS drives which increases folder enumeration performance.
- Disable Last Access Time Stamp - Download - Prevents windows from updating the 'Last Access' Time Stamp on folders/files when accessed which increases performance.
- Auto-Restart Explorer On Crash - Download - Restarts Explorer automatically if it crashes.
- Explorer Fast Update - Download - Increases explorer refresh speed.
- Speed Up Menu - Download - Speeds up the All Programs menu from 0.5 second to 0.1 second delay
TWEAKING THE TCP/IP STACK
NOTE: If you have disabled Network service as above as you dont use internet then dont bother with this guide. This guide will help speed up your network connection and internet
access, the TCP/IP Stack is a set of parameters that control network connections on the computer, by default these parameters are set to a 'safe' setting that are good for most scenarios, one can tweak the parameters to work best with your setup and home internet connection.
- Optimizing TCP/IP with TCP Optimizer - Download - This brilliant program can set most of the tweaks for you, simply run a speedtest on our speedtest page here and note the download speed result, open TCP Optimizer and slide the speed slider to match the download speed result you got, then check Modify All Network Adapters and then check Optimal (at the bottom) then APPLY the changes and reboot.
- Optimizing DNS with DNS Benchmark - Download - This is another brilliant program, it tests DNS (Domain Name Server) response times from your computer, a DNS is like an online telephone directory that gives your computer the website's IP address so your web browser can connect to it and download the page, being connected to the fastest public DNS means websites will load faster. Download amd run the program, open it full screen, click the NameServers Tab, then click Add/remove, then click Build Custom Nameserver List - this takes about 35 minutes and will quick test over 4500 DNS Servers around the world and save the top 50 as the default list to run the benchmark against proper. NOTE: make sure that nothing else uses the internet while you run this test as it will affect results, this includes other computers on your home network. once the custom list is complete click Run Benchmark, when its finished note the top 2 IP Adresses in the list, now we are going to set those IP addresses in windows (you need to do this for each connection you have, so LAN and Wireless if you use one or the other at different times) - Click START / Connect To -> Show All Network Connections, right click on the connection you use and choose Properties, now search for Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) in the list and double click on it, check Use The Following DNS Server Addresses and enter the top two IP Addresses from DNS Benchmark and click OK and then OK on previous window, repeat for other connections on computer and reboot too take effect.
- Optimizing Wireless/LAN Link Configuration - This tweak can shave a few seconds off the time it takes to connect to the network, this tweak works for all versions of windows, firstly we need to find out what your IP Address, router's gateway IP address, Subnet Mask, and DNS servers IP address's are (or use the ones from the DNS tweak above). Hold down the Windows Key and press R, this opens the Run box, type CMD and press enter, this opens the Command Line Prompt window, in that window type IPCONFIG /ALL (note there is a space after ipconfig) this will display some parameters, write down the IP Address, Default Gateway IP Address, Subnet Mask IP Address and DNS Server IP Address's (theyre should be two DNS servers address's).
IP Address. . . . . . . . . . . . : 192.168.0.10
Subnet Mask . . . . . . . . . . . : 255.255.255.0
Default Gateway . . . . . . . . . : 192.168.0.1
DNS Servers . . . . . . . . . . . : 188.8.131.52 - 184.108.40.206
Once you have noted the above figures Click START / Connect To -> Show All Network Connections, right click on the connection you use and choose Properties, now search for Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) in the list and double click on it, check 'Use The Following IP Address' and enter the details you wrote down in the necesary boxes, this works as it means the PC and Router dont have to negotiate and assign an ip address, the computer already has it fixed and works instantly, this shaves a couple of seconds from connecting to your network at windows login.
3RD PARTY PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENTS
There are some programs which can boost performance on your XP computer, these programs are great for low spec machines.
- Process Lasso - This is great for low spec single-core computers, in Windows processes are assigned 'prioritys' such a Low, Below Normal, Normal, Above Normal, High and Real-Time, most processes are assigned the default priority of 'Normal', situations can arise where one process can lock up, crash or just be greedy and eat up most or all the CPU time alloted, when this happens windows can become very slow or unresponsive, Process Lasso monitors all processes and as soon as any start using more than 60% CPU for 5 seconds it lowers its priority to 'Below Normal' until it lowers in CPU usage then restores it back to 'Normal' - what this does is allows processes with normal priority access to the CPU, this mean the greedy "CPU munching" process is given less resources so that other processes can execute, its very effective and shows graph of periods when its taken action, it has other boosting/restraining technologies too, there is a Free version with less features but has the main priority restraint technology, see website here.
- eBoostr - This is great as it brings a feature similar to Windows Vista/7's Superfetch to Windows XP, using USB Memory Sticks, SDcards, RAM or USB Hard-Drives it caches most accessed files which can be accessed quicker than the internal hard-drive, this boosts performance, USB Memory Sticks or SDcards have no hard-disks and therefore have extremely low access times meaning they can access files much quicker, if you have a USB Hard-Drive that is much quicker than the hard-drive installed in the PC then you could also use that, eBoostr can use more than one device to cache across, this means you could use 2 or 4 high speed USB Memory stick (or SDcards) and get even more performance as the cache is 'striped' across the devices so 4 devices equals 4 times faster, this program is not free but is definitley worth having, check website here.
LIST OF BAD/FAKE TWEAKS
There are many many tweaks on the internet that make claim to boost performance of XP but actually do not and may do more harm than good, here we list some of those tweaks and explain why it does not work.
- Disable QoS Service or reduce from 20% to 0% - There are claims that this tweak free's up network resources as it always reserves 20% of Network bandwidth for QoS, this has been confirmed by Microsoft as untrue, QoS (Quality Of Service) manages TCP Parameters over Shared Internet Connections, situations can exist where PC's behind shared connections and the actual network/internet speed on the computer sharing it are mis-matched, this can cause 'Bottle-Necking' on the faster networks, QoS changes the TCP Parameters so that the link from start to end sends/receives the correct size and amount of TCP packets, this QoS service only comes into play in this scenario and disabling it or changing it to 0% does absolutely nothing for those on standard connections.
- Changing Prefetch Paramaters to 5 to enable Superfetch - Prefetch logs what program and boot files are launching at boot and places copys of these files in a special folder which is put at the start of the hard-disk (for quicker access) and the files in it are put in contigous order (in-a-row) on that section of the drive, this helps increase boot times, default setting is '3' other settings are 0 = Off , 1 = Boot Only , 2 = Programs Only , 3 = Boot & Programs, so by default windows Prefetchs both Windows and Programs files, some tweak sites say using '5' enables 'Superfetch' in windows XP (a Windows Vista/7/8 only feature which prefetches programs & files into unused memory after windows login for quick instant access), this is absolutely untrue, no "5" setting exists and nor does any sort of Superfetch feature in XP (although you can get a similar feature through use of 3rd party apps like eBoostr as explained above).
- Clearing out the Prefetch Folder - As explained above, Prefetch is used to boost performance, clearing out the prefetch folder will cause performance to decrease as Prefetch has to re-train and the folder be re-compiled, some say its good to empty it of old redundant entrys - but Prefetch does not store over a certain amount of entrys and automatically discards un-used entrys by over-writing them with new 'used' ones, due to this the Prefetch folder does not need clearing.
- Always Unload DLL's - This one is not entirely fake, but it has no use and actually impacts performance. When you open programs in windows there are many files the program uses loaded into memory (DLL's) , these are smaller bits of program code that all work together with the main program executeable, when you close these programs windows keeps some of the DLL's in memory so that if you re-open the program it will launch much quicker (this is why programs always open faster after the first time its been launched), if your memory is full of DLL's and you launch yet another program then the most un-used DLL's are dropped from the memory to make way for the new program and its DLL's. The 'Always Unload DLL's' tweak forces windows to delete the DLL's from memory when you close the programs, this tweak is only supposed to work with Windows versions prior to Windows 2000 and not XP - but even if it did is it really worth using? theres is no performance impact in unloading DLL's when room is needed in the memory when you launch a new program, so using this tweak would actually SLOW DOWN performance as re-opening of previously used programs will not be as quick.
I hope you have gotten a little bit of extra life out of your XP machine using these tweaks, some people will say there are many more tweaks you can do but most of these are not related to 'performance boosting' but more for changing or adding extra features/options and changing how things look or respond. If anyone has any tweaks worth adding (even to the fake/bad list) then please let us know so we can add them.