Article, June 2006
Windows XP Housecleaning
By Dick Maybach, Member of the Brookdale Computer User Group, New Jersey
N2nd@att.net (click to email author)
Unless you are careful, after a period of use Windows will begin to slow down. This occurs because many programs are always active, even though you aren’t using them and because the number of files increases, which means that searches take longer. Fortunately, Windows XP contains several tools to help you ease these conditions. Using these tools periodically (every month or two is reasonable) will help you keep your PC lean and mean.
Use Disk Cleanup to delete useless files. Right-click on a disk icon in Windows Explorer (C: will be the most rewarding); then click Properties, click the Disk Cleanup button, and select the actions. (I prefer not to compress old files as I’ve had bad experiences with compression.) Also be sure to check the actions available under the More Options tab, in particular deleting all but the last restore image. Finally search all your hard drives for the strings “*.tmp” and “*.dmp” in filenames. Delete anything more than a week or so old; however, Windows will refuse to delete any files it considers important.
Go through your saved e-mail and delete old messages. This will reduce the size of the mail database file and help you to find important e-mail more quickly.
Look at the list of installed programs (Start ® Control Panel ® Add or Remove Programs) and remove any you don’t use. Most of find that new software often is less useful than we expected. Also, many PC manufacturers ship machines with software that we neither ask for nor need. While you’re checking, be sure to click on the Add/Remove Windows Components icon in the left margin of the window. You find MS tools that you don’t need.
Windows allocates a large portion of your disk space for use by System Restore (Start ® All Programs ® Accessories ® System Tools ® System Restore ® System Restore Settings). Select each drive and click on the Settings button. Reduce the Disk Space Usage by moving the slider to no greater than 1 GByte on each of your drives. Use less on small drives, especially if they contain nothing but data.
Check the startup folder for programs that automatically start; you will probably find that you don’t want many of these running. Start ® All Programs ® Startup to view the contents of the startup folder. To stop a program from starting automatically right click on its icon then click delete. This does not delete the program; it only stops it from being started at boot-up.
Unfortunately, most programs that start automatically don’t appear in the startup folder. To disable these, click Start ® Run and type “msconfig”. Click the startup tab and uncheck any programs you don’t want to run at startup. When you finish, Windows will ask you to restart. After boot-up you will see a diagnostic screen. On it uncheck the box that displays the diagnostic screen each time you boot.
You can also turn off Windows services that you don’t need, but you shouldn’t do this unless you are very knowledgeable. However, it doesn’t hurt to look at what’s running, and you may learn something. Open the Services window by clicking Start ® Control Panel ® Administrative Tools ® Services and the System Configuration window by clicking Start, then Run, typing “msconfig” and selecting the services tab. Move the windows so you can see both. Clicking on a name in the services window will display a short description. Removing a check mark in the System Configuration window will disable that service, but no matter how confident you are, don’t disable any service marked “essential”.
Check for unsigned files and drivers; these can be corrupted files or programs not approved by Microsoft. Click Start ® All Programs ® Accessories ® System Tools ® System Information ® Tools ® File Signature Verification Utility ® Start. The search will take several minutes; then a list will appear showing all the program files without valid signatures. Consider deleting (by using the Add/Remove Programs tool) these.
Another utility you should know about is System Information (Start ® All Programs ® Accessories ® System Tools ® System Information). This doesn’t allow you to change anything, but you can learn a lot about Windows by exploring it. For instance, if you click on the plus box by Software Environment then on Startup Programs, it will show you a list (after a pause) of all the modules that start at boot-up. It shows information in each entry that may enable you to track down a troublesome program. As is common with Windows utilities, you can sort any column by clicking on its header.
If you have problems with a program that ran with an earlier version of Windows, try running them in program compatibility mode. Click Start ® All Programs ® Accessories ® Program Compatibility Wizard ® Next ® Next. You will see a list of all the installed programs. Select the troublesome program and a compatibility mode (Win 95, Win NT, Win 98/Me, or Win 2000). Clicking Next brings up a screen allowing you to set a lower resolution on the screen, which may be needed for very old Windows programs.
You can tune your PC performance with very little risk, even if you are a novice. Right click on My Computer in Windows Explorer; then, click Properties ® Advanced ® Performance Settings. Usually, checking “Let Windows choose what’s best for my computer” is satisfactory, but you might to try “Adjust for best performance” if you machine is slow. If you are more adventuresome, you can select Custom and disable individual features by unchecking items in the list. If you don’t like the result, you can just go back to “Let Windows choose what’s best for my computer.
After completing the cleanup check to see if you should defragment your disks. Right click on a disk icon in Windows Explorer; then click Properties ® Tools tab ® Defragment now ® Analyze button. If Windows says the disk does not need defragmenting, don’t do it. Defragging the C: disk takes a long time, and seldom results in any noticeable performance improvement.
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