Windows XP performance tweaks

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Windows XP is a bloated operating system that contains inefficient coding and services that are rarely used by 99% of PC users. Couple this with spyware, adware, malware and software you no longer need on your system and even high-spec systems can run at extremely below par levels.


Thankfully Microsoft have provided users with some ways to combat these problems and there are a number of third-party tools on the internet to help do general spring cleaning for your system. This guide covers Windows XP specific tools and performance tweaks.


First things first

How old is your current Windows install? When was the last time you reinstalled Windows or defragged your system? In an ideal world you should reinstall Windows once every 3 to 4 months. To some this may be too long, for others it may be too short but it seems to be the general timeframe in which the performance of your system has degraded to such a level that it's detrimental to your gaming. When I first started playing Oblivion I had an average FPS of 25 and hit as low as 5 in open areas or when many people were on the screen at once. At the time I was running an AMD X2 4400+, 2GB of RAM and a 512MB 7900GTX video card. That's not bad by any standard, but my FPS was bad. After reinstalling Windows my average FPS is now between 50 and 60. That's a huge performance difference.


If you haven't reinstalled Windows in a while or notice your system doesn't perform as well in-game or out of the game then you should consider setting aside a couple of hours for reinstalling Windows. To speed the process up you should make back-ups of your My Documents folder and move them back in after reinstalling Windows.


You should defrag your system atleast once a fortnight on all your hard-drives and partitions to keep your system at an optimum performance level. You can use the Windows Defragmenter by going to Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> Disk Defragmenter.

Before making changes

You should really set a system restore point before making any changes to your system. The system restore functionality in Windows stores all the system settings in a file which can be used to 'reset' your system to this point if anything goes wrong. It's very handy if you disable the wrong service or your system doesn't like the changes you make. Make use of this feature because if you don't and something goes wrong you'll need to completely reinstall Windows. It's well worth the space it uses.


To set a system restore point navigate your way to Start -> Programs -> Accessories -> System Tools -> System Restore. Select the 'Create a restore point' option and click next. Give your restore point a description and click the create button and you'll be done. Your system settings have now been saved.

Get your duster out because it's SPRING CLEANING TIME!

As a general rule the more file space you have on your hard-drive and the less programs you have installed the better your system will operate. Always make sure you have atleast 20% free space on the hard-drive Windows is installed on and a minimum of 5GB spare. This will allow room for things like virtual memory and proper defragging that will increase your system's performance.


Even if you have 20% free space it's a good idea to clear out any programs you no longer need or games you don't play. Make your way to Start -> Control Panel -> Add or Remove Programs.


Look for any programs you no longer use (or have never used!) and remove them one at a time. Make sure you don't remove any anti-virus, video card drivers or firewall programs.

System services the average user will never need

Windows XP is designed to cater for all sorts of users who are going to want to do all sorts of things so they've coded in all this extra functionality that uses memory and processor power. It's a lot like running extra programs in the background when you don't need them. Thankfully you can turn off the services you don't need so that they don't run, thus increasing system performance.


IMPORTANT NOTE:
Please make sure you make a system restore point (as covered in part 1) before going any further. I won't take the blame for people who do this wrong or somehow break their system!


You can access the Windows Services screen by going to Start -> Run and typing 'services.msc'. Alternatively make your way to Control Panel -> Administrative Tools -> Services. This screen lists all the Windows Services and gives general descriptions on all of them.


When disabling services you should first check to see if it is running. You can see the status of the service by looking down the status column; it will either be started or blank. If the service is running (started) then first stop the service by right-clicking on the service and selecting "stop" and then disable the service by right-clicking it again, selecting Properties and choosing Disable under the startup type. This service has now been stopped and will no longer start-up when you restart the system.




Here are a list of services that I have disabled. You may find more services to disable, or require one or more services in this list in order to run certain software. Check out the description for more info.


Alerter

Notifies selected users and computers of administrative alerts. If the service is stopped, programs that use administrative alerts will not receive them. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


Application Layer Gateway Service

Provides support for 3rd party protocol plug-ins for Internet Connection Sharing and the Internet Connection Firewall.

Disabled IF you are not using Windows Firewall or ICS (Internet Connection Sharing: a special way of sharing connections in Windows without proxies or routers)

Automatic IF you are using XP's firewall or connection sharing.


Automatic Updates

Enables the download and installation of critical Windows updates. If the service is disabled, the operating system can be manually updated at the Windows Update web site.

Disabled IF you like to know what Microsoft are installing on your PC.

Automatic IF you'd like Microsoft to own your PC.


Background Intelligent Transfer Service

Transfers data between clients and servers in the background. If BITS is disabled, features such as Windows Update will not work correctly.

Disabled IF you have disabled Automatic Updates


Clip Book

Enables ClipBook Viewer to store information and share it with remote computers. If the service is stopped, ClipBook Viewer will not be able to share information with remote computers. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


COM+ Event System

Supports System Event Notification service (SENS), which provides automatic distribution of events to subscribing Component Object Model (COM) components. If the service is stopped, SENS will close and will not be able to provide logon and logoff notifications. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


Computer Browser

Maintains an updated list of computers on the network and supplies this list to computers designated as browsers. If this service is stopped, this list will not be updated or maintained. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


DHCP Client

Manages network configuration by registering and updating IP addresses and DNS names.

Disabled IF you have a static IP address

Automatic IF you have a dynamic IP address or are unsure.


Distributed Link Tracking Client

Maintains links between NTFS files within a computer or across computers in a network domain.

Disabled


Distributed Transaction Coordinator

Coordinates transactions that span multiple resource managers, such as databases, message queues, and file systems. If this service is stopped, these transactions will not occur. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


Error Reporting Service

Allows error reporting for services and applications running in non-standard environments.

Disabled


Fast User Switching Compatibility

Provides management for applications that require assistance in a multiple user environment.

Disabled IF you're the only user of your PC

Automatic IF you have multiple users using your system


Help and Support

Enables Help and Support Center to run on this computer. If this service is stopped, Help and Support Center will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


Human Interface Device Access

Enables generic input access to Human Interface Devices (HID), which activates and maintains the use of predefined hot buttons on keyboards, remote controls, and other multimedia devices. If this service is stopped, hot buttons controlled by this service will no longer function. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


IMAPI CD-Burning COM Service

Manages CD recording using Image Mastering Applications Programming Interface (IMAPI). If this service is stopped, this computer will be unable to record CDs. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled IF you use third-party CD/DVD burning software

Automatic IF you use the Windows drag-and-drop burning system in Explorer and Media Player


Indexing Service

Indexes contents and properties of files on local and remote computers; provides rapid access to files through flexible querying language.

Disabled


IPSEC Services

Manages IP security policy and starts the ISAKMP/Oakley (IKE) and the IP security driver.

Disabled


Messenger

Transmits net send and Alerter service messages between clients and servers. This service is not related to Windows Messenger. If this service is stopped, Alerter messages will not be transmitted. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


Network DDE

Provides network transport and security for Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) for programs running on the same computer or on different computers. If this service is stopped, DDE transport and security will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


Network DDE DSDM

Manages Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) network shares. If this service is stopped, DDE network shares will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


Network Location Awareness (NLA)

Collects and stores network configuration and location information, and notifies applications when this information changes.

Disabled


Remote Registry

Enables remote users to modify registry settings on this computer. If this service is stopped, the registry can be modified only by users on this computer. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


Removable Storage

Used for managing removable media.

Disabled


Routing and Remote Access

Offers routing services to businesses in local area and wide area network environments.

Disabled


Secondary Logon

Enables starting processes under alternate credentials. If this service is stopped, this type of logon access will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


Server

Supports file, print, and named-pipe sharing over the network for this computer. If this service is stopped, these functions will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled IF you're a home user

Automatic IF you're on a network


SSDP Discovery Service

Enables discovery of UPnP devices on your home network.

Disabled


System Event Notification

Tracks system events such as Windows logon, network, and power events. Notifies COM+ Event System subscribers of these events.

Disabled


Task Scheduler

Enables a user to configure and schedule automated tasks on this computer. If this service is stopped, these tasks will not be run at their scheduled times. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper

Enables support for NetBIOS over TCP/IP (NetBT) service and NetBIOS name resolution.

Disabled


Web Client

Enables Windows-based programs to create, access, and modify Internet-based files. If this service is stopped, these functions will not be available. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled IF you don't use DOT NET or are unsure if you do or don't.

Automatic IF you do


Windows Image Aquisition

Provides image acquisition services for scanners and cameras.

Disabled IF you don't have a scanner or camera

Automatic IF you do


Windows Time

Maintains date and time synchronization on all clients and servers in the network. If this service is stopped, date and time synchronization will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.

Disabled


Wireless Zero Configuration

Provides automatic configuration for the 802.11 adapters.

Disabled IF you don't have a wireless network

Automatic IF you do

Unneeded programs running at startup

All sorts of programs that you install will also be sneaky and add themselves to your system startup area without you knowing meaning the program starts without you wanting it to each time your PC starts. A lot of these startup programs don't need to be started and are simply using your system resources. For example when you install QuickTime player it adds itself to the startup folder and adds a tray icon. What's the point in that? If you needed it you'd run it; you don't need it sat in the background using your resources all the time! Cutting down on startup programs increases system performance and decreases system load times.


Make your way to Start -> Run and type 'msconfig'. You'll be confronted with the System Configuration Utility screen. Click on the last tab, 'Startup'.


All the programs with ticks in the boxes are programs that startup and use system resources when you start Windows. You'll see some recognisable names and some not so recognisable names. Your system will work fine if ALL the boxes are unticked but everyone will need one or two ticked, either for convenience or for security. For instance on my system I have my anti-virus (AVG), MSN Messenger and Daemon Tools running on startup. Everything else on the list is left unticked since it's unneeded. All of the programs I have running at startup are convenience except my anti-virus which is necessary for security. So get looking through your startup programs to see what you can cut-out.