Keeping Your PC Trim And Proper

Published Date
01 - Oct - 2007
| Last Updated
01 - Oct - 2007
Keeping Your PC Trim And Proper
A Windows XP computer… is much like a car. It requires maintenance to keep it running smoothly. It needs to be well-oiled, so to speak, using the methods we'll mention. Some of these might be familiar, but you're to find something you didn't know about before!

Organise Files And Folders
XP usually stores most of your files in the My Documents folder, which resides on the C drive. You should relocate this folder to another drive such as D, so that your data remains intact when you reinstall Windows. To do this, create a folder such as "MyDocs" on the D drive, right-click on My Documents, click on Properties, enter D:MyDocs in the Target box, and click OK. You will be asked whether you wish to move all the documents from the old location to the new location; click Yes.

Windows desktop search

You could then create folders such as Work, Home, etc., in My Documents. Windows already has a good way of organising files-there is My Pictures to store images, My Music to store music and so on, but you can create additional folders inside these to categorise your pictures, music, etc. so it becomes easy to locate them. If you need to search and want to do it faster, install an indexing and search tool-such as Windows Desktop Search, Google Desktop Search, or Copernicus Desktop Search. These index your files for faster retrieval.

You should also relocate your default Outlook mail and address book store folder to the D (or any other) drive. Open the Registry Editor and go to the appropriate key according to the version of Outlook. If you're using Outlook 2003, locate the key [HKEY_CURRENT_ USERSoftwareMicrosoftOffice11.0Outlook]. For Outlook XP, replace "11.0" with "10.0"; for Outlook 2000,  it's "9.0". Create an Expandable String Value (REG_EXPAND_SZ) called ForcePSTPath, and set it to equal the full path of the required personal folder directory  such as D:MyMail (you need to create this destination beforehand). Exit the Registry and log out of Windows for the change to take effect.

If you use Outlook Express, this is simpler: go to Tools > Options > Maintenance > Store Folder and click Change… . Point to the new location.

Delete Or Compress Files
You can do this using the Disk Cleanup tool. To launch it, go to Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Cleanup. Use this tool to clean up each of your drives and compress infrequently used files and folders. Some temporary files will still be left in the temporary folders; manually delete these by opening the folders %temp% and C:WindowsTemp. You can access the former by typing it into the Run dialog box.

As you surf the Internet and your browser downloads pages, it stores them as temporary files. This is to make surfing faster: for example, when you click the Back button, the browser need not download the previous page again-it loads it from the cache containing the temporary files. After a longish while, though, say a month, these are likely to be of no use. Delete the temporary Internet files this way: in Internet Explorer, go to Tools > Internet Options. Under the Temporary Internet files section, click Delete Files. Check the box in front of Delete all offline content and click OK. If you use Opera, select Tools > Preferences, go to the Advanced tab, click on History, and click Empty now. Firefox users need to select Tools > Options, go to the Cache tab, and click Clear Cache Now.

Compress your Outlook mail

To minimise the space occupied by mails, in Outlook, click on Tools > Options > Mail Setup. Click the Data Files button, select Archive Folders from the list, click Settings, and click Compact Now. This will compress that particular folder; do the same for all the items in the list. If you use Outlook Express, select File > Folder > Compact All to achieve the same thing.

Files get scattered all over the hard drive, so accessing them becomes slower. This tends to increase over time as more and more programs are installed. The Disk Defragmenter bundled with Windows organises files on your hard drive, thus helping it run more efficiently. If you have a highly-fragmented drive, this will make a huge difference to the performance of your PC. Go to Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Disk Defragmenter. Select a drive and click Defragment, and do that for all your drives. Whether or not the program advises you to defragment a drive or not, you should defragment once a month.

Speed Up XP Boot-up
One of the main causes of XP booting slowly is the method of loading drivers. Windows versions prior to XP loaded drivers sequentially, but since XP, it has been done concurrently, causing a slowdown. This information is written to the file C:WINDOWSPrefetchLayout .ini. While creating this file, XP does a partial defragmentation of the files listed in Layout.ini to make them available in one contiguous area of the hard drive, allowing to load them faster. Various factors adversely affect this defragmentation process, such as a fragmented hard drive, improper defragmentation of the above files by the regular Defragmenter, etc. It is therefore necessary to do this defragmentation manually using a utility from Microsoft known as BootVis, available at Extract the ZIP file and run BootVis.exe (very preferably after defragmenting your hard disk).

The first step in tweaking or troubleshooting your boot process is to run a boot trace. Go to File > New > Next Boot Drivers Trace. The Trace Repetitions window will prompt you for the number of repetitions (reboots and traces) to run. Let's go with the defaults; click OK. BootVis Cancel the reboot if you need to save your work, then reboot.

After XP reboots, BootVis restarts automatically and provides individual graphs for the system activity areas such as Boot Activity, CPU usage, Disk I/O, Disk utilisation, etc. Armed with this indication of how well the boot process is going, you can optimise the system. Select Trace > Optimize System. Again, BootVis will present you with a 10-second countdown before rebooting. When the system reboots, the BootVis window will appear, indicating that BootVis is using information gained from the previous boot and the current boot to optimise the system.

When the next window appears, BootVis places the files specified in the layout.ini file in the area of contiguous disk space created during the defragmentation you did prior to running BootVis. If you have a really old installation of Windows, we'd recommend running the above procedure again or setting BootVis to repeat for two or three times.
Backup Your Files
XP comes with a free backup utility. Find it at Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > Backup. (If it has not been installed, you can get it at windowsxp/using/setup/maintain/backupsw.mspx.)

Microsoft's back up tools

The Backup or Restore Wizard appears when you run the program. Click Next. Select the Backup Files and Settings Radio button. Click Next. Click All information on this computer on the What to Back Up page, then click Next. Click Choose a place to save your backup, and select your external hard drive (or a second hard drive if you have more than one, or your CD / DVD drive) on the Backup Type, Destination, and Name page and click Next. Click Finish on the Completing the Backup or Restore Wizard page. Windows Backup will save a copy of your files to your external hard drive. If you lose some data, run the Backup And Restore Wizard again, and select the Restore Files and Settings Radio button. The Wizard explains how to proceed thereon.

We'd recommended that you back up your files every week.

Remove Unnecessary Programs
Every program installed on your computer takes up space, and some programs slow your computer down regardless of whether you use them or not. So if you installed a program you do not intend to use again, it's a good idea to uninstall it. You can do this using either the Add/Remove Programs applet in the Control Panel or the Uninstall icon in the program's folder in the Start Menu.

You might notice leftover entries, in Add/Remove Programs, of programs that have already been uninstalled. You can remove these by editing the Registry. Go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINESOFTWARE MicrosoftWindowsCurrentVersionUninstall in the Registry, and under this key, look up the sub-keys containing the unwanted entries and delete them. You can also download and use programs such as CCleaner (available at, which does the same thing and also removes all traces of uninstalled programs.

Configure Power Management
Windows XP comes with excellent power management facilities that give you great control over the amount of time that your computer components should wait to enter a low power consumption mode. This can be done using the Power Options applet in the Control Panel, where you can choose from amongst the various inbuilt power schemes. If you wish, you can specify your own power profile by choosing the amount of idle time that your monitor and hard drive should wait before turning off. You can also specify the amount of idle time to wait before your computer can enter the Standby mode.

If you can spare disk space on your OS drive equal to the amount of installed RAM, you can enable the Hibernate feature: in the Hibernate tab, check Enable hibernation checkbox. Go to the Advanced tab and select the Hibernate option from the drop-down list below "When I press the power button on my computer", in the Power buttons section. Now when you press the power button, your computer will enter the Hibernate state (which is faster than normal shutdown), and you can turn off the mains. When you restart your computer, it will be restored to the exact state at which you hibernated (and this is much faster than a normal XP startup). The advantage of this is that if you were working on a certain program, you can hibernate midway through it!

For that additional push…
The Windows page file is where Windows stores information about recently used programs, so as to speed up access. By default, this file is located on the drive where XP is installed. But since this drive is already being used a lot as you work, and is prone to fragmentation, you should relocate the page file to another drive. Open System Properties in the Control Panel, select the Advanced tab, the Settings button under Performance, and the Advanced tab in the Performance Options that opens, and the Change button in the Virtual Memory section. You'll see a list of the drives attached to your computer, select the drive where XP is installed, select the No paging file button, and click Set. Select another drive with free space equal to at least three times the amount of installed RAM (preferably the second drive), select System managed size, and click Set. Click OK three times and restart Windows when prompted.

You can also make certain settings to your BIOS to quicken the boot process; enter the CMOS setup by pressing the appropriate hotkey (usually [Del]). Enable Quick Power On Self Test (POST); this will cut down on a few seconds of bootup time. Similarly, disable the option similar to "Floppy Seek on booting", so that your floppy drive will not wait to be checked for during booting. If you don't have a floppy drive, disable the floppy controller altogether (usually located in the Integrated Peripherals section) and disable the floppy (usually in the first page of the CMOS). Similarly, you can disable communication and parallel ports, unused SATA controllers, on-board LAN, FireWire, and audio devices if you do not intend to use them. Finally, you should set the hard drive as the first boot device instead of the CD-ROM, and disable the boot ROM of your LAN card to further cut down on boot time.

In addition to the above, you should install critical Windows Updates regularly to fix bugs and also to update drivers and certain programs. Use the Automatic Updates feature to do this. Make sure this is turned on in the Control Panel. A good anti-virus, firewall, and anti-spyware is also a must along with regular updates (at least once a week or using the auto-update feature). Schedule these to run a thorough scan at least once a month-just so you don't forget.

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