Monthly Archives: March 2010

Windows XP Optimization Tips I

[Some minor edits to improve legibility.  2013-06-17 @ 8:30PM]


Over time, file system fragmentation, applications (and services) which run at boot up can take their toll on performance on a computer running Microsoft Windows XP. The following list describes some of the changes I make to a system to help improve its bootup speed and responsiveness, as well as some changes I prefer for usability purposes. A couple of things to keep in mind:
  • This blog entry is intended more as a general overview than a step-by-step guide and is intended for moderate to experienced users.
  • Some of my recommendations in here are opposite Microsoft’s own recommendations and while I do not think they are harmful, may provide no gains for your particular configuration. Exercise caution by making one (or more) backups of your before attempting any of the changes outlined herein and verify the backups were successfully, ideally by restoring them on a different computer.
NOTE: This list specifically makes use of the utility programs provided by Microsoft and does not include the use of third-party tools. There are many such programs available to tune up, optimize or otherwise improve a system’s performance. Some of these work, while others may provide no gain or actually reduce the performance of your system. I do not typically recommend the use of such tools, preferring to allow Microsoft Windows to manage itself. Your experiences may vary.
  1. Move all directories except Startup from C:\Documents and Settings\%USERNAME%\Start Menu to C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu to de-clutter things. Windows (or perhaps some applications) seem to require that the C:\Documents and Settings\%USERNAME%\Start Menu\Startup directory exist and can get confused when it is not present.
  2. Create a new directory named C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Startup – Optional and move the contents of both the C:\Documents and Settings\%USERNAME%\Start Menu\Startup to C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Startup directories to it. This stops all the programs which were launched automatically from these locations from running from running each time the computer boots up.
  3. Close the two Startup directories when done but leave the Startup – Optional directory open as you’ll need it in the next step.
  4. Run the Registry Editor (filename: REGEDIT.EXE) and open the [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run] key. Inside it are a bunch of string values for programs which also run on startup. Double-click on each string value to open it, copy the data (the complete program path and any arguments listed for it), create a new shortcut the Startup – Optional directory and paste the program in as a new shortcut. Delete the registry entry for a program when done and repeat until all the programs that used to run from that registry key now exist as links in the Startup – Optional directory.

Repeat for the [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run] key.

At this point, you now have a computer that, when rebooted, no longer runs all those programs which launched through the various startup directories and registry keys. There are, however, probably a few programs which you do want to run each time Windows starts (antivirus software, sound card manager and so forth). Copy the shortcuts running these programs from the Startup – Optional directory to the C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Start Menu\Startup directory.

You’ve now cleaned up the programs that run at startup, which should improve boot time. There are also services (think UNIX daemons) that run automatically as well. These can be manipulated via the Services Manager (filename: SERVICES.MSC), however, unless you know what services can be changed, I’d suggest leaving it alone for now.

The next thing to do is get rid of temporary files. Delete the contents of the following directories (e.g., leave the directories intact, but empty):


C:\Documents and Settings\%USERNAME%\Local Settings\Temp\

C:\Documents and Settings\%USERNAME%\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files\

The first is the temporary file folder used by the operating system, the second by your account, and the last by Internet Explorer. Even if you don’t use IE regularly, it may still have some junk files in it. Do not be alarmed if you cannot remove all the subdirectories or files, though. Sometimes there are background processes holding a file open or somesuch.

Now that you have gotten the startup operations and the temporary file folders cleaned up, it’s time for a disk defragmentation. This can take a while to run if it hasn’t been done, so I’d suggest starting it before going to bed. Command line option is “C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\DEFRAG.EXE C: -F -V“. The F is for force and the V for verbose. The built-in Windows defragmenter is not the best in the world, and the effects can be somewhat cumulative. After it finishes, run it again. If it takes more than five to ten minutes to run, then it made some more improvements. Run it a third time and by now it should have done a decent job of defragmenting the files, even if it did not optimize their layout on the disk much.

You should now have a machine which runs faster, especially for booting up. You will want to periodically (every 1-2 months) check the Startup directories and Run registry keys for programs which may have been automatically installed by new or updated software (Adobe, Real, Sun…) and move them to the Startup – Optional directory as needed, as well as the file deletion and defragmentation to keep things running in good order.


Aryeh Goretsky

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