Windows XP Service Pack 3 (SP3) is not scheduled until the second half of 2007, and Microsoft’s first shot at its successor, Windows Vista, may not be due out before “early 2007.” Meantime, many system builders (and their clients) will be keeping today’s WinXP SP2 systems running for some time.
That makes now the perfect time for revisiting your deployed XP boxes and making sure your clients are getting the best possible performance from their systems. Your clients will be happy with a faster-running OS; some may even be amazed. This is also a golden opportunity for system builders to check in with clients and pick up a little extra income from performing just such tune-ups.
In this Recipe, I’ll show you ways to restore the zip of WinXP-based PCs both old and new. I’ll also show you the places to look for WinXP problems that can develop over time, and how to fix them. I’ll also look at performance saving set-up issues, and how to battle the demons like fragmented disks and unused network devices that can steal precious CPU cycles and memory from your systems.
First, deciding whether a WinXP system needs a mere tune up or a full blown repair is a judgment call you’ll have to make. Listen and learn before rushing to judgment. For instance, if a client complains that their system’s performance has taken a sudden hit, or that stability has suddenly become an issue, you’re probably looking at a hacked machine, virus attack, or failing hardware. In all three cases, a repair job is in order. But if a client complains about an older model PC that simply won’t run as fast as it used to, that probably means the time has come for a tune up. That’s where this Recipe comes in.
Also, before starting a tune up, spend some time observing the system’s operation. Note how long it takes to restart. How quickly does it access commonly used applications, such as email clients or browsers? You may want to time the start-up of for the system’s word processing program, or measure how long the machine needs to save a typical file. Then, after you complete the tune-up, make the same measurements, and compare your before and after results.
Your goal, of course, is to improve overall system performance. But these measurements will give you a feel for the immediate benefits of system cleaning and tuning. One thing you’ll probably note is that some systems respond better to certain tweaks than do others. This is a normal result of different usage patterns.
First, Back Up
You’ve probably heard this a million times already, but before you tune up any PC, first back up the system’s data. Losing data, especially a client’s data, is not only embarrassing, but also potentially costly. Avoid this amateur’s mistake. Back up the computer before you run any system tools or do any troubleshooting. Period.
I’m not being overcautious. Some of the following steps can cause preexisting, hidden problems to surface. These problems, in turn, can prevent the computer from restarting. This isn’t very likely, but it is possible. So don’t take chances, and do make backups.
If you’re not using backup software, Windows XP Professional even includes a utility called Backup that can be deployed quite easily. To open the Backup wizard, click Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools. Then select Backup. Told you it was easy!
For information on how to use Microsoft’s Backup, see the company’s Windows XP Backup Made Easy. You can also show this article to more advanced clients who have critical backup needs, such as daily accounting and customer records.
Once you have completed the backup and the system’s data is secure, you’re ready to move on to my performance-improving tips.
Tip 1: Remove Unused Programs
To begin tuning up a computer’s performance, remove unnecessary programs. New programs are installed all the time, but typically, only a few are actually used. Maybe your client has installed a trial version or two of a popular game to check them out, and then forgot about them. Users are quick to say “Yes” to an install, but rarely take the time to remove the software after the trial period. All those unused installations can be sitting on the hard disk, consuming resources and hurting performance.
Let’s get rid of them! Follow these four steps to remove unused programs:
1. Click Start, then click Control Panel.
2. Click on Add or Remove Programs.
3. Scroll through the list, and examine each program. WinXP lists how often a program is used and what day it was last launched. You might want to review this list with your client. Ask, “Do you ever use this? Will you ever use this?” If the answers are No, remove the program.
4. But do not remove anything labeled Update or Hotfix. These are official Windows updates and fixes. Leave them alone.
5. For each program you no longer want, click on the program’s name, then click the Remove button and follow the prompts to uninstall them. It’s that easy.
You may have to restart the computer each time after removing a program. If so, after the computer restarts, repeat the steps above to remove the rest of the unused programs you and your client have chosen. If the computer has been in service for a while, repeating this process may take some time. No matter; it’s well worth the effort. Every unused program, even trial versions, take up much-needed space on the disk, as well as in the OS proper. Bottom line: If your client doesn’t need it, their PC will be faster without it.
Tip 2: Free Up Wasted Space
Let’s continue finding and freeing up otherwise wasted disk space. For this step, we’ll deploy Microsoft’s Disk Cleanup tool. Just follow these four steps:
1. Open My Computer, then right-click Local Disk, and then click Properties.
2. On the General tab, click the Disk Cleanup button. Disk Cleanup will spend a few minutes examining your disk.
3. The Disk Cleanup dialog box shows you space on your disk that you can free up.
4. Select the desired checkboxes in the Files to Delete list, and then click OK. Disk Cleanup will spend several minutes clearing space.
Consider automating this disk cleanup process for your clients. For more information on this, check out the Microsoft Knowledge Basic article, How to Automate the Disk Cleanup Tool in Windows XP.
Tip 3: Defragment
WinXP comes with a great tool to defragment the data stored on disk called, appropriately enough, the Disk Defragmenter. Commonly referred to as simply “defrag,” this utility cures a condition that occurs when disks become congested and parts of files get written farther and father apart. When a file is fragmented, it takes longer for the computer to read it; the disk head has to skip around to find the data on different sections of the hard disk, and the computer’s logic has to keep track of the various pieces and reassemble them correctly.
Defrag will first do a quick analysis of a disk and determine if there’s enough fragmentation to warrant use of the utility. If it does finds significant fragmentation, defrag will move data around on the disk to make accessing it more efficient. Running this utility should ensure your client’s programs will load faster by retrieving data quicker.
It’s easy to defragment a disk. Just follow these four steps:
1. Open My Computer, right-click Local Disk, and then click Properties.
2. On the Tools tab, click Defragment Now. The Disk Defragmenter opens.
3. Click the appropriate hard disk, and then click Defragment. Disk Defragmenter will start to work. Defragging will take from several minutes to several hours, depending on how much data there is and how badly the data is spread out. As the amount of data stored approaches the disk’s capacity, defragging takes longer, as there is less space in which to work.
4. If the system has more than one hard disk, repeat this process for each hard disk in the system. Defragmenting the disk with WinXP on it will result in the greatest improvement in overall performance.
If files on your computer are not badly fragmented, you won’t see a large improvement in performance. But for most XP machines that have been running for a long time, startups and general performance can improve remarkably by doing a defrag.