Speed Up Computer Without Paying
I mainly talk about how to speed up your current computer without buying hardware upgrade or special software. I use Windows XP as an example here. And I do not focus on the common performance tweaks that are already mentioned in Windows XP help. I bet you know how to do that already for example disabling the menu animation. I am going to talk about the tweaks that Windows XP does not tell you.

If you are going to get a new desktop computer, bonus tips:
a) use hardware that is recommended by the OS publishers. It is not only about speed, but also machine stability.
b) 4GB (DDR2-800 AKA PC2-6400) of random access memory (RAM) is not too much and will make the operating system very happy. And you do not have to allocate virtual memory on your hard disk because physical memory is enough. Note that one piece (or stick or module) of 2GB RAM is faster than two pieces of 1GB RAM.
c) To fully utilize the DDR2-800 RAM, a motherboard with at least 965 in the 9xx series or any of the x3x series (e.g. P31) desktop Intel chipset must be used. The motherboard should also have two colors of RAM slots (dual channel architecture, usually purple and light green).
d) Hard disk drive (HDD) with at least 7200rpm and 16MB of buffer. Or you can get a solid state drive (SSD). SSD is much more faster than HDD.

1. If your Windows is freshly installed

1.1 General

Download "Extensible Counter List" program from Microsoft and install it to disable performance counters in the background. I am just a normal user so I do not need to see the performance counters anyway.

In Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Services, double click on "Error Reporting Service", then choose Disabled for "Startup type". Do it for "System Event Notification" too. I do not need those services to run in the background and I bet if you are reading this, you do not need them too. While you are at it, if you see other services that you are 100% sure you do not need, do the same thing too.

Turn startup and shutdown sounds off if you do not particularly prefer them.

1.2 File deletion

Delete unneeded files in WINNT (or WINDOWS on some computers).
a) Some bitmap wallpapers in "WINNT" and "WINNT\Web\Wallpaper" folder.
b) Some fonts you do not use in "WINNT\Fonts" folder. This is also recommended by Microsoft.

1.3 Registry

Start the Registry Editor by selecting Run from the Start menu, typing regedit in the Open field, and clicking OK. After the edit, some changes will only work after the computer is restarted. It is safer to change one registry entry at a time and restart before changing another so that if Windows has problem you will know which registry entry causes it. If you do a mistake when editing the registry and the computer cannot boot to Windows, press F8 during reboot to access the list of startup options. Choose "Last Known Good Configuration (your most recent settings that worked)".

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ Control Panel\ Desktop
1) Set String value named AutoEndTasks to 1 so that whenever a program is not responding, Windows will terminate it automatically. After this modification, you should save your work before executing Shutdown. This is because although the program will still ask you to save but Windows will close the program very fast before you are able to answer to the program to save your work.
2) Decrease String values named HungAppTimeout say to 1000 and WaitToKillAppTimeout say to 10000. This is to shorten shutdown time.

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\ SOFTWARE\ Microsoft\ Windows\ CurrentVersion\ Explorer
Create a new DWORD value named AlwaysUnloadDLL and set to 1 to disable Windows caching the DLL (dynamic link library, should be unloaded when the program does not need it) in memory. To change the value, double-click it to open "Edit DWORD Value" dialog box. Enter 1 in the Value Data field and click OK.

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\ SYSTEM\ CurrentControlSet\ Control\ Filesystem
Having many subdirectories may slow down the system. Either try to reorganize your files and folders or go to the registry above. Create a new DWORD value named NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate and set to 1.

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\ SYSTEM\ CurrentControlSet\ Control\ Session Manager\ Memory Management
If you have at least 1 GB of RAM, set DWORD value named DisablePagingExecutive to 1 to disable paging and to have the kernel run in RAM.

1.4 Not To Modify

There are things in the registry that are not practical to modify although others suggest you to do so.

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\ SYSTEM\ CurrentControlSet\ Control\ Session Manager\ Memory Management\ PrefetchParameters
Modifying the DWORD value named EnablePrefetcher although may shorten the Windows bar rolling time during bootup, but it will significantly lengthen the time during the desktop startup.

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ Control Panel\ Desktop
Modifying the String value named MenuShowDelay does not bring much difference to the display speed of Start Menu.

Do not delete the files in "WINNT\Prefetch". They are actually needed for Windows to start up quickly although some people claim the other way round.

2. Additional things to do if your Windows that has been used for some time (e.g. half a year)

2.1 General

Defrag. It is advisable to defrag in Safe Mode. Restart the computer, and press F8 until a menu is displayed. Choose Safe Mode.

If you have not scanned for spyware, you will want to do so because spyware can significantly slow down your system. Spyware Terminator is a free and decent anti-spyware software.

Clear the things in the system tray. Longer system tray slows down computer and makes your taskbar to have limited space. Disable startup items in the program itself. Also delete unneeded program shortcut in startup folder in Start Menu. The startup item can also be deleted in the registry but I am not going to talk about it here because every person's computer has different programs that loads during startup.

2.2 File reduction

Desktop is meant for shortcut only. Delete or move other items. Having too many files on desktop will lengthen the startup time. This is also about appearance. Your desktop will not look good if there are a lot of files.

Uninstall programs that you do not really use.

Deleting everything on the hard drive (formatting) and reinstalling Windows (and hardware drivers, and your preferred programs...) can make the computer as fast as the day of purchase. But that should be the final choice of resolution.
Posted: 2007-10-30; updated: 2011-10-13 by Ong Seng Aun.
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