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BOOT CAMP 355 (07/12/04) -- XP TUNING TIPS

 

The next time you are sitting in front of your computer, waiting what seems like an eternity for Windows to boot up consider this. It is possible to get a Windows XP PC up and running, ready for use, less than ten seconds after switching it on, and I’m not talking about waking up from standby or hibernation mode, that’s booting from cold!

 

I can’t promise you that kind of blistering performance but with a little gentle tweaking and pruning it is possible to get the average home desktop PC ready for action in well under a minute. That’s within shouting distance of Microsoft’s wildly optimistic ‘Design Goals’ for XP, which is for a PC to boot to a useable state in 30 seconds. If your machine is now taking more than two or three minutes to boot then this three-part tuning guide is definitely worth perusing.

 

As usual we’ll begin with a few words of caution. The following tips apply to both the Home and Pro versions of Windows XP and are generally safe to use but you try them entirely at your own risk. Before you do anything to your PC make sure that all of your essential and irreplaceable data (i.e. files that you have created that exist only on your PC’s hard drive, such as documents, photographs, email messages etc.) are safely backed up, preferably on removable media such as a CD-ROM. You should also create a new Restore Point in System Restore (Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools -- see Boot Camp 334 in the Connected Archive), so you can undo any changes.

 

Prior to making any alterations it’s a good idea establish a benchmark by making a note of your current boot-up time. This should be from the moment you press the on switch on to the desktop hourglass disappearing or the hard disc activity light going off. You will get a more accurate and consistent figure if, after implementing a change, you ‘cold boot’. That means you should Turn Off the PC, rather than Restart, count ten then switch back on. That’s because during a Restart some background functions continue to operate and the changes you’ve made may not be fully implemented. Only try one thing at a time and always make sure the PC is behaving normally before you move on to the next tweak.

 

I’ve graded the tips in three broad categories, for beginners, intermediate users and experts so don’t please try anything that you feel is beyond your capabilities.

 

We’ll start with a couple of simple ones that involve disabling non-essential programs and services that start automatically with Windows. On a cluttered or heavily used PC this could shave ten to fifteen seconds off boot-up time. 

 

Go to Start > Programs >Startup; this folder contains shortcuts to programs that load with Windows and you can afford to be ruthless. To remove the ones that you do not need -- probably most of them -- simply right-click on the icon and select Delete from the drop-down menu. Don’t worry the programs remain on your PC and if you later decide that you need one or more of them back you can restore the shortcut from the Recycle Bin (so don’t empty it for a while!).

 

Most other programs that launch with Windows are started from the Registry and you can easily control those from the MS Configuration utility. Go to Run on the start menu, type ‘msconfig’ (without the quotes) and select the Startup tab. Here you will find a long list of programs and services and possibly one or two nasties, like adware, spyware, trojans and even viruses. You should be able to identify essential applications like your virus checker, firewall and so on from the file names, so leave those alone, the others you can check on the very extensive list at: www.sysinfo.org/startuplist.php.

 

Most entries in Startup are completely redundant, they slow down your PC, sap its resources and filch your Internet connection to search for updates or send information from your PC. If you come across any ‘malware’ entries run the AdAware and Spybot cleaner utilities (both free, from: www.lavasoftusa.com and www.safer-networking.org/), before you go any further.

 

Only uncheck a couple of items at a time and follow the prompts for a restart. After each reboot you will see a dialogue box telling you the PC is in diagnostic mode; click the ‘Don’t show me this again…’ box then OK and make sure everything is working properly. You can then run msconfig again to remove the next batch of entries. For the record my work PC now has only 5 startup items ticked; you should be able to reduce yours to 10 or fewer without any problems.

 

Here’s another quick and simple tweak that could reduce boot times by a few seconds. Open Windows Explorer and work your way to C:\WINDOWS\Prefetch. The pre-fetch folder contains files that XP thinks that it may need to reduce the time that applications open or to start background processes. Some of them might be useful but a lot of entries will have been left behind by programs that you only use occasionally or have uninstalled. You can safely delete them all and over time Windows will rebuild the list, so it’s a good idea to clean it out once a month or so. Alternatively you can download a freeware utility that will do the job for you with a single mouse click. It’s called Prefetch Clean and Control and you can get it from: www.majorgeeks.com/download2495.html.

 

Next week – XP Tuning Tips, part 2

 

JARGON FILTER

 

MALWARE

Malicious or intrusive software, often inadvertently downloaded from websites, that make adverts appear, track your on-line activities or send private and personal information from your PC

 

SERVICES

Behind the scenes housekeeping and administrative functions in Windows

 

TROJAN

Hidden program, often carried in an email attachments that allows a hacker to gain access to files stored on your PC

 

 

TIP OF THE WEEK

This quick tip will only save a couple of seconds by disabling the Windows XP ‘splash screen’ that appears during boot up but every little helps! Go to Run on the Start menu and type’msconfig’ (without the quotes) and select the BOOT.INI tab. In the lower half of the box, under Boot Options check the item /NOGUIBOOT, click OK, Restart your PC and work out what you are going to do with all of those extra seconds you have just saved…

 

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