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Speeding Up Windows XP

Although Windows XP and Windows Vista have many similarities (and thus some similar speedups, as you’ve just learned), some major differences exist between the two operating systems. To that end, let’s examine some speedups specific to the older Windows XP operating system.

Reboot Often

Here’s something not so good about Windows XP. The longer it stays running without rebooting or shutting down, the less memory you have available. And we all know what insufficient memory does—it slows down your system.

You see, Windows XP is prone to “memory leaks.” That is, little pieces of the programs you run stay loaded in system memory, even after those programs have been closed. It’s sloppy programming on Microsoft’s fault, what some would call a “bug” (although Microsoft doesn’t call it that; it doesn’t acknowledge the problem much at all), and one that affects anyone who keeps their computer running for days or weeks at a time without rebooting.

Here’s the way it works. When you run a program, pieces of that program’s code are loaded into your computer’s random access memory. You would expect that when you close the program, all those program pieces would be removed from memory; that’s the way things are supposed to work. In Windows XP, however, not all the program code gets purged from memory. A few bits and bytes here and there stay lodged in memory, even though they’re totally unused.

Now, a few bits and bytes don’t amount to much—until they start multiplying. That’s because this memory lead problem doesn’t affect just one program you run, but rather most programs you run. So after you open a close a half dozen or so applications, you end up with a significant chunk of memory that you can’t use, because old program pieces are still there taking up space.

This problem becomes especially noticeable if you don’t regularly shut down your computer at the end of each working day. If you’re like most users, you leave your computer running for days, weeks, even months at a time without shutting it down or rebooting. And all the time your computer is running, more and more of your memory becomes lost to this memory leak problem.

In other words, the longer your computer stays up and running, the more bits of old programs end up lodged in memory—and the less memory you have available to run other programs. This is what slows down your system.

The solution is simple. Every time you close Windows, either by turning off or rebooting your system, the clogged up pieces of program are purged from memory, and you get a clean start on the restart. (Until, of course, you start opening and closing new programs again!)

So if you find your Windows XP computer slowing down day after day, do the simple thing and reboot it once every few days. (Click the Start button and select Turn Off Computer; when the Turn Off Computer dialog box appears, click Restart.) Doing so purges all occupied memory and get your computer running faster again—until you start loading more programs, unfortunately.

Don’t Browse Network Folders

Some computer performance relates to an individual operation. That is, you can speed up the performance of some individual operations, regardless of the overall system performance.

One such operation that you can speed up is the opening of folders. In case you haven’t noticed it, there’s always a slightly delay when you double-click a folder to open it. That’s because Windows XP automatically searches for network folders and printers every time you open the My Documents or Documents folders, and this takes time.

To speed up folder opening, you can turn off this network folder browsing. Follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and select Control Panel.
  2. When the Control Panel opens, double-click Folder Options.
  3. When the Folder Options dialog box appears, select the View tab, shown in Figure 6.9.
    Figure 6.9

    Figure 6.9 Turning off Windows XP’s network folder browsing.

  4. Scroll down through the Advanced Settings list and uncheck the Automatically Search for Network Folders and Printers option.
  5. Click OK.

Note that you must reboot your computer for this change to take effect.

Improve Windows XP’s Swap File Performance

Previously, we learned how to improve performance by tweaking the configuration of Windows’ virtual memory. In Windows XP, an additional performance improvement can be had by making sure that all your RAM is used before the swap file is utilized—especially if you have more than 256MB of memory installed on your system. Follow these steps:

  1. Click the Start button and select Run.
  2. When the Run dialog box appears, enter msconfig.exe and click OK.
  3. When the System Configuration utility appears, select the System.ini tab, as shown in Figure 6.10.
    Figure 6.10

    Figure 6.10 Speeding up Windows XP swap file use.

  4. Click the plus sign next to the 386enh item to expand that listing.
  5. Click New.
  6. In the resulting box, enter ConservativeSwapfileUsage=1.
  7. Click OK.

You must reboot your PC for this change to take effect.

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