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Why is my windows xp computer running slow?

I work on a lot of older PC’s. Whether its the overall price tag of an upgrade or the fear of having to deal with something new, people tend to prefer the status quo. And for many that remains Windows XP. The “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke approach” has some advantages…a familiar environment, for example, allows people to be more productive. Time behind the wheel, as they say, is the reason some prefer to delay an upgrade. When it comes down to changing habits formed by years of repetitive use productivity can be hampered. So, if you’re one of those people that prefer the eleven year old unsupported predecessor to 7…and are wondering how to speed it up, here is how:

First off, let me delve into some of the reasons Windows XP tends to get sluggish with time. As you use your computer over time, you create and acquire data. Lots of it. Unfortunately Windows XP has some design flaws that cause it to get bogged down by all that data you are creating. As your My Documents and Program Files folders grow over time, Windows XP has more and more things to keep track of…more things to keep in mind so to speak…and this causes it to inevitably slow down. The problem is not entirely with the operating system alone though. As with any complicated system, there are multiple layers that contribute to the problem and to get to a solution a multi-tiered approach is required. Here is my check-list of things that will speed up Windows XP and the reasons they work.
[step 1] Turn off Indexing.

[step a] Right click the C: drive and select Properties. Un-check the box that says “Allow indexing service to index this disk for fast file searching”.

[step b] In the Confirm Attribute Changes dialog, select All changes to C:, subfolders and files. Click OK.

[step 3] Ignore All Errors.

[step c] Set the Indexing Service to Manual (and stop it if it is running). To get to services, click Start->Control Panel->Administrative Tools->Services and find the Indexing Service.

[step d] (optional) Clear your index catalog. Right-click My Computer and select Manage. Then click Indexing Service and right click the default index and select All Tasks->Empty Catalog.

Most people don’t realize that hard drive indexing creates a huge searchable database of all the stuff inside your files. In my experience 95% of desktop searches involve searching for terms in file/folder names. If you’re not searching for stuff inside a file, you don’t need indexing. I’ve seen XP machines with a 20GB index. Products like Windows Search and Google Desktop Search attempt to improve XP’s native indexing and search capabilities but they tend to make the problem worse. If you want a faster computer, turn indexing off. If you need to search the contents of files, install a copy of PowerGREP or Windows Grep.

[step 2] Upgrade your hard drive.

As your disk fills up with data blocks, reaching the bits you want takes more seek time. If your hard drive is more than 60% utilized, you’ll notice a significant speed improvement if you upgrade to a disk that will be less than 30% utilized. Additionally, modern hard drives typically have larger amounts of cache allowing your drive to spend less time seeking platters to retrieve the data you want now. I recommend SATA3 drives with at least 16MB of cache or more…steer clear of the bargain “green” drives. They are slow performers. Go Western Digital Black for best performance. Most new hard drives come with software that will allow you to clone your existing disk to the new one in 30 minutes or less.

[step 3] Upgrade your RAM.

If your PC has less than 2GB of RAM memory, it’s time to get some more. Don’t go crazy though, XP is mostly a 32bit operating system. That means it can only address about (2^32) bytes = ~4 gigabytes of RAM. If you go out and buy 8GB, the most you’ll ever use is ~4GB.

[step 4] Get CCleaner.

Installing Applications and browsing the web creates temporary files. Lots of ’em. For a while they help you do things faster, but XP has no mechanism for deleting stale temp files, so they just pile up. When enough of these files exist, XP performance will be impacted. CCleaner is a free utility that can pear down the amount of temporary files on your system using the Cleaner tab. Here are the relatively safe options I tend to select for clearing temp data using CCleaner:

Internet Explorer
Temporary Internet Files Removes temp files
Index.dat files Clears the internet cache database
Windows Explorer
Thumbnail Cache Clears the thumbnail cache
System
Empty Recycle Bin Empties your trash
Temporary Files Deletes Windows temp files
Memory Dumps Deletes memory Dumps
Clipboard Removes items from clipboard
Chkdsk File Fragments Removes chkdsk fragments
Windows Log Files Removes unnecessary logs
Windows Error Reporting Removes error reports
DNS Cache Flushes your DNS cache
Font Cache Clears the font cache
Advanced
Old Prefetch data Removes old prefetch data
IIS Log files (if you are running IIS)
Hotfix Uninstallers (if your system is patched and stable)
Applications
Firefox Same as Internet Explorer
Chrome Same as Internet Explorer
Adobe Acrobat Reader
Office 2003/2007/2010
Internet
Sun Java

CCleaner can also help you pear down your start-up items. These are generally programs that run when your computer starts and end up in the notification area or background. They can slow your computer down, so here are the ones I typically disable because they’re not needed:

Startup program Enabled?
Google Update No
ISUSPM No
Acrobat Assistant No
Adobe Acrobat Speed Launcher No
Adobe ARM No
AppleSyncNotifier No
ArcSoft Connection Service No
GrooveMonitor No
HotKeyCmds No
HP Software Update No
LWS (or anything Logitech Webcam related) No
PowerDVD (or anything related) No
QuickTime Task No
Roxio (or anything related) No
swg No
SunJavaUpdateSched No

[step 5] Stop/disable some services

Click Start->run… and enter services.msc, then click OK to bring up the Services Dialog.

Windows Services are service applications that run behind the scenes and allow your computer do to everything from browsing the internet to sharing files and folders. There are Windows services (those services are part of the XP operating system) and third party application services installed by some applications. Many of these third party application services are not critical for your computer to function and some will hamper performance. The Services management dialog allows you to start, stop, enable and disable various services. Here is a list of services that are part of a “fresh” Windows XP SP3 install. Do not modify these services:

Name Description Status Startup Type Log On As
.NET Runtime Optimization Service v2.0.50727_X86 Microsoft .NET Framework NGEN Manual Local System
Adobe Flash Player Update Service This service keeps your Adobe Flash Player installation up to date with the latest enhancements and security fixes. Manual Local System
Alerter Notifies selected users and computers of administrative alerts. If the service is stopped, programs that use administrative alerts will not receive them. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Disabled Local Service
Application Layer Gateway Service Provides support for 3rd party protocol plug-ins for Internet Connection Sharing and the Windows Firewall. Started Manual Local Service
Application Management Provides software installation services such as Assign, Publish, and Remove. Manual Local System
ASP.NET State Service Provides support for out-of-process session states for ASP.NET. If this service is stopped, out-of-process requests will not be processed. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Manual Network Service
Automatic Updates Enables the download and installation of Windows updates. If this service is disabled, this computer will not be able to use the Automatic Updates feature or the Windows Update Web site. Started Automatic Local System
Background Intelligent Transfer Service Transfers files in the background using idle network bandwidth. If the service is stopped, features such as Windows Update, and MSN Explorer will be unable to automatically download programs and other information. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it may fail to transfer files if they do not have a fail safe mechanism to transfer files directly through IE in case BITS has been disabled. Started Manual Local System
ClipBook Enables ClipBook Viewer to store information and share it with remote computers. If the service is stopped, ClipBook Viewer will not be able to share information with remote computers. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Disabled Local System
COM+ Event System Supports System Event Notification Service (SENS), which provides automatic distribution of events to subscribing Component Object Model (COM) components. If the service is stopped, SENS will close and will not be able to provide logon and logoff notifications. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Manual Local System
COM+ System Application Manages the configuration and tracking of Component Object Model (COM)+-based components. If the service is stopped, most COM+-based components will not function properly. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Manual Local System
Computer Browser Maintains an updated list of computers on the network and supplies this list to computers designated as browsers. If this service is stopped, this list will not be updated or maintained. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Automatic Local System
Cryptographic Services Provides three management services: Catalog Database Service, which confirms the signatures of Windows files; Protected Root Service, which adds and removes Trusted Root Certification Authority certificates from this computer; and Key Service, which helps enroll this computer for certificates. If this service is stopped, these management services will not function properly. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Automatic Local System
DCOM Server Process Launcher Provides launch functionality for DCOM services. Started Automatic Local System
DHCP Client Manages network configuration by registering and updating IP addresses and DNS names. Started Automatic Local System
Distributed Link Tracking Client Maintains links between NTFS files within a computer or across computers in a network domain. Started Automatic Local System
Distributed Transaction Coordinator Coordinates transactions that span multiple resource managers, such as databases, message queues, and file systems. If this service is stopped, these transactions will not occur. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Manual Network Service
DNS Client Resolves and caches Domain Name System (DNS) names for this computer. If this service is stopped, this computer will not be able to resolve DNS names and locate Active Directory domain controllers. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Automatic Network Service
Error Reporting Service Allows error reporting for services and applications running in non-standard environments. Started Automatic Local System
Event Log Enables event log messages issued by Windows-based programs and components to be viewed in Event Viewer. This service cannot be stopped. Started Automatic Local System
Extensible Authentication Protocol Service Provides windows clients Extensible Authentication Protocol Service Manual Local System
Fast User Switching Compatibility Provides management for applications that require assistance in a multiple user environment. Manual Local System
Health Key and Certificate Management Service Manages health certificates and keys (used by NAP) Manual Local System
Help and Support Enables Help and Support Center to run on this computer. If this service is stopped, Help and Support Center will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Automatic Local System
HTTP SSL This service implements the secure hypertext transfer protocol (HTTPS) for the HTTP service, using the Secure Socket Layer (SSL). If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Manual Local System
Human Interface Device Access Enables generic input access to Human Interface Devices (HID), which activates and maintains the use of predefined hot buttons on keyboards, remote controls, and other multimedia devices. If this service is stopped, hot buttons controlled by this service will no longer function. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Disabled Local System
IMAPI CD-Burning COM Service Manages CD recording using Image Mastering Applications Programming Interface (IMAPI). If this service is stopped, this computer will be unable to record CDs. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Manual Local System
Indexing Service Indexes contents and properties of files on local and remote computers; provides rapid access to files through flexible querying language. Manual Local System
IPSEC Services Manages IP security policy and starts the ISAKMP/Oakley (IKE) and the IP security driver. Started Automatic Local System
Logical Disk Manager Detects and monitors new hard disk drives and sends disk volume information to Logical Disk Manager Administrative Service for configuration. If this service is stopped, dynamic disk status and configuration information may become out of date. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Automatic Local System
Logical Disk Manager Administrative Service Configures hard disk drives and volumes. The service only runs for configuration processes and then stops. Manual Local System
Messenger Transmits net send and Alerter service messages between clients and servers. This service is not related to Windows Messenger. If this service is stopped, Alerter messages will not be transmitted. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Disabled Local System
Microsoft Office Diagnostics Service Run portions of Microsoft Office Diagnostics. Manual Local System
MS Software Shadow Copy Provider Manages software-based volume shadow copies taken by the Volume Shadow Copy service. If this service is stopped, software-based volume shadow copies cannot be managed. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Manual Local System
Net Logon Supports pass-through authentication of account logon events for computers in a domain. Started Automatic Local System
Net.Tcp Port Sharing Service Provides ability to share TCP ports over the net.tcp protocol. Disabled Local Service
NetMeeting Remote Desktop Sharing Enables an authorized user to access this computer remotely by using NetMeeting over a corporate intranet. If this service is stopped, remote desktop sharing will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Manual Local System
Network Access Protection Agent Allows windows clients to participate in Network Access Protection Manual Local System
Network Connections Manages objects in the Network and Dial-Up Connections folder, in which you can view both local area network and remote connections. Started Manual Local System
Network DDE Provides network transport and security for Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) for programs running on the same computer or on different computers. If this service is stopped, DDE transport and security will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Disabled Local System
Network DDE DSDM Manages Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) network shares. If this service is stopped, DDE network shares will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Disabled Local System
Network Location Awareness (NLA) Collects and stores network configuration and location information, and notifies applications when this information changes. Started Manual Local System
Network Provisioning Service Manages XML configuration files on a domain basis for automatic network provisioning. Manual Local System
NT LM Security Support Provider Provides security to remote procedure call (RPC) programs that use transports other than named pipes. Manual Local System
Office Source Engine Saves installation files used for updates and repairs and is required for the downloading of Setup updates and Watson error reports. Manual Local System
Performance Logs and Alerts Collects performance data from local or remote computers based on preconfigured schedule parameters, then writes the data to a log or triggers an alert. If this service is stopped, performance information will not be collected. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Manual Network Service
Plug and Play Enables a computer to recognize and adapt to hardware changes with little or no user input. Stopping or disabling this service will result in system instability. Started Automatic Local System
Portable Media Serial Number Service Retrieves the serial number of any portable media player connected to this computer. If this service is stopped, protected content might not be down loaded to the device. Manual Local System
Print Spooler Loads files to memory for later printing. Started Automatic Local System
Protected Storage Provides protected storage for sensitive data, such as private keys, to prevent access by unauthorized services, processes, or users. Started Automatic Local System
QoS RSVP Provides network signaling and local traffic control setup functionality for QoS-aware programs and control applets. Manual Local System
Remote Access Auto Connection Manager Creates a connection to a remote network whenever a program references a remote DNS or NetBIOS name or address. Manual Local System
Remote Access Connection Manager Creates a network connection. Started Manual Local System
Remote Desktop Help Session Manager Manages and controls Remote Assistance. If this service is stopped, Remote Assistance will be unavailable. Before stopping this service, see the Dependencies tab of the Properties dialog box. Manual Local System
Remote Procedure Call (RPC) Provides the endpoint mapper and other miscellaneous RPC services. Started Automatic Network Service
Remote Procedure Call (RPC) Locator Manages the RPC name service database. Manual Network Service
Remote Registry Enables remote users to modify registry settings on this computer. If this service is stopped, the registry can be modified only by users on this computer. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Automatic Local Service
Removable Storage Manual Local System
Routing and Remote Access Offers routing services to businesses in local area and wide area network environments. Disabled Local System
Secondary Logon Enables starting processes under alternate credentials. If this service is stopped, this type of logon access will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Automatic Local System
Security Accounts Manager Stores security information for local user accounts. Started Automatic Local System
Security Center Monitors system security settings and configurations. Automatic Local System
Server Supports file, print, and named-pipe sharing over the network for this computer. If this service is stopped, these functions will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Automatic Local System
Shell Hardware Detection Provides notifications for AutoPlay hardware events. Started Automatic Local System
Smart Card Manages access to smart cards read by this computer. If this service is stopped, this computer will be unable to read smart cards. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Manual Local Service
SSDP Discovery Service Enables discovery of UPnP devices on your home network. Started Manual Local Service
System Event Notification Tracks system events such as Windows logon, network, and power events. Notifies COM+ Event System subscribers of these events. Started Automatic Local System
System Restore Service Performs system restore functions. To stop service, turn off System Restore from the System Restore tab in My Computer->Properties Started Automatic Local System
Task Scheduler Enables a user to configure and schedule automated tasks on this computer. If this service is stopped, these tasks will not be run at their scheduled times. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Automatic Local System
TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper Enables support for NetBIOS over TCP/IP (NetBT) service and NetBIOS name resolution. Started Automatic Local Service
Telephony Provides Telephony API (TAPI) support for programs that control telephony devices and IP based voice connections on the local computer and, through the LAN, on servers that are also running the service. Started Manual Local System
Telnet Enables a remote user to log on to this computer and run programs, and supports various TCP/IP Telnet clients, including UNIX-based and Windows-based computers. If this service is stopped, remote user access to programs might be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Disabled Local System
Terminal Services Allows multiple users to be connected interactively to a machine as well as the display of desktops and applications to remote computers. The underpinning of Remote Desktop (including RD for Administrators), Fast User Switching, Remote Assistance, and Terminal Server. Started Manual Local System
Themes Provides user experience theme management. Started Automatic Local System
Uninterruptible Power Supply Manages an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) connected to the computer. Manual Local Service
Universal Plug and Play Device Host Provides support to host Universal Plug and Play devices. Manual Local Service
VirtualBox Guest Additions Service Manages VM runtime information, time synchronization, remote sysprep execution and miscellaneous utilities for guest operating systems. Started Automatic Local System
Volume Shadow Copy Manages and implements Volume Shadow Copies used for backup and other purposes. If this service is stopped, shadow copies will be unavailable for backup and the backup may fail. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Manual Local System
WebClient Enables Windows-based programs to create, access, and modify Internet-based files. If this service is stopped, these functions will not be available. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Automatic Local Service
Windows Audio Manages audio devices for Windows-based programs. If this service is stopped, audio devices and effects will not function properly. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Automatic Local System
Windows CardSpace Securely enables the creation, management, and disclosure of digital identities. Manual Local System
Windows Firewall/Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) Provides network address translation, addressing, name resolution and/or intrusion prevention services for a home or small office network. Started Automatic Local System
Windows Image Acquisition (WIA) Provides image acquisition services for scanners and cameras. Manual Local System
Windows Installer Adds, modifies, and removes applications provided as a Windows Installer (*.msi) package. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Manual Local System
Windows Management Instrumentation Provides a common interface and object model to access management information about operating system, devices, applications and services. If this service is stopped, most Windows-based software will not function properly. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Automatic Local System
Windows Management Instrumentation Driver Extensions Provides systems management information to and from drivers. Manual Local System
Windows Presentation Foundation Font Cache 3.0.0.0 Optimizes performance of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) applications by caching commonly used font data. WPF applications will start this service if it is not already running. It can be disabled, though doing so will degrade the performance of WPF applications. Manual Local Service
Windows Time Maintains date and time synchronization on all clients and servers in the network. If this service is stopped, date and time synchronization will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.
Started Automatic Local System
Wired AutoConfig This service performs IEEE 802.1X authentication on Ethernet interfaces Manual Local System
Wireless Zero Configuration Provides automatic configuration for the 802.11 adapters Started Automatic Local System
WMI Performance Adapter Provides performance library information from WMI HiPerf providers. Manual Local System
Workstation Creates and maintains client network connections to remote servers. If this service is stopped, these connections will be unavailable. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start. Started Automatic Local System

NOTE: As a good rule of thumb, I usually set services not part of the list above to Manual before completely disabling anything. This way the service is not completely blocked from working, just blocked from starting automatically with your computer. Apple device and helper services are a good example services that fall in this category.

[step 6] Uninstall programs.

If you don’t need it, uninstall it! Microsoft has chosen not to force developers to use a single standardized installer, so some applications uninstall cleanly and some leave lots items behind. IObit uninstaller is a great free tool to cleanup files left behind by poorly developed uninstallers.

[step 7] Defrag.

Click Start->All Programs->Accessories->System Tools->Disk Defragmenter.

As you create data on your computer, it stores files in random unoccupied spots on the hard disk. Over time as your disk becomes more and more utilized, the random placement of all these files (also known as fragmentation) will become an issue that can affect XP performance. Defragmenting the hard drive means organizing data randomly stored on your hard drive into contiguous blocks and optimizing free space. This should be done quarterly.

April 4, 2012

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3 comments found

Comments for: Why is my windows xp computer running slow?

  1. Kumar

    Thanks Dave, Gonna get PowerGrep – Good to get an insight into the various things that slow my old xp up.

  2. Ed

    i used your windows services guide and it helped alot. seems leaving settings manual, works better than disabled. i’ve done other settings, but this was closer to what i needed. after 10 years i still consider myself to be a newbee. I like xp some, the newer stuff seems bass ackwards.
    //Ed

  3. John

    I used the windows services guide. I am using Network Magic and an error message “Platform services not running” appears every day. Why, I don’t know. But now I know how to correct it. Thank you so much. I’ve subscribed to your blog too. Wish I had found your website long ago.
    John

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