America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilisation in between. - Oscar Wilde
After a while, XP starts to get slow as programs accumulate and finally you're left wondering why it takes a couple of minutes to boot up, with other times watching the hard disk start thrashing around as it swaps between processes.
I suppose I could attribute this to a Grand Conspiracy with hardware companies whereby your machine gets slow, you buy upgrades, and you ultimately buy a new machine. Alternatively, Microsoft was so busy trying to build and fix Vista that it thought an OS-type defragger (i.e. Get rid of the old stuff, make things faster) was a waste.
I'm disinclined to believe the latter case, since Microsoft's idea of speeding up Vista is to store the core boot processes and frequently accessed files in flash memory rather than on hard drive About the closest thing you get in Vista to a system defrag is a "Resource Exhaustion Prevention" feature, where Vista is nice enough to warn you when resources are low and identifies which processes are consuming the largest amounts of resources.
Instead, we mere mortals are left with opening the hood and poking around with a screwdriver to see what might improve performance.
A stroll through XP's Windows Task Manager is quite instructive when you sort things out by CPU and memory usage from high to low. I'm amazed at the number of companies/programmers that assumed it's OK to load there processes into RAM for faster loading - even if the program hasn't been run yet. Evil-doers on my list include Adobe's acrotray.exe, and a pair of iTunes processes. I'd also love to know why F-Secure's fssm32.exe wants to suck between 105 to 96 MB of RAM while in idle, but I suspect that's a story for another day.
My first step to cleaning house is an old favourite, going to Control Panel and "Add or Remove Programs." I start deleting off things I haven't used in a while (Or never - there's so much crap that gets loaded on a spanking new PC it's almost obscene because it's not porn). The "Add/Remove Windows Components" piece is a one-shot deal, but it's always worth checking to free up some disk space.
After the obvious has been removed, it's time for some third-party tools. I grabbed UniBlue's (www.uniblue.com) PowerSuite on sale for $59.00 and ran the trio of SpyEraser to clean out spyware, SpeedUpMyPC to scrounge up RAM, delete various junk and temporary files, and remove some start up items, then run RegistryBooster to clean out all the left over and broken entries in the registry files from removing programs. RegistryBooster can be annoying; because it has one process to cleanup the registry of old and damaged entries and another process to "defrag" the registry. Both request/require reboot after execution.
To polish things off for this round, I use WinPatrol (www.winpatrol.com) to browse through my startup programs to see what I else I can strip out of the startup routine (alas, for the days of Autoexec.bat). Basic WinPatrol, complete with Scottie Doggie icon and when it starts, is a freebie downloads. I may shell out the $29.95 for WinPatrol PLUS in order to get single-click reference help on the different files stuck in Startup and various REGISTRY entries.
Are there better ways to clean up and speed up a Windows XP? Sure, there are plenty of different techniques and options, but if Microsoft had some smarts, they'd build a lean-and-mean Vista (since XP is now "legacy") for laptops and desktops without all the assorted crap that they've built in over the years. µ
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