Before We Begin
I've kept this guide as brief as possible for ease of use. Mainly performance-related tweaks and settings are mentioned, and most aren't described in great detail. If you want more information about specific features see the links at the end of this guide, use Windows Help (right click on the item or press F1) or do a search on Google.
To start with, read my System Optimization Guide so that your system is completely optimized from the correct BIOS settings to the latest drivers, all preparing you to tweak WinXP without a hitch. In general I highly recommend a full reformat of the hard drive, not an upgrade of XP on top of an existing Windows version. This will give you the best performance and stability. When reformatting I recommend a single partition and the NTFS file system for maximum speed and security. Once XP is installed, download the latest drivers for all your major devices such as the graphics card, sound card and motherboard. Install all these drivers, rebooting as often as requested.
To make the majority of these changes, you'll need to be logged in as the Administrator, so I recommend initially having only one account - the Administrator.
Where a setting or system tool is mentioned and you cannot find it then either it doesn't apply to your specific system configuration, it's a reference to a WinXP Pro setting which doesn't exist on WinXP Home, or the option/device may have been disabled in your BIOS.
As you're applying these tweaks, you don't have to keep rebooting. If prompted, you can select Restart later/No. Remember that most tweaks won't come into effect until the next bootup, and the more tweaks you apply before rebooting, the less likely you'll be able to figure out which tweak caused a problem if anything goes wrong.
Download and install the following free utilities. We'll need these later on for tweaking and maintaining WinXP:
Cacheman (not CachemanXP)
Finally, before we make any changes to the system make sure you've backed up any data which you cannot afford to lose if anything goes wrong. Next, make a System Restore point, because that is the quickest and easiest way to restore your system if anything goes wrong. Finally, make a backup of the system Registry by doing the following:
1. Click the Start button, select Run, type "Regedit" (without the quotes) and click OK.
2. Highlight "My Computer" at the top, and from the File menu select Export.
3. Select All in the "Export Range" area at the bottom, choose a suitable empty directory, name the file something like Registry_Backup, and click Save.
If anything goes wrong with the registry, double click on this Registry_Backup.reg file and upload the old registry over your existing one. If that doesn't work, then you can go back to your last System Restore point.
Benchmarking the System
While many tweaks noticeably improve system performance, some may imperceptibly improve or even diminish performance. Benchmarking helps us find out what's really happening. Without going into too much detail, before you begin tweaking your system it's recommended that you download the following free benchmarking tools:
Run each benchmark one at a time on their default settings and record the final scores:
3DMark2003 - Click the 'Run 3DMark' button and record the final result. Note you need DirectX9.0 to run 3DMark2003. Use 3DMark2001SE if you don't want to install DX9, however I strongly recommend you update to DirectX9.0b as it contains a fix for a security flaw in earlier versions of DirectX.
HDSpeed - Untick 'continuous' and run several times on default, record the best result.
Sandra 2004 - Run the Memory Bandwidth, Cache & Memory, CPU Arithmetic and CPU Multi-Media benchmarks.
Once you've applied the tweaks in this guide, run these utilities again, record the new results and compare with the initial ones. I think you'll find your system is much faster in all of them. More importantly, you can now keep applying new tweaks or make small changes and use these tools to measure the results.
If you can't run these benchmarks (due to errors or crashes for example), or don't want to download these benchmarks just yet, then skip the benchmarking procedure as it's not essential to tweaking your system. Problems running these benchmarks is indicative of an unoptimized system setup. Tweaking your system should hopefully resolve any problems you're currently having.
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