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WinXP Tweaking: From Reformat to Relax

By: Koroush Ghazi | Guides | Posted: Jul 26, 2002 4:00 am



To access: Control Panel>System or Right click on My Computer>Properties





If any of the details displayed are thoroughly incorrect then it's a sign of a bad install, new/unsupported hardware, conflicts, poorly installed/incorrect drivers or overclocking problems. You may notice your CPU's speed rating is shown slightly higher/lower than its actual rating - this is normal.


Computer Name


Leave the Computer Description, Computer Name and Workgroup fields blank unless you are part of a Network of computers. I recommend against placing anything uniquely identifiable - such as your real name - in these fields.




If you have any hardware which is not being identified correctly or detected try the Add Hardware Wizard.


Click the Driver Signing button and select "Warn - Prompt me each time to choose an action". Tick "Make this the system default". Despite what Microsoft says, most drivers are unsigned and there is no problem at all with them.


Click the Device Manager button, go to the View menu and choose "View Devices by Type" and tick "Show Hidden Devices". Any devices which have a yellow question mark or exclamation mark next to them will need further troubleshooting. You should disable devices which you don't regularly use to speed up windows and free up resources. Ideally this should be done first in the BIOS then Device Manager. To disable a device, double-click on the device, and select "Do not use this device" under the Device Usage area. A red cross will appear next to it.


Go to the View menu and choose "View Resources by type", then expand the "Interrupt Request (IRQ)" item. Make sure each major device in your system (graphics card, sound card etc.) is on a separate IRQ from other major system devices. If you have two or more major devices sharing an IRQ (e.g. Sound Card and Graphics Card on one IRQ), this may cause problems. Changing IRQs is tricky. Firstly, free up as many IRQs as you can by disabling unused devices. For example, disable COM1, COM2, Serial Ports etc. in the BIOS to free up IRQs. Next, physically move one of the conflicting devices to another PCI slot to see if that helps. Finally, you may have options in your BIOS for assigning/forcing IRQs to particular devices - use these options to rearrange IRQs until major devices are not sharing one IRQ. Finally, having made these changes select the option "Reset Configuration Data" (or similar) in the BIOS to reassign IRQs. It's not straightforward but it's worth the effort if you're having problems.


To optimise your hard drive, go to Disk Drives>[Name/Model #]>Properties>Policies tab and for each hard drive select "Optimise for Performance" and tick "Enable Write Caching on the disk". These options may not be available if you are using a Serial ATA (SATA) or SCSI hard drive. Then go to IDE ATA/ATAPI Controllers>Primary IDE Channel (same for Secondary)>Properties>Advanced Settings>"DMA if Available" for all devices actually connected. For devices which do not exist, select None under Device Type to speed up bootup. Again, DMA Mode may not be available for SATA/SCSI drives.


Click the Hardware Profiles button, and for optimal bootup speed have only one hardware profile and choose "Select the first profile listed if I don't select a profile in…" and set the time to 0 seconds.




Click the Settings button under Performance and under the Visual Effects tab select "Adjust for best performance" for fastest performance. I recommend choosing Custom and leaving "Use visual styles on windows and buttons" ticked so you retain XP's looks and interface customization.


Under the Advanced tab under Processor scheduling select Programs. Under Memory usage select Programs.


Virtual Memory Settings Below - Very Important!


Memory management in WindowsXP is different to that under the older Win95/98/ME Windows series. No matter how much physical RAM you have on your system, your Virtual Memory (aka the Swapfile or Pagefile) settings will have a major impact on your system's performance. The information on Virtual Memory below is sourced from this definitive Virtual Memory in WinXP Guide. I highly recommend you read the guide for precise details of what VM is and what it does.


To access the Virtual Memory settings, go to the Control Panel>System>Advanced>Performance>Settings>Advanced>Virtual Memory section and click the Change button. Then follow these steps:


1. If you have only one hard drive, skip to step 2. If you have more than one hard drive, you should put the main pagefile on the drive which doesn't contain your Windows installation and applications/games. This will reduce hard drive head movement on the main disk and speed up access to the pagefile. To do this, first select the appropriate drive under the Drive window, then continue.


2. Under the next section select the "No Paging File" option and click the Set button. Reboot as requested then continue to step 3. This is done to clear the existing pagefile (curing any pagefile corruption), and make sure that the new pagefile you make will start off in one single contiguous block on your hard drive. The pagefile cannot be defragmented using the Defrag tool, so it's important that you start with a single unfragmented pagefile for optimal performance.


3. Back in the Virtual Memory window, you should select the "Custom Size" option. Now here comes the tricky part. There are many differing opinions on just how big or small the pagefile should be. One rule every expert agrees on however is never ever set your pagefile=0, regardless of how much RAM you have. WinXP needs a pagefile in order to operate correctly. Setting the pagefile to zero does not speed up your WinXP by forcing XP to "just use my RAM" doesn't work that way - refer to the guide above for more details.


As a rule of thumb, and to make sure you have plenty of Virtual Memory (to avoid crashes and errors), I suggest setting the Initial Size to the same amount as your physical RAM. E.g if you have 512MB of RAM, set the initial pagefile size to 512MB. For the Maximum Size, I suggest something very large, particularly as modern games and applications are very memory hungry. Since your system's total Virtual Memory is the sum of your RAM + Pagefile, as a general rule I recommend making sure your RAM + Pagefile is a very large amount such as 2GB or even higher. E.g. if you have 512MB of RAM, set the Maximum Size value for the Pagefile to 1500MB or more. If you still have doubts, choose "System Managed Size" to be totally safe.


4. Once you've adjusted these settings click the Set button.


Your pagefile is now set optimally, and you will have plenty of Virtual Memory to play with, while at the same time avoiding the myth that you will free up your RAM by setting a small Pagefile size.


Click the Settings button under Startup and Recovery. For a single OS (recommended) system, "[Name of OS]" /fastdetect should be highlighted. Untick "Time to display list of Operating Systems" and tick "Time to display recovery options when needed" and select at least 10 seconds. This is the amount of time you'll get to choose the type of bootup from the recovery menu after a bad system crash. Click the Edit button, and change the "timeout" value to 0 and save on exit. Under System failure untick all three options for optimal performance, and "Write Debugging Information" should be set to None. That way if you run into problems you'll see the error displayed (usually a bluescreen) and your system won't automatically reboot. At the same time you won't get lots of logfiles and dumpfiles of the event cluttering up your system. Re-enable these if Troubleshooting a vague problem or if Tech Support ask you to.


The Environment Variables do not need to be altered from default.


Click the Error Reporting button and select "Disable Error Reporting" and tick "But notify me when critical errors occur"


System Restore


Select "Turn off System Restore" if you feel very confident about your Windows expertise. System Restore can take up a great deal of disk space and is not absolutely necessary, however if you often try out risky software or install beta drivers, System Restore can save you a great deal of heartache if things go wrong. If in doubt, leave it on.


Automatic Updates


Select "Turn off automatic updating. I want to update my computer manually" and manually run Windows Updater (Internet Explorer>Tools Menu>Windows Update) regularly to see a list of updates. See the Services section for information on how to disable this service altogether.




Both options should be unticked for security and performance reasons.


How much to upgrade to x64 Edition?


Microsoft Windows XP Professional x64 Edition (ZAT00008) for PC


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