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WinXP Tweaking: From Relax to Righteous

By: Koroush Ghazi | Guides | Posted: Feb 8, 2003 5:00 am

Before We Begin


The alternate name for this section is Covering My Butt! As with my first WinXP Guide, I urge you to take some basic precautions before you try any of the tweaks in this guide. All the tweaks have been tested, and I've only included what I think are useful, working, "safe" tweaks in this guide. However, regardless of how simple or safe the tweak appears to be, individual system setups vary and your particular combination of hardware and software may react badly to any of these tweaks.


To make sure that using these tweaks doesn't turn into a bad experience for you, and that in turn you don't take it out on poor ol' Koroush, follow these precautionary measures:


- Back up all your important data. This should be part of your regular routine anyway, however make a fresh backup using your chosen method, preferably to CD or a different hard drive than the one which contains your WinXP installation.


- Back up your registry. You can do this by going to Start>Run>Regedit, choose File>Export, select All under Export Range, then choose a directory and enter a name for the backup file. Click Save to start the backup process. Should you make any registry changes which cause problems and you're not sure what the source of problems is, you can restore your backup registry by double-clicking on this .reg file.


- A much better method than only backing up the registry is to use System Restore. Unless you're very confident with your PC, enable System Restore and create a new restore point prior to doing any tweaking. You can do this by doing the following:



1. Press the Start button and click on Help and Support. Or, click on an empty area on your desktop then press F1 to bring up Help and Support. Or open MSConfig (Start>Run>MSConfig) and click the Launch System Restore button.


2. In the Help and Support Centre, click 'Performance and Maintenance'.


3. Click 'Using System Restore to undo system changes' and then click 'Run the System Restore Wizard' under the 'Pick a Task' heading. If you get an error saying System Restore has been disabled, see my first WinXP Guide and undo any tweaks which disable System Restore. You'll need Administrator access to do that.


4. In the System Restore Wizard, click Create a Restore Point and follow the prompts to save your system state in a new restore point.


5. At any time, if you wish to return your computer to the state it was in when you created the Restore Point, follow steps 1-3 above to get to the System Restore Wizard. Then click 'Restore my computer to an earlier time', and select the date on which you created the restore point you wish to return to.


Using System Restore means that even if you make a large number of changes, it's fairly easy to take your system back to the way it was before tweaking. I repeat, create a new restore point now before you proceed any further with this guide. If anything goes wrong and you're not sure what, go back to your restore point.


Having taken the above precautions, next up I once again strongly urge you to follow my first WinXP Tweak Guide, and then my System Optimization Guide to ensure your system is optimized for performance and stability. This second XP guide is more about convenience and security than performance, so optimize first then use this guide. After all there's no point getting a new paint job on your car if the engine is falling apart.


This guide primarily uses the programs and utilities which are already built into Windows XP (both Home and Pro). Where an outside utility is used, a link is provided to where you can download it for free. You also don't need to have installed WinXP Service Pack 1 (SP1/SP1a) to use these tweaks, but once again I urge you to do so. See the Installation Issues section of this guide for more information on SP1 - what it is, where to download it and how best to install it. Even if you haven't (and don't want to) install SP1, make sure at least that you've run Windows Update (see Windows Update section) and installed all the MS Critical Patches to ensure maximum performance, stability and compatibility.


Two Handy Registry Tweaks


Before we go any further, there are two special registry tweaks you can use straight away to make life easier while going through this guide:


Restore your Registry


Tool: Regedit


If your system is crashing and you're having major problems, you can always use System Restore as detailed above. However if your last restore point is a little old, or you can't get to the System Restore Wizard, you can use these two methods to restore your registry to the last time things were well.


1. During bootup, keep pressing the F8 key and you'll soon see an option to 'Load last good configuration'. Select it and your computer will boot into Windows, devoid of the changes you made which caused any recent serious problems; or


2. If you have a recent restore point, but can't boot to the Windows desktop for some reason, keep pressing F8 during bootup, but this time choose the option to 'Boot into Safe Mode'. From Safe Mode you can access System Restore by going into Control Panel>System and selecting the System Restore tab, and following the method outlined further above to restore an old restore point.


For more details, see this Microsoft article: How to Recover from a Corrupted Registry.


Update the Registry without rebooting Windows


Tool: Task Manager



Some registry changes won't come into effect until you re-initialize the registry. Typically this is done by rebooting your PC. If you don't want to reboot just to see the effects of a registry change, a quicker way to re-initialize the registry and also refresh the desktop is to do the following:


1. Open Task Manager by pressing the CTRL, ALT and DEL keys together at once (CTRL+ALT+DEL).


2. Click on the Processes tab.


3. Right click on the 'Explorer.exe' item and select End Process (do this for all instances of Explorer.exe). You'll get a warning to which you should answer Yes. Your desktop and taskbar may then go blank - don't panic, this is normal.


4. Still in Task Manager, under the File menu select New Task (Run...) and type in "Explorer" (without the quotes), then click OK. Your desktop and taskbar will be restored as explorer is reloaded.


This reloads explorer, implements any new registry settings, removes any screen corruption and may also resolve any strange application behaviour. Of course this method doesn't work as a substitute for a reboot after a driver install or any other major system change, so usually I recommend you simply reboot your machine as required.


Ok, enough precautions and preamble, let's move on to the actual tweaking.


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