I have a rather old Windows XP computer sitting on my desk. I purchased it six or seven years ago when a 3.0-gigahertz Pentium IV processor and 512 megabytes of memory was considered to be state-of-the-art. That's a rather modest system by today's standards, but the hardware wasn't the problem.
Over the years, the system began to run slower and slower. I frequently installed new programs, many of which became the subjects of software reviews in this newsletter. I later deleted some of the programs and kept others. Little by little, the system kept getting slower and slower. About two years ago, it got so slow that simply booting up required several minutes. Clicking on any icon meant a wait of thirty seconds or longer before anything happened on the screen.
I tried a couple of different utilities that claimed to be able to speed up your computer. They made little difference.
I knew that the Windows Registry (the "heart of Windows") was full of useless junk. I attempted to clean the Registry manually but soon became overwhelmed by thousands of cryptic entries. I realized that a manual cleaning effort would never work for this system.
I "solved" the problem at the time by purchasing a new computer. I purchased one of the first Vista systems made, which I used for about two weeks and didn't like. I turned the Vista system off and purchased a Macintosh. I have been very happy with the results. At least the Mac doesn't slow down over time.
I recently decided to use the old Windows XP system for a new project. I booted it up, waited four minutes before it was ready, then tried to use it. Navigation was as slow as ever. I knew I had to fix the problem before using this computer for my new project.
The fix was simple: reformat the hard drive and load Windows XP once again.
Doing so on this Hewlett-Packard system was simple. The system shipped from the factory with a copy of Windows XP on the hard drive, showing as Drive D:. When booting the system, one of the options displayed is to restore the computer to factory defaults. That is, Drive C: is reformatted, and all the Windows software is installed again.
Of course, reformatting the hard drive means the loss of all data on the system. In this case I didn't mind because I already had copied everything I would ever need onto the Macintosh nearly two years ago. The Windows XP system had been powered off for months, so obviously there wasn't anything left on it that I would need very often.
The reformat and installation of a fresh copy of Windows XP was worth it: the system now flies. I don't have any sophisticated tools to measure the speed improvement, but I can report that the system is now much, much faster than it was before the re-format and re-installation. I'd guess that it is at least three times as fast, maybe faster.
At this moment, the only thing installed is Windows XP, an anti-virus program, and the Firefox web browser. The system seems to run as fast as it did the day I took it out of the box several years ago. I am now ready to start my new project.
If you would like to speed up your Windows XP system and return it to the performance it had when it was new, I'd suggest that you do the following:
- Make a backup of all your critical information, storing the data someplace other than on the system's hard drive. You might be able to back up to CDs, to another computer, to a plug-in external USB disk drive, or to an online service such as Mozy.
- Test your backups to make sure they work. Many a backup has turned out to be bad; you don't want to wrestle with that problem!
- Make ANOTHER set of backups to a different place. If the backup you made in step #1 was to CDs, make this second backup to an online service or to another computer or to a portable, plug-in USB disk drive.
- Test your second backup to make sure it is good!
- Make sure you have copies of all the software you will need to re-install. Check NOW to make sure that you have the original CD-ROM disks or can download the programs online, if needed.
- Now that you know you have at least two good, tested backups and all needed software programs, reformat the hard drive and re-install Windows XP. This is done by rebooting and then either re-installing from the special partition on the hard drive or booting from the Windows XP CD-ROM disk.
- Once the new copy of Windows XP is running successfully, re-install the programs you need. I'd suggest not reinstalling everything. Keep in mind that the more you install, the slower a Windows system will become. Each new program will slow a Windows system slightly as more items are written to the Windows Registry and more .DLL files are added.
- Restore your data.
This is not a trivial effort, especially if the system is your only computer. However, if your computer has been rumbling along in the slow lane, perhaps now is the time to re-energize it. A reformat and reinstallation of Windows will perform wonders.
A friend of mine is a computer guru and earns his living supporting Windows desktop systems and servers. He has learned to reformat his own computer's hard drive and to re-install Windows every six months. This regular "tune up" keeps his system in tip-top condition. He also uses a plug-in external USB hard drive and software that performs automated backups to that external drive every few minutes. He finds the periodic reformat/re-installation/restore of data to be a rather simple process that is worth the effort.
You might think about speeding up your computer.
While I wrote specifically about my experience with Windows XP, similar problems exist with all versions of Windows. Continued use, and especially the frequent installation of new programs, will slow any Windows computer significantly.
Macintosh and Linux users can ignore this article. Your systems will not slow down after continued use and installations.