This guide (but not the filepack) has been updated as of 11/19/08. I plan to upload a refreshed filepack later this week which will include the updated information and newer version files. If you looked this over when it was first released, you may want to check it out again. Here's how to give your Windows XP installation a complete overhaul. It covers updating the interface, customizing, free software, speed tweaks, maintenance and troubleshooting. All the essential files you need are included in the downloadable 158.56MB Conversion Package. This guide is also located within, in case you want a quick reference; however, updates are done to this online version regularly, so there are some differences. It should be viewable in Wordpad.
The package includes Vista themes, screensavers, games, cursors, applications, Wallpaper, user account images, screenshots, tweaking tools, and more. It is a single archive, split into two pieces due to 100MB file hosting size restrictions; Part1 and Part2 are two halves of the same file. You need both to extract, and it will use both parts automatically. My apologies to those not familiar with RAR files or multi-part archives.
Part1 (100431 KB) Mirrors: Rapidshare, Mediafire, MyFreeFileHosting, Filecrunch, Uploaded.to, Filehosting
Part2 (65828 KB) Mirrors: Rapidshare, Mediafire, MyFreeFileHosting, Filecrunch, Uploaded.to, Filehosting
Use Winrar or 7zip to extract.
- Preface (pg.1)
- Part One (pg.2) Installing the Conversion Package. Very useful for those 'downgrading' Vista machines to XP but still wanting to keep the new look and features.
- Part Two (pg.3) More Vista-izing with applications. Free software, both to further enhance the GUI, and just to spread the word on productive or enjoyable programs.
- Part Three (pg.4) Tweaking and speed tricks. Walk-through on the steps I personally take for each old computer I refurbish. Gives new life to old hardware. Makes an eight-year-old Pentium III 700MHz with 256MB RAM very usable with XP, even 'fast!'
- Part Four (pg.6) Keeping your newly prettified machine in top shape. A message from a techie to consumers, tips on the future, and a few warnings on what NOT to do.
- Part Five (pg.8) Final words. About the author.
Step 1: Preface:
I'm going to assume a few things at the start here before we begin. Firstly, that you have a legitimate Windows XP CD and license. I don't advocate piracy. I usually follow these steps on a fresh install, but any computer currently running XP can be used with this guide. If your PC is already finicky and crawling from years of use, skip to Part 4 first. "Windows must walk before it can run." Second, that you have all your device drivers installed, and are somewhat comfortable around computers. I will be as detailed as possible, but if you think your operating system is Internet Explorer and call removing desktop shortcuts 'deleting programs'... do yourself a favor and stop reading ;) Thirdly, this guide was written using Windows XP Professional SP2/3. XP Home should be similar enough, but details may differ slightly.
Finally, I don't claim that this is the definitive tweaking guide, nor the perfect way to clone the Vista interface. I leave it up to you to balance the speed tips and the visual upgrades- everyone's tastes will differ. The only thing most consumers know when looking at a new Best Buy computer is that it's fast, sleek and sophisticated, unlike their Fisher-Price-like blue/green ugly, aging, lagging XP machine at home... or, heaven forbid, Windows 98/ME. In reality, Vista is a resource hog that generally runs slower on a Core Duo than XP does on a Pentium 4, even with half the RAM. With the tweaks and methods described, your "obsolete" machine can run circles around the bloated new ones with essentially the same functionality and improved interface look.
Step 2: Installing the Conversion Package
1. Download and extract XP_Vista_Conversion_Package.rar
(Disclaimer) I am not the author of all the included files, but collected them freely from across the web. As far as I am aware, I am not violating any copyrights by distributing them and will cease immediately if requested by the author. The original version of this guide is also included within. I suggest using Winrar to extract the files.
2. Drag the fonts from XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\Fonts\SegoeUI to C:\WINDOWS\Fonts
3. Drag the contents of XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\Theme to C:\WINDOWS\Resources\Themes
4. Drag the contents of XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\Wallpaper to C:\WINDOWS\Web\Wallpaper
5. The Vista screensavers are located in XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\Screensavers\Vista Screensavers; some sweet extra screen savers are in XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\Screensavers\RSS. Drag the contents of either or both into C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32
6. Make sure you can see hidden folders (My Computer-> Tools-> Folder Options-> View tab-> select Show Hidden Files and Folders-> OK), then drag the contents of XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\User Images into C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Microsoft\User Account Pictures\Default Pictures. You can undo that setting immediately afterward if you wish them hidden again.
7. IN XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\Enhancements, run setup.exe to install Cleartype. Allow it to run after installing, checkmark the box to turn it on, then click OK.
8. In XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\Enhancements\Aero Cursors, right-click the Install.inf and choose Install.
9. Drag Vista.Emulation.dll from XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\Games to C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32
10. Run any of the setups in XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\Games to automatically install them on your PC. Shortcuts will be located in the Start menu under 'Vista Games.'
11. If you have SP2, run UXTheme Multi-Patcher 5.5 in XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\Programs. Make sure you read the dialog boxes carefully, and do as they say! If Windows file protection pops up, you have to cancel, not allow it, and reboot when asked. If you get an error saying an i386 folder was found, just move or rename that folder while running the UXTheme patcher. You can change it back immediately after.
11a. If you have SP3, the included UXTheme Multi-Patcher will not work. Instead, grab the latest UXTheme patcher from here. This will work on either SP2 or SP3 versions of XP. It wasn't included in the package as SP3 wasn't released when this was written. If I get enough requests, I'll do a refresh of the downloads that include new files.
12. After rebooting, click Start-> Control Panel-> User Accounts-> click on your account, and choose Change my picture. Yes, we now have the Vista user icons to choose from. Select one if you wish, click Choose picture, then close the User Accounts window. If your picture didn't show as changed there, don't worry, it is. You can verify in the Start menu.
13. Open Display Properties (right-click desktop, choose Properties). On the Desktop tab, click Customize Desktop, checkmark the icons you want on your desktop, then click OK. Now on the Theme tab, choose Vista from the dropdown and hit OK. Our hard work pays off, huh?
- If the screensavers won't run and show an error, there's two possibilities. First, make sure you aren't using the default Microsoft driver for your video card. Download the latest nVidia, ATI, etc driver that supports OpenGL and D3D. Secondly, if your card is very old, it may not be capable. I've run into a few of those, but 95% of the machines I rebuild work fine with them, if a little slow on the 8MB cards ;)
- If you have a beta version of XP Service Pack 3 installed, UXTheme will likely show an error and not work. In that case, you can use the 11a instructions, or try grabbing the latest UXTheme patcher for your build number here. If your build number isn't listed, you should be able to download the prepatched dll itself, then either reboot into Safe Mode to replace your current dll, or use Replacer. It's a little more of a manual method, but should get your themes up and running.
- If you went through all this but your Vista theme has the classic "Windows 98" look to it, go back to step 11. Something didn't go right when you ran UXTheme. Sometimes, if XP setup files are on your hard drive, it will undo the patch. As the pop-ups dictate, choose to keep the new versions if asked. Usually problems are just caused by hitting 'OK' all the way through without paying attention to the instructional pop-ups. In this step, remember, we actually have to hit 'Cancel' once! Take this as your first lesson in not going glassy-eyed and speed-clicking through installations ;)
- The games, especially Purble Place, will also need a decent videocard and CPU to run. If you're patient, the card games function on even a 500MHz with an old ATI Rage Mobility. The games are located under "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\" when installed. To uninstall, just delete the corresponding folder from that directory, as well as the Start menu shortcut.
- If your XP installation is on a drive other than C: (E:, for example) then the Vista theme will not work properly when selected. To resolve this, simply follow these steps:
2. Right-click Vista.theme, and choose Open With-> Choose Program
3. Select Notepad, then click OK
4. Now within notepad, click Edit-> Replace
5. Under Find what, put C:\
6. Under Replace with, put E:\ (or whatever your drive letter XP is installed on)
7. Choose Replace All, then close the Replace dialog box
8. Close notepad. When it asks if you want to save, choose Yes.
You should now be able to select and apply the Vista theme without errors.
Step 3: More Vista-izing With Applications
If you're satisfied with what we've accomplished so far, feel free to stop. But there's much more to do, and it's worth it!
1. Download Mozilla Firefox and set it as your default browser if you haven't already. Internet Explorer is simply the number one cause of spyware, viruses, and maddeningly useless toolbar addons which clog up, hijack and slow down your system. Several Vista themes are available for it; I've included my favorite in XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\Firefox Theme.
1a. Now that you're using Firefox, do yourself a favor and download the AdBlock Plus plugin. This wonderful module blocks the majority of the ads, banners, and pop-up garbage we're plagued with online. You can also block anything you like on the fly as you run into it. This will also frequently speed up browsing, since you aren't forced to waste bandwidth on ugly flashing advertisements :)
2. Vista has Widgets (like an analog clock and weather), so let's add this feature to XP. One option is to run the Yahoo Widgets setup, located in the XP_Vista_Conversion_Package\Programs directory. Do NOT just hit Next all the way through setup. On the first screen, click next. On the second page, click Next. On the third, unless you want to want them changed, UNCHECK the homepage and search engine option and click Install. When installation is complete, hit Close and Yahoo Widgets will start. Customize then as you wish. Another great option for widgets and a full Vista-like sidebar and, visit here. I found both nice, but ended up choosing not to use this feature. Normally my browser is fullscreened so they aren't even visible... hence, not useful. Update: The actual Vista Sidebar has been ported over to XP (thanks for the heads-up, Robots199)! You can grab it here. I haven't tested it yet, but the reports are that it works, and uses the actual Vista gadgets. Just make sure to install all needed components first, like .Net.
3. The extras in this step may slow down your system! However, if you want a closer Vista look, the following items will definitely help. If you want the transparent window edges that Vista sports, you can acquire it free from here; for overall transparency, this works well. To get the thumbnail taskbar tooltips, grab this program. A Flip 3D-like program can be gotten here, and drive icons with free space bars can be found here. This is a good collection of Vista system icons, and this is a pretty sweet logon screen. Vista system sounds can be gotten from here. The 'breadcrumbs' directory idea in explorer is imitated using this or this application. What else do we need? Oh yes, the new Search tool in the Start bar. No problem, you can get a very close facsimile here. I was able to enable all these items on a Pentium IV 3.4GHz machine without serious slowdown, but those who care more about speed than eye candy might want to pick and choose.
4. While not exactly Vista-themed, I also download and install Open Office (a full Microsoft Word/Excel/Powerpoint compatible office suite) and Winamp 5.5 (universal feature-filled media player, with built-in Shoutcast radio/TV tuner). Both require a little tweaking for maximum performance, and Winamp needs a lot of bundled options unchecked during setup, so be watchful. Very basically: When installing Winamp, choose Next-> I Agree-> Next-> UNCHECK Winamp Agent, then hit Next-> Uncheck what you wish, hit next-> UNCHECK the three 'additional features,' then finish installing. After installing both, click Start-> Run-> msconfig-> OK. Select the Startup tab, and uncheck the Java scheduler and Winamp. In Winamp, added performance can be gained by choosing Options-> Appearance and unselecting options (reflections, visualizations). They're great free programs; much better than the Wordpad and WMP that XP comes stock with. Another good free application is VideoLAN. It handles pretty much any DVD, music or video file you can throw at it- without ever worrying about needing to install a codec or Divx.
5. For free online messaging, there's several options. Miranda and Trillian connect to pretty much all online networks (AIM, Yahoo, MSN, Google, ICQ, etc). In my opinion, the single-use one-network applications have become bloated adware and are no longer useful. Another great option I use myself is Meebo. Think of it as a Trillian within your web browser. All settings and chat logs are saved to a central server, making them accessible anywhere you have net access- great for a work/home situation. I use it everyday in Firefox, giving myself a built-in spell-check- which is quite handy when trying to sound intelligent online ;)
6. I personally feel that file sharing programs such as Limewire are to be avoided at all cost. Besides slowing down your computer and chewing up your bandwidth 24/7, that network is also overloaded with trojans and viruses. If you must get files from somewhere online, there are many safer options- torrents, binary newsgroups, or even Google. Torrents sometimes carry trojans as well, but there's a simple way to stay relatively safe- find a torrent site that lets users post comments. If there is anything wrong with the files or contents, others tend to immediately post about it. You do need a provider for newsgroup access; however a few ISP's still offer this service free for customers. Google can easily be used to find music as well, by searching for intitle:index.of "mp3"+"whatever" -htm -html -php -asp "last modified" (just replace 'whatever' with the song or artist you are looking for). This same process can be used for videos (-inurl:(htm|html|php) intitle:"index of" +"last modified" +"parent directory" +description +size +(.mpg|.avi|.flv|.wmv|.di) "whatever") or files (-inurl:(htm|html|php) intitle:"index of" +"last modified" +"parent directory" +description +size +(.exe|.zip) "whatever") as well.
Step 4: Tweaking and Speed Tricks (Windows Settings)
Not everyone has new Core 2 Duo machines- and even if so, you may want to get every little bit of performance out of it you can. Here's some fairly easy steps that will give a speed boost to any system, especially older ones.
1. Visual Effects. This is especially helpful on older machines (low RAM and bad videocards) and the difference isn't noticeable for most people. Right-click on My Computer, and choose Properties. Click Advanced-> Performance Settings-> Visual Effects tab. Select Adjust for best performance (clears all), but then add back the following options: Show translucent selection rectangle, Show windows contents while dragging, Smooth edges on screen fonts, Use common tasks in folders, Use drop shadows for icons labels on desktop, and Use visual styles on Windows and buttons. Click apply. See any difference? Didn't think so :)
2. Virtual Memory. Still in the Performance Options window, go to the Advanced tab and click Change. There are constant arguments about what the best values are here, and every situation is different. My laptop has 2GB RAM, and I just select No paging file. I've yet to have an issue from this, and battery life has improved now that the hard drive isn't thrashing as much. A lot depends on what you do on your PC. Heavy Photoshop or video editors should probably let Windows manage things. For standard web surfing, online chatting and email (most casual users) you should safely be able to set the Initial and Maximum size at 1.5 or 2 times the amount of RAM you have, provided the machine has 512MB Ram or more. If your computer has more than one hard drive (not just multiple partitions) you can get a speed boost by putting the paging file on the second one instead of the system drive. Adjust as you wish, then click Set, OK, OK, OK when done. You'll likely have to reboot for changes to take effect.
3. System Restore. Also under System Properties, we have the System restore tab. This is another controversial option. If you choose to turn off System Restore, your system will speed up and you will reclaim disk space. However, you obviously lose the ability to 'go back' and undo harmful changes made to your PC. Again, this mostly depends on what type of user you are. I have never once had to use this feature, being savvy enough to troubleshoot problems or uninstall programs. If you're not sure, then just leave it on. If you're a semi-geeky power user or just struggling with a sluggish 400MHz Pentium II... you'll want it off.
4. Automatic Updates. Don't get me wrong, I keep my XP updated and encourage customers to do likewise. But what I don't like is Windows Update sucking up resources by running/downloading in the background while I try to encode video. I don't like the inane pop-ups telling me my computer will reboot in five minutes unless I click this button- only to have it pop up again ten minutes later. It kills productivity and drives users batty. So I turn the Automatic Updates off. Don't Panic; you can still manually check/start Windows updates whenever you want from the Start menu shortcut. I recommend weekly or biweekly.
5. Security Center. Microsoft has decided that no one can live without a Firewall, anti-virus, and Automatic Updates. XP therefore harasses you about it, and most users don't know how to make the pop-ups go away. Here's how. In Control Panel, open Security Center. Click 'Change the way Security Center alerts me,' and uncheck all three options. Click OK. The annoying little shield in your taskbar is now gone! Decide for yourself if Windows Firewall is essential or not.
6. Network folders and printers. In some cases, this would be a good thing- but it does often cause some delay when opening Explorer. If you don't care about automatically discovering network folders and printers (most average home users don't) then open My Computer-> Tools-> Folder Options-> View tab-> uncheck Automatically search for network folders and printers-> OK. This in no way stops you from accessing remote shares or printers. It just keeps Windows from checking for new ones since most users' network likely won't change between now and the last time you opened My Computer ;)
7. Remove Windows Components. Certain things are installed standard with XP which you will never, ever use. In Control Panel, open Add/Remove programs and select Add/Remove Windows Components. I feel MSN Explorer is a standard useless item, as is Windows Messenger. If you actually use these or other items, by all means leave them... but most of us have discovered better, newer alternatives than what originally shipped with XP. Some of these are mentioned in Part Two.
8. TweakUI, Image Resizer, and Exctrlst. Included in the Conversion package under Enhancements were these three programs which I sometimes find useful. TweakUI allows for altering hidden Windows settings, or changing the default behaviors. The Image Resizer powertoy allows you to (surprisingly enough) quickly resize images. It's pretty handy when you don't have Photoshop installed, or just need a jpeg made smaller with a click or two of the mouse. It integrates into Windows so is available with every right-click. Exctrlst requires a little more explanation. As XP runs, it keeps track of different processes and how they perform. These performance logs are sometimes helpful to system administrators, but most home users will never care or see this data. We can stop Windows from doing these performance logs with Exctrlst. Simply install (default is C:\Program Files\Resource Kit\), run, and uncheck everything.
9. Disabling Services. This is one area where I won't be too specific, sorry. Everyone argues about what's helpful or needed, mostly because every person and situation is different. It is worth doing, though. To edit which services run, click Start-> Run-> services.msc -> OK. There's a really good page about it that goes into more detail than I ever could here.
10. Power / Performance. This is mostly for laptops, but is very important. Ever notice that your game runs better when your laptop is plugged in? Check your power settings. Today's laptops often deliberately slow the cpu speed to conserve battery life. Normally that's wonderful... until you can't even play that flash game without lagging. Start-> Control Panel -> Power Options gets you where you can adjust this. Max Battery will almost certainly slow things down. Portable/Laptop is better, but for when you need full processing power, set it to Home/Office desk. Don't forget to change it back, or your battery life will suffer!
Step 5: Tweaking and Speed Tricks (Registry Settings)
A. DISABLE LAST ACCESS UPDATE. Windows makes notes wherever it goes, recording and timestamping every time it accesses anything. Especially if you have a low-end computer, this slows things down. Here's how to stop the obsessive logging:
1. Click Start -> Run -> type 'regedit' -> OK
2. Locate 'HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\ System\CurrentControlSet\Control\FileSystem'
3. Right-click in a blank area of the window on the right and select 'DWORD Value'
4. Create a new DWORD Value called 'NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate'
5. Right click on the new value and select 'Modify'
6. Change the Value Data to '1'
7. Click 'OK'
B. IMPROVE XP SHUTDOWN SPEED*. Sometimes when you're shutting down, XP will sort of just sit there and twiddle its thumbs, so to speak. That's because it is waiting for applications or services to stop hanging and shut down. Eventually it will do something about it, but why not get to it quicker? Here's how to make XP force a quick shutdown:
1. Click Start -> Run -> type 'regedit' -> OK
2. Locate 'HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ Control Panel\Desktop\'
3. Select 'WaitToKillAppTimeout'
4. Right click and select 'Modify'
5. Change the value to '1000'
6. Click 'OK'
7. Now select 'HungAppTimeout'
8. Right click and select 'Modify'
9. Change the value to '1000'
10. Click 'OK'
11. Now find 'HKEY_USERS\ .DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop'
12. Select 'WaitToKillAppTimeout'
13. Right click and select 'Modify'
14. Change the value to '1000'
15. Click 'OK'
16. Now find 'HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\ System\CurrentControlSet\Control\'
17. Select 'WaitToKillServiceTimeout'
18. Right click and select 'Modify'
19. Change the value to '1000'
20. Click 'OK'
C. Disable unnecesary naming convention. How many names do you have? Well, files and folders in Windows have multiple ones. If you never plan on interfacing with an older DOS-based machine, you can disable one of these naming schemes. Here's how:
1. Click Start -> Run -> type 'regedit' -> OK
2. Find 'HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\FileSystem'
3. Change the value of the NtfsDisable8dot3NameCreation key to '1'
4. Click 'OK'
D. Start Menu Delay. Did you know there's an actual programmed delay when you click the Start Menu, or navigate the Programs therein? To speed things up and make it snappier, just adjust the values described below to where you like them.
1. Click Start -> Run -> type 'regedit' -> OK
2. Find 'HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ Control Panel\Desktop\'
3. Double-click the MenuShowDelay icon on the right, and change 'Value data' from its default of 400 (milliseconds) to something speedier- even 0. I recommend around 200, but you can experiment to find what you're comfortable with.
*(Note for B): If you're using the Vista Sidebar and this quick-shutdown trick, often it doesn't give enough time for settings to save. Usually this isn't an issue, but if you move or enable/disable modules, the best thing to do is restart the Sidebar right then. That way you know the settings are saved, and you aren't stuck redoing your adjustments after XP reboots.
Step 6: Keeping Your Newly Prettified Machine in Top Shape (Computer Falsehoods)
In my years of computer repair and refurbishing, I've run into many fallacies of which I have a hard time convincing customers are wrong. So here's the top six things that most big store 'computer guys' don't want you to realize:
FALSE: "My PC is old and slow now, so I have to buy a new one (or purchase expensive upgrades to my current one)."
TRUE: When you bought your PC 2, 5, or even 7 years ago, it was nice and fast. It's the exact same hardware, so why do you think it needs replacing? All the stuff installed on it- unused applications, adware, toolbars, along with a lack of maintenance- is what has left it clogged up and slow. Software is like marker, and hardware is a whiteboard; do you throw away a whiteboard because it has smudges on it, or do you just clean it so it's like new, and keep using it?
FALSE: "It takes a certified computer tech at a big-name store to diagnose and 'fix' my slow computer."
TRUE: You pay Geek Squad good money when on average they spend twenty minutes actually working with your machine. For the most part, it sits there unattended doing things you could easily set up, while they sell more overpriced computers to unsuspecting consumers. Why be a part of that? You don't have to. Scan for viruses during your lunch break. Scan for adware while at the movies. Do Disk Cleanup and defrag overnight. Hey, you're good! They should hire you ;)
FALSE: "I need to have the latest operating system, Windows Vista- this salesman said so."
TRUE: Currently for 99% of consumers, every single thing you want to do on Vista, you can do on Windows XP... faster. Vista's only real selling point is eye candy; something I've just proven we can imitate quite well. With this guide, you have nearly every positive aspect of Vista, but without the many problems that have made many people switch back to XP. Is it worth saying you have the 'latest and greatest' if it isn't as efficient or productive?
FALSE: "A slow computer needs more memory- I should purchase extra RAM."
TRUE: Not always. If you are low on RAM (128MB or 256MB) adding more will indeed help. However, this has created a myth that more RAM = faster PC. If your machine is only using 400MB of the 1GB you have installed, how will adding another gig help? It won't. You'll see a much bigger improvement by de-bloating, cleaning and tweaking your operating system.
FALSE: "My computer won't boot up- it's obviously broken. I must need a new one."
TRUE: You wouldn't believe how many nice laptops I've had people offer to sell me for $100 or less because they are 'broken.' In reality, Windows was corrupted. That's all. Remember the whiteboard analogy? Thirty minutes of wiping and cleaning (troubleshooting in safe mode or reinstalling XP) solved everything, good as new. It's broken when the screen cracks. It's broken when the hinges break. It's not broken when you get a virus and XP can't finish loading.
FALSE: "Newer is better, and my PC or laptop is several years old. I must need a new one."
TRUE: If you're trying to play WoW on an original Pentium MMX, then I completely agree. But if you only browse the web, write school papers, check email and chat online with your 1.2GHz Pentium III... then why upgrade? Because you bought it more than four years ago? Why not try a little maintenance, a few tweaks, maybe some GUI enhancements, and save $500? It will look and feel like a whole new machine. You'll still accomplish everything you want to, and when you do get around to purchasing a new computer in a year or two, that $500 will go much farther. Clever you, waiting and saving money!
Step 7: Keeping Your Newly Prettified Machine in Top Shape (DIY Cleanup and Maintenance)
DIY Cleanup and Maintenance
Some simple basic steps will keep your computer at peak performance, or revive it when it begins to slow down. If things simply don't function anymore and you're comfortable doing it, I always recommend a fresh install of XP. I've known techs who wipe/reinstall religiously every six months or a year to keep everything clean and fast. For most end-users that's a bit extreme, so here's a quick tune-up guide:
1. Remove Unneeded Programs. If you never use a program or game anymore, why is it still on your system? Remove anything you don't need, especially anything with the word "search helper" or "toolbar" in it. Some things may not be listed in Control Panel's Add/Remove Programs, so check the Start menu for old applications' Uninstall shortcut.
2. Check system Startup. Lots of program creators love to gobble your Startup resources, which adds up and turns your booting and system tray into a big slow mess. To solve this, open MSconfig (Start-> Run-> msconfig-> OK) and uncheck anything you don't need to run at startup. If you don't know what something is, just Google it so you can make an informed choice before disabling it. Remember, just because you want to keep a program doesn't mean it has to run at startup. Open Office, Adobe, and iTunes have no place in my Startup list.
3. Disk cleanup. Over time, your hard drive gathers temporary files, setup files, and other miscellaneous garbage. This eats up disk space and slows down your PC. To solve this, simply click Start-> Programs-> Accessories-> System Tools-> Disk Cleanup. Select what files you want deleted, but I do not recommend the 'Compress old files' option if you care about speed. Then click OK, OK.
4. Defrag, defrag, defrag. For the love of all that is computerized, defragment your hard drive! After months or years of use, your system drive has scattered bits of data everywhere, and the hard drive grinds like mad jumping all over to gather the pieces. Just start it before going to bed (Start-> All Programs-> Accessories-> System Tools-> Disk Defragmenter) and by morning your computer will thank you. Once a month would be the minimum I'd recommend; if you can, once a week would be better. That way next time it will only take 20 minutes, not 2 hours, to complete.
5. Viri, Spyware, and Adware prevention applications. These are truly a double-edged sword. On one hand, they perform a valuable service. On the other, they can be a money sink to the uninformed and could slow your system worse than the possible problems. I personally do not use any resource-sucking resident scanner, but regularly give my system a full checkup instead. To use this method, my advice is to download, install, and occasionally run AdAware for the spyware/adware removal. For virus checking, stop by Trend Micro's HouseCall for a complete online virus scan. Both are free, of course. If you want a 24/7 virus protection, I unfortunately have few free recommendations... not if you want to keep your PC quick and unbloated. AVG seems to be the best of the bunch, though I prefer Nod32. It does cost money- but they do have a 30-day trial and uses less resources than anything else I've tried.
6. Be Windows smart. Avoid problem-causing behavior. Randomly installing games bundled with 'search helpers,' toolbars, or advertising offers is just begging for a slow system. Whenever possible, avoid hitting 'next-next-next-next' during unfamiliar setup programs. It's okay to select Custom or Advanced Install to see what's going onto your PC. Use your common sense to evaluate the optional modules. Do you really need a 20-day e-Music offer? Do you really need yet another search bar or Savings Center? The web is full of spammy advertising; why give it space on your personal computer? Using Internet Explorer and blindly hitting okay to unsigned ActiveX popups is another good way to convert your desktop into an uncontrolled billboard.
6a. Sadly, Google has begun turning to The Dark Side. Their apps are now starting to come packaged with a Google Updater service. Yes, it runs in the background and downloads without asking. No, they haven't been bought out my Microsoft yet, but it sure seems like it. To remove this, use your Services tab in Start-> Run-> msconfig. You should be safe unchecking everything that isn't branded Microsoft.
7. Don't Panic. If things do get bad, remember these options. Print this if you have to. An hour of your time can stop months of frustration, staring games with the hourglass cursor, and save hundreds in computer 'repair' bills.
Step 8: Final Words
I'm sure there are a thousand criticisms one could make about this guide. Unfortunately every situation and user is different, so there is no one-size-fits-all magic pill in tweaking or repair. I tried to include the best tips and advice based on my personal experience, and I hope it helps others.
Obviously, a new computer seems like the easiest answer. A lot of people don't understand bothering with 5-10 year old equipment. There is enjoyment, however, in taking one person's junk and creating something useful, even desirable. This is what I do everyday. If you have any remarks or just want to say thanks, I would take it as a kindness if you left a comment.
Disclaimer: This guide may be used only for private individual use and may not be sold, resold, or be utilized for profit in any way without consent from the author. The author accepts no responsibility for possible damage to any software or hardware caused by the methods described. If you cannot access or do not want to download the aforementioned file package (XP_Vista_Conversion.rar), most of the contents are available elsewhere on the web.