Tips After a Clean Windows XP Install

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Below is a list of common things I usually do whenever I’ve finished (re)installing Windows XP. Some improve performance, others just suit my own taste. This list will eventually grow as I add other tricks.

Lets begin with some performance settings.

Right click “My Computer”, select “Properties”. Under “Advanced” tab, click the “Settings” button which is inside the “Performance” group box. Go to Advance Tab so we can start tweaking.

 

virtual-memoryConfiguring a SWAP partition

First, be sure to have a 2GB partition formatted as FAT16. It should be in the fastest of your drives but should not be in the same physical drive that contains Windows.

In the “Virtual Memory” groupbox, click “Change”. Then fill your 2GB partition with a pagefile and remove it from others if needed. It should be the only partition containing a pagefile. It should look like the picture on the right.

 

Why? this reduces unnecessary fragmentation by ensuring the swap file is always contiguous in the partition. If using a separate physical disk, read or writing the paging file will not affect normal disk usage.

 

 

caching Use free memory for system caching

In a single phrase: Unused memory is wasted memory. If it doesn’t hold anything, then what is it worth for? If you have 1GB+ of ram or so, you probably aren’t making use of all your memory all the time, specially if you use Windows XP, which is now considered a *cough* lightweight operating system.

Go back to the previous screen and select the radio button “System Cache” under the “Memory Usage” group box.

 

Why? Most of the time you aren’t making use of all your RAM. The days of Windows 98 when memory management was the same as no management are gone. Modern operating systems such as *cough* Vista, Seven and even Linux make use of this trick to speed up system performance, keeping common system resources available in memory avoiding using the pagefile.

 

 

Disable Autoplay for removable media

Today one of the most common methods of infecting a PC with a virus is with a USB drive. If you use your USB memory stick in a lot of computers, you are probably carrying a virus inside, even if you can’t see it. To reduce the risk of infection, we have to disable autoplay for removable media.

If you’re using Windows XP, you’ll have to download TweakUI. Vista (thankfully) has this option available on it’s control painel. Once you have installed TweakUI, open it and make it look like the following screens.

tweak-2tweak-1 

Why? By default, Windows tries to execute whatever is inside your disk, just like it does with CDs you load in the tray. This “feature” is called autoplay (or autorun)and works by writing a special file called “autorun.inf” to the root of your removable media, which tells Windows to execute whatever it says. I don’t have to say this is one of the stupidest things ever to do with something you’ve just plug in your PC. I wonder what could happen if, when you were at the Internet, Windows started executing every code it found lying around in a page corner.

 

Edit: As of February 24, 2009, Microsoft is distributing a new patch (KB967715) available through Windows Update to fix Autorun issues. Apparently, even the manual edit of registry settings wouldn’t complete disable Autorun. The following excerpt was taken from the Microsoft’s Help and Support page.

The updates offered in this article correctly disable the Autorun features. These features were not correctly disabled if you followed previously published guidance. The updates that are offered in this article have been distributed to the following systems through the Windows Update and Automatic update distribution channels:

  • Microsoft Windows 2000
  • Windows XP Service Pack 2
  • Windows XP Service Pack 3
  • Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1
  • Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2
  • Microsoft Windows 2000
  • Windows XP Service Pack 2
  • Windows XP Service Pack 3
  • Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1
  • Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 2

This article also contains links to download locations to obtain the updates that correctly apply the registry key settings to disable Autorun capabilities.

So, if you don’t have automatic updates enabled, be sure to visit windowsupdate.com and update your system.

3 Comments

  1. “Worth” is something difficult to measure here. If you are asking me if you will have a very noticeable performance increase, then the simple answer is ‘no’. Performance depends upon a lot of things, and disk fragmentation is just one of them. Even if it is one of the most important.

    This is more of a “good practice” than a needed step. If you are formatting your hard drive, installing from scratch, and you have a comfortable disk space, reserving only 2GB for an extra partition certainly wouldn’t hurt. At least, your swap file will always be in the same place and will not contribute to the overall disk fragmentation.

    But if you already have your system up and running, taking the hassle of adding an extra partition without formating, specially if are not very used to partitioning tools, certainly won’t be very worthy due to the risks involved in such operations.

    If you decide creating the extra partition wouldn’t be worth, at least limit your pagefile to a fixed size. Windows by defaults grows and shrinks this file on demand, which can result in disk fragmentation.

    Thank you for your feedback!
    Cesar

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