Optimizing Your Computer's Performance

Author: Vic Laurie, Ewing Computer Learning Center Computer Learning Center, August, 2004
Revised: Joel May, Ewing Computer Learning Center Computer Literacy Center,

  1. Adjusting System Properties
    1. Adjusting the Automatic Updates Setting
    2. Adjust the System Restore Settings
    3. Disable Error Reporting
    Adjusting Display Settings
    1. The Settings Tab
    2. The Desktop Tab
    3. The Screen Saver Tab
    4. The Themes Tab
    5. The Appearance Tab
  2. Upgrade Your Computer's Memory
  1. Clean Up Your Desktop
  2. Delete Unneeded Files
  3. Remove Unused Programs
  4. Check for File and Surface Integrity
  5. Keep Your Files in One Piece
  6. Disable Unneeded Programs and Services
    1. View Running Services
    2. View Running Programs
    3. Which Services are Safe to Disable
    4. Which Programs are Safe to Disable
  7. Additional Optimization Tools

Optimizing the performance of your computer is similar to optimizing the performance of your automobile. In the past, many people worked regularly on their cars, adjusting carburator settings, spark plug gaps and timing, checking and changing oil, brake and transmission fluids, maintaining correct tire pressure, etc. Today, carburators are a thing of the past, on-board computers control most of the functions and most of us relay on Jiffy Lube or some similar service to keep our fluids and tire pressures maintained.

The situation is similar when it comes to computers. In the early days of computing, all the work required to keep the computer running smoothly and (in what was the case then) rapidly was left to the computer owner who was, of necessity, a kind of geek. Some people spent large chunks of their lives learning all about how computers functioned and how they could be "tweaked" to achieve the best performance. Today, as computers become more and more a commodity, most computer owners have little idea of how to keep their computers running smoothly and how to "tune them up.". They typically defer or even ignore the system maintenance requirements until the performance deterioriates, the computer runs noticeably slower, or (in extreme cases) ceases to operate at all. And they have no idea as to what modifications or adjustments could be made to the system to improve its performance.

This course is designed to provide you with some tools that will enable you to keep your computer running smoothly and to optimize its performance so you won't have to rely on the guy at CompUSA everytime something goes wrong. We'll get started shortly. But first, whenever you make a change in your system there is always a possibility that something could go wrong. Therefore, you'll want to have a way to return your system to its previous state whenever necessary. The way to do this is with "System Restore".

We'll talk about how to adjust the System Restore settings later, but for now you should know that Windows XP periodically records a snapshot of your computer. These snapshots are called restore points. Windows XP also creates restore points at the time of significant system events (such as when an application or driver is installed) or you can create and name your own restore points at any time. If you’ve installed a program or made a system change that has made your computer unstable, you can open system restore, choose a restore point, and return your computer to its previous stable state.

To create a Restore Point prior to making a change in your system:

  1. Click "Start" then "Help and Support"
  2. Under "Pick a Task," click "Undo changes to your computer with System Restore."
  3. The System Restore dialog box opens

  4. Click Create a restore point, and then click Next.

  5. In the Restore point description box, type a name to identify this restore point (I've used "Before Changing Settings."). System Restore automatically adds the date and time that this Restore Point is created.
  6. To finish creating this restore point, click "Create."
  7. To cancel restore point creation and return to the Welcome to System Restore screen, click "Back."
  8. To cancel restore point creation and exit the System Restore Wizard, click "Cancel."

To view or to return to this restore point, from the Welcome to System Restore screen of the System Restore Wizard select "Restore my computer to an earlier time." Then select the date you created the restore point from the calendar in the Select a Restore Point screen. All of the restore points you created and you computer created on the selected date are listed by name in the list box to the right of the calendar.

When you run System Restore, a calendar is displayed to help you find restore points. If you don't use your computer every day, some days might not have any restore points. If you use your computer frequently, you might have restore points almost every day, and some days might have several restore points.

Adjusting System Properties

There are a few things you can do right up front that will make your computer run better and faster:

  1. Adjust the Automatic Updates setting
    1. Microsoft regularly issues software updates designed to either increase the security of your computer system or improve its performance. It is important that you install these updates on your computer as soon as you can after they are issued.
    2. Click on "Start", then on "My Computer."

    3. Right-click anywhere on the "My Computer" window and choose "Properties."

    4. Click on the Automatic Updates tab

    5. Choose the method of updating that best suits your situation
      1. Automatic - Both the downloading and installation are automatic. You can set the frequency and the time of day - just be sure that you choose a time when your computer is turned on.
      2. Download Updates for me, but let me choose when to install them - I never really understood why anyone would choose this one. The updates are downloaded to your computer (typcally your desktop) and then they sit there until you do something about them.
      3. Notify me but don't automatically download them or install them - This is useful for people with dial-up connections to the Internet. Some of this updates can take a long time to download, typing up your computer. With this option, you can make a note that an update is available and then when you would otherwise turn off your computer, instead you can start the download and installation process and have it take place at your convenience.
      4. Turn off Automatic Updates - choose this option only if you are sure that you'll check regularly to see if updates are available.
    6. After you have made your choice, Click "OK"

  2. Adjust the "System Restore" settings
    1. By default, Windows reserved 10% of the space on your hard drive to save these restore points. With today's large hard drives, this is more than enough and represents a potential waste of hard drive storage space.
    2. The actual amount you need depends on individual system parameters and your individual patterns of use, but typically 500 megabytes should be more than ample.
    3. To adjust the amount of space set aside for Restore Points:
      1. Click on "Start" and then on "My Computer"
      2. Right-click anywhere on the "My Computer" window and choose "Properties." NOTE: these two steps are identical to the first two steps in the section on Automatic Updates above.

      3. Click on the "System Restore" tab

      4. If necessary, select a drive. Then click on the "Settings" button

      5. Use the slider to adjust the among of space set aside for Restore Points. As mentioned above, 500 megabytes should be more than ample.
      6. Click on "OK" twice to complete the task

  3. Disable Error Reporting
    1. Many folks who use Windows XP or Windows 2000 are constantly annoyed by the error reporting dialog box that springs up when their Windows system seemed to be having problems. It is actually very easy to remove from view completely, never to be seen again. You can also re-enable it very quickly if you do want to use it. I recommend disabling it to avoid the distraction.
    2. To disable Error Reporting:
      1. Click on "Start" and then on "My Computer"
      2. Right-click anywhere on the "My Computer" window and choose "Properties." NOTE: these two steps are identical to the first two steps in the section on Automatic Updates above.

      3. Click on the "Advanced" tab

      4. Click on the "Error Reporting" button

      5. Click on "Disable Error Report" to choose it. NOTE: On my system I have chosen to also check "But notify me when critical errors occur." This is optional, but I recommend it since, if it remains unchecked, your computer could lock up and you'd have no idea why. With this box checked, I can at least write down the critical error message so that I can more readily get the kind of help I need to correct the error.
      6. Click on "OK" twice to complete the task
  4. As you learned how to adjust the "Automatic Updates," "System Restore" and "Error Reporting" settings, I hope that you noticed some of the other possibilities in the "System Properties" dialog box. As you become more comfortable with the ins and outs of computing, I urge you to explore these settings in more depth. You can learn a lot about most of them by simply "Googling" the name of the setting.

    Adjusting Display Settings

    There are many ways in which you can adjust the way your display looks. For instance, you can change the colors, the fonts, the sizes, etc. You can even opt for "Themes" which change the looks and sounds of almost everything on your screen. Let's see some of the ways to do this.

    1. To open the "Display Properties" dialog box, simply right-click in any blank area of your screen and choose "Properties" from the menu.
    2. Depending upon what kind of graphics card you have in your computer, the tabs will differ somewhat from this example. (My system has an Nvidia GeForce Ti4 graphics card.)

    3. The "Settings" tab:
      1. In the "Settings" you can adjust the amount of information that can be display on your screen at one time (Screen Resolution slider) and the quality of the color of the display (Color Quality drop-down list box).
        1. The screen resolution settings available are determined by the characteristics of both your graphics card and your monitor. Every monitor, depending on its physical size and its electronics has a "native resolution." This is the screen resolution setting you should use. The higher the screen resolution, the more information displayed on your screen and the smaller the text size
        2. Setting "Color Quality" to a high setting will improve the way your computer displayed color graphics, but may (slightly) slow it down. Choose the highest color quality that does not noticeably degrade performance

    4. The "Desktop" tab:
      1. On the Desktop tab you can choose the graphic to be displayed on your desktop or the color of a blank desktop. (We'll explore the "Desktop Options" later in the course

    5. The "Screen Saver" tab:
      1. On the Screen Saver tab you can choose from among a number of different screen savers, set the length of time that elapses between the time you stop using the keyboard or mouse and the time the screen saver kicks in and, for many of the screen savers, additional settings like speed of movement, etc.
      2. If the screen savers provided by Microsoft are not enought for you, try http://www.screensavershot.com/ where you'll find more than a thousand that you can download for free.
      3. Also on the Screen Save tab there is a Power Settings button

      4. Here, in the Power Settings drop-down list, you can choose setting such as Portable/Laptop to maximize battery life
      5. You can also set durations for how long you want your monitor and/or hard drive to run unused

    6. The "Themes" tab:

      1. A "Theme" is a collection of desktop wallpaper, screen savers, fonts, cursor shapes and sounds that, together, create a there for your computer. As you can see from the illustration, Windows XP and Windows Classic are two of the themes provided with the Windows XP operating system
      2. However, there are also themes dealing with various rock stars, popular movies, actors and actresses, professions, sports, etc. Many are available free and, while they may slow down your computer a little, they will possibly make it more fun to use. For a collection of free themes, check out http://www.belchfire.net/showgallery-5.html.

    7. The "Appearance" tab:

      1. Here you can change the appearance of the windows and buttons, the colors, and the font size displayed by your computer. I urge you to experiment. You'll see the changes in the small preview window, but they won't take effect until you click the "OK" button. So feel free to experiment all you want and just click "Cancel" when you're through.
      2. Clicking on the "Advanced" button allows you to customize any part of a window's appearance you want
      3. A discussion of all the customization options available to you on the "Apperance" tab would fill a book. I suggest that you take time to explore some of the possibilities

      4. Clicking on the "Effects" button give you access to additional settings
        1. Unchecking "Use the following transition effect for menus and tooltips" may speed up your computer slightly
        2. If you are using a laptop or an LCD monitor, check "Use following method fo smooth edges of screen fonts" and choose "Clear Type". If will greatly improve the readability of your screen
        3. The other four items in the dialog box are matters of personal choice
    Upgrade Your Computer':s Memory (if necessary)

      When it comes to adding system memory, the general rule of thumb is the more, the better. On average, doubling the amount of memory in your system will give you ample "space" to work and make an obvious difference in overall speed, especially with today's memory-hungry applications, such as office programs and graphics-intensive games. You'll be able to run more programs at once, and your system will be less likely to lock up or behave strangely. The bottom line is that adding memory makes your computer more efficient and allows you to do more things at once.

      How much total memory do you have? You can find out by clicking on "Start" then on "Control Panel". In the Control Panel, click on "Performance and Maintenance" then on "See basic information about your computer". At the very bottom of the information on the "General" tab you'll find both the speed of your processor and the amount of memory in your computer.

      How much total memory do you need? In general, most current operating systems run best with at least 128MB of RAM, and preferably 256MB or more to take advantage of the features the OS has to offer. That's just for the operating system. Then, you need to add more memory for each additional program you plan to run at a given time. To calculate the number, look at the software you're running, and then add the amount of memory required for each application you'll likely run at one time to the amount you need for your operating system. If you're not sure how much memory your software requires, the following chart can help.

      RAM Needed for Operating System
      Operating System
      Minimum requirement
      Recommended Amount
      Microsoft Windows® XP (Professional or Home) 128MB 512MB
      Mac® OS X 128MB 256MB
      Windows 2000 128MB 512MB
      Windows ME/98 64MB 256MB

      Installing additional memory in your computer is easy to do. You can find step-by-step instructions here: http://computermemoryupgrade.mysuperpc.com/. Or you can take your computer to a local tech store and have them do it for you. Either way, upgrading your system memory is usually the single best way to speed up your computer and to improve the way it operates.

    Clean Up Your Desktop

      Most people's desktops are cluttered with the little pictures called "icons" that are seldom or never used. Most of these are "shortcuts" -- links to programs that are used to quickly and easily access and run them. A shortcut to a program that is used regularly is a very useful thing. But a shortcut to a program that is never (or even seldom) used is nothing more than a distraction that litters your desktop and makes finding the one you really want all the more difficult. You might ask, "How do these things get on my desktop -- I didn't put them there?". The answer is that many programs, when they are installed, add icons to your desktop without even asking you (or asking you in a dialog box that is full of so much other stuff that you don't take the time to read it all). Norton, Quicken, and AOL are particularly guilty of this practice.

      So how do you get rid of the ones you don't want and, perhaps even more important, how do you know which ones to get rid of?

      The answer to the second question is easy: You should get rid of any shortcut icon that you haven't clicked on in the last month. It is perfectly safe to do this, and the operation of your computer will not be affected because when you delete the shortcut, you are NOT deleting the program itself, only a temporary reference to it.

      The answer to the first question (how to get rid of them) is as follows:

      1. Delete them one by one
        1. Right-Click on the icon and choose Delete
        2. Confirm the deletion by Left-Clicking on the YES button

      2. Use the Desktop Cleanup Wizard

        1. To start the Desktop Cleanup Wizard:

          1. Click "Start," and then click "Control Panel."

          1. In Control Panel, "Under Pick a Catetory," click "Appearance and Themes."

          2. Under "or pick a Control Panel icon," click "Display." The Display Properties dialog box is displayed

          3. In the Display Properties dialog box, click the Desktop tab, and then click "Customize Desktop." The Desktop Items dialog box is displayed

          4. Under Desktop cleanup, click to clear the "Run Desktop Cleanup Wizard every 60 days" check box if you do not want the Desktop Cleanup Wizard to automatically start every 60 days.

          5. Click "Clean Desktop Now." The Desktop Cleanup Wizard starts. To remove unwanted shortcuts:

          6. In the Welcome to the Desktop Cleanup Wizard dialog box, click "Next."

          7. In the Shortcuts dialog box, a list of shortcuts are displayed as a "Shortcuts to Clean Up" list.

          8. The shortcuts that are checked are removed from the desktop and placed in the Unused Desktop Shortcuts folder on the Windows desktop.
          9. If you do not want a shortcut to be removed from the desktop, click to clear the check box for that shortcut.
          10. Click "Next" when you are finished.
          11. In the Completing the Desktop Cleanup Wizard dialog box, view the items in the Shortcuts box to confirm that you want them removed from the desktop, and then click "Finish."
          12. The Desktop Cleanup Wizard moves the selected shortcuts to the Unused Desktop Shortcuts folder and then quits.

        2. If you want to recover a shortcut that you removed, follow these steps to restore the shortcut:
          1. On the desktop, double-click the "Unused Desktop Shortcuts" folder. The Unused Desktop Shortcuts dialog box is displayed. NOTE: If the Unused Desktop Shortcuts dialog box is maximized, click the Resize button (appears to the left of the red Close button in the upper right-hand corner).
          2. Drag the shortcut that you want to the Windows desktop.
          3. Close the Unused Desktop Shortcuts dialog box.

    Delete Unneeded Files

      As you use your computer, the Windows operating system creates many additional files that you probably don't know about and probably don't need. These include:

      1. Downloaded Program Files - Files that accompanied a download but are not necessary for the operation of the downloaded program
      2. Temporary Internet Files - Whenever you visit a page on the World Wide Web, your browser saves a copy of the page on the assumption that you may want to see it again and it can be retrieved faster from your hard drive than by having to go back out to the Internet to get it. Over time you can accumulate hundreds of megabytes of such files -- all of which are unnecessary.
      3. Back-up Files - Many programs, such as word processors, routinely save a copy of your document as a safety measure in case of a computer crash. These back-up copies are no longer needed after you have saved the file in the regular way.
      4. Log Files - These are files that are created by many programs to provide you with a record of what they have done. In some instances such a record is useful in determining why a program failed or why a particular error message appeared, but in most cases they are simply records of information that you will never need.
      5. Other Temporary Files - Temporary files are created for a variety of purposes. After you have finished the task they are no longer needed.
      6. Files in the Recyle Bin - When you delete a file it is sent to the Recycle Bin. It stays there until you delete it from that location or until you have deleted so many files that the Bin can no longer hold them all, in which case the oldest files in the Bin are deleted. The only reason to keep a file in the Recycle Bin is if you find that you deleted it in error and want to restore it.

      These files not only take up unnecessary space on your hard drive, their mere presence can slow down the operation of your computer.

      To get rid of them, you can use a commercial program such as those available here, or you can use a built-in Windows utility that's already on your computer.

      1. Click on "Start", then on "My Computer"

      2. Right-click on the icon of the hard drive you want to check
      3. Click on "Properties" in the pop-up menu

      4. The Properties dialog box opens. (Note that the "General" tab displays the size and the amount of free space on the drive)
      5. Click on the "Disk Cleanup" button
      6. A Disk Cleanup dialog box will open and the program will check your hard drive for unneeded files (this may take a while if you haven't done it for a while [or ever!])

      7. When the process is complete, a Disk Cleanup for Drive C:\ dialog box will open. It will display the amount of space currently being taken up by each of the categories of unneeded files and will have a check mark before each of the category labels.
      8. If there is a category that you don't want to delete, click on the box to un-check it.
      9. Otherwise, click "OK" to delete the unneeded files.

    Remove Unused Programs

      All of us have programs on our computers that we don't use. They take up space on the hard drive and may also slow down the operating of the computer.

      1. To get rid of never- or seldom-used programs, click on "Start", then "Control Panel" and launch "Add or Remove Programs."
      2. Examine each item. In most cases, in Windows 2000 and XP, you will see the amount of space on your hard drive that the program is taking up as well as how recently and how often it was used., Don't meddle with items that are completely unfamiliar; they may be required by the system.

      3. But if you find a standalone application that you no longer use, get rid of it by clicking on the "Change/Remove" button.

    Check Disks for File and Surface Integrity

      It is important to check regularly (about once a month) the integrity of the structure and status of the files on your hard dirve and, in addition, to occasionally check the physical status of the drive (which takes a lot longer). If the file structure is corrupted, it will be impossible to find a file that you want to use. If the physical structure of the hard drive is deteriorating, your computer can take note of the "bad" spots on the disk and remember not to save data in those spots (because anything saved there will be impossible to retrieve).

      To check your hard drive:

      1. Click on "Start", then on "My Computer"

      2. Right-click on the icon of the hard drive you want to check
      3. Click on "Properties" in the pop-up menu
      4. The Properties dialog box opens. (Note that the "General" tab displays the size and the amount of free space on the drive)

      5. Click on the "Tools" tab

      6. The upper third of the dialog box is labeled "Error Checking". Click on "Check Now..."

      7. In the Check Disk Data dialog box, click on "Automatically Fix File System Errors" to put a check mark in the box

        NOTE: about every six months or so, you should also check the "Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors" box. Doing to will instruct the computer to check the physical surface of the hard drive to identify any deteriorating spots. This causes the process to take much longer

      8. Click the "Start" button.

      9. What looks like an error message appears. It reads "The disk check could not be performed because the Disk Check utility needs exclusive access to some Windows files on the disk. These files can be accessed only by restarting Windows. Do you want to reschedule this disk check to occur the next time you re-start the computer? This is perfectly normal. The disk can only be checked when Windows is not running so, when you next turn on your computer, the check will take place.
      10. Click the "Yes" button

    Keep Your Files in One Piece

      Fragmentation refers to the condition of a disk in which files are divided into pieces scattered around the disk. Fragmentation occurs naturally when you use a disk frequently, creating, deleting, and modifying files. At some point, the operating system needs to store parts of a file in noncontiguous clusters. This is entirely invisible to users, but it can slow down the speed at which data is accessed because the disk drive must search through different parts of the disk to put together a single file. To speed up your computer, you can perform a operation called "Defragmentation" or, more commonly, "Defragging."

      With the large size hard drives common today, defragging is not as crucial to the operation of the computer as was the case in the past. Nevertheless, if you perform the operation from time to time (I suggest monthly), your computer will thank you for it.

      Before beginning the defragmentation process, it is important to shut down all running programs including anti-virus programs and screen savers. This is necessary because if, during the defragmentation process a program should attempt to access a file on the drive that is being defragmented, the process has to be started all over again. In theory, firewalls should also be shut down, but in my opinion, the risk of opening your system to the outside world is greater than the risk of having the defragmentation process restarted.

      To defrag your hard drive:

      1. Click on "Start", then on "My Computer"

      2. Right-click on the icon of the hard drive you want to check
      3. Click on "Properties" in the pop-up menu
      4. The Properties dialog box opens. (Note that the "General" tab displays the size and the amount of free space on the drive)

      5. Click on the "Tools" tab

      6. The middle third of the dialog box is labeled "Defragmentation". Click on "Defragment Now..."

      7. When the "Disk Defragmenter" window first opens you'll see a list of the hard drives displayed at the top of the screen.
      8. Click to select the drive you want to defragment (usually Drive C:/), then click on the "Analyze" button

      9. The Estimated Disk Usage Before Defragmentation and Estimated Disk Usage After Defragmentation will be displayed on the Analysis Report.
      10. A new windows opens with a brief recommendation of what action Disk Defragmenter thinks should be taken regarding the chosen drive. It's important to note that this is just a recommendation based on the percentage of fragmented files to total files and doesn't prevent the drive from being defragmented if you feel it needs to be done and might improve system performance.

      11. If you want to go ahead and defragment without more information, click the "Defragment" button. or if the recommendation is that defragmentation is not needed, click the "Close" button
      12. Clicking the "View Report" will provide you with a great deal more information about your hard drive, but typically this is not needed to successfully accomplish defragging.

      13. After the defragmentation process completes, clicking the "View Report" button will bring up the Defragmentation Report. It takes the exact same form as the Analysis Report, but shows the post defragmentation results.

      For the majority of users, the Disk Defragmenter Utility included with XP is sufficient to keep the hard drives in relatively good condition, but it's actually what is known as a Lite or slightly crippled version of Diskeeper, a product made by Executive Software. All of the utility suites (Norton, McAfee, Panda, etc.) include defragmentation software. Some additional examples of commercial software that gives you more control over the defragmentation process are:

      1. Diskeeper (http://www.executive.com/coverpage.asp) $19.95
      2. PerfectDisk (http://www.raxco.com/) $44.95
      3. Power Defrag (http://www.e-technik.com/) $29.95

    Disable Unneeded Programs and Services That Run Automatically

      Whenever you start your computer, you are faced with a few moments of thumb twiddling while Windows XP boots and prompts you to log on. Although you should expect to wait for a few moments, sometimes Windows XP seems to boot rather slowly. In fact, you may notice that over a period of time the PC that used to roar to life seems a bit sluggish instead.

      Along with the core operating system that Windows runs when it starts, there is also a host of programs and services involved. Many of these are necessary for your computer to operate correctly. However, many of them are for features that you may not use at all. You can peruse the running programs services and disable any that you do not want. The fewer programs and services that run, the more quickly Windows will boot and the more smoothly and faster your computer can process information.

      You can reduce the number of programs and services that start on bootup. To see the services that are running:

      1. Click on Start > Control Panel > Performance and Maintenance > Administrative Tools > Services
      2. The Services Console opens and displays a long list of the current services on your computer
      3. For each, the display contains
        1. Name
        2. Description
        3. Status
        4. Start-up Type
        5. and a column headed "Log on as"

      4. By clicking on the name of a service you can read about the service and what it does. You can also stop or restart a service
      5. To change the status of a service:

        1. Double-click on the name of the service
        2. A Property dialog box opens
        3. On the "General" tab, there is a drop-down list called "Start As"
        4. Choose "Disabled" to stop the service. Then click "OK" and exit to the desktop
      6. BUT YOU MUST EXERCISE CAUTION. If you do not know what a service does or are unsure of the ramifications of stopping the service, leave it alone. Some services are critical to Windows XP's operations, so make sure you understand what the service is before you disable it. We'll come back to this point below.

      To see the programs that are running:

      1. Click on Start, then Run
      2. In the Run dialog box, type "msconfig" (without the quotes) and then click on the Run button

      3. The System Configuration Utility opens. There are six tabs at the top of the dialog box.
      4. Click on the "Start Up" tab.

      5. Here you see a list of programs that run everytime you start your computer
      6. Many of these programs were inserted into this list when you installed software on your computer
      7. Some you probably want to have running as they provide you with certain functionality, but others may be simply taking up space and cpu cycles.

      8. You can stop a program from running automatically when you start your computer by simply clicking to clear the check box next to the service and then clicking the "OK" button.
      9. BUT YOU MUST EXERCISE CAUTION. If you do not know what a program does or are unsure of the ramifications of stopping the program, leave it alone. We'll come back to this point below.

      So how do you know which programs and services are safe to stop/delete?

      1. Services:

        1. Notice the Startup Type column in the Services Console. This information lists whether the service is automatic or manual. Manual services are only started in Windows when you start a process that requires the service. Because these services do not start automatically when you boot up, you do not need to do anything with manual services.
        2. However, all services listed as automatic start when Windows boots. These are the services that increase boot time. Many of them are necessary and important, so you should not stop automatic services from booting unless you are sure of the ramifications. You can get this information by looking at the Description column.
        3. Here's a list of common services you may want to live without:
          1. Automatic Updates: This service enables Windows XP to check the Web automatically for updates. If you don't want to use Automatic Updates, you can disable the service. You can always check for updates manually at the Windows Update Web site.
          2. Computer Browser: If your computer is not on a network, you don't need this service. If you are on a network, leave it alone.
          3. DHCP Client: If you are not on a network, you do not need this service.
          4. DNS Client: If you are not on a network, you do not need this service. If you are, leave it alone.
          5. Error Reporting and Event Log: You don't have to use these services but they can be very helpful in diagnosing problems.
          6. Fax: If you don't use your computer for fax services, you can disable this one.
          7. Help and Support: If you never use the Windows XP Help and Support Center (found on the Start menu), you can disable this service.
          8. IMAPI CD-Burning COM: This service enables you to burn CDs on your computer. If you never burn CDs, you can disable the service.
          9. Indexing Service: Your computer keeps an index of files but if you rarely search for files, the service is just a resource hog. You can stop it and turn the service to manual.
          10. Windows Firewall/Internet Connection Sharing: If you do not use these features, you can disable them.
          11. Infrared Monitor: If you do not use infrared devices, you can disable this service.
          12. Messenger: This service sends alert messages on a local area network (it is not the same as Windows Messenger). If you are not on a network, you can disable this service.
          13. Print Spooler: If you do not do any printing from the computer, you can disable this service. If you print, make sure you leave it as automatic.
          14. Remote Registry: This service allows remote users to modify the Registry on your computer. If you are not on a network, you can disable this service.
          15. Themes: If you do not use themes, you can disable this service.
          16. Windows Image Acquisition: If you do not use scanners or digital cameras, you can disable this service.
          17. Wireless Zero Configuration: If do not use wireless networking devices, you can disable this service.
        4. You can get additional information about any service by typing its name in the Google search bar and "Googling" for the results

      2. Programs:
        1. The programs in the startup list may have names that look familiar to you ("BillPay" (from Quicken) is a good example).
        2. In such cases you can make the decision as to whether of not to disable them based on your knowledge of how you use the computer (Do you use BillPay or not?)
        3. In other cases, however, the names will not be familiar. You can try "Googling" them, or you can uncheck the names one by one and reboot your computer to see if there is any effect. (A trial and error approach)

      A good free program that helps a great deal in this process by providing information on just what each program and service does as well as warning you when a program tries to insert something into your start-up list is WinPatrol. If you are interested in keeping your computer running smoothly, you are strongly urged to download and install this program.

      Additional Optimization Tools

        On the Web, there are a number of sites where you can download small utility programs that help you to "tweak" your computer into doing things the way you want them done. Here are some examples::

          1. Windows XP Utilities
          2. Windows XP Fixes, Tips and Tweaks
          3. Tweakhound - Windows XP
          4. Active.com Windows XP Utilities
          5. PC World Digital Duo Video

        There are many other ways in which your system can be tuned up and its performance improved. For those of you who are interested, Vic Laurie and I recommend the following sources:

        1. General Windows Settings

          1. Optimize Windows XP, A step-by-step guide to better performance
          2. Optimize XP
          3. Optimize XP Services
          4. Make Your Computer Run Faster and Better
          5. More Windows XP Tweaks
          6. Make Windows Work Better
          7. Windows: 68 Tips and Tricks
          8. Tweak XP.com
          9. Registry Guide for Windows
          10. The Elder Geek on Windows XP
          11. Windows XP from A to Z

            And for Windows 98 users:

          12. Windows 98 Tips, Tweaks and System Maintenance

        2. Speed Up Boot and Startup
          1. Making XP Start Faster
          2. Managing the Programs that Run when Windows Starts Up

        3. Speed Up Internet Connections
          1. Tweaks: Is Your PC Configured for Broadband?
          2. SpeedGuide.Net
          3. Configuring the DNS Resolver Cache in Windows XP

        4. Shutdown
          1. Trouble-Shooting Windows Shutdown Issues
          2. Windows Shutdown and Restart Center