Speeding Up Your Computer

First, restart your computer to get a clean slate. In Windows XP, press "CTRL+ALT+DELETE" to bring up the Task Manager. Choose the "Processes" tab, and press the header of the "Mem Usage" column. This will organize all running processes by the level of memory, or RAM, they are using. Scroll to the bottom of the list and note any processes that you don't recognize that are using more than 50MB of memory. Programs that are taking this much RAM can hog resources that other programs and files need, and cause your computer to slow down and crash. Select these processes and press "End Process" to terminate them. Note the effects on your computer. If this made a noticeable difference, you may want to prevent this program from starting up automatically in the future.

You can also use the Task Manager to find programs that are placing a heavy load on your CPU, or Central Processing Unit. If your computer has lots of processes running that require high levels of CPU power, your computer will respond slowly. Press the header of the "CPU" column to organize your processes by their CPU usage, and scroll to the bottom of the list to see if any unnecessary processes are taking more than 5% of your CPU. Note that the "System Idle Process" always runs and uses up any part of the CPU that you're not using - this is completely normal. Terminate any task that you don't recognize that's taking more than 5% of your CPU. If this makes your computer behave faster, you should stop this program from activating when you turn on Windows.

Modifying the programs that are starting when you turn on your PC is a simple matter - in fact, Microsoft even gives you a tool to do it! For this step, we're going to use the Microsoft System Configuration Tool, or MSConfig. To do this, take the following steps:

Now that you've prevented these programs from starting at the same time as Windows, you should uninstall (delete) programs that you no longer need. This will free up critical disk space, and, for some users, improve the performance of your PC. Choose "Start", and then "Control Panel". Double-click on the "Add or Remove Programs" icon. You'll be presented with a list of all programs that Windows recognizes as being currently installed on your system. Have a look through this list, and note that you can select each program to see when the last time you used it was, how often you use it, and how much disk space, or hard drive space, the program needs. Find a large program that you haven't used in recent memory, select them, and choose the "Change/Remove" button. Follow the instructions given by the program's uninstallation routine to permanently remove this program from your computer.

Tuning up your hard drive

Windows XP comes with several important utilities that are critical to optimizing your PC. One of them, Disk Cleanup, searches your computer for unnecessary files. Running Disk Cleanup at regular intervals can substantially increase the speed of your PC. Access the Disk Cleanup utility by choosing "Start", then "All Programs", then navigating to "Accessories", "System tools", and then "Disk Cleanup". The Disk Cleanup utility will appear on your screen. If you have more than one hard drive, select the hard drive that contains your Windows installation (typically "C:"), and press OK. Disk Cleanup will now scan your computer for actions it can take to clear out clutter and speed up your PC.

Once Disk Cleanup is done scanning your computer, it will present a list of options to you with an approximation of how much disk space each option will free for you. Select all the items you wish to clean and press "OK". This should free up some hard drive space and speed up your PC.

Checking your hard drive for errors

Occasionally, your hard drive will become damaged and your computer will be unable to access certain parts of it. This can degrade system performance and slow down your PC. Microsoft provides the Error Checking (formerly ScanDisk) utility to allow users to scan and flag these bad sectors. To access the Error Checking utility, double-click on the "My Computer" icon on your desktop. Right-click on the drive you wish to scan - your C: drive is a good place to start - and choose "Properties". Now, navigate to the "Tools" tab, and, under "Error Checking", press "Check Now".

Before pressing "Start", make sure you check the boxes that say "Automatically fix file system errors" and "Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors". Press "Start" to run the scan. Observe the results, and note any difference in your computer's speed.

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