Basic computer tune-up with little or no hardware upgrades

Rob HutchinsonDesktop Support Specialist
Current strengths are Office 365 and Dell laptops: 7450, 7470, 7490, 5410/5420
Basic computer tune-up with little or no hardware upgrades.

Giving an old computer a tune-up usually results in a minimal performance gain, but a gain nonetheless. Several times a week, I’m faced with users at work who ask to make their computers ‘faster’. I’ll cover the steps that I take below in each of four categories.
( Although I’m the first to admit these are not the only steps someone can take to improve PC performance, they cover some basics. Much information is left out and this article is not really written for the technician who already knows most of this as well knows of other better alternatives/solutions)

Some of the main components controlling computer performance:
Processor, Video card/controller, Memory, Hard Drive, and operating system modifications( covering XP primarily).

Processor upgrades:
Out of the question for most computers and not realistic since this usually involves replacing the systemboard.

Videocard/controller upgrades:
Again, out of the question for most corporate desktop and almost all corporate/home laptop computers; but a possibility for some home desktop computer users who want to spend $50 to $200+ dollars for a video performance increase by buying a new videocard.

Memory upgrades:
The, currently, cheapest way to increase performance for older/newer computers. If you have the memory slots available and have the money, buy more memory! Windows XP 32bit is limited to about 3G of memory although this is not an exact number on all computers so don’t buy more than 3G of memory for a Windows XP computer unless you are running the 64bit version of XP.

Hard Drive upgrades:
Replacing the hard drive does many of the steps to free up space listed below under ‘XP Operating system modifications’ since the act of replacing the hard drive increases space while helping defragment the hard drive although this increases the down time since applications will have to be re-installed unless a disk imaging program is used.

XP Operating system modifications:
Several things can be done here, many that will not be mentioned; but will cover the basics. I will ‘not’ be mentioning removing spyware/viruses since a whole other article can be written about this topic. If you feel that the computer you are trying to make faster is infected with spyware viruses, then by all means get it cleaned as soon as possible.

Let’s get started!

XP Operating system modifications:
Hard drive space, swap file size, cleaning temp files, defragging, and  using ‘msconfig’!

Free up space on the C Drive!
( please make a backup before performing these steps as if anything that can be deleted accidently, will likely be deleted accidently)

a) Find out if the computer's hard drive has a D Drive partition with available space If so, move software installation folders such as C:\i386 to the D Drive. If you do not know what a folder does on your C Drive, “DO NOT” move it!

b) Move the Window's swap file to D Drive too if possible!
To do this, go into the control Panel and double-click the ‘System’ icon then click the ‘Advanced’ tab, then click the ‘Settings’ button under the ‘Performance’ section. From here, again click the ‘Advanced’ tab and under the ‘Virtual memory’ section, click the ‘Change’ button.

From here, check the swap file size as it should be about* 1 ½ times the amount of memory. *The correct swap file size is still a topic of debate.
If possible, move most if not all of the swap file to the D Drive partition( if the computer does have a D Drive partition). XP will usually complain to leave enough of the swap file on the C Drive partition for a dump file so I usually leave 256MB’s on the C Drive putting the rest on the D Drive partition.

c) Remove temp files!
Easiest way to remove temp files, is to run ‘Disk Cleanup’.
Running ‘Disk Cleanup’ can be accessed via the hard drives properties—right-click the drive and choose properties from the popup menu. From the drive properties box, click the disk cleanup button. Depending on the age of the hard drive/computer this might take a while and will leave you staring at a ‘Disk Cleanup’ box for several minutes. From the popup result box, you will see several choices of file types to remove, downloaded, temporary internet, offline web pages, etc. Go through the list checking the ones you want, but I’d recommend ‘not’ selecting ‘Compress old files’ as this will take longer and likely make the computer run slower.

There are also other locations you can check manually for temp files:
C:\Documents and Settings\<insert user account names here>\Local Settings\Temp

d) Remove old System Restore storage points!
Caution when performing these steps( make a hard drive backup first!):
Removing these old system restore points should only be performed if all the rest of the steps still do not provide enough free space on the C Drive. To do this, just go into the 'System Properties' by clicking the 'System' icon in the Control Panel.
Then click the 'System Restore' tab selecting [  ] 'Turn off System Restore'
After turning this feature off( sometimes an hour glass will show for several minutes while waiting for the changes) let it complete then just reboot the computer, going back to the 'System Restore' tab and unchecking this same box turning the system restore back on. This simple turning off/turning back on can free up as much as a gig or more.

e) Defrag the hard drive!
After freeing up space on the hard drive, run the ‘Disk Defragmenter’ (need about 15% free to run defrag). If it has been a while, this can take a long time to complete.
TIP: When running defrag, some badly fragmented files will not defragment no matter how many times defrag is run; you can move these files to another hard drive partition or external drive then move them back after defragmenting the hard drive to get these files defragmented.

The simple process of moving( not copying) a file from one drive to another defragments the file manually as long as the drives where the files are being moved to are not badly fragmented. If needed, the Windows swap file can also be moved to another partition on the hard drive before running defrag then moved back after to defragment the swap file since this file cannot be defragmented using the Window’s Disk Defragmenter.

f) Run msconfig!
Click the Start button then the ‘Run…’ menu choice and type in msconfig
This runs a program that will give an option to disable programs not needed to run Windows. If not sure what programs need disabling, it’s best to leave them.
Note here: the two tabs to be concerned with are the ‘Services’ and ‘Startup’ tabs.
On the Services tab, check the box, [  ] ‘Hide All Microsoft Services’ to prevent disabling services Windows needs to run.
On the ‘Startup’ tab, you can uncheck as much as needed here.

The above steps are a brief description of the steps performed where I work on dozens of computers each week where hardware upgrades are not an option( excluding adding extra memory) so I hope this info helps explain how to perform a basic computer tune-up with minimal to no hardware upgrades.
Rob HutchinsonDesktop Support Specialist
Current strengths are Office 365 and Dell laptops: 7450, 7470, 7490, 5410/5420

Comments (2)

Danny ChildITManager

Useful article, some very good points covered.
Only comment I'd make is that I don't think there's any point moving the swapfile to a separate partition UNLESS that partition is on a separate physical disk.  

If the disk controller (on the disk itself) is writing data *anywhere* on the disk, it will be just as busy, regardless of what partition it's writing to.  

Disks tend to be so large these days, it's not worth arguing about what size the swapfile will be either. Plain old Windows Default settings are fine by me.
Rob HutchinsonDesktop Support Specialist


Yep, good point, but was thinking "moving the swap file" was not to give better performance, but just to free up more space on the C drive; but you are right disks have changed--although with some of the SSD disks being 128G ...this is somewhat smaller than the current norm that people are use to.

You have to look at the article date too: this article is also over four years old...and a lot changes in four years too.

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