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How to optimize Windows XP and/or Vista for best performance?

I will participate in a competition of building a computer. Got to pick hardware parts, and assemble it to a computer. I don't like your help on the hardware part. But on top of this they require you to tweak Windows if you like to get some extra performance out of it. So my question is how to master Windows tweaking within the time of one week of preparations.

I have heard of Services in Windows, but don't know which one is safe turning off, and which one is giving you the most performance boost to leave disabled.

I don't know exactly what operating system we will get, as this is a secret until the day of the competition. But it defenitely is either Windows XP or the newer Vista. I have no access to practise on a Vista capable computer, and I have never touched such a operating system. I am a bit familiar with Windows 2000 and XP.

I know you've got a Registry. That you normally should keep your hands off. And it is difficult to interpret how that stuff works for a human beeing.

I am not sure if we can download any tweaking software in the competition. Maybe and maybe not.
But which software to choose.

I am not sure if we can download a startup control system. But which one to choose?

I guess I can gain lots of performance turning off some services. Or not?

I guess uninstallling stuff could be useful, or maybe not?

I need some expert help on where to focus my efforts.
And please advice me if I have forgotton a performance boosting measurment in my text here.

Links to some websites could serve useful too.
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Win-or-Lose
Asked:
Win-or-Lose
6 Solutions
 
LeeTutorretiredCommented:
This is the best, most complete and informative site I've seen on optimizing (speeding up) XP:

http://mywebpages.comcast.net/SupportCD/OptimizeXP.html

This site has a great deal of information on many steps to optimize XP, in categories such as:  removing viruses, spyware and other malware; keeping MS patches updated through Windows Update; making sure all drivers are updated; various tweaks involving the registry, use of virtual memory, the Recycle Bin and System Restore usage; a number of optimizing utilities; disabling of unnecessary Windows services; and much more...
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willcompCommented:
Check Black Viper's tips and services info:
http://www.blackviper.com/
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Alan HendersonCommented:
You can use the Task Manager to find out what's using resources. This tells you how:
http://mywitsend.co.nz/?p=14
Then you use System Configuration to kill those you don't need. See here:
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/310560

A quick and easy way to get started is to use Microsoft System Configuration to kill all Startup items and Services.
Windows key + R
type msconfig, click OK.

Click on the Selective Startup radio button.
Uncheck the "Load system services" and "Load startup items" check boxes.

Go to the Startup tab and recheck items relating to Antivirus.
Click OK

Go back to the General tab and click OK.
Reboot.
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Win-or-LoseAuthor Commented:
I'll probably have a few hours wading through all the information within the suggestions received so far. Thank you for prompt answers. I'll get back here to this thread if necessary during the coming week.
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pranavamhariCommented:
Try disabling unneeded services.

Also, I think there is a new patch available from MS that fixes some issues in Vista related to file xopy/move etc. Google 'Vista Performance and Reliability Pack'


regards
pranavam
<a href="http://www.acelogix.com">System Optimizer - Registry Cleaner </a>
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Run5kCommented:
To elaborate on Pranavamhari's post directly above, these two Vista updates were posted by Microsoft yesterday...

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/938979/en-us

http://support.microsoft.com/kb/938194/en-us

I have had both of them installed on my personal laptop for over 24 hours now and I have already noticed the difference, particularly with the "slow copying" problem.
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Win-or-LoseAuthor Commented:
The competition was postponed until today. In less than 2 hours the competition will start.  :)
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pmchardyCommented:
well how did you get on?
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