Recently I received a phone call from my mother-in-law asking if I could take a look at her computer, it was asking her to update a few things and she wasn’t 100% sure how to do it. Being an older computer it occasionally needs a little tweaking to get it back to a state where the performance is improved. The computer in question is running the ever reliable Microsoft Windows XP operating system, which I have always been a fan of, so today I thought I would give you some tips on improving the performance of your computer running Windows XP. In future posts I will also outline the same for Windows 7 and higher in detail however if you are running Windows 7 or 8.x then the same ideas apply but the steps to perform each action will differ.
Over time any computer, regardless of how new or old it is will begin to decrease in its performance. Many factors contribute to this degradation including how much software you have installed, how much disk space is being used, and the types of programs running. There are also factors such as potential virus or spyware infection which can decrease performance considerably.
Let’s go through the basic steps I take when I want to improve performance of a computer running Windows XP.
Hard disk space
This goes without saying but always check how much disk space you have available on your computer. Lack of hard disk space is a common cause of performance issues.
To check your hard disk space, follow these steps:
- Double click the My Computer icon from the desktop or press the Windows key + E on the keyboard to display Windows Explorer
- Right mouse click on the Local Disk (C:\) and select Properties
- You will see a pie chart which shows you the hard disk capacity, free space and available space
- If you have less than 1GB of free space available then you most certainly need to clear some space on your computer to improve performance
Specific Program Performance
If you are finding there are specific programs you use which have shown considerable performance, whilst others have remained unaffected, you need to look at the program specifics. A good example of this is email and the use of a locally installed email client. Microsoft Outlook is a popular choice but is also a program which should be maintained to ensure that your email files do not begin zapping performance from your overall computers performance.
Microsoft Outlook works on the basis of storing all your email, contacts, calendar, tasks, and other associated information in a file called a .PST file. The PST file is often referred to as your Personal Folders File (in Outlook 2007 and earlier) or the Outlook Data File (in Outlook 2010 and higher). If this file begins to grow considerably in size it can affect the performance of Microsoft Outlook when accessing any aspect of your email.
If you find other programs are causing you an issue, you can google for specific information on how to increase performance of the particular program you are working with or simply drop me a message and I’m more than happy to assist you.
Below are a few tips to clean up your Outlook Data File:
- Sort through your email and delete any emails which you no longer need to keep
- Any email messages you need to keep should be sorted and stored in a folder within Outlook, not all left in your Inbox
- Go through your existing folders and delete any content which is no longer required, we often store things we need in the short term and in the long term the content is no longer required and is just taking up space
- Look for any emails which include attachments, these can be the cause of large amounts of data which are contributing to the large file size of your PST file. If you no longer need the email which includes an attachment, delete the email. If you wish to keep the actual email message you can save the attachment to your computer’s hard drive and delete just the attachment, leaving the email messages behind for future reference
- Clean up any email in the Junk E-mail folder
- Sort through your Sent Items, if you still have content from 5 or even 10 years ago, I think you can probably safely delete them if no longer needed
- If you have a large amount of old data, you may find it easier to Archive content to a separate PST/Data File. This will move the content from your current PST file into a new archive file which you can open and access at any stage in the future should you need to, but will free up space in your active PST file. To archive go to File > Archive or for Outlook 2010 onwards File > Info > Cleanup Tools > Archive
- Empty the Deleted Items folder! Just because you have deleted an email doesn’t mean it’s gone. It is sitting in your Deleted Items folder still taking up space.
- Compact your PST file, depending on your version of Outlook you can do this through File > Account Settings. Select the Data Files tab and select your PST file then click Settings. Click the Compact Now button.
- The Data Files screen, as outlined above, will display the location on your computer where your PST file is stored, this allows you to navigate to this location through Windows Explorer and view the file size of your PST file. If your file is over 1.5-2GB in size, then your file is large and you should attempt to reduce the size to assist with performance.
Generally speaking most computer users have a specific set of software programs which are used on a regular basis, and for the most part users stick to these programs. If though you are a user who likes to experiment and dabble in new software programs then it is quite likely you have a large array of various programs installed on your computer which you probably haven’t used in some time. When it comes to computer performance this is the time to uninstall the programs which you no longer require.
For those new to uninstalling programs, do not be too alarmed if you suddenly find programs listed that you have no idea what they are or what they do. There are many programs which have been installed by your computer during an update or even as a program that runs in the background of your computer to allow you to watch the latest videos online. Either way, if you see a program listed and you have no idea what it is for, google the name. Google should steer you in the right direction and allow you to identify what the program is. If you aren’t sure then feel free to drop me a message and I can assist with software identification.
To uninstall software, follow these steps:
- Click Start > Control Panel
- The Control Panel will be displayed
- Double click the Add/Remove Programs icon
- A list will be displayed of programs installed on your computer.
- Select the program you wish to remove and click the Remove button
Before you uninstall any program I always suggest you write the name and any version number down. If you realise you need the program again, the name and version will give you a head start to finding where to install it from again.
Some programs you may see listed but don’t recall installing could be:
- Adobe Flash Player (used to view video files online, do not uninstall)
- Adobe Reader (used to open and read PDF files, do not uninstall)
- Bing Bar (the built-in search bar in Internet Explorer, do not uninstall)
- Microsoft .NET Framework (do not uninstall)
- MSXML (do not uninstall)
- QuickTime (another program to view video files online, do not uninstall)
If you are concerned and having trouble identifying a program, feel free to contact me for assistance.
Antivirus and Antispyware software
I cannot stress enough how important it is to have antivirus and/or antispyware software installed on your computer. A major cause of sudden performance loss for a computer is the presence of a virus or spyware program which is causing havoc within your system and reducing the performance of your entire system.
You can get separate programs to guard against viruses and spyware however I generally recommend going with a solution that looks after both aspects. I personally use Symantec Internet Security but I also have experience with Avast and have found both to be very reliable and catch any unwanted attempts to infect my computers.
If you do not have any antivirus/spyware protection you can purchase Symantec and Avast products from the links below and download the software straight away.
If your computer is performing slowly, ensure your antivirus/antispyware program is enabled, has up to date file definitions and then run a full system scan to ensure you do not have any infections. I have seen instances where antivirus protection has been disabled by a user, for one reason or another, and during that time a virus has snuck into the system and run wild and free.
Once you have cleaned up any software programs, uninstalled unwanted applications and checked for virus’, it’s time to perform a disk cleanup. Disk Cleanup is a utility available within Microsoft Windows and will perform a check on your computer to see the types of files it can delete safely and give you the option to pick and choose which options to remove.
Disk Cleanup will allow you to choose to delete temporary internet files, downloaded program files, empty the recycle bin (if you haven’t already), remove temporary windows files, remove optional windows components, and remove installed programs you no longer use (again this is if you have not already performed this function separately).
To perform a disk cleanup, follow these steps:
- Click Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools
- Click Disk Cleanup from the list
- If you do not have Disk Cleanup in your start menu select Start > Run
- In the Run dialog box type cleanmgr and click OK
- Make sure the C:\ is selected and click OK
- Once Disk Cleanup has looked at the drive it will provide a list of files it can delete
- Place a tick in the box for the ones you are happy to delete, e.g. Temporary Internet Files
- Click OK
- Allow the Disk Cleanup to complete in its own time
Last, but not least, I suggest you finish off by performing a defragment of your computer’s hard drive. When files are installed or saved on your computer, the computer saves them to any available space on the computer and files can often become fragmented with bits and pieces placed randomly within the hard drive. Think of your hard drive like a storage cabinet, with files being placed in any draw and any location within the draw, this makes the process of retrieving these files take longer and longer over time. The process of defragmenting your computer will move these files into a more complete pattern and reconnect fragmented files meaning your computer will run faster and more efficiently.
To perform a defragment, follow these steps:
- Open My Computer from the desktop
- Right mouse click on the Local Disk (c:\) and select Properties
- Click on the Tools tab
- Click Defragment Now
- Click Defragment
- Allow the process to complete in its own time
You should now find an improvement in your computers performance. If you are still experiencing issues then you should consult the assistance of a computer technician to assist you further.