Improving Windows XP Performance Part I

If you've been working with Windows XP Professional for some time and you've noticed a decline in system performance from when you first started using XP, you may be at a loss to explain the problem. As a Windows power user or IT admin, you most likely keep an eye on your system's performance with the Task Manager. And you probably run Disk Defragmenter frequently as well as the Disk Cleanup utility. Yet none of these practices seem to be doing the trick.

Here are several built-in XP options you can tweak to adjust your visual effects, memory usage, virtual memory, and processor scheduling, each of which has a direct bearing on how well your system performs. We'll explore each of them in detail as I show you how to optimize the way your system runs and how to prevent a degradation in performance from occurring in the future.

Tweak XP for better performance

To optimize XP's performance and keep your workday running smoothly, we'll show you how to adjust several of your operating system's settings so you can get the most out of XP. We'll begin by showing you how to configure XP's visual effects to troubleshoot performance issues. Next, we'll delve a little deeper by exploring processor slowdowns, and how you can make some adjustments to memory usage to improve performance. Finally, we'll explore several quick and easy tweaks you can implement to jump-start your sluggish system.


Windows XP Professional's visual effects encompass such enhancements as animated menus, fade effects, cursor shadows, menu shadows, and more. While these effects are pleasing to the eye and can add to your overall XP sensory experience, they also have a negative effect on how quickly your operating system responds to your requests. The more visual effects you have activated, the slower your system performance. Let's begin by taking a look at how you can adjust XP's visual effects settings to improve performance without losing all of the effects that make XP cool.

To access your visual effects, click the Start button and then choose Control Panel. In Classic view, double-click on the System icon, and then in the System Properties dialog box, select the Advanced tab. Then, under Performance, click the Settings button to display the Performance Settings dialog box.

Note: If you're using Classic view, open Control Panel, click on the Performance And Maintenance link, and then click on the Adjust Visual Settings link.

Now that you've located this area, you can allow Windows XP Professional to choose what's best for your computer, manually adjust these settings for best appearance, manually adjust them for best performance, or choose Custom and pick and choose your own settings. As you can see, you can turn on and off visual effects by selecting or deselecting the appropriate check boxes.

So which options should you choose? For computers that are a few years old and are running with XP's minimum system requirements, I recommend choosing the Custom setting—which gives you the most control over your system—and deselecting all of visual effect options. Next, use Windows XP as you normally would over the next 24 hours to see if your system performance is improving. Slowly re-enable your favorite visual features and see how your system performs. By conducting this experiment, you should be able to determine exactly how many enabled effects your system can tolerate without experiencing performance problems.

If you find, however, that your system doesn't respond well to restoring the visual effects, you might want to consider turning off all the visual effects for good. You'll lose most of the effects of XP's cool new interface, windows won't slide into place, and the desktop won't have its 3-D appearance, but you'll get some added power and performance. And the loss of the visual effects is a small price to pay to save you the price of a costly upgrade.