What causes XP Registry Hive to get corrupted every few months

By nnenos ·
I have a Windows XP SP2 professional system running just fine for a few years. I have an anti-virus software and a software firewall. I back up my system regularly so recovering from a crash is not a total loss but instead a nuisance.

I try to keep my system as clean as possible by conducting regular maintenance routines (defrags, disk cleanups and check disks).

About a year ago, my system started to fail at boot. Usually the cause is a corrupted registry hive. The issue is that the registry appears to get corrupted every few months and I have to perform a complete backup recovery.

I wonder whats causing the hive to get corrupted. I have not added any new programs or hardware recently. How can I trouble shoot the system to find out what is causing this issue? How do you trouble shoot hardware devises, when everything appears to be working fine and the failure manifests as a registry issue every few months?

Any suggestions would be most appreciated. Thanks,


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Registry Bloat

by TheChas In reply to What causes XP Registry H ...

Well, the thing that causes Windows to slow down is registry bloat. Over time, the registry just grows too large for the system to remain stable.

Since you recover from backups, you start out each recovery with a registry that is bloated and ready to fail.

The simple solution is a clean installation of all of your software and then a recovery of just your data files. That way the bloat and corruption that exists in your old registry will not come along with the recovery.

Keep in mind that even patches add to the registry. When one patch supersedes another, that can lead to registry problems months later.

The good news is that XP is much more stable than Windows 95 or 98 was and you can go 2 or 3 years before you need to start over.


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Registy Bloat and Clean Installs.

by nnenos In reply to Registry Bloat

I was very pleased to see your response so quickly. Here are some of my comments regarding this topic.

In regards to the possibility of Registry Bloat, re-installing all software again seems like you would only delay the issue. Also as a side note, I have not noticed any performance degradation with my system over the years.

I will not discard "Registry Bloat" as being a possibility, however I would like to find out what is causing it.

A clean install as easy as it may seem, it appears that by the time you re-install all software and apply all the patches and updates you would end up where you started with the last backup. i.e. same bloated registry.

Let's assume the registry is bloated. Then the question is how to clean it up.

I have seen other sites/posts elsewhere pitching registry cleanup software but I am not comfortable letting some algorithm programatically go through my computer and make decisions how to clean it up.

If you have any suggestions how to clean up the registry if it is bloated I would be interested in hearing about it.

Thanks again for taking the time to reply.


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Registry Cleaners

by TheChas In reply to Registy Bloat and Clean I ...

Registry bloat is a cumulative problem. There is a maximum functional size for the registry hives. Once the files are too large and take up too much memory, the system performance suffers.

While software installs all contribute to the overall size of the registry, it is uninstalls, reinstalls, and patches that create the most bloat.

The hard fact is that most uninstallers and update patches do a poor job of clearing out what they originally added to the registry. And, they do an even poor job of freeing up space in the registry.

Where Windows 98 had about a 6 month life before registry bloat started slowing things down, Windows XP can go 2 to 4 years before bloat becomes an issue.

As far as dealing with the issues of registry bloat, the first step is having enough system RAM. For XP, 2GB is about the optimum amount of RAM to install.

There are a number of registry cleaners and optimization programs out there. I have tried many with limited success. There is just so much information to keep track of, and so many registry keys that are intertwined, that it is far to easy to cause more harm than good when cleaning the registry.

One that you might try is Registry First Aid from Rose City Software. It cleans out a few things that some of the others don't. And, as long as you limit actions to the "Green" low risk errors, you should not create any system problems.


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2 gigs ram?

by jdclyde In reply to Registry Cleaners

For a common office system, doing office products and email, you recommend 2 gigs of ram?

Do you know of any good resources that would discuss that further, that you could point me to?

I dread asking how much Vista SHOULD have.... As I have been seeing many vista systems coming with one gig, and the motherboards max out at 2gig.

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I suggest 2 Gigs

by Tearat In reply to 2 gigs ram?

As the optimal amount of ram for XP
But a desktop can work fine with 512 Megs

2 gigs is the most you would use with XP in a normal situation
You may not get any benefit above that

Laptops should have double for XP
Again anything above 2 gigs may not make any difference
But turning off the virtual memory (paging file) can help with battery life just make sure you have enough ram

Double the memory for Vista
A desktop can work ok with 1gig of ram
Two would be better
Four is tricky with Vista 32 even if the MB takes 4 you may not get all of it to use

It depends on what you want to do and what hardware is in the machine

For most people XP and 1 Gig will work ok
For Vista 2 Gig
Double it for a laptop

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Like most IT questions, the answer is

by jdclyde In reply to I suggest 2 Gigs

"it depends"....

I am going to have to hit google I guess to try to read up more on this. All I ever did was look at a systems system usage of ram at bootup and at a full work load, and then make sure I never went over 75% at my highest usesage if it could be avoided. Registry stability was never a thought....

Don't some apps NEED the paging file, regardless of how much ram you have?

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The space in the paging file

by Tearat In reply to Like most IT questions, t ...

Like the space in ram must be controlled by the OS
Or you could have 2 apps trying to use the same space

The ram size for any OS is limited by
The kernels ability to manage it
The number of processes the OS can handle
The speed of the system

There comes a point where anymore ram will make no difference
If you have enough ram to hold all possible data and processes you do not need a swap file

The swap file is slow compared to ram
There is noway a hard drive can match ram for speed
But who knows, that could change if someone is prepared to spend the money

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by TheChas In reply to 2 gigs ram?

The price of RAM is relatively cheap these days unless you need SDRAM or first generation DDR in 512MB or larger DIMMs.

More RAM has always been the lowest cost way to improve both system performance and stability.

I generally advocate that everyone should max out the usable RAM on their system.

The improved performance you get with more RAM is very worthwhile. Even for just web browsing or office tasks, I believe there is justification in the improved performance.

As to the 2GB limit of many new systems, even for Vista, when in 32 bit mode 2GB is a good number.

Why? Because on a 32 bit system, you loose at least 750 MB of the 4GB of RAM address space and often loose 1.5 GB. Since 2GB is all you can be assured to have available, that is a good value to stop at.

Now, if you are running XP 64 or Vista 64 bit, then by all means install as much RAM as the system can hold / you can afford.


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Registry and RAM

by nnenos In reply to Registry Cleaners

Hello Chas,

I agree with you about the registry entries being intertwined and much care should be taken before deleting any key. Here are some observations regarding my troubleshooting.

First, just in case, I take a methodical approach and only change one variable at the time. I am not an advocate of the shotgun approach to troubleshooting.

Ok, here is what I did; I restored my system from a disk image just hours before the crash. I run pagedefrag to see if my registry was fragmented. The tool reported that it was all in one piece. this tells me that the registry was ok just before the day it crashed.

next I run NTREGOPT to see if it can be optimized sizewise. Well, it reported that I could be reduced by 3%. I don't now if a 3% reduction will have any significant effect. Specially since NTREGOPT does not clean the regestry. It does not remove any keys, it simply optimizes its size by removing empty spaces.

Finally, going back to your comment regarding RAM and the interaction with the registry size. Well it appears that my registry is about 48Mbytes. (a very large file in my opinion, but who am I to judge its size).

My question is how does the system RAM configuration affects the use/handling of the registry. I have 2 GBytes of RAM, my system configuration for Virtual Memory is set to "Custom Size" 2046 - 4092. How does it benefit my system performance if I change these settings to "System managed size" or "No paging file" or changing the custom size limits.

I appreciate any comments.


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Fragmentation and System Health

by TheChas In reply to Registry and RAM

Fragmentation whether of files or the registry is more an indication of performance than of overall health. A fragmented registry will load and run slower than one that is not fragmented.

As to RAM, page file and the registry, this all relates to system stability and performance.

At least part of the registry is loaded into RAM and the page file when Windows boots. Windows runs using the registry files in memory and writes changes to the files on the hard drive. Any changes to registry keys do not take effect until the next time Windows boots.

As I stated in my first response, I believe that your restored system life is so short because your registry is close to the point of collapse. Either that, or your hard drive has a few failing clusters and the registry keeps being written to the same set of clusters on the drive.

On my system that was rebuilt about 8 months ago, the NTUSER.DAT file is just over 5 MB. And, I have a fair amount of software installed on this system.

If you think of the registry as a nuclear pile, as it grows, it will eventually reach critical mass. As long as it is smaller than the critical size, all works well. Once the size of the registry exceeds critical mass, things happen.


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