How to make Windows XP faster and more reliable…for free – Part 1

Microsoft may have given up on Windows XP, but that doesn’t mean you have to.

While there’s plenty of life in the old operating system, there’s also a good chance XP may start looking long in the tooth to you.

The good news is you don’t have to live with an XP that feels sluggish or looks and acts outdated. In this article, we’ll show you plenty of ways to spiff up XP – and make it faster and more reliable – without spending a penny.

So come along and get your free DIY Windows XP upgrade.

Caution: Some of these tips require that you edit the Windows Registry, which can be tricky and dangerous for your system. If you’re not sure how to make a DWORD value, for example, read our story “The tweaker’s guide to the Windows Registry” first. And be very sure to read the instructions for backing up the Registry before you attempt any Registry edits whatsoever.

Editor’s Note

Always check with your IT department before installing software or changing system settings on a company-owned machine.
Ready? Let’s give XP a little spit and polish.

Improve folder and file management

XP’s Windows Explorer is one of the worst-designed folder and file managers you’ll find anywhere. It makes it hard to perform even rudimentary tasks, such as moving and copying files and folders. Want to copy a file from one folder to another? Most of the time you’re stuck having to open two separate Explorer windows, then dragging and dropping between them.

Ditch Windows Explorer altogether
Here’s a simple solution: Get Q-Dir from This is the file manager that Microsoft should have created.

It has four windows, so you can easily copy files and folders among them. You can also define links for your favorite folders or network locations for easy navigation and copying.

The program also lets you assign different colors to different file types, so it’s easy to distinguish one from another. And there are lots of other extras as well, such as a screen magnifier and the ability to control how many windows open at start-up — from one to four.

Teach Windows Explorer new tricks

If you’re not interested in a wholesale upgrade of Windows Explorer to Q-Dir, you can still teach Windows Explorer some nifty new tricks, all having to do with the context menu, which appears when you right-click a file or folder.


Add Copy To Folder and Move To Folder options

Copying and moving files in Windows Explorer requires you to open up multiple copies of Explorer and drag between them. There’s a simpler way: Add Copy To Folder and Move To Folder options to the right-click context menu.

You’ll then be able to browse anyplace on your hard disk to copy or move the file to, then send the file there. To do it:

1. Open the Registry Editor by typing regedit at a command prompt or the Run box.
2. Go to HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\AllFilesystemObjects\
3. Choose Edit –> New –> Key to create a new key. Call it Copy To and set the value to {C2FBB630-2971-11d1-A18C-00C04FD75D13}.
4. Create another new key called Move To. Set the value to {C2FBB631-2971-11d1-A18C-00C04FD75D13}.
5. Exit the Registry.
The changes should take effect immediately. Now when you right-click a file, the Copy To Folder and Move To Folder options will appear.

Open the command prompt from the right-click menu

Are you a command prompt junkie? If so, you know that sometimes the command prompt is a great tool for tasks like the mass deleting or renaming of files (see “DOS Lives! Secrets of the Windows command prompt” for more ideas).

Wouldn’t it be nice to integrate the command prompt with Windows Explorer — for example, to open a prompt at the current folder you’re visiting in Windows Explorer? It’s easy to do:

A command prompt right where you need it.
1. Open Windows Explorer.
2. Select Tools –> Folder Options and click the File Types tab.
3. Highlight (NONE) Folder and click the Advanced button.
4. Click New.
5. In the Action text box, type: Command Prompt.
6. In the “Application used to perform action” text block, type cmd.exe.
7. Click OK, and OK again, and then Close.
8. Exit Windows Explorer.
The new menu option will show up immediately. Note that it won’t appear when you right-click a file; it shows up only when you right-click a folder.

Note: If you want to remove this option from Windows Explorer, you’ll have to remove it via the Registry. Open the Registry Editor, then delete the HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Classes\Folder\shell\
Command Prompt key. After you exit the Registry, the option will no longer be available.

Add and remove destinations for the Send To option

The right-click context menu already has one useful option, Send To, which lets you send files to a drive, program or folder. It’s easy to add new locations to it — that is, if you know where to look.

First, you’ll need to change the way that Windows Explorer displays folders and files so that you can see what Windows calls “Hidden files and folders.” In Windows Explorer, select Tools –> Folder Options.

Then click on the View tab. In the “Hidden files and folders” section, select “Show hidden files and folders.” Then click OK.

After you do that, go to C:\Documents and Settings\username\
SendTo, replacing username with your username. The folder will be filled with shortcuts to all the locations you find on your Send To context menu.

Adding a folder to the Send To menu.
To remove an item from the Send To menu, delete the shortcut from the folder. To add an item to the menu, such as a shortcut to a folder called Privacy, choose File –> New –> Shortcut and follow the instructions in the Create Shortcut wizard.

The new setting will take effect immediately. You don’t have to exit Windows Explorer for it to go into effect.

Speed up hard-disk performance

Got a sluggish hard disk, or just want to speed up the one you have? There are a few quick tweaks you can perform that will do it for free.

Defragment the hard disk

First off, defrag your hard disk regularly. Choose Start –> Control Panel –> Performance and Maintenance –> Rearrange items on your hard disk to make programs run faster. (If you don’t have a Performance and Maintenance option in the Control Panel, instead go to Start –> All Programs –> Accessories –> System Tools –> Disk Defragmenter.)

Then click the Defragment button. You can keep working while the defrag is going on, though you might notice a slight slowdown in performance.

Use direct-memory access

There’s more you can do as well. Make sure your hard disk uses direct-memory access (DMA). This lets your hard disk and CD and DVD drives transfer information to and from RAM without having to use your processor as a conduit.

DMA is usually the default, but there’s always the possibility the default has been changed, so it’s worthwhile to check.

To do so:

1. Get to the Device Manager from within Windows Explorer by right-clicking My Computer, then selecting Properties –> Hardware –> Device Manager.

Make sure DMA is selected for each device.
2. Scroll down to the “IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers” section and click the + sign.
3. From the list that drops down, right-click Primary IDE Channel and select Properties.
4. Click Advanced Settings, and for each device, in the Transfer Mode drop-down list, choose “DMA if Available” and click OK.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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