Total Windows XP makeover…for free – Part 2

 In Part 1 of this feature we talked about immediate steps you could take to give Windows XP a little spit and polish. Now we delve a little deeper into this theme – focusing on techniques for speeding up file copying, boosting disk space…and much, much more.

Turn off automated time and date stamp updating

If you’re using New Technology File System (NTFS), there’s another way to speed up your hard disk. Whenever you view a directory on an NTFS volume, the file system updates the date and time stamp to show the last time the directory was accessed. This constant updating can slow system performance, particularly if you tend to access many directories during a typical workday.

To turn it off:

1. Open the Registry Editor by typing regedit at a command prompt or the Run box.
2. Go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\Current Control Set\
3. Look for NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate. If it isn’t there, create it: Choose Edit –> New –> DWORD Value, type:
into the box, and click OK.
4. Set its value to 1 by double-clicking it and typing 1 in the Value data box that appears. Click OK.
5. Exit the Registry.

Speed up file copying

No one will ever accuse XP of copying files quickly. If you’ve got a big file or groups of files that are hundreds of megabytes or more, you’ve no doubt waited and waited while XP did its work. Worse yet, you may freeze in midcopy and then have to start from scratch.
TeraCopy copies files fast.

TeraCopy from Code Sector makes those problems a thing of the past. It uses a variety of techniques, such as adjusting buffers on the fly, to speed up and fix XP’s copying problems. It even lets you pause and resume file copying, and it uses error-recovery techniques to make sure that if one file copy in a multifile job fails, the rest will still be copied.

By the way, you may at first be baffled about how to use this program. You have to use it in concert with Windows Explorer or another file manager like Q-Dir. Drag files from whichever file manager you’re using to TeraCopy and then have it do the copying from there.

Get more disk space – for free

Running out of disk space on your XP machine? Don’t rush to buy a new hard disk just yet. You may be able to increase the size of your existing hard disk in essence without spending a penny.

You can use the NTFS to compress files on your hard disk and gain back some space. XP will compress and decompress files on the fly; when you open a file, it automatically decompresses so that you can work with it. Then, when you save the file, it is automatically compressed.

First, you need to make sure you’re using NTFS. If not, you can easily convert your hard disk to it. To see if you’re using NTFS, go to Windows Explorer, right-click your C: drive and select Properties. On the General tab, look at the “File system” listing. If it says NTFS, you’re all set. If it says FAT32, you’ll need to convert from FAT32 to NTFS.

To convert your hard disk to NTFS, open a command prompt, and (assuming that your hard disk is C:), type this command:
convert c: /fs:ntfs

Once you’ve done the conversion, you’re ready to use compression.

You can compress your entire drive, or just individual files and folders. It does take a little longer to load and save files when they’re compressed, though I haven’t noticed a major difference. If you care about top performance, however, it’s not a bad idea to do it on a folder-by-folder basis, at least to start with.

To compress an entire drive, right-click the drive in Windows Explorer, select Properties, and on the General tab check the box next to “Compress drive to save disk space,” then click OK. You’ll be asked to confirm that you want to do the compression, and XP will then go about compressing the drive.

Depending on the number of files and folders and your processor speed, the process can take up to several hours. You can still work while XP does the compression. But if you’re working on a file that XP is about to compress, you’ll be prompted to close it so XP can compress it.


Compressing an individual file or folder.

If you’d prefer to instead compress individual files or folders, right-click any file or folder from within Windows Explorer, select Properties, and on the General tab click the Advanced button. Check the box next to “Compress contents to save disk space,” click OK, and then OK again when the Properties dialog box appears, and OK once more when the Confirm Attribute Changes box appears.

From now on, all compressed folders and files will show up in blue in Windows Explorer, so you can differentiate between them and uncompressed files.

Files in blue are compressed; those in black are uncompressed.
How much space will compression save? That depends on the types of files you commonly use. I’ve found that TIFF graphic files are often compressed by 80% or more. My Microsoft Word 2003 files were shrunk by about 66%. Other formats, such as JPEG and PDF, hardly shrank at all.

You can easily check how much compression you’ve achieved on a file or folder. Right-click it in Windows Explorer, choose Properties and select the General tab. You’ll see two listings for the file size, one titled Size, and the other “Size on disk.” Size on disk is the compressed size, while Size is the original size of the file. (Note that this applies only to files and folders that have already been compressed.)

Turn off indexing to ease strain on system resources

XP’s search uses an indexing system that speeds up the searching process. But it also uses up significant system resources, and uses plenty of hard-disk space. Unless you do a lot of searching, you’ll be better off turning off indexing.

Turning off indexing to save system resources.

To turn it off, right-click your hard disk from within Windows Explorer and select Properties. On the General tab, uncheck the box next to “Allow Indexing Service to index this disk for fast file searching” and click OK.

You’ll be asked whether to apply the changes to just the hard drive (C:\ in the example shown), or also all of its subfolders and files.

Choose to apply it to all subfolders and files and click OK.

Improve start-up and shutdown times

Tired of twiddling your thumbs or taking a coffee break while XP boots up or shuts down? These tweaks and hacks will speed up both for you.

Speed boot-up with boot defragments

The simplest way to speed boot-up is to do a boot defragment so that all the boot files are next to one another on your hard disk. By default, XP performs a boot defragment, but there’s a chance that it’s been turned off. Here’s how to make sure it’s turned on.

1. Open the Registry Editor by typing regedit at a command prompt or the Run box.
3. Change the Enable string value to Y if it is not already set to Y.
4. Exit the Registry and reboot.
The next time you reboot, you’ll do a boot defragment.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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