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Squeezing some life out of an aging Windows 2000 PC

I can safely say I really did write the book on Windows optimization (Optimizing Windows for Games, Graphics and Multimedia, O’Reilly, 1999, ISBN 1565926773) but that was five years ago and covered Windows 95 and 98.

Windows 2000 and XP are a different animal, and are as similar to the obscure OS/2 operating system from IBM as they are to Windows 95/98.

Here’s what I did when my work computer slowed to the point that I could no longer do much work.Clear some disk space. This is a biggie. NTFS, Windows’ file system, really doesn’t like it if the amount of free space on a disk drops below 15 percent. That’s stupid, but it’s reality, and since I don’t have Mr. Gates’ phone number I can’t do much but live with it. I went to Start, Search, picked Files and Folders, typed *.* in the name field and Drive C in the Look in: field, then hit Search Now. When it finished, I clicked on the field that says Size, and scrolled all the way down. I found lots of big files I didn’t need. I found a mystery file that was 600 megs in size. A Google search revealed that some obscure application I had used once had created that file. That was nice of it. After five minutes’ work, I had freed almost a gigabyte of disk space.

Uninstall old printer drivers. I had a bunch of printer drivers installed for printers I don’t use anymore. They were taking up disk space and memory. I only have 192 megs of RAM and most of it was in use by the time the computer booted, before I’d even loaded any programs. That’s no good. So I removed the drivers for my girlfriend’s Epson color printer (in the Add/Remove Programs control panel) and then I went into Printers and deleted the network printers of old clients and other printers I can’t remember ever using (in most cases you can just delete the printer and it will offer to remove the drivers).

Stop unnecessary services. If you right-click on My Computer and hit Manage, then double-click on Services and Applications and then on Services, you’ll find all sorts of stuff that Windows runs just in case you need it. Most of it is necessary, but for me, several were just chewing up more RAM than I could afford.

Computer Browser. This service, despite what you hear elsewhere, has nothing to do with web browsing, My Network Places, or anything else useful. All it does is permit your computer to participate in browser elections. What are those? It’s a long story, but the gist of it is that on a Windows network, one computer gets to keep the list of computers on the network, and every time you turn a computer on, the computers running the Computer Browser service fight over who gets to keep that list. Sound useless? Unless you’re in an office network with a file server and a very small number of computers, it’s very useless. Most of the time it’s just chewing up between 2 and 8 megabytes of your precious RAM. Forget that.

HID Input Service. I plugged a USB mouse into this computer once and it loaded this. Next thing I knew, my available memory had dropped by 6 megabytes. Six megabytes! For a stupid mouse? I use a USB mouse occasionally, but not every day, and certainly not often enough to be able to afford dedicating 6 megs to something that sits there waiting for me to plug one in. I’d leave it if I had 512 megs of RAM but I didn’t, so I disabled it.

Automatic Updates and Background Intelligent Transfer Service. I keep Automatic Updates turned off because it doesn’t work with our firewall, but whether the option is turned on or off, these services are loaded and chewing up memory. So I disabled these services. I have mixed feelings on Automatic Update. If you can’t remember to visit the Windows Update site once a month, you should leave it turned on. But since it won’t work for me anyway, I have to leave it turned off, so I might as well recover the memory.

Remote Registry Service. This allows a network administrator to connect to your computer and make changes. In a home environment you won’t use this. At work you’ll probably get your hand slapped if you disable it. It uses about a meg.

By trimming some of this dead wood, I was able to gain almost 32 megs of RAM.

Uninstall programs you’re not using anymore. I had several programs that I hadn’t used since Clinton was president that were taking up space on my drive, and some of them had been so nice as to install services that were running all the time and chomping some of my very scarce system RAM. Clearing those out gained me a couple hundred megs’ worth of disk space and nearly 20 megs of RAM.

Clear the browser cache. Internet Explorer keeps pieces of web sites on disk in case you ever visit them again, because it’s much faster than downloading them again. The problem is it does a terrible job of cleaning these up, so the result is you have, in all likelihood, tens of thousands of tiny files, if not hundreds of thousands, that you’ll never use again. Right-click your IE icon on the desktop, hit properties, and click Delete Files. You’ll save yourself some disk space, but more importantly, you’ll make this next step a lot faster and more effective.

Defrag. I used to be really good about defragmenting my drives but it looks like I’ve been lax lately because my C drive was in bad, bad shape. Go to Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools and pick Disk Defragmenter. Run it once a month.

My drive, as it turned out, was hopelessly fragmented. The system was much peppier after I ran it.

I hope these steps will be helpful. It’s not as good as getting a new computer, but it’s much easier to live with now. If your system is bogged down, and like mine, it’s an old laptop that uses scarce and expensive memory and is out of slots anyway, this will make it easier to live with.

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3 thoughts on “Squeezing some life out of an aging Windows 2000 PC”

  1. One thing you didn’t mention is configuring IE (if you MUST use IE in the first place) to empty the Temporary Internet Files when IE is shut down; Internet Properties (take your pick how you get there) Advanced tab, and down near the bottom is a check box for "Empty Temporary Internet Files folder when browser is closed". If someone is on broadband of any type, this seems to make sense to me – I wouldn’t advise it to anyone using dial-up, but they could adjust how much space is used for Temp Internet Files, instead (General Tab of Internet Properties, then the Settings button in the section for Temporary Internet Files).

    I suspect, however, most people reading your blog probably already know this, and probably aren’t using IE anyway.

    Oh, and your new computer will probably be ready this week.



    1. Well, by using and saving in the format, you save gobs of disk space. I’ve seen documents become 1/3 the size of the original documents/spreadsheets. That’s a big deal.

      And when you run it, you can convert all the .doc and .xls files to the format from the toolbar – every single one on your hard drive.

      1. Yep, I forgot about the bloat in Office documents. I used to have a small utility that could strip out duplicate OLE code. It was called, confusingly, UnFrag. I think it appeared in PC Magazine about 8 years ago. Made a big difference if you’re stuck with MS Office for political reasons.

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