Manuals - Reclaiming Resources under Windows XP


Windows XP, like its predecessors works very quickly after a fresh install. Unfortunately, as time goes by, things tend to slow up as your hard drive gets clogged and more applications decide to run in the background without as much as a by your leave. Removing some of these items allows you to regain systems resources, Hard Drive (HD) space and Memory (RAM) and as an added bonus, they can provide free performance gains.

Some of the items covered are part and parcel of the Windows XP operating system. They can be turned on and off leaving your machine safe and with a backup option as you can turn it on again. Others simply make arbitrary decisions for you and serve no purpose other than the one the programmer decided upon, which may not be the best option for your machine. Others depend on you computer and how you use it.
We will attempt provide step-by-step instructions for the unfamiliar, an aide-memoir for the old and the bold!

Hard drive

There are megabytes of your HD being wasted by drivel, dead files and cached items. The following strategies will free up many megabytes with ease:

  • Windows XP has it's own clean up tool. Make use of it. Start/All Programs/Accessories/System Tools/Disk Clean Up. Run it Monthly.
  • Internet Explorer Cache. Having a temporary internet cache in the hundreds of megabytes clogs you HD and actually slows web browsing while your PC searches thousands of files. Reduce the cache size by selecting the Tools Menu/Internet Options/General Tab/ Temporary Internet Files/Settings. Reduce the Amount of Disk space to 10MB. You will recover the space next time you reboot.
  • Remove Redundant Prefetch entries. Windows XP tries to guess what you use and lines it up when required for quicker loading times. If you install & remove programs on a regular basis some redundant entries remain. Use Windows Explorer and navigate to Windows/Prefetch. Delete entries for programs you have removed or hardly ever use.
  • Ditch fonts. If you have 23 fonts that look just like Times New Roman, delete them. No point loading something that never gets used.
  • Disable Hibernate. Hibernate might be useful for Laptop owners, but serves little purpose on a desktop PC. It can swallow up to half a Gigabyte in use. Start/Control Panel/Power Options/Hibernate Tab. Uncheck Hibernate.
  • Reduce System Restore size. Reduce the size of the Restore cache to save megabytes. Start/All Programs/Accessories/System Tools/System Restore/System Restore Settings/Settings. Move the slider to the left to a sensible size, say 500MB. The more adventurous should simply turn it off, though this is not a recommended strategy under Windows XP.


Even more precious than HD space, RAM is the very life blood of your PC. Over time all sorts of rubbish loads itself regardless of whether you need it. Here are some simple ways to get it back.

  • If you are short of RAM, say 128MB or less, don't have long samples in your desktop theme. The most common culprits are Start & Exit sounds, which tend to be far too long on downloaded themes. They are stored in RAM and actually delay Start Up & Shut Down. Control Panel/Sound & Audio Devices select Start & Exit and chose None in the drop down box.
  • CTFMon. If you don't use handwriting or speech recognition software turn off CTFMon. Control Panel/Regional & Language Options/Languages/Details/Advanced/System Config and check "Turn off advanced Language Services".
  • Deactivate services that you are not using. Start/Run enter "services.msc". It very usefully list services and a short description of each. Right click on the service, properties, select Disable. Obvious candidates for disabling are those which support hardware you don't have or features you don't use - for example:
    • Error Reporting Service (MS knows it's broke already ;0)
    • Fast User Switching Compatibility - If you are the only PC user, then ditch it.
    • Network DDE & Network DDE DSDM - No network or broadband using Ethernet, kill.
    • Portable Media Serial Number - If you don't have an iPod or MP3 Player, wave it goodbye.
    • QoS RSVP - Don't want Windows stealing a 1/4 of your bandwidth for nothing.
    • Smart Card - Don't have something that uses smart cards...TTFN.
    • Uninterruptible Power Supply - Haven't got one, turn it off.
    • Wireless Zero Configuration - No WiFI - disable.

Other candidates include cheeky bits of software you have installed over time. Easy to spot as they normally have no "Description". If you have binned the application, disable the service. Once again, should things go a little pear shape, you can turn the offending service back on.


There are several ways to speed thing up in Windows itself. It has some facilities that do more harm than good under normal user working conditions.

  • Indexing is supposed to speed up searches. Unless you spend half your day searching your HD you actually end up with slower disk access while the OS busies itself writing the index. Turn it off by right clicking you HD icon, in Windows Explorer select Properties and unchecking 'Allow Indexing Service..."
  • Tray Bar. Those cute little icons in the Tray Bar are tiny icons representing the application that is sat in the background eating resources. Lots of programs have little launcher apps here that supposedly speed thing along. All well and good if you uses them eight times a day, pointless if you fire them up once a week or less often. Start/Run "Msconfig" Sevices Tab. The filenames and directory names give you the identity of most items here. Uncheck anything you recognize and don't use that often. Obvious candidates are things like QuickTime, Real One Player, Power Profile management (unless you are using a laptop) scanner software and web updaters. Leave your virus check & firewall software on though! If something you use doesn't play afterwards go back in & turn it on.

These relatively straight forward changes will provide more free disk space, RAM and performance for little effort.



Lex van der Horst

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