Before you put that ancient hunk of plastic and silicon to work, you need to clean it up and lock it down. Cleaning old software off the system will help it run smoothly, and securing it will help avoid headaches caused by worms, viruses and other online nasties. Fortunately, you can do it all without spending a dime. Just follow this plan (for Windows XP and Windows 2000).
1. Clean It Up
Windows craves system memory the way Oprah craves Oreos, and when it can´t find enough, it uses your PC´s hard drive to store temporary files, filling it up and slowing everything down. So you want to wipe the system memory of programs you don´t need and clear a wide swath on your hard drive.
If you´re not sure whether to nuke a program, just leave it. You don´t want to send Windows into a tizzy by accidentally deleting a system file. Try to free up at least 20 percent of the hard drive´s original capacity. To view a pie chart showing how much free space you have, launch My Computer, right-click on the drive letter (for example, â€C:â€), and select Properties from the pop-up menu.
To clear even more real estate, run Windows XP´s Disk Cleanup Wizard (click Start, then choose All Programs>Accessories>System Tools>Disk Cleanup). If you´ve got multiple drives, you´ll be asked to choose the one you want to clean up. Put check marks next to Temporary Files, Old Setup Software, the Recycling Bin and so on, then click â€OKâ€ and â€Yesâ€ to confirm. The steps for Windows 2000 are nearly identical; you can find them on Microsoft´s Windows 2000 troubleshooting page.
Keep unwanted software from loading into memory at startup. In XP, click the Start button, select Run, type â€msconfigâ€ in the box (without the quotes), and click OK. Click the Startup tab inside the System Configuration Utility box, and remove the check marks next to any programs you don´t need. (Again, if in doubt, leave it alone. If you´ve installed a Wi-Fi adapter utility or a firewall, leave those checked.) You´ll have to reboot for the changes to take effect.
Windows 2000 doesn´t have an msconfig utility, so performing a â€clean bootâ€ may involve editing Windows´s Registry-a task for serious geeks only (see this page for more information). You can also speed up an old Win 2K system with minimal memory by following the steps laid out here.
Check your hard drive for errors. The older the system, the more likely it is that your hard drive has bad sectors and other age-related ailments that can crash Windows. To fix them in XP, right-click the drive letter in My Computer, select Properties, and click the Tools tab. Click the Check Now button for error checking, and put check marks in the boxes next to â€Automatically fix file system errorsâ€ and â€Scan for and attempt recovery of bad sectors.â€ You may have to reboot first. The steps vary only slightly for Windows 2000 (see the Windows 2000 troubleshooting page for more info).
Defrag your drive. Defragmenting your hard drive will speed things up by creating large contiguous chunks of space for Windows to do its work. As before, right-click the drive letter, select Properties and Tools, and click the Defragment Now button. Pick the drive you want to clean up, and click the Defragment button (for the skinny on how to defrag a Windows 2000 disk, see this Windows support article). This process can be painfully slow, so leave plenty of time, only do it only if you´ve got a small drive (less than 4GB) or the disk was totally packed.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.