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Accept no limits! Tweak Windows XP for ultimate performance with the undocumented secrets and hidden gems of the experts who work with the technology every day. Three Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) professionals have teamed with well-known Windows book author Paul McFedries to reveal their best from-the-field techniques, practices, hacks, tricks, and workarounds for putting all of your PC’s muscle to work. Smart, straightforward, and uncompromisingly practical, this book is the ultimate insider’s guide to ...
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Accept no limits! Tweak Windows XP for ultimate performance with the undocumented secrets and hidden gems of the experts who work with the technology every day. Three Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) professionals have teamed with well-known Windows book author Paul McFedries to reveal their best from-the-field techniques, practices, hacks, tricks, and workarounds for putting all of your PC’s muscle to work. Smart, straightforward, and uncompromisingly practical, this book is the ultimate insider’s guide to pushing Windows XP as far as it can go!
Put professional-level practices to work for you:
Maintaining Your System in 10 Easy Steps
In this chapter, you’ll learn how to:
Computer problems, like the proverbial death and taxes, seem to be one of those constants in life. Whether it’s a hard disk biting the dust, a power failure that trashes your files, or a virus that invades your system, the issue isn’t whether something will go wrong, but rather when will it happen. Instead of waiting to deal with these difficulties after they occur (what we call pound-of-cure mode), you need to become proactive and perform maintenance on your system in advance (ounce-of-prevention mode). This will not only reduce the chances that something will go wrong, but it will also set up your system to more easily recover from any problems that do occur. This chapter shows you how various Microsoft Windows XP utilities and techniques can help you do just that. In particular, we give you a step-by-step plan for maintaining your system and checking for the first signs of problems.
Our hard disks store our programs and, most important, our precious data, so they have a special place in the computing firmament. They ought to be pampered and coddled to ensure a long and trouble-free existence, but, unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. Just consider everything that a modern hard disk has to put up with:
So what can you do about these flies in the ointment? Windows XP comes with a program called Check Disk that can check your hard disk for problems and repair them automatically. It might not be able to recover a totally trashed hard disk, but it can at least let you know when a hard disk might be heading for trouble.
Check Disk has two versions: a GUI version and a command-line version, both of which we discuss in the next two sections.
Here are the steps to follow to run the GUI version of Check Disk:
Figure 12-1 Use Check Disk to scan a hard disk partition for errors. (Image unavailable)
This setting specifies the programs that Windows XP should run at boot time when the Session Manager is loading. AUTOCHK is the automatic version of Check Disk that runs at system startup. When AUTOCHK is scheduled, you see the following the next time you restart the computer:
A disk check has been scheduled.
To skip disk checking, press any key within 10 second(s).
You can bypass the check by pressing a key before the timeout expires. Note that you can change the timeout value by creating a DWORD value named AutoChkTimeOut in the following registry key:
Set this to the number of seconds you want to use for the timeout. Another way to do this is to use the CHKNTFS /T:[time] command, where time is the number of seconds to use for the timeout. (If you exclude time, CHKNTFS returns the current timeout setting.) For example, the following command sets the timeout to 60 seconds:
Here’s the syntax for Check Disk’s command-line version:
CHKDSK [volume ;[filename]] [/F] [/V] [/R] [/X] [/I] [/C] [/L:[size]]
|volume||The drive letter (followed by a colon) or volume name.|
|filename||On FAT16 and FAT32 disks, the name of the file to check for fragmentation. Include the path if the file isn’t in the current folder.|
|/F||Tells Check Disk to automatically fix errors. This is the same as running the Check Disk GUI with the Automatically Fix File System Errors option selected.|
|/V||Runs Check Disk in verbose mode. On FAT16 and FAT32 drives, Check Disk displays the path and name of every file on the disk; on NTFS drives, it displays cleanup messages, if any.|
|/R||Tells Check Disk to scan the disk surface for bad sectors and recover data from the bad sectors, if possible. This is the same as running the Check Disk GUI with the Scan For And Attempt Recovery Of Bad Sectors option selected.|
|/X||On NTFS non-system disks that have open files, forces the volume to dismount, invalidates the open file handles, and then runs the scan (the /F switch is implied).|
|/I||On NTFS disks, tells Check Disk to check only the file system’s index entries.|
|/C||On NTFS disks, tells Check Disk to skip the checking of cycles within the folder structure. A cycle is a corruption in the file system whereby a subfolder’s parent folder is listed as the subfolder itself. (For example, a folder named C:\Data should have C:\ as its parent; if C:\Data is a cycle, then C:\Data—the same folder—is listed as the parent, instead.) This creates a kind of loop in the file system that can cause the cycled folder to "disappear." This is a rare error, so using /C to skip the cycle check can speed up the disk check.|
|/L:size||On NTFS disks, tells Check Disk to set the size of its log file to the specified number of kilobytes. The default size is 65,536, which is plenty big enough for most systems, so you should never need to change the size. Note that if you include this switch without the size parameter, CHKDSK tells you the current size of the log file.|
Hard disks with capacities measured in the tens of gigabytes are commonplace nowadays, so disk space is much less of a problem than it used to be. Still, you need to keep track of how much free space you have on your disk drives, particularly the Windows XP system drive, which usually stores the virtual memory page file.
One way to check disk free space is to view My Computer using the Details view, which includes columns for Total Size and Free Space, as shown in Figure 12-2. Alternatively, right-click the drive in Windows Explorer and then select Properties. The disk’s total capacity as well as its current used and free space appear on the General tab of the disk’s property sheet.
Figure 12-2 Display My Computer in Details view to see the total size and free space on your system’s disks. (Image unavailable)
Here’s a VBS script that displays the status and free space for each drive on your system:
Dim objFSO, colDiskDrives, objDiskDrive, strMessage
‘ Create the File System Object
Set objFSO = CreateObject("Scripting.FileSystemObject")
‘ Get the collection of disk drives
Set colDiskDrives = objFSO.Drives
‘ Run through the collection
strMessage = "Disk Drive Status Report" & vbCrLf & vbCrLf
For Each objDiskDrive in colDiskDrives
’ Add the drive letter to the message
strMessage = strMessage & "Drive: " _ & objDiskDrive.DriveLetter & vbCrLf
’ Check the drive status
If objDiskDrive.IsReady = True Then
’ If it’s ready, add the status and the free space to the message
strMessage = strMessage & "Status: Ready" & vbCrLf
strMessage = strMessage & "Free space: " & objDiskDrive.FreeSpace
strMessage = strMessage & vbCrLf & vbCrLf
’ Otherwise, just add the status to the message
strMessage = strMessage & "Status: Not Ready" & vbCrLf & vbCrLf
‘ Display the message
This script creates a FileSystemObject and then uses its Drives property to return the system’s collection of disk drives. Then a For Each...Next loop runs through the collection, gathering the drive letter, the status, and, if the disk is ready, the free space. It then displays the drive data, as shown in Figure 12-3.
Figure 12-3 The script displays the status and free space for each drive on your system. (Image unavailable)
If you find that a hard-disk partition is getting low on free space, you should delete any unneeded files and programs. Windows XP comes with a Disk Cleanup utility that enables you to remove certain types of files quickly and easily. Before discussing this utility, let’s look at a few methods you can use to perform a spring cleaning on your hard disk by hand:
Once you’ve completed these tasks, you next should run the Disk Cleanup utility, which can automatically remove several other types of files. Here’s how it works:
Figure 12-4 Disk Cleanup can automatically and safely remove certain types of files from a disk drive. (Image unavailable)
Note that the number 1 in the command is arbitrary: you can enter any number between 0 and 65535. This launches Disk Cleanup with an expanded set of file types to delete. Make your choices and click OK. What this does is save your settings to the registry; it doesn’t delete the files. To delete the files, open the command prompt and run the following command:
Note that you can also create a shortcut for this command, add it to a batch file, or schedule it with the Task Scheduler.
Windows XP comes with a utility called Disk Defragmenter that’s an essential tool for tuning your hard disk. Disk Defragmenter’s job is to rid your hard disk of file fragmentation, which occurs when a file is stored in multiple places on a partition. Defragmenting files stores them contiguously, which greatly improves hard-disk performance because Windows XP can load each file from a single location on the disk.
Before using Disk Defragmenter, you should perform a couple of housekeeping chores:
Follow these steps to use Disk Defragmenter:
Figure 12-5 Use Disk Defragmenter to eliminate file fragmentation and improve hard disk performance. (Image unavailable)
If you want to schedule a defragment or perform this chore from a batch file, you need to use the DEFRAG command-line utility. Here’s the syntax:
DEFRAG volume ;[-a] [-f] [-v]
|volume||Specifies the drive letter (followed by a colon) of the disk you want to defragment.|
|-a||Tells DEFRAG to only analyze the disk.|
|-f||Forces DEFRAG to defragment the disk, even if it doesn’t need defragmenting or if the disk has less than 15 percent free space. (DEFRAG normally requires at least that much free space because it needs an area in which to sort the files.)|
|-v||Runs DEFRAG in verbose mode, which displays both the analysis report and the defragmentation report.|
One of the biggest causes of Windows instability in the past was the tendency for some newly installed programs to simply not get along with Windows. It could be an executable file that didn’t mesh with the Windows system or a registry change that brought chaos to other programs or to Windows itself. Similarly, hardware installations often caused problems by adding faulty device drivers to the system or by corrupting the registry.
To help recover from software or hardware installations that bring down the system, Windows XP offers the System Restore feature. Its job is straightforward, yet clever: It takes periodic snapshots—called restore points or checkpoints—of your system, each of which includes the currently installed program files, registry settings, and other crucial system data. The idea is that if a program or device installation causes problems on your system, you use System Restore to revert your system to the most recent restore point before the installation.
System Restore creates restore points automatically under the following conditions:
The value is in seconds, and the default is 86400 (24 hours). If you often change your system configuration, you might prefer a shorter interval of, say, 28800 (8 hours). Note, too, that you can also adjust the RPSessionInterval value, which controls the intervals in seconds, that System Restore waits before a system checkpoint is created during each Windows XP session (the default is 0, meaning that the feature is turned off). Finally, the RPLifeInterval value determines the number of days that Windows XP maintains restore points. The default is 7776000 (90 days).
It’s also possible to create a restore point manually using the System Restore user interface. Here are the steps to follow:
The Backup program that comes with Windows XP does a fine job of making all-important backup copies of your important files. (If you’re using Windows XP Home Edition, note that you need to install Backup from the Windows XP Home Edition CD. In the VALUEADD\MSFT\NTBACKUP folder, launch the Ntbackup.msi file.) Here are the steps to follow to define and run a backup job:
The worst-case scenario for PC problems is a system crash that renders your hard disk or system files unusable. Your only recourse here is to start from scratch, either with a reformatted hard disk or a new hard disk. This usually means that you have to reinstall Windows XP and then reinstall and reconfigure all your applications. In other words, you’re looking at the better part of a day or, more likely, a few days to recover your system.
However, Windows XP comes with a utility called Automated System Recovery that, with a little advance planning on your part, can help you recover from a crash in just a few steps. What kind of advance planning is required? Just two things:
Because your system, application, and data files change regularly, to ensure a smooth recovery, you need to do both of these things regularly. Here are the steps to follow to run the Automated System Recovery Preparation Wizard:
To learn how to recover your system using Automated System Recovery, see Chapter 13, "Troubleshooting and Recovering from Problems."
Microsoft is working constantly to improve Windows XP with bug fixes, security patches, new program versions, and device driver updates. All of these new and improved components are made available online, so you should check for updates and patches often.
The main online site for Windows XP updates is the Windows Update Web site, which you load into your Web browser by selecting Start, All Programs, Windows Update. Click Scan For Updates to look for crucial new components that can make Windows XP more reliable and more secure. This process should become a regular part of your routine.
Windows XP also comes with a vastly improved automatic updating feature, which can download and install updates automatically. If you prefer to know what’s happening with your computer, it’s possible to control the automatic updating by following these steps:
Figure 12-6 Use the Automatic Updates tab to configure Windows XP’s automatic updating. (Image unavailable)
Microsoft regularly finds security vulnerabilities in components such as Microsoft Internet Explorer and Windows Media Player. Fixes for these problems are usually made available via Windows Update. However, to ensure that your computer is safe, you should download and regularly run the Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer. This tool not only scans your system for missing security patches, but it also looks for things such as weak passwords and other Windows vulnerabilities.
After you install the tool, follow these steps to use it:
In Chapter 9, "Installing and Troubleshooting Devices," you learned that digitally unsigned drivers are often the cause of system instabilities. To ensure you don’t accumulate unsigned drivers on your system (particularly if you share your computer with other users), you should regularly run the Signature Verification Tool. This program scans your entire system (or, optionally, a specific folder) for unsigned drivers. Follow these steps to run this tool:
When the verification is complete, the program displays a list of the unsigned driver files. (The results for all the scanned files are copied to the log file Sigverif.txt, which is located in the %SystemRoot% folder. In the Status column, look for files listed as "Not Signed.")
Windows XP constantly monitors your system for unusual or noteworthy occurrences. It might be a service that doesn’t start, the installation of a device, or an application error. These occurrences are called events, and Windows XP tracks them in three different event logs:
You should scroll through the Application and System event logs regularly to look for existing problems or for warnings that could portend future problems. (The Security log isn’t as important for day-to-day maintenance. You need to use it only if you suspect a security issue with your machine; for example, if you want to keep track of who logs on to the computer.) To examine these logs, you use the Event Viewer snap-in, available either via selecting Start, Run and entering Eventvwr.msc or by launching Control Panel’s Administrative Tools icon and selecting Event Viewer. Figure 12-7 shows a typical Event Viewer window. Use the tree in the left pane to select the log you want to view: Application, Security, or System.
Figure 12-7 Use the Event Viewer to monitor events generated by applications and Windows XP. (Image unavailable)
When you select a log, the right pane displays the available events, including the event’s date, time, and source, its type (Information, Warning, or Error), and other data. To see a description of an event, double-click it or select it and press Enter.
Maintenance is effective only if it’s done regularly, but there’s a fine line to be navigated here. If maintenance is performed too often, it can become a burden and interfere with more interesting tasks; if it’s performed too seldom, it becomes ineffective. So how often should you perform the maintenance steps listed in this chapter? Here are our schedule guidelines:
Remember as well that Windows XP offers a number of options for running most of these maintenance steps automatically:
Part I: Mastering Essential Insider Techniques
Chapter 1: Mastering Control Panel, Policies, and PowerToys
Chapter 2: Getting the Most Out of the Registry
Chapter 3: Programming Windows XP with Scripts
Part II: Getting the Most Out of Your Everyday Tasks
Chapter 4: Starting Up and Shutting Down
Chapter 5: Managing Logons and Users
Chapter 6: Installing and Running Programs
Chapter 7: Getting the Most Out of Files and Folders
Chapter 8: Playing, Copying, and Storing Digital Media
Chapter 9: Installing and Troubleshooting Devices
Part III: Customizing and Optimizing
Chapter 10: Customizing the Interface
Chapter 11: Optimizing Performance
Chapter 12: Maintaining Your System in 10 Easy Steps
Chapter 13: Troubleshooting and Recovering from Problems
Part IV: Mastering Internet and Networking Features
Chapter 14: Implementing Internet Security and Privacy
Chapter 15: Getting the Most Out of Internet Explorer
Chapter 16: Setting Up and Administering a Small Network
Appendix : About the Authors
Posted May 2, 2013
Posted August 10, 2003
This is a great book for people who are past the general books about XP. If you are ready for something more technical, but require clarity and understandability, this is an excellant transition. It is well organized, so stuff that is too technical can be easily passed over. Most of it is not too deep; most is immediately implementable. Another thing. The author groups similar info together, instead of smearing it throughout the book- a mark of a good editor. I easily found a number of config. ideas to implement- and they work!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.