Cleanup/Speedup guide for XP/Vista/Win7/Win8

Step Zero: System Backup

All changes to an operating system, particularly if you're inexperienced, have the potential to cause harm. Having said that I've run the following procedures on hundreds of machines without error. But there's no guarantee that you'll be as awesome as me at doing it, so it pays to be careful. So, you need to back up your system partition, either onto another hard drive or an external hard drive.

There are many methods to do so, personally I recommend using Hiren's Boot CD (download and burn image to a CD using a cd burning program which can burn images, such as Infrarecorder).

Download, burn to CD and reboot with the cd in the cd drive. Your computer should boot up the Hirem Boot CD - if it doesn't, you may need to change settings in your bios so that your CD/DVD drive is first in the boot chain. Once booted into Hirem's Boot CD, navigate the menu and look for "DriveImage XML". Use DriveImageXML to make a backup of your system partition to another hard drive. Again, if you don't know what your system partition is, you probably should be using the Simple Guide, not this one. Or, get someone else to do it for you who knows what they're doing.

With that precautionary measure out of the way, let's do it-

Step One: delete stuff

  1. Go through and back up old projects and data onto CD, DVD or external hard drive. Get rid of personal stuff that doesn't need to be on the hard drive anymore. If backing up onto DVD, (a) be careful when touching the underside of DVDrs as they can be made unusable extremely easily, (b) select a good media - either verbatim or taiyo yuden are pretty good bets, (c) backup onto two DVDs using two different brands of media - most dvd drives will have more difficulty reading at least one brand/type of media, and the chances of losing data on DVD is far, far higher than other mediums. It is cheap though.
  2. Download and run PC decrapifier. Remove any software you know you don't use. Do not remove anything you're unsure about, but remove any 'toolbar', 'anti-spyware' or 'pc speedup' types of software. If you're running a Norton, Mcafee or AVG antivirus, remove those as well (these are performance draining and will be replaced later on). If a program asks to reboot, deny it. Continue uninstalling all applications until all are finished, then reboot. If you had a Norton or AVG antivirus, after you've uninstalled them and rebooted you will need to also download and run the Norton Removal Tool or AVG Removal Tool's, respectively.
  3. Run PC decrapifier again. Some applications may be persistent, and may not have removed themselves the first time. Remove these by going into the control panel, then (XP) Add/remove programs ('Programs' under Vista/7/8), and uninstall the application from there. There may also be some applications here which did not show up in PC decrapifier. Remove these here.
  4. Staying in the Programs section of the control panel, click on 'Turn off/on Windows features'. Uninstall all the windows features you don't use, including (Vista/7/8): Indexing Service, Remote Differential Compression, Tablet PC Optional Components, Windows DFS Replication Service, Windows Fax & Scan (Do not disable if you use a modem for faxing), Windows Meeting Space (Do not disable if you use the Live Meeting Service). If internet explorer is visible, install a better and more secure browser (internet explorer is a massive target for malware) like Chrome or Firefox, then uninstall Internet Explorer.
  5. Download and run Ccleaner Slim. In particular tick the boxes for "Hotfix uninstallers" (XP) and "Old prefetch data". Also run the registry cleaner in this program.
  6. Run window's Disk Cleanup utility (programs->accessories->system tools) (Vista/7/8: Right-click the program and left-click on "Run as Administrator" in the drop-down menu that appears). Tick all boxes and then click 'Ok'. This may take a while.
  7. (Vista/Win7/Win8): Follow the instructions on the following website to clean up your WinSxS (windows update) folder: Disk Cleanup Guide.
  8. Download, unzip and run Wises Registry Cleaner. Run the registry cleaner and then clean. Also run the 'System Tuneup' section, reboot, and then finally the 'Registry Defragment' section after rebooting and reloading the program.

Step Two: Prep and check

  1. Boot into safe mode with networking.
    (XP/Vista/7): Press F8 on bootup, before the windows bootup screen and select 'Safe mode with Networking'.
    (Win8/Win10): In the searchbox, search for and run 'msconfig' (no quote-marks). Change your boot mode to 'Safe mode' with networking, then reboot.
  2. Download and install Malwarebytes - let it update itself and then run a scan. If it finds something, let it clean it, then download and copy Combofix to your c: root directory, then reboot in safe mode with command prompt only, and run combofix by typing 'c:\combofix' and pressing enter at the command prompt. This may remove more stubborn malware (safe mode with command prompt only disables most items from loading on startup, increasing the chances of successful malware removal). If this doesn't work, you need to either figure out how to get rid of it by researching the specific malware itself, or get someone else to do it for you. A system restore will not help all of the time because often malware affects the restore files too. Your computer must be malware/virus-free before you proceed, even if that means a complete reinstall of the operating system. Reboot into regular windows (Win8: run msconfig again to change boot settings).
  3. Download and run HDDScan - if you get any 'yellow exclamation mark' boxes next to any of the SMART values, look them up in the SMART value table. Depending on the value and the score, it could be time to replace that hard drive before it dies. In which case, stop doing this guide, backup your data, and either use the clone you created in step zero to push your OS onto a new drive, or get a computer technician to sort the situation out for you.
  4. Go into the windows control panel
  5. (Vista/7/8/10) Search for "UAC" in the search box. Disable UAC. Reboot computer. You will hate yourself if you do not do this.
  6. (Vista/7/8/10) Open control panel again. In left hand pane, click on 'Classic Control Panel View".
  7. If you managed to make a clone of your drive in step zero, go to System -> System Restore. Disable system restore on all drives. This will delete all past restore points.
  8. Go to System -> Advanced -> Performance -> Settings -> Advanced -> Virtual Memory -> Change -> Set minimum size to 1534 and maximum size to 4090MB. If there is more than one hard drive (not partition, hard drive) in the machine, remove the pagefile on the C: (system partition) and put it on the second hard drive.
  9. (Win8/Win10): Run msconfig again, and enable 'normal' booting.
  10. Reboot the machine, this time into normal windows mode (no F8 necessary, normal is default for XP/Vista/7).

Step Three: disable stuff

  1. (Vista/Win7) Disable windows defender - which merely doubles-up the same labour that your antivirus software does, without doing a good job. Go into control panel, search for 'defender', go to Tools -> Options -> Administrator Options, and uncheck the "Use Windows Defender" (Vista) or "Use this program" (Win7) box. Reboot.
  2. (Win8/10): 'Windows defender' in Win8/Win10 is completely different to what it is in Win7/Vista - in Win8/10, it's MSE (Microsoft Security Essentials - their antivirus agent). There's no need to disable it, and it will be disabled automatically if you install another antivirus program.
  3. Disable useless/performance-hungry windows services. You can do this by following a services guide like Black Viper's (use the "Tweaked" settings). If you want to keeps things simple, the worst offenders (main things you need to disable) are:
    (XP) Themes, Java quickstarter, Indexing service, Messenger.
    (Vista/Win7) Themes, Java quickstarter, Windows Defender, Superfetch, Readyboost.
    (Win8) Themes, Java quickstarter, Superfetch, Readyboost.
    If you're not doing mission-critical and latency-sensitive work and you have at least 3GB ram, you can probably benefit from keeping Superfetch enabled. Otherwise, disable it.
    Access settings for these by going control panel -> administrative tools -> services. Disabling themes will change the appearance of your windows, and it may not look as 'pretty', but will use less memory and CPU and cause fewer problems. (please note windows Aero, which this disables, does NOT speed up windows or reduce CPU load - that much is a myth and is refuted by all performance tests).
  4. Download and run Starter. Disable programs starting that you know aren't necessary, in particular any "quickstarter" applications ie. java quickstarter, quicktime starter, office quickstarter etc etc etc. If you're a bit more technically advanced, you can use Microsoft's Autoruns instead, which gives more comprehensive information about starting processes, programs and drivers.
  5. Disable windows sounds.
    (XP) Go to control panel -> sound and audio devices -> sounds.
    (Vista/7/8/10) Type 'sounds' in the search box.
    Change the sound scheme to 'No sounds'.
  6. Disable default screen saver.
    (XP) Go to Control Panel->Display->Screen saver tab and change screensaver to 'none'. Then click on 'monitor power' and make sure your screen turns off after 20 minutes or so. This saves on power and prevents long-term damage to the screen.
    (Vista/7/8/10) Go to Control Panel and search for 'Personalization' (without quotes). Click on the resultant icon. Click on 'screen saver' and change your screen saver to 'none'.
  7. Control panel -> system -> advanced -> performance -> settings -> Visual effects and change to "adjust for best performance". Then tick "Smooth edges of screen fonts" and hit ok.
    (XP) By default XP uses the 'Standard' algorithm for font smoothing, which is designed for use on CRT monitors. Chances are you're using a flatscreen LCD monitor (XP shows it's age here). To change to the more readable 'Cleartype' algorithm (which all later versions of windows use), go to control panel->Display->Appearance->Effects, make sure the 'Use the following method to smooth the edges of screen fonts' box is ticked, and change the algorithm to 'Cleartype'. Click 'ok' then 'ok' again.
  8. Disable automatic defragging (we'll replace this with something better):
    (XP) Download and run Tweakui (32-bit version, 64-bit version). Under 'General', untick everything including "Optimize hard drive when idle".
    (Vista/7/8/10): Go to control panel, type 'defrag' in search box, click on the option presented under Administrative tools, elevate as needed, and untick "Run on a Schedule". Open task scheduler from Control Panel. In the left pane Task Scheduler Library -> Microsoft -> Windows -> Defrag. Disable one or both of the two tasks for Defrag.

Step Four: SSD drive?

If you have an SSD drive installed on your computer, download and run SSDtweaker. Use the 'AUTO-TWEAK' setting. This runs on XP, Vista and Win 7. Also, DO NOT run the mydefrag software below in step five on your SSD drive. If you have any other drives installed which aren't SSD drives, then download and run mydefrag on them, but DO NOT install the scheduled tasks. Just run a 'Data disk monthly' on them every six months or so, followed by a 'Data disk weekly' maybe every month. If you know how to do so, you can set this up in your Automatic scheduled tasks.

Step Five: defragmentation time...

  1. Downloading and install Mydefrag. Only install the screensaver if you want to after reading step 2 below. Do install the scheduled tasks. Now, run Mydefrag and run "System Disk Monthly" on your system partition (usually "C:"). Once finished, close and run the application again, and if you have any other partitions visible ("E:", F:" etc) that aren't CD/DVD or flash drives, run "Data disk monthly" on them. Monthly defrags can take some time, so you might want to leave them to run overnight. Once the monthly defrags are finished, run the 'weekly' defrag equivalents on both sets of drives. The weekly defrag does some things which the monthly does not.
  2. If you want to enable the mydefrag screensaver, follow the instructions in step 3.6 for finding the screen saver settings, then select Mydefrag as the screen saver, adjust to run after 30 minutes, then go into the screen saver settings and change the script to 'Automatic Weekly', and the timeout period to 24 hours. Please note the screensaver will only work in Win7/Vista/Win8/Win10 if you disable UAC permanently, which is not advised unless you are very security conscious and really know what you're doing.
  3. If you are using any of the following applications - Firefox, Chrome, Epic, Iron, Opera, Palemoon, Skype, Thunderbird, Yandex, Cyberfox - download and run Speedyfox. This application defragments the profile databases for each of these applications, resulting in a much faster startup for each of them, particularly skype (please note that regular defragmenting will not affect the fragmentation of your databases).

Step Six: re-enable stuff

  1. (Win8) If you're like the majority of people and find the Windows 8 'Metro' interface a major waste of time and patience, switch back to any of the older-style start menus by installing Classic Shell. This will force Win8 to boot to the desktop interface like older versions of windows and restore the start menu. once you click on the new start menu, it will ask you which one you would like (XP/Vista/Win7-style). You're welcome.
  2. If you removed a virus scanner earlier, it's time to install one. You can either buy one (I recommend NOD32) or get a free one - either Microsoft Security Essentials, Avira free (Avira does a better job, but the free version will bug you about upgrading, whereas MSE won't) or Avast Free (better for older computers than Avira in my experience). Whatever you install, install on default settings, and let it update itself and then scan your system. For Avira, you don't need to register it (untick registration box at bottom when prompted). For Avast, you need to register it with an email address.
    If you're running Win8, you already have MSE running by default if you don't have another virus scanner installed. Confusingly, this is called 'Windows Defender' in Win8, but is completely different to what 'Windows Defender' was in previous versions of windows. Avira and NOD32 are consistently rated highly by the independent AV-comparitives and are some of the highest-scoring antivirus packages available, both in terms of performance (they don't affect computer speed much) and positive virus detection ratios.
  3. Change your power settings:
    (XP) Control panel -> power options -> power schemes and change to "Home/Office" or "Laptop" (if you have a laptop).
    (Vista/7/8/10) Control panel -> Power options - either put on 'Balanced' or your manufacturer's "recommended" option, then click on 'change plan settings' - change the setting for 'put the computer to sleep' to "1 hour" (or shorter for a laptop).
  4. At this point, if you're comfortable with backing up your system partition using the Hirem Boot CD as mentioned in the first section, you can replace the automatic process of window's 'System Restore' with the manual process of making your own backups of your system partition on a regular basis. Now, while this saves CPU and disk space, it also takes time, and you have to be competent at it. If this is what you want to do, then start by making a backup of your new 'blank slate' optimized system. Keep this as a primary backup for if things go wrong/get cluttered in future. Alternatively, you can reenable system restore, which while it isn't as good as making your own backup (and is no way NEAR as useful in the event of a crash or malware), is convenient and automatic. If you re-enable System Restore, make sure you only re-enable it for the system partition and NO OTHERS.
  5. (Vista/7/8/10) If you're security-conscious and/or uncertain, you may want to reenable UAC by going into the control panel and doing the reverse of what you did in Step 1.4. However in my opinion UAC is just annoying, and if you've gotten this far, you probably don't want it.

Step Seven: drink some tea

Or coffee, whatever, I don't mind. Just keep yourself hydrated, okay? Congratulate yourself on how awesome you are, and pat yourself on the back. If you want further tips on how to optimize your OS, see the fully-detailed additional tips page. Musicians and people running DAWs may also want to check out the tips for DAWs page, or the partitioning for DAWs page. If you're wanting some interesting freeware check out the (useful) freeware list, and if you're into securing your data against destruction or corruption, take a gander toward the data safety guide. Feel better? I know I do.

All advice given without guarantee - use your brain - if anything dies/fries/stops/explodes, see a doctor (but don't talk to me).

Back to the main page