Tuning the Windows environment – Windows XP re-install

Tuning the Windows environment – Windows XP re-install

Here is a guide to refurbish a Windows XP Laptop system; in other words, re-installing Windows from scratch. In this case, the Laptop was a Toshiba Satellite 1800-514 which has a Celeron 1 GHz processor and 384 Mb RAM (128MB + 256MB) installed and a 15Gb internal hard drive. It is a ‘legacy’ system with limited resources, indeed. However, with some tweaking, it will still perform well for common applications. After customization, the system was able to run iTunes 9, Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Office 2003 suite.

1)      Backup all data.
Make sure you are logged on with administrator privileges. Change the folder options to include hidden files and system folders.
Search the system for data files. Not all files may reside under ‘My Documents’, in particular also scan the Shared folders on the system.
An easy way to perform the backup is to use the ‘Sysback’ tool.

2)      Backup user profile specific files.
Custom desktop wallpaper files are stored in C:\Documents and Settings\<user profile>\Local Settings\Microsoft\
Custom account picture files are stored in C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Microsoft\User Account Pictures\

3)      Backup user mailboxes.
In case of Microsoft Outlook Express, it wise to follow my Microsoft Outlook Express housekeeping steps.

4)      Backup or get a copy of specific drivers for video, sound, modem and network support. In particular, keep a copy of the video drivers; download the most up to date copy from the manufacturer’s site (e.g. NVIDIA or ATI), if necessary. Check if any other specific files or settings have to be saved. Check the equipment model and version in the Device Manager (Control Panel, System, Hardware). The auto detection of some of the devices may not work for older systems, so write them down.

5)      Save your Wireless Network Connection settings, in particular, ensure you note the network name (SSID) and security key.

6)      Set the CD-ROM as first bootable drive in the BIOS and reboot the system with the Windows XP installation CD. Remove all external drives! If not, windows may install them as system drives.

7) Before starting the windows installation process, check the available partitions. Ideally, you should create a partition to install windows on (with at least 30 Gb) and a partition for the user data files (any remaining space). If the drive is too small (50 Gb or less), just use one partition. More information about partitioning is available in my ‘dedicated data partition‘ post. In this case the system has only 15 Gb, which means that you should remain with only one partition.

8) Once Windows has been installed, proceed with the custom driver installation. The first to update is the video driver. Then check the Control Panel, System, Hardware, Device Manager: for any device with a (yellow) question mark, you will need to install or update the driver. Use the files from step 4, install from the manufacturer CD (if available) or download from the internet. This step is only successful if no question marks occur in the Device Manager list. You may need to reboot the system after installation of some device drivers.

9)      Start the customization of your windows environment:
Regional and Language Options (in the Control Panel) are a minimum to verify, in particular the keyboard settings (in the Languages tab, Details) need to match the attached keyboard lay-out.
Name and Company Information can be changed in the Registry. Follow the Microsoft instructions.
Apply the items of my ‘Windows XP optimization‘ post.
In this particular case, I applied additional tweaks to improve the performance:

  1. Verification if some services can be disabled (refer to my ‘disable services’ post).
  2. Prefetch setting was set to value 1-App launch (instead of 3-Both):
    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters\EnablePrefetcher].
  3. Last Access Timestamp was disabled
    [run: FSUTIL behavior set disablelastaccess 1]
  4. DOS 8.3 filename creation was disabled
    [run: FSUTIL behavior set disable8dot3 1]
  5. Performance counters were disabled
    [HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE \SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Perflib]
    (run regedit and create DWORD ‘DisablePerformanceCounters’)
    Set the value of DisablePerformanceCounters to 1
  6. Disable ‘Automatically search for network folders and printers’ in the Control Panel, Folder Options, View tab.
  7. Process idle tasks in the background (this operation may be periodically repeated).
    (run ‘Rundll32.exe advapi32.dll,ProcessIdleTasks’)

10)   Set the Hard Drive as first bootable drive in the BIOS and reboot the system. Make sure the system is connected to the internet (a wired connection, not Wi-Fi), to allow windows updates to occur. The system may need to be rebooted upon request. In this particular case, only a Wi-Fi adaptor was available.

11)   Install all applications (respect the copyrights) and printers. This may be a good opportunity to upgrade the system with the latest version of the applications. Check on the software developer’s site if any new versions are available. In this case, Firefox 3.5.5 was installed instead of Internet Explorer 8.  Firefox performed better when I checked the performance of the browser, using the Network Tools on my ADSL page.

12)   Create a system ‘restore point’ (Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore).

13)   Restore the data from step 1, 2 and 3. Check the user privileges and access rights of the restored data (try to copy a file to an USB key, to check the file access rights).

14) Perform the five essential steps in XP Maintenance.