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Wherever possible, you should aim to leave around 10 % to 15% of your hard drive space empty. This can give your PC extra space to work during complex tasks which strain its memory. As well as emptying your recycle bin regularly, look for larger files you no longer need (such as video clips you've already viewed) by using the Windows Search facility to find any files above, for example, 20MB.
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Defragmenting your computer will tidy up the way files are physically stored on your hard drive. This means your computer can then find each file more quickly. The difference is only a tiny fraction of a second each time, but it adds up to some very noticeable savings.
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XP will run much slower if you have too many programs set to load and run automatically when you start it up. To change this, click on the Start menu and choose Run, then type in
and press Enter. In the menu which appears, change the selection from Normal Startup to Selective Startup. Then click on the tab marked Startup and remove the tick from any programs you don’t want to run automatically. Finally, click on OK to confirm it and reboot your PC to see what improvement it provides.
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Clean up the registry
The Windows XP registry is a database about all the software on your system. Over time, entries in the database tend to become out of date and incorrect, which slows down your computer as it tries to figure out the mess. While editing the registry by hand is really an experts-only task, there are several programs which can clean it up for you, though be sure to check reliable reviews first to make sure you use a good one.
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Speed up software
There are many programs which promise to make your PC run faster. Most of them simply carry out some of the tasks listed above, though this can be useful for people who aren't too confident about XP's workings, or want the process automated. However, make sure to read independent reviews from credible sources before choosing a speed-up program as the performance and value varies immensely across the market, and you might even end up with malware. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is not.
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Adding extra memory is probably the most significant change you can make to speed up Windows XP as it means your computer can run more programs at once without delays. There are several free online scanners which can tell you whether you have capacity to add extra memory. Doing so does involve opening up your machine, but is the simplest physical upgrade you can perform and is usually just a case of slotting a new memory stick into place.
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Depending on the tasks you carry out, running Linux for some of your computing activities can be much quick than XP. It's now relatively simple to run both systems on the same machine. Check out my three-part series on the logistics of doing so.
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If your system suddenly got much slower rather than declining gradually, the problem could be a specific change which you can't identify. XP's System Restore may take care of this as it allows you to return your Windows settings to the way they were at a particular point. To use this tool, you'll need to go into System Tools section, found under Accessories in the programs menu. You can then select from a list of Restore points and choose the last date before your computer slowed down. Officially this will not affect any files you have created since that point, but it is well worth backing them up to be on the safe side.
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If nothing else works, you can try starting from scratch and reinstalling Windows. This will give you a clean start and may take care of any problems causing XP to run slowly. However, it's truly a last resort as it will take some time to both install it and possibly reinstall some of your other programs. Before reinstalling Windows, you should do a complete back-up of all documents, multimedia files, and any other files and settings you can't risk losing. You should also bear in mind that your original installation of Windows may remain on your hard drive, so make sure you have enough spare space for a fresh installation.