Software // Enterprise Applications
Commentary
7/25/2003
11:38 AM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
Commentary
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Langa Letter: System Setup Secrets For Windows XP

Fred's real-world, step-by-step advice for setting up a Windows XP-based PC in ways better than the defaults.

New PCs usually arrive in a generic state designed to suit the lowest common denominator among buyers. This almost always means that a new PC will be configured with safe, conservative settings designed more to minimize product returns and tech-support calls than to deliver all the performance of which the new machine is capable. It also almost always means that the system, as delivered, is unlikely to be a good fit to your own specific needs or preferences.

This is especially true when the PC arrives chock-full of preinstalled software. Instead of being a lean, clean new machine, your just-bought PC is probably burdened with all manner of built-in software complexities, none of which you specifically chose or set up yourself.

This initial complexity may create conflicts and problems from the start, problems that the new system otherwise wouldn't have. And at the very least, this initial complexity will make later troubleshooting much harder. After all, the best troubleshooting techniques involve a stepwise simplification of your system setup until the troublesome element is revealed. But if your system is highly complex from day one, you may already have too many variables at play for efficient troubleshooting.

And then there's the branding that's common to new PCs: You'll see logos (ads, really) on a new PC's desktop, system tray, boot screens--everywhere. Maybe some don't mind paying for the privilege of being a marketing target, but it bothers me: I consider it system-level spam.

So, over the years, I've developed a setup routine that ensures that any new system I get runs right from the start, stays right for as long as possible, and can be made right with a minimum of fuss if or when things go awry. My technique lets you strip away unneeded complexity and lets you get your new PC working just the way you want it to, rather than the way some marketing department thought you'd want it.

Some or all of these tips--learned the hard way from painful experience in literally hundreds and hundreds of PC setups over the years--may help you. Yes, a few of them may be overkill for normal users who don't stress their PCs the way I do (in testing software, for example), but others are universal and can help anyone.

Today's article is actually the third major iteration of this process: We originally covered "Setup Secrets" for Win9x and ME (see also "Ten Ways To Make Windows 98 Run Better" and "Ten Ways To Make Windows ME Run Better"). We then revised that original setup information in "System Setup Secrets Updated For 2001" . If you're still using Win9x or ME, those articles are still completely valid.

But with the growth of XP, it's time to focus on that operating system. Coupled with a previously published companion article, "Ten Ways To Make Windows XP Run Better" , this article will give you the full outline of the steps I take when I get a new XP-based PC or when I want to recondition an in-use XP box.

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