Changing Windows XP Virtual Memory Settings

Everyone wants to get the best performance out of their system, so the Performance section of the Advanced tab is a must-visit. Clicking the Settings button in this section and then clicking the Advanced tab displays the window. From here, you can configure processor scheduling and memory usage settings, as well as access the configuration of virtual memory. XP’s default settings are generally fine for a system being used primarily as a desktop, but you will want to make changes if your system is primarily being used as a server.

If your PC is primarily been used for server-based functions, select the Background services option in the Processor scheduling section, and System cache in the Memory usage section – both will optimize your system to better respond to network requests. However, this is at the cost of desktop responsiveness, so be sure to think carefully before making any changes. The good news is that switching back is as simple as returning this values to their original settings.

Along with the ability to optimize processor and memory usage on your XP system, this tab also provides access to virtual memory settings when you press the Change button. Virtual memory on an XP system is an area of disk space dedicated to acting as an extension to RAM, effectively allowing your system to use more RAM than you have installed. By default, XP will allocate 1.5 times the amount of RAM you have installed for this purpose, but you can tweak and tune these settings according to your preferences. For example, XP will place the file (known as a paging file – pagefile.sys) used to act as virtual memory in the root of drive C by default. While this is fine, drive C is generally the busiest drive on your system, so moving virtual memory to a different partition is a good idea. Better still, move the paging file to a second disk if you have one installed; you’ll notice an improvement in performance almost immediately.

To moving your paging file, simply click on the disk where it currently exists, and then select the No paging file option. Then, click on the disk that you want the paging file moved to, and select System managed size (or define the minimum and maximum file sizes manually). After a reboot, the paging file will have been removed from drive C, with a new version located on the drive you specified – simple stuff.

Changing Your Computer Name with Windows XP

As its name suggests, the Computer Name tab of the System applet allows you to change the name of your PC, an important consideration if you’re connected to a network. Every PC on a Microsoft network much have a unique name, and sometimes the name given to a PC by default (for example by an OEM manufacturer) is neither intuitive nor reasonable. In such cases, use the Change button to change the name of your PC to something more desirable.

Other configurable settings from this tab include the ability to add a description for your system that will be visible when users browse the network via My Network Places, as well as join a domain or workgroup. Configuring a description is always a good idea, since it allows you to inform users of the purpose of a system; a description of “file server for all users”, for example, might help users to distinguish a specific system with that role from another with a similar name. The ability to switch between a domain and workgroup is largely a function of whether your system exists in a corporate environment. Most home and small office users will go with the workgroup option, since this does not require a Windows server system configured as a domain controller – a requirement to join a domain environment. However, if you do need to add an XP system to a domain, you now know where this is accomplished from.

Getting Remote Assistance with Windows XP

Besides allowing you to enable the Remote Desktop feature, the Remote tab of the System applet also allows you to specify whether Remote Assistance invitations can be sent from your PC. Remote Assistance is the XP feature that allows another user to take control of your PC from their own XP system for the purpose of troubleshooting issues or providing you with support. In the world of Remote Assistance, a “novice” requests help from an “expert” by sending them an invitation (usually via email or MSN Messenger) that allows the expert to connect to and control the novice’s PC as if sitting in front of it. This feature is a lifesaver in cases where you can’t get your system working correctly and truly need the help of another user on your network, or even a distant user who can connect to your system via the Internet.

The configurable settings for Remote Assistance are fairly basic. A checkbox enables or disables the ability to send invitations from your PC, and the settings behind the Advanced button allow you to control whether other users are allowed to connect to your PC, and how long an invitation remains valid for. Customize these settings as per your preferences, but consider disabling the ability for other users to connect if you don’t plan on using the feature – it can present a security risk if control is granted to another user mistakenly.

Windows XP Professional Remote Desktop

If you’re running Windows XP Professional and want to be able to access your desktop remotely, you’re in luck. Although the feature is not available with XP Home, XP Professional does include the ability to allow your desktop to be accessed remotely from other PCs via the Remote Desktop Connection tool. Disabled by default, Remote Desktop allows a user to interact with the desktop of an XP Professional system as if sitting in front of the XP system’s monitor. Some users choose to enable Remote Desktop for remote troubleshooting within their office (home or otherwise), while others use the feature as a way of connecting to their home system’s desktop via the Internet. Regardless of your intended use, getting Remote Access up and running does require a little configuration.

To enable Remote Desktop, access the Remote tab in the System applet and then check the Allow users to remotely connect to this computer checkbox. While this enables Remote Desktop globally, you will still need to click the Select Remote Users button and add the local user accounts that will be allowed to connect to your system via this method. If a user is not explicitly listed, they will not be able to connect to the system in this manner. Furthermore, you’ll need to ensure that all users connecting to Remote Desktop have a password assigned to their account. Users without a password cannot connect for security reasons, even if they’ve been added to the list of authorized Remote Access users.

Move Back in Time with Windows XP’s System Restore Feature

In the past, the installation of a buggy driver or poorly programmed application could lead to all sorts of system instability issues. In some cases, these issues could lead to ceaseless error messages, or worse still, a non-functioning system. Thankfully, Windows XP addresses the issues associated with making major configuration changes via a tool known as System Restore, and you guessed it – System Restore settings are configured via the System applet in Control Panel.

The basic premise of System Restore is that XP periodically saves backups of your system’s critical configuration information in a dedicated area of disk space every time you make major configuration changes. These are not full backups in the manner of backing up your data, but are still important. Essentially, every time that you attempt to make a big change (such as updating a driver, running Windows Update, or installing new software), XP will automatically create what is known as a restore point. Then, if anything fails or results in errors once you’ve made your configuration changes, you can move back in time by restoring one of these previous backups.

It is also possible to manually create your own restore points if necessary. Available from All Programs > Accessories > System Tools, the System Restore tool allows you to manually define your own restore points, or restore one that was created automatically or manually. If you’re system goes south after a configuration change, it makes a great deal of sense to boot into Safe Mode and then try to restore the most recent restore point. The good news is that doing so will not impact things like your email or documents – these are not included in a restore point, so don’t worry about losing them.

The System Restore tab in Control Panel allows you to configure settings related to the operation of System Restore. By default, System Restore will be enabled for all local drives on your system, with a percentage of available disk space allocated to storing restore points for that drive. When this space becomes full, older restore points are disabled to make way for newer ones, so keep that in mind. System Restore can be globally enabled or disabled from the main tab, or you can configure settings for an individual drive (including disabling it if necessary) by selecting the drive and clicking the Settings button. From this screen you can also configure the amount of disk space allocated to System Restore on each drive, but keep in mind that less space allocated with mean that fewer restore points can be stored.

Configuring Automatic Updates on Windows XP

As part of keeping Windows XP running smoothly, you’ll want to be sure that you install available updates regularly. As security vulnerabilities and other issues are discovered with XP, Microsoft issues updates via the Windows Update website. Although this website was the primary tool used to obtain and install updates in the past, a new feature found in the XP System applet makes downloading and installing updates easier than in any previous Windows version.

The Automatic Updates tab in the System applet allows you to configure what XP will do when it determines new updates are available from Microsoft. The default setting on this page is to download new updates automatically and then notify you when they are ready to be installed – in other words, XP will not install the updates without your consent. If you’re not happy about the fact that XP is downloading updates in the background, then select the second option on this page, namely the one that will first notify you that updates are available prior to downloading them. If you’re not a big fan of things automatic, then select the option to turn off automatic updates, which means you’ll have to download and install updates manually. When the automatic download or notification options are selected, a bubble in the System Tray will let you know. How’s that for improvement?

Configuring Driver Signing Options on Windows XP

As a method of promoting system stability, Windows XP attempts to ensure that all drivers installed on your system are digitally signed. Digitally signed drivers are driver files that Microsoft has tested with XP and has certified by adding their digital signature to them. By default, Windows XP will display a warning message every time the installation of an unsigned driver is attempted. In these cases you still have the option of choosing whether you wish to install the unsigned driver, but doing so may impact system stability, so keep that in mind.

The Driver Signing button on the System applet Hardware tab provides access to the Driver Signing window. This tool allows you to configure one of three driver signing options, namely Ignore, Warn, or Block. If the Block option is selected, XP will never allow the installation of an unsigned driver. While this may immediately seem like a good idea, it will lead to issues when attempting to install older software or hardware not designed for XP. In cases where you do need to install legacy hardware or software, the default Warn option is probably your best bet.
Try to avoid selecting the Ignore option; if selected, this setting will automatically install all unsigned drivers without you even being aware that it’s happening. Ignorance may indeed be bliss, but it’s still better to known when XP encounters an unsigned driver, if only for the purpose of troubleshooting issues that may arise later.

Configuring Hardware Profiles on Windows XP

One of the neater features available in Windows XP is the ability to different hardware profiles. By default, a Windows XP system is configured with a single, default hardware profile. This is the hardware profile used to boot XP, and loads drivers for all installed hardware, meaning that all devices are enabled by default. While this sounds desirable, there will be times when you don’t want (or need) all of your hardware to be functioning. We know it sounds crazy, so let’s take a closer look with an example.

Imagine that you’re booting your system to watch a DVD. On a very high-end system with lots of memory and superior hardware, watching a DVD probably won’t be an issue, and smooth playback will likely occur without issue. However, some systems aren’t quite so powerful, and you may experience choppiness in your playback as a result of resources being consumed by loaded drivers, applications, and services. Because you want the smoothest playback possible, you could create an alternate hardware profile called “DVD”, boot into this profile, and then configure your system such that all unnecessary hardware and services are disabled, using Device Manager and the Services MMC respectively. Then, every time you boot into this hardware profile, unnecessary drivers and services will not be loaded or started, saving you the time and effort associated with disabling hardware or stopping services manually as methods of improving performance. Furthermore, if you need to get back to your original configuration, all you need to do is reboot into the original default profile.

Many users create multiple profiles on their systems for purposes ranging from gaming to programming, and how you use your system will dictate how many hardware profiles you will create. To create new hardware profiles, open the System applet to the Hardware tab, and then click the Hardware Profiles button. This will open the Hardware Profiles window, as shown below. To create a new profile, select Profile 1 and then click Copy. Give the new profile a descriptive name, and click OK. The new profile will appear on the list of available hardware profiles. Once you reboot your system, you will now be presented with a list of available profiles, from which you can select the hardware profile to load. Once the boot process is complete, make changes to your hardware or service settings based on the specific function the profile is designed for and you’ll be good to go. If you own a system with less resources (especially RAM) than you’d like, hardware profiles are one of the best ways to squeeze better performance out of your system.

Working with Device Manager

When it comes to managing hardware on an XP system, one tool that you’ll need to be careful not to overlook is Device Manager. Device Manager is accessible by clicking the button baring its name on the System applet Hardware tad, and acts as the central facility for enabling, disabling, and managing system hardware settings.

When Device Manager is first opened, it displays a list of different categories according to device type, for example Display adapters. Clicking on the plus (+) sign next to a type of device will display all instances of that device type installed on your system. In cases where a yellow exclamation point appears over a device icon it means that the device is not functioning correctly, often the result of an incorrect driver having been installed. When a red X appears on the icon it means that the device has been specifically disabled, so it’s worth opening Device Manager for no other reason than to obtain a quick snapshot of whether your hardware is configured and functioning correctly.

At the most basic level, Device Manager can be used to selectively enable or disable individual devices. To do so, right-click on a specific hardware component and select Enable or Disable, depending on what you’re trying to do. Devices are often disabled when different hardware profiles are used, so that the drivers used by unnecessary devices are not loaded when not required. If a particular device ever appears not to be working, open Device Manager to be sure that it hasn’t been explicitly disabled as a first troubleshooting step.

Digging a little deeper, Device Manager is also the primary tool used to configure and troubleshoot existing system hardware. By right-clicking on a particular device and selective Properties, a few different tabs will appear, allowing you to configure everything from drivers to resource settings (like IRQs and I/O ports) to power management settings, although it will vary from device to device.

Of the available tabs in the properties of a device, the two most commonly accessed are the Driver and Resources tab. The Driver tab allows you to view the details of the current driver for a device, roll back to a previous driver version in case an updated driver fails or causes errors, allows you to upgrade drivers, and even allows you to uninstall a driver if necessary. The Resources tab is a little more complex, but not by much. This tab is designed to allow you to check which resources a particular hardware device is using, and make modifications if necessary. For example, you might choose to change the IRQ of an old modem to a new value, or the I/O range it uses. You should be aware that many of these settings cannot be changed, a direct result of Windows automatically assigning resources to hardware via Plug and Play. However, configuration of older hardware (such as a legacy ISA modem) will still allow you to change these settings; just be careful, as incorrect resource settings may cause conflicts.

While the Driver and Resources tabs are the two most popular, two that you shouldn’t overlook are the Power Management and Advanced tabs if either is available. The Power Management tab allows you to selectively enable or disable power management settings for a device, and when an Advanced tab is presented you can often get at additional configurable settings for a device. For example, the Advanced tab in the properties of your network adapter may allow you to manually configure it to use full- or half-duplex communication.

Regardless of your reason, exploring Device Manager is an important part of understanding your system and maintaining XP hardware. Take a little time to browse this tool, digging a little deeper into the configuration of your system – it will make troubleshooting problems that may arise much simpler in the future.

Working With XP’s Control Panel System Applet

If you’ve been running Windows XP for longer than a couple of weeks, chances are good that you’ve already had at least some interaction with Control Panel. Control Panel acts as the central system configuration hub on Windows systems, and XP is no exception to this rule. Made up of different applets that allow you to control the configuration of your system from an intuitive graphical interface, using Control Panel to make configuration changes is generally much simpler (and safer) than alternatives like editing your system’s Registry manually.

While Control Panel includes a variety of applet to handle tasks ranging from the installation of new hardware to the configuration of accessibility options, one particular applet stands out from the rest – the System applet. The System applet is the primary tool used to configure a broad range of important and performance-enhancing system settings, so if you’re not already familiar with what it’s capable of, you’ll want to get up to speed. This month we take a closer look at the Control Panel System applet, reviewing the different settings it was designed to manage, helping you to make the best configuration choices for you and your system. By the time we’re finished, you’ll be much more in tune with everything that the System applet is capable of, and be that much more familiar with the ins and outs of making configuration changes with this powerful tool. Whether you’re looking to tweak and tune or simply understand more about how your system works, this mini-series has something for you!

While many of the tools found in Control Panel are aimed at configuring a very specific hardware or environmental element in Windows XP, the System applet is definitely an exception to this rule. Configurable elements and settings found in the properties of this applet include the ability to change your computer’s name, add it to a domain or workgroup, configure a variety of hardware and driver settings, enable Remote Assistance and Remote Access, change user profile settings, configure Automatic Update parameters, and change a variety of performance options.

Because the System applet allows you to configure such a wide variety of settings, the tool can be a little more confusing than it initially appears. Some of the tab sheets within its properties include buttons allowing you to dig deeper into a particular configuration area, some with a large number of available settings. To make things easier for you, we’ve grouped the subject areas within this article according to the tab they appear on, starting with Hardware. As we make our way through each you’ll learn that there’s much more to the System applet than may initially meet the eye.