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Repairing Windows XP using the Recovery Console

March 13th, 2011 No comments


NOTE:This solution is only for solving the errors and issues given below, if the computer is not infected by spyware and viruses. The commands given below may rebuild even some heavily infected computers, but there’s no such guarantee. If you doubt that your computer is infected, remove the spyware and viruses first, before trying this procedure.

Many people turn off their computers at night, all over the world, but some people, after turning them on, the next morning, get an error screen instead of the Starting Windows XP screen. The error can be any one of the following, in addition to others:

Windows could not start because the following file is missing or corrupt:

C:\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\SYSTEM

You can attempt to repair this file by starting Windows Setup using the original Setup CD-ROM.

Select ‘R’ at the first screen to start repair.

Windows could not start because the below file is missing or corrupt:

C:\WINDOWS\System32\Ntoskrnl.exe

Windows could not start because the below file is missing or corrupt:

C:\WINDOWS\System32\HAL.dll 

NTLDR is missing.

Press any key to restart

 

Invalid boot.ini.

Press any key to restart

Now, your computer doesn't boot in the normal way, so you try booting it using the safe mode. But, you still get the same error message. If you are somewhat knowledgeable and know about the recovery console, you boot into the recovery console and try the FIXBOOT and FIXMBR commands but these too don't help. You want access to some critical data, but how do you access it when Windows won't boot even using the safe mode?

If you call a computer technician, he would most probably tell you that the only solution to these errors is to backup your data by connecting the hard disk to another computer and then reinstalling Windows from scratch. Then, installing and configuring your software programs and restoring your data back. A very cumbersome process and it can take many weeks or even months to configure all your Windows and software settings, the way they were previously. Apart from the time and trouble this would take, you also have to spend a hefty amount for his work.

So, how do you troubleshoot and repair the above errors yourself? Continue reading below.

First, boot into the Recovery Console, using the Windows XP installation CD, or if you have the Recovery Console installed on your hard disk and available as an option in the Windows boot menu, use that.

Most people would have just one Windows installation. However, if you have more than one, select the one that gives the above errors. Once you are in the Recovery Console, type the commands in sequence, given in step 7.

The BOOTCFG /Rebuild command fixes the following:

  • Windows Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL)
  • Corrupt registry hives (\WINDOWS\SYSTEM32\CONFIG\xxxxxx)
  • Invalid BOOT.INI file
  • A corrupt NTOSKRNL.EXE
  • A missing NT Loader (NTLDR)
    The repair process is harmless and may or may not apply to other types of errors and blue screens of death (BSOD), but it’s not guaranteed and xpdrivers won’t be responsible for any harm, it may cause.
  1. After ensuring that the computer BIOS is set to boot from the CD drive first, boot your computer with your Windows XP installation CD in the CD drive. If you don’t know how to set the BIOS to boot the computer from the CD, view this page.

    The following YouTube videos would also be helpful:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qKaKj6uRLSM
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLaoajhiN_k
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exU85jk9UyM

  2. After the computer boots and Windows XP Setup starts, do not select the option which says: "Press F2 to initiate the Automated System Recovery (ASR) tool." Let the Setup proceed till you see the following screen. At this screen, press the letter "R" on your keyboard, to start the Recovery Console.

    Recovery_Console_Welcome_to_Setup_Screen

  3. After pressing the letter R, the Windows XP Setup prompts you to select a valid Windows installation (this would mostly be number "1"). Select the installation number ("1" in most cases) and hit the Enter key. If you had set an administrator password during the initial Windows XP installation, type the password and then hit enter.
  4. If you don’t remember the administrator password, or don’t remember if you had set one or not, try pressing the enter key instead of typing any password. This could work in many cases. 

    But, what to do if the recovery console doesn’t accept a blank password and if you don’t remember the one you had set during installation? Click here to know more, how to recover or reset your Windows XP password with some free tools.

    Once, the Setup accepts the password, it greets you with the following screen, which tells you that the recovery console is ready to accept commands:

    Recovery_console_Admin_Login

  5. There are seven commands which you have to type one by one in sequence to repair any of the above mentioned errors. Type one command per line and hit the enter key after typing each. Remember to replace the drive letter (C: in this case), with the appropriate drive letter for your Windows installation. The commands are:
    • CD .. or CD \
    • ATTRIB –RSH C:\boot.ini
    • COPY C:\boot.ini C:\boot.bak
    • DEL C:\boot.ini
    • BOOTCFG /Rebuild
    • CHKDSK /R
    • FIXBOOT
  6. The first command, CD .. (or CD \) brings you out of the Windows directory, into the root directory, C:.

    Recovery_Console_CD..

  7. Once you’re at the C:\> prompt, you can start repairing XP. First of all, you have to change the attributes of the boot.ini file, which is hidden from normal view. BOOT.INI controls what operating systems the Windows boot process can see, how to load them, and where they’re located on your hard disk. Type the below command at the command prompt and press the enter key. to remove the system, hidden and read-only attributes of boot.ini:

    ATTRIB -RSH C:\boot.ini

  8. After removing the attributes with the above command, make a backup of boot.ini, using the ‘copy’ command. Then, delete the original boot.ini, using the ‘del’ command, as shown below.

    Recovery_Console_del_boot.ini

  9. The BOOTCFG / REBUILD is the most important of all the commands. It searches for existing Windows XP installations, rebuilds essential Windows’ components, recompiles the BOOT.INI file and corrects many common Windows’ errors.

    There are two important steps in this command:

    • You must use the /FASTDETECT as an option to the BOOTCFG command, when the command asks for an OS Load Option.
    • If you have a CPU with the Intel’s XD or AMD’s NX buffer overflow protection, you must also use /NOEXECUTE=OPTIN as an OS Load Option, as shown below. Do not put NOEXECUTE as an OS Load Option if your CPU doesn’t have the Intel’s XD or AMD’s NX buffer overflow protection.
    • For the identifier, you can type "Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition", if you have Windows XP Home Edition, for example.Recovery_Console_bootcfg_command
  10. This command checks and fixes any physical errors on the partition containing Windows XP. This is just a simple command, type it at the C:\> prompt:

    CHKDSK /R

    The command can take some time to complete, especially if there are some errors, as it has to check the whole partition. If you don’t learn or understand how to use any other Recovery Console commands, learn this one for sure. In many cases, this single command has fixed computers which wouldn’t boot into Windows. After the command finishes, move on to the last step.

    Recovery_Console_chkdsk_command Recovery_Console_chkdsk_report

  11. This is also a simple command. Just type FIXBOOT at the C:\> prompt. This command writes a new boot sector to the hard drive. Press "Y" when the command asks if you want to write a new boot sector to partition C:, and press the Enter key to confirm.

    Recovery_Console_fixboot_command

  12. The procedure is complete and you can type the command, EXIT, followed by pressing the Enter key, to reboot the computer. If you are lucky, the computer should boot into Windows XP as if nothing had happened. If you were successful in booting into Windows XP, you saved yourself a lot of headache, frustration, data loss and paying big bucks to a computer technician.

How to speed up a slow or sluggish computer?

May 12th, 2010 7 comments

My computer has become slow/sluggish. What should I do?

The following are some of the ways to improve the performance of your Windows computer:

1. Disable unneeded services

Click Start and then click Run (or Search, in Vista and 7), then type the following command and press the Enter key: services.msc

services.msc

services.msc

If you have a standalone desktop computer at home (i.e., not networked to other computers and not an office desktop), you can safely set the following services to “manual” or “disabled”, as mentioned below. Depending on whether you have a Windows service pack installed, you may or may not see all of these services listed. Ignore the ones that you don’t see in the services list.

For each of the following services, right click it and then click Properties. In the Startup drop down menu, click “manual” and then click “OK.”

Services Control Panel

Services Control Panel Applet

Disable a Service

Disable a Service

a. Set the following services to manual:

  • Fast User Switching Compatibility Service
  • Application Layer Gateway Service
  • Background Intelligent Transfer Service
  • COM+ Event System Service
  • COM+ System Application Service
  • Cryptographic Services Service
  • Distributed Link Tracking Client Service
  • Indexing Service
  • IPSEC Services Service
  • Network Location Awareness (NLA)
  • Service Portable Media Serial Number
  • Service Print Spooler Service (You may set it to automatic, if you have a printer attached and print frequently.)
  • TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper Service
  • Telephony Service
  • Terminal Services Service
  • WebClient Service

b. Set the following services to disabled:

  • Alerter Service
  • ClipBook Service
  • Distributed Transaction Coordinator Service
  • DNS Client Service
  • Error Reporting Service
  • Messenger Service
  • MS Software Shadow Copy Provider Service (Set it to manual, if you use the MS Backup utility)
  • Net Logon Service
  • NetMeeting Remote Desktop Sharing Service
  • Network DDE Service
  • Network DDE DSDM Service
  • NT LM Security Support Provider Service
  • Performance Logs and Alerts Service
  • QoS RSVP Service
  • Remote Desktop Help Session Manager Service (Set this to manual, if you use remote desktop)
  • Remote Registry Service
  • Routing and Remote Access Service
  • Server Service (If you’re on a network, don’t disable it )
  • Smart Card Service
  • Smart Card Helper Service
  • SSDP Discovery Service
  • Telnet Service
  • Upload Manager Service
  • Volume Shadow Copy Service
  • Wireless Zero Configuration Service (Don’t disable it, if using a laptop and a wireless router)

2. Free up Disk Space

Click Start and then click Run. Type cleanmgr and press the Enter key.

Start, Run, cleanmgr

Click Start > Run, then type cleanmgr

Select the Windows drive (usually C) and then click “OK“.

Select Drive to Cleanup

Select Drive to Cleanup

Select the files you don’t want, and click OK to delete them.

Disk Cleanup

Disk Cleanup

You can free up more disk space by clicking on the More Options tab.

Disk Cleanup "More Options" Tab

Disk Cleanup "More Options" Tab

You’ll have to run the cleanmgr command, once again, to go to the More Options tab. These are the three options on the More Options tab, which would free up more disk space. You should use each of these:

  • Uninstall Windows components
  • Uninstall unused or rarely used programs
  • Delete old restore points except the last one.

In addition to the above, you should delete unneeded files or move them to another partition, drive, or back them up to CD/DVD or USB flash drives. Check your My Documents folder and see how much space it takes!

3. Disable some startup items in MSConfig

Run the command msconfig and click the “startup” tab.

msconfig > Disable Startup Items

msconfig > Disable Startup Items

Uncheck any items that you don’t need at startup. Some apps run their services, which enable them to start fast (like MSOffice, Acrobat Reader, etc). Expand the heading named ‘Command‘ so that you can see what command is being executed for each startup item. To expand the Command heading, hover the cursor near the right end of the Command column. When the cursor becomes a double arrow, double click with the left mouse button to expand it.

This will help you understand which items are not needed at startup.

After clicking OK, if msconfig asks to restart, you may restart, or just click ‘Exit without restart‘, if you are doing some other work. After you reboot, msconfig will show this dialog box. Just check the “Don’t show this message …” checkbox and click on “OK“.

4. Remove some items from the Windows Startup group

Check the startup folder under Start -> All Programs. Remove any items that are not needed or not used often. They are just taking up system memory, because they are running all the time in the background. You can run these programs as and when needed.

5. Clean up your Registry

Clean up your registry regularly.  Use a free program like ccleaner. It also has an option to optimize (compress) the registry, but NT Registry Optimizer is better at compressing and optimizing the registry. You may also download and use the Emergency Recovery Utility from the NT Registry Optimizer page, for backing up your registry regularly and automatically, from the NT Optimizer page.

6. Remove unneeded/unused fonts

Remove unneeded or unused fonts from the Control Panel -> Fonts. Many software applications install their own fonts in addition to the standard Windows fonts. There are too many unused fonts sitting in the fonts folder, which never get used. Each of these fonts takes valuable system memory and Windows loads all the fonts from the \Windows\Fonts folder into the RAM, when it starts.

You can safely remove many of these fonts. When in the Fonts folder, click on the View menu and click ‘Details‘. You can double-click each font to view it, before clicking delete. If you think you might need these fonts in the future, you can move the unneeded fonts  to another folder on your hard drive instead of deleting them.

7. Enable Cleartype for LCD Monitors

If you have an LCD monitor or a laptop, click Start -> Run. Then, type the command, desk.cpl and press the Enter key. Click the Appearance tab on the Display Properties. Click Effects and check to enable the second option (select ClearType if it isn’t already selected).

Enable ClearType

Enable ClearType

You can uncheck the ‘Show shadows under menus‘ and ‘Show menu contents while dragging‘. You may also want to download the cleartype tuner from Microsoft.

8. Defrag the Windows drive

In “My Computer” or Windows Explorer,

  1. Right click Drive C (or whichever drive, Windows is installed on),
  2. Select Properties
  3. Select the Tools Tab.
  4. Click ‘Defragment Now‘.
  5. Then, click the ‘Analyze‘ button.
Defrag Analyze Results

Defrag Analyze Results

If defrag recommends that you defragment the drive, proceed with it. This would make Windows and applications load a little bit faster. You may want to run a disk error check from the same “Tools” tab, before you defrag the drive.

Check Disc

Check Disc

9. Disable short file names to speed up Windows

By default, Windows XP and Vista create 8.3 format filenames for all files. This is done to maintain compatibility with 16-bit (old DOS based) programs. These programs need the old filename format. If you don’t use any such DOS-based programs, you can safely turn this feature off. This will speed up Windows to some extent. Run this from a command prompt, by running the command – cmd from the Run box.

The command is:

fsutil behavior set disable8dot3 1

Note: Windows XP environment variables %TEMP% and %TMP% use short filenames. Some programs use these variables. If disabling short filenames causes problems, restore the short name function with the command:

fsutil behavior set disable8dot3 0 

10. Disable timestamp for last access to a file to speed up Windows

Disabling the timestamp for last access time of a file can speed up Windows too, because Windows doesn’t have to keep track of the last access time for each file. Again, run this from the command prompt:

fsutil behavior set disablelastaccess 1 

Some backup programs need to access timestamp. To restore it, use the command:

fsutil behavior set disablelastaccess 0 

11. Disable DLL caching

(NOTE: Use this only if you know how to edit the Registry)

Windows Explorer caches DLLs (Dynamic-Link Libraries) in memory for some time, even after the application using them was closed. This is a waste of memory. To stop Windows XP from always caching DLL files, create a new registry key as detailed below.

Click Start and then click Run. Type regedit and press the Enter key. In the Registry Editor, navigate to the following key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer

Create a new sub-key named ‘AlwaysUnloadDLL‘ and set the default value to ’1′.

This would disable Windows, caching the DLLs in memory. The change would happen only after you restart Windows.

12. For Windows Vista, disable superfetch

Run the following command from the Search box:

sc config Superfetch start= disabled

(The space after the = sign is intentional)

13. Disable the Windows’ built-in zip feature

It’s common to have many zipped or compressed files in today’s computer world. Windows XP and later have a built-in zip feature, which allows you to view zip files as normal folders, from within Windows Explorer. This can take quite an amount of CPU time in uncompressing the files on the fly. So, you should disable this feature and use a program like Winzip, to open zip files. Since Windows treats zip files as folders, they are also searched, when you search for a file, making the searching extremely slow.

To disable this feature, in the Run box, type the following command and hit the Enter key:

regsvr32 /u %windir%\system32\zipfldr.dll

The above command, without the ” /u ” would again enable the zip feature, if it’s disabled. A reboot is required for the changes to take effect. These commands may not work in Windows 7 or Vista. If you are new to Windows, you may like this feature, and may not want to disable it.

14. Optimize VGA settings

In Display Properties, click the settings tab and then click the ‘Advanced‘ button. Click the ‘Troubleshoot‘ tab and check that the hardware acceleration is set to full.

15. Disable Extra Visual Effects

Right click My Computer and then click Properties. Click the Advanced tab, then click “Settings” under Performance, then select the Visual Effects tab.

Disable Visual Effects

Disable Visual Effects

Uncheck all the settings except for the following:

  • Show shadows under menus
  • Show shadows under mouse pointer
  • Show translucent selection rectangle
  • Smooth edges of screen fonts
  • Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop
  • Use visual styles on windows and buttons

16. Adjust Paging File size

Adjust Paging File Size

Adjust Paging File Size

In My Computer Properties page, click the Advanced tab and under Virtual Memory, make sure that the initial size is at least 1.5 times your computer’s physical memory (RAM). For example, if your computer has 512 MB of RAM, set the initial paging file size to 768 MB. If you are confused, don’t play with the settings and let Windows manage the page file size.

For optimal performance, read Bill’s and Petri’s pages about paging file and Windows performance. You can then use Doug Knox’s page file monitor utility and set the initial page file size accordingly. If you want the best performance, you can buy 2 GB or more RAM, then set the minimum paging file size to 2 MB and maximum, to 50 MB. This can dramatically improve performance.

17. Install good AntiSpyware and Antivirus programs, then run them periodically

Install Malwarebytes’ Antimalware and SuperAntiSpyware. Both are free. Note that Malwarebytes’ Antimalware doesn’t always keep running and you can manually scan files or drives when needed. But SuperAntiSpyware keeps running in the background, scans each file whenever you or the computer accesses it, and sits in the system tray. This slows the computer down, so you should remove it from the startup by using the MSCONFIG utility and then run it manually, whenever needed.

You may also want to install a free antivirus program like AVG or Avast. Both are light on resources and free too. Never install two Antivirus programs on the same computer, although you can install two AntiSpyware programs. You can, however, keep another Antivirus bootable CD or a Virus removal tool, to use once in a while. Any Antivirus program takes away a little of your computer speed because of the on-access and background scans. It’s best to leave the on-access scan enabled.

Kaspersky is one of the best Antivirus programs and even though it is not free, they offer their Kaspersky Virus Removal Tool for free here. Here’s a Kaspersky Bootable Rescue Disk ISO image, which you can download and burn on to a CD and boot the computer from it. After booting, if an Internet connection is available, you can update it online and then scan the computer.

18. Enable DMA / UDMA in Device Manager for each drive

Enable DMA / UDMA for each Drive

Enable DMA / UDMA for each Drive

Click Start -> Run. Then, type devmgmt.msc and hit the Enter key. In Device Manager, expand the IDE ATA/ATAPI controllers. For each device under this category, double click the item and click the Advanced Settings tab. Make sure that DMA if available is selected for each device.

19. Install Microsoft Tweakui Powertoy

Download and install the Microsoft TweakUI Powertoy. It has many Windows tweaks and options that you can enable or disable with a simple mouse click. There are surely some that you’d like to use. To  know more, what it can do for you, click here.

From the Microsoft TweakUI page: “This PowerToy gives you access to system settings that are not exposed in the Windows XP default user interface, including mouse settings, Explorer settings, taskbar settings, and more.”

20. Periodically, reinstall Windows

It’s a good practice to periodically reinstall Windows. Don’t forget to backup your data files before the reinstall. If your system is infected with too many viruses or malware it may be better to format the hard drive and then reinstall Windows.

Here are some Youtube videos about installing Windows:

For installing/reinstalling Windows XP:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P_932T4FAAY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSJTgvet9QY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n0cop_am1WM

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wf2Ffm33DhA

For installing/reinstalling Windows Vista:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VeBjxHm19pk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puY4vRhAKYo

It can be quite time consuming and a big hassle backing up your data, re-installing Windows, then re-installing the proper drivers and software programs and then restoring the data. You can use a professional disk imaging program like Acronis True Image or Norton‘s Ghost to  “image” your already installed and working copy of Windows, along with drivers and software programs.

These programs are very nice, but not free. However, here’s a link to a similar free disk imaging program from Easeus. Using these programs takes 10 minutes or less to restore the whole Windows partition, with everything installed. There are a dozen such freeware programs listed and detailed here.

21. Upgrade the RAM

The more the amount of RAM, the more the number of simultaneous applications you can run. Nowadays, 1 GB and 2 GB RAM is pretty common.

Here is a youtube video on how to properly install the RAM, if you want to upgrade or add more RAM.

Click here to search for RAM prices.