Two Qs about speedin' up my wife's computer.

So, my wife has a four-year old laptop running Win XP at. . . I’m scratchin’ my head. . . I think 1.6MHz. The thing has slowed down considerably over the past few years. It seems to be slower than my garage-based four year old machine. But, I’m a guy. I work with electronics fairly often (although they’re usually discrete components hot-glued together), and am fairly technical with technical things (don’t ask, it’s technical). I suspect th’ issues at hand could be one of two things (or both):

  1. I think a few programs that have been loaded/unloaded/downloaded/opened/etc. have kind of bloated some system files–especially the registry. Now, I could go through the registry all hackin’ an’ slashin’ like I want to, but I have it on good authority (i.e. ‘common sense’) that’ll dork up the operation of the laptop. Can I reinstall Windows XP without losing use of programs on the hard drive? Will it dork up things like Office 2003, Internet Explorer, and other stuff she may have had to register? Would you advise it? Anyone ever done it before? It’s really the only way I can think to safely wipe the registry. . .

  2. The thing runs hot. And I mean, “dude get an egg for breakfast” hot. I did open it up last week to dust it out, and noticed the CPU was not making good contact with the copper cooling bar. Do they still make that heat sink putty/adhesive? Can I get it anywhere, and is it expensive? Where would I look for it in a local brick-and-mortar? I have a suspicion the heat on the CPU may be slowing the machine down. . . any thoughts?

I started looking for similar threads in the past, but if someone knows of some (I didn’t find much), please, let me know. Hell hath no fury like a wife that thinks I screwed up her machine by “msconfig-in’” out crap that she wasn’t using, an’ I’m gettin’ the evil eye here. I’ll take any advice. Hurry. Please.


  1. Try CCleaner first.

  2. Yes.

XP can slow down dramatically over time due to registry clutter and busted binaries. Re-installing windows in place without formatting gains you nothing re speed. The point of a re-install for speed is to do a fresh install onto a formatted (wiped) disk.

You need to save the existing data and make sure you have all the programs (Office Suite etc. that your wife uses for productivity. It’s fairly straightforward.

If you really want to be careful just get a new 300 to 500 gig (assume IDE) hard disk for $ 50- $80 or so and do the new install on that. If it mungs up you still have the original old drive you simply can plug back in.

Get a desk fan and point it at that area on a good speed and see if it speeds up. If it doesnt, heat probably isnt your main issue. If it does it is.

The thermal paste used to improve heat conduction can dry out over the years. Any electronics store should sell it, dont get fooled by all that Arctic crap, any thermal paste will do the job, costs about a dollar, just got there and ask for thermal paste for your CPU. Ebay is another option. Only a very thin coating is needed. If the copper bar isnt making good contact though, paste wont really fix that, it should be fairly flush in the first place.

Does it have anti virus or the like installed? Another possible cause of slowdowns in XP machines is malware etc.


Was there dust on the fan or anything like that? My laptop was running super hot and slowing down, so I called a tech to come, crack it open, and dust it off. We had a warranty, so he actually replaced the motherboard, heat sink, and fans… but they really just needed cleaning. I installed some new RAM at the same time since it was cheap, and now it’s running good as new.

Also, I’m not sure if it’s the same in XP, but in Vista you can run MsConfig and disable a lot of unnecessary services and startup items.

Thirdly, if you have an old version of Norton, I’d either disable it or upgrade to the newest version. Old versions suck hardcore… take up a shit-ton of system resources.

Fourth, make sure you don’t have any programs that are legit but also contain tons of bloatware, spyware, etc… RealPlayer is the main culprit here.

Lastly, CCleaner is never a bad idea.

Interesting–we’d run CCleaner several times before. Still same result. . . the thing takes seven or eight minutes to boot and settle down.

Did that, but man alive, there’s so much in Windows anymore I’m not sure what’s legit and what isn’t. . .

I didn’t realize Norton was that bad. Once it bloats up though, is there any way to delete the crap, or is uninstalling it about the only way to go?

I’m going to look for the heat sink goop. Couldn’t hurt, I figure. The fan was full of dust and hair, and I end up blowing it out with an air compressor regularly.

But yeah, “bloat” sucks.

If you have no way of measuring temperatures, Google for and install SPEEDFAN. then report back here with the CPU and GPU temps after 20 or 30 minutes’ use. If they are much over about 60c, there’s your problem - XP and/or the drivers are dialing back the power to stop them overheating and destroying themselves.

You can easily render a running PC non-bootable with msconfig if you turn off the wrong services, but if you stick to the startup tab and turn off things like RealPlayer and Adobe’s updater, about the worst that will happen is something will complain about it at startup.

Old or new, Norton is toxic. I’d recommend running the Norton eradication utility from Symantec, then installing Microsoft Security Essentials. Most other antivirus apps that you have to pay for are also resource hogs and probably don’t deserve to be on your computer. MSE has one of the lightest impacts of any antivirus app out there and the price is perfect - free. I’ve been using it on my XP machines for a few months and haven’t had any difficulties with it.

As for re-doing the heatskink goop - you need to wipe off all of the old stuff first - if the surfaces aren’t clean, you won’t get much improvement. Unless the original heatsink was cemented on with heat-conductive adhesive, the heatsink should fit tightly to the CPU.

If you re-install Windows, yes, re-installing applications such as Office can be a bit tedious, but a “nuke and pave” will be the best way to go. Just be sure to back up your files first. Then, plug the PC into a fast Internet connection, re-install Windows and prepare to download and install a ton of updates and service packs. Yes, there will be several reboots, but once you’re done, the computer will be running as fast as it possibly can.

If it takes 7 or 8 minutes just to boot another possibility is your hard drive is experiencing the infamous hard drive DMA reverting to PIO mode issue.

Heat should be taking a little longer.

One link here:

Do the bottom 1 2 3 4 part to see if your hard drive is set to DMA or PIO only.


When I uninstalled Zonealarm and switched to Windows Firewall my machine speeded up noticeably, so that might be a possibility.

The last super slow Laptop I worked on had a ton of social toolbars installed. I removed all the social networking stuff, malware, and unused programs running in the background to get a working laptop. Some of the web toolbars were malware that severely slowed down the system to useless. One toolbar had a home page that had in big bold text “This is not malware!”. Right, that’s why it’s almost impossible to remove, the security sites rate it as malware, and the computer went from almost locked up to usable when I removed it.

Hey… quick note on the ‘Heatsink goop’… do NOT ‘goop’ it on.
Clean off both surfaces thoroughly, apply a little, tiny dab of heatsink compound to the top of the processor, and spread it around with your finger. You want a very thin, even coat. Thin enough, that you can still read the writing on the chip mostly. It should not ooze out when you re-attach the heatsink.

Also, make sure that the heatsink is tensioned down evenly all the way around, but not overtight. I don’t know how it is mounted in that laptop, or the compression specs, so you’ll have to wing it.

Norton - the Devil. But I do run ESET AV on all of my machines, with zero noticeable slowdown. Their firewall is a pita though, so I just run the AV. Kasperski AV is my second favorite.

Nothing in the “Startup” section under msconfig is essential to the operation of Windows. Many programs will stash stuff in here but nothing actually needed to make Windows run. Shut them all off and re-activate them selectively if you really think you need them.

Edit: Norton is on there? That’s a big source of slowdowns right there. Norton’s security model is to protect your computer by making it run so slowly that you can’t do anything with it. Use anything else for better results.

Nuke and reinstall is your best bet. Take care of the heat issue if at all possible. But, if it has been getting that hot for awhile, how much damage has been done, not only to the cpu but to other components? My guess is that you are starting a battle that won’t end.

IF you can at all afford it, get a new laptop. My personal standard is that if you get 4 or 5 years out of a laptop, you got your money’s worth. Check out sales and outlet/refurb models.

You can spend weeks trying to tweak / fix / find / uninstall / reinstall stuff and still not be up to snuff … or you can just nuke it and be done.

I have never managed to completely remove Norton from a computer without doing a full reinstall of XP; it hides bits of itself all over the drive. Best advice is to start fresh and never install it.

Any local computer shop will have acceptable thermal paste. The Arctic Silver and such is good but it is overkill for what you need; even the stuff from Radio Shack will be fine for your application. You will also need some sort of solvent to remove the old goop; that is critical.

XP performance degrades over time if you install and uninstall things; it’s just the nature of the beast. Expect to reinstall it at least every couple of years … and I mean a full install, not the Repair installation – the Repair will take care of XP files but won’t help with the other things that are likely bogging the system down. If you decide to go with the full reinstall, be sure to locate the sticker with your license number before you start.

And when you are shooting compressed air at the fan to clean it, stick a pencil in the fan to prevent it from spinning too fast and harming the bearings; it also cleans better if the fan is standing still.

Your comment about heat is most astute. Laptop CPUs will slow themselves down when they get too hot. On Intel CPUs this is called Speedstep technology, and they can be a bit aggressive about it.

Before you nuke it, try to find where the bottleneck is.

I’m assuming that your PC is 1.6 GHz, not 1.6 MHz. That is very slow by modern standards. More important is the amount of memory you have, and the amount that is used. Memory requirements for Windows XP and its ancilliary application have gone up significantly. I have a freshly built XP SP3 machine which is using 446 MB out of 4 GB without anything unusual running, just the usual selection of utilities. It’s fully patched with IE 8, MSSE, Windows Defender, etc. If you’ve got less than 1 GB memory, I’d upgrade.

The next thing to check is the hard drive. If you look in the System Event Log, are there red entries with a source of ‘disk’? These can be indicative of hard drive failure. Is the hard drive full? XP tends to misbehave when drives get full. Unless the drive is or has been nearly full, don’t worry about defragmentation. It’s not that NTFS doesn’t fragment but that it’s resilient to it. A moderate amount of fragmentation has little performance impact.

And get rid of Norton.

If you want to know what services you can disable, try

Still, a reformat and reinstall will work a lot better. If it wasn’t for programs needing reinstalling, I’d be doing it every month or so.