Beginner's Maintenance Chklist, XP Home

Posted in Windows XP by Community Submission

A simple, basic checklist for the newbie ... a fun and tempting sight like could use some cautionary advice for the neophyte!

-- “First, do no harm:” ie, don’t start your computer career by trying to delete everything, modifying the heck out of your registry, or racing around to various exotic tweak and tips sites that are all too easily, abundantly, and alluringly hailable, available, and accessible over the internet. You need to learn before you can truly ‘tweak.’ ;)

1. Disk Defragmenter. - run once a week, and/or after installing a new program, or uninstalling an old one. (Avoid installing too many extraneous programs, especially 3rd party free- and share-ware off the Internet. XP doesn’t really like it, or cooperate with such an approach.)

2. Run chkdsk in run command ... I do it every day: others may settle for once a week, maybe longer.

3. Start > Left click My Computer icon> Right click Local Disc C (hard drive icon) > Properties > Tools tab >Error Checking section. Do Disk check with bad sectors check (requires reboot, as prescribed...whole process can take 20 minutes or more.) I doubt if this would hurt anyone if you ran it once a month.

4. Delete temporary internet files, from Internet Explorer > Tools > Internet Options > General tab ...oh, once every few days. (I delete mine every day.)

There may be interesting things to rescue from temp internet files before they disappear, but that’s for you to learn about later.

5. Delete cookies, from same.

6. Delete history, from same.

7. Delete *.tmp(once they are a day or two old), .gid, and .fts files occasionally. Leave .old, .bak, .log, .cnt, and .dmp files until you learn more about them. It can be a drag to lose them, only to find your system needed them to load or uninstall a particular program, do a troubleshoot of some type, or make better beginner’s use of Help files content/ index.) (oh, those tedious error pop-ups!)

…and XP is nothing, if it isn’t ‘particular!’

Note: keep ALL deletions in your recycle bin for a week or two, until you decide, in the fullness of time, that you can afford to delete them forever. (Yes, undeleted files can be recovered, but it’s a tedious process, and maybe even expensive, depending. Don’t suffer from the vantage point of hindsight, wishing you’d retained what you lost forever. It’s all too fun to delete things:  but you may need something you thought, at the time, was so dreadfully clever and wise to get rid of, immediately and for all eternity. Don’t!

(Later on, with the carefully, well-earned wisdom and experience of a true Mr. CyberClean, you can blissfully demolish unneeded files with knowledge, grace, and aplomb. Until then, however …

(see more about deleting files/ cleaning up hard drive at

8. Uncheck unneeded services in msconfig (run command) on start-up tab. Don’t mess with the other tabs in System Configuration for a good long while!

9. Run SFC /scannow (type in run command line) with OS disc once a month (takes about 20 minutes.) Restores protected files.

10. Reboot often, more or less (after running a given program, even if it doesn’t tell you to, for example. As a general rule, if you’re rebooting, say, about once every half-hour, I can hardly think that is excessive, even today, with our ‘new and improved.’)

11. Resort to power off, occasionally, for that reassuring clean sweep effect. (Start, Power off, Turn off.) Wait a half minute or so, and reboot with tower button.

12. Remove old programs you no longer use, from Start > Control Panel > Add/Remove.

You may receive a pop up that tells you that some elements may need to be manually removed. This usually means anything besides the ubiquitous dll’s littered about your hard drive/ files. Go into windows Explorer (Windows key, the one with the flag +E. Win. Explorer will pop up. Right click Program files, left click Open or Expand. Navigate to the file which may be remaining in your Program files listing with the same name as the program you just removed, and try to delete it (careful!) If Explorer won’t let you delete certain elements of the file, it will tell you. Leave the file with the undeletable dll’s and such (usually needed by other programs) right where it is in the program folder/file list. It will usually remain there harmlessly. Exit.

Much later, you may come to learn the difficult art of unneeded dll removal. Until then, leave them be, right where they are. (Abundant freeware all over the Internet exists for removing dll’s and duplicate files and such. As easy as they make themselves sound, stay away from such offerings. As with freeware reg tweakers, you really have to know what you are doing before you can make harmless, full use of them. Forebear! Decline!... for now …)

It’s always a good idea to reboot (Start > Restart) once, or maybe even twice, after deleting a program with add/remove and/or manually. Particularly is this so, if it’s a nice big 20MB size or more.

13. Make extra restore points, and resort to System restore, when necessary. Before installing a new program is a good time to make one (Windows doesn't always make them for you, I have found.)

14. Review and learn how to do a repair reinstall, should the necessity ever arise.

15. Do Windows updates, if so inclined (Some download them all, some are more selective, and some daring souls neglect them completely. Go to >Start menu >Windows update.)At least do the security updates! (read the descriptions on Microsoft site.)

*Also with regard to security: you should password your machine, or personal account (Start > Control panel > User Accounts.)  A password should usually consist of 8 to 13 units. More are possible. A password should contain an easily remembered combination of, say, two easily remembered words, interspersed with numbers between letters, according to a pattern you can recall/ remember somehow. It should have some letters capital letters (shift button) and some left in small case letters (ie., made ‘case-sensitive.’) This will deter hackers. It is said that no machine should go without a password: it is at least as essential as any other security addition, Windows update, or tweak you might make. Don’t rely on an easily misplaced scrap of paper or file card to remember your password with. Evolve a password, over time, that you can remember and live with. Change it as often as you like, or at least every few months.) 

16. Run Anti-virus scan once a week, and keep steady scan on all the time.

17. Use Windows firewall as present. Disable temporarily if necessary for downloads. 3rd party fire walls, even the free ones, are for the slightly more advanced. They can be frustrating. (Also, disable anti-virus, if necessary, to execute difficult or slow downloads. You can always save the file to disc, and scan it for viruses, before you open it. Ie, you don’t need to run anti-virus during the actual downloading, itself. Your anti-virus/script blocking or whatnot device may, if left on during download, simply interpret the newcomer as a virus or something, and pop you up all kinds of warnings about it. Run the anti-virus on the file, after you download it. If there is a problem, you can always delete the file. You should stay away from any dubious download sources, in any case.

(…and avoid secondhand floppy discs, as a general rule: they may contain viruses. If someone loans/ gives you a floppy with software on it or something, run a virus check on it, at the very least.)

18. Download and run (Lavasoft) Adaware 6, if necessary, if you play with third party software downloads off internet. ( A pleasant way also to remind you of all the ‘cookies’ and such you left sitting on your system, no doubt draining your resources and slowing the system down!)

19. Avoid deleting surplus references to deleted files and removed software in the registry. You need to be really sure you know how to do this before you can

20. Consider full system reinstall.

21. Get one or two more hard drives, and keep OS on separate hard drive.

This should prevent any dubious interaction between software (especially freeware, or any third party software) and your basic operating system (OS.)This should result in fewer needs to repair or reinstall with OS disc, etc.

Even a 2 or 3 gig second hard drive can be configured to function as virtual memory (or ‘extra’ memory, for us beginners), and improve performance. Research the internet, or consult your computer guru on this subject.

22. Check for, and download, new drivers for the stuff you know you have (ie, in device manager.) from the various manufacturer’s websites.

23. Always use Add/Remove programs in Start > Control Panel to remove unneeded software. The uninstall programs, conveniently resting in your start menu horizontal pop ups provided with downloadable freeware and such, are not necessarily good for your machine. XP is not overly fond of uninstalling software, except thru Add/Remove. (Use the right tool for the job!)

24. Consider upgrading to at least 256 RAM. (that’s the basic message I get, wherever I go.)

I currently have 384 RAM, and am looking to get at least a 512 RAM stick to install in one of the two slots in my tower.(Follow instructions about grounding yourself on the metal inside of your powered-off and disconnected computer tower! … before installing/ handling your plastic-packaged fresh RAM stick!) I look forward to be able to make more use of tweaks that fail for me, even at the +256 RAM stage (like ‘Disable paging the executive’, and such, as per tweaks listed on

25. If you want to, disable Messenger, Indexing, Automatic Updates, Remote Desktop, and the annoying Error Reporting service, if you must … but leave the rest of the System Configurations ( ie, those found by typing services.msc in the run command, and pressing OK button) alone, for now ( the engaging to the contrary.)

26. Disable hibernation (Control Panel > Power Options > hibernate tab) unless for some reason you anticipate needing it.

27. Disable audio card System Sounds, if you like (pleasant not to hear them, and pleasanter still to know they take up no extra power when turned off, especially the EXIT sound.) I do this via Media Player 9 > Tools > options card > Devices tab > speakers > properties button > Sounds and Audio Devices card > Sounds tab.

However, you may decide to retain some few of the system sounds like Battery Low warnings, critical beeps or what-not.

28. Run Disc cleanup - skip compress old files, as I don’t recommend it (others may disagree.) Disc cleanup is also a pleasant way to remind your self of all those Temp Internet Files, Temp files, and the junk still hiding in your recycle bin.

29. Download and install a second freeware media player like vlc (VideoLAN) that will play the files which Windows Media Player won’t play, like those nice high-kilobyte SVCD files you can glean from Kazaa lite, and play so easily on your vlc. (It’s so heartbreaking and pathetic to watch Media Player struggle to try to download a codec from its meager resources, when vlc, or perhaps WinAmp, will play them so much easier and quicker, without all the fuss!)

Do not bother adjusting the settings you will find inside the vlc properties card, however, unless you are advanced enough of a video technician to know EXACTLY what you are doing. Once you mess up vlc, you may find a fresh download only re-inaugurates the ‘tweaks’ to it that you messed up. I did this, in my early experience with vlc Videolan, and I ended up having to delete every reference to vlc or Videolan in my registry that I could find. Only THEN was I able to re-enter it. DON’T mess with it, once you got it!

30. Searching the Internet? Stick with Google, until you have a bloody good reason to graduate to another search engine. I’ve messed with many for 3 years, and always run back to Google.)

31. Don’t bother downloading screensavers and desktop ‘themes’ (!) off the internet. They are too risky: ask your guru for the lowdown on 3rd party software.

Most picture files or wallpapers, however, are quite innocuous. They easily substitute for your windows wallpaper, should you so desire. Save to My Pictures folder, or just click on pic “as is” on webpage, click on “Set as Background” on grey pop up/dropdown menu (call it what you like,) Then center or stretch the image in control panel > display properties > desktop.

(I have had fun downloading, saving, and selecting/installing sound waves from a couple of different Clint Eastwood screensavers, however! (I then select and delete the rest of the other screensaver material in the file.) ...however, you have to learn how to do such things: see your sounds card tab, as mentioned herein.)

Just about any number of pics of your favorite pop star (Alizee!), bathing beauty, full color Rembrandt, spacey 3D graphic, or 18th century engraving/woodcut of your favorite pre-Socratic philosopher, can be found, one way or another, on the Internet (Google > Images.)

(Currently, I am experimenting with a pink background color and no picture on my desktop. They say pink is a relaxing color. One thing one needs to do in front of the computer screen is, relax! I may center a pleasant pic on it, eventually, for completeness.)

Some tweakers, however, go without a desktop pic, and set their screensaver setting to none (right click on Desktop > Display > Screensaver > (None.)   

32. Be considerate. Get a pair of headphones, to spare your housemates and neighbors your Metallica rock sessions.

33. Delete old pics, music, and video files you don’t need. Get a DVD /CD - RW (rewritable) to avoid having all that stuff accumulate.

34. Get a good computer guru. An experienced one. Or a few experienced ones.

35. Consider saving yourself the agony of wondering if someone hacked your private info by keeping your financial and things like personal address info. off your computer. Less convenient, but you may be happier in the long run.

36. Print hard copies - off your printer - of whatever you are typing into your Word program or whatever, ASAP (as soon as possible.) This is so even though you may already be ‘saving to disc’ (ie, floppy disc in your A: drive), or as is advisable, saving to three different discs.

This saves one the agony of losing the material should your computer act up, power outages or whatever cause disconnect/freeze-ups, or some as-yet-undiscovered subatomic particle disables something. Relying just on the ‘Save’ and/ or ‘Save As’ options, or just leaning on one or more A: drive/’floppy’ disc copies, may not do the job. Printing a page each as you go, is the safest bet for a backup: modify according to your tolerance and creative powers.

Go to, and learn how to make hardware profiles. You can set one up for running a Word, or other typing program, and eliminating the need to load up any unnecessary services that might eat your RAM while typing. Study, and learn how.

Then maybe create a second hardware profile for, say, printing: turning off such services as CD burning and most internet services and such, and boot (restart) into it for printing.

Create a third for CD burning, and boot into that when you want to (assuming you have CD burner hard and software.)

Ditto with, say, a Word program orientated profile.

It’s all part of the art of keeping one program’s antics from interfering with another’s.  

37. Shared computer? You’ll still be happier resorting to keeping some hidden files within your own account/profile.

38. Acrobat reader freeware can be useful for reading off the Internet (PDF files or what-not.)  As a general rule, however, avoid third-party software, no matter how much fun it is. Removing it can be a nuisance, and is just an extra strain for XP.

Nothing wrong with an ad-free Kazaa LITE or an extra media player like vlc Videolan, or WinAmp.

I have never found a third party audio freeware that truly outdid Media Player 9, vlc, or WinAmp, however. I wouldn’t bother with those others if I were you, no matter how exotic or sophisticated they make themselves sound (grass is always greener over there, right ?) or look Actually, some of them are so gothically hideous, you’ll save yourself some misery by never having to look at them. Some are so space-age nerd looking, they make you laff: and both ‘goth’ and ‘nerd’ types take too much time, in my opinion, for the effort it takes to learn and navigate their obscure control buttons. Stick with the players mentioned above (Sonique fans to the contrary!)

Investigate and consider freeware WinMX, as a download source similar to Kazaa lite.

You may consider adding freeware ‘Nimo codec pack 5 Build 8,’ or an earlier form of Nimo’s (non-Beta: see below, with regards to the dubious ‘Beta freeware’ phenomena!) to your machine. It might make your sound and video experience better. It improved mine (altho’ I don’t use DivX very much. Some people love it.) Use Google or whatever search engine you like to hunt down a functioning download source for Nimo. (The current advanced form, Nimo Build 9, however, is for experienced users only.) Follow instructions and read all documentation to avoid adding codecs you really don’t need (like ‘bicubic resizer’ or ‘Morgan multimedia switcher,’ for example.) And uncheck the Beta codec(s) as you install Nimo, as marked. (Don’t bother adjusting or modifying them, in system properties or off the start menu. Leave them alone, unless ready for serious sound and video tricks. Just admire their listing/additons in System Properties > Device manager >audio and video codecs for several gratifying seconds, and then exit.)

Further with regard to the vexed question of third-party software: I use the popular freeware EMK Free Surfer mk II, downloadable off the Internet, and set at natural mode, for a pop up blocker/ ad stopper.

‘Spywareblaster’ freeware may also prove useful to you, in addition to your Adaware 6 spyware removal efforts.(

‘Spybot search and destroy’ freeware may also be very useful for the beginner, all depending. It is not for all newbies, however. It is bit more challenging than Adaware 6 or Spywareblaster, but catches registry changes and such (which Adaware 6 doesn’t currently address) that make their way into your machine from commercial websites, and enables you to remove them from your desktop (ie, without having you go directly  into the registry itself.)

I do not recommend registry cleaners of any type, free-, share-, trial-, or buyware: at least for the beginner.  You really need to know a heck of a lot about your computer and its delicate registry before you go tweaking any settings in there.

All a reg tweaker/ cleaner software may do for you, is cause you to have to re-enter your system. Ready for that challenge?  Don’t worry, have patience: the day will gradually dawn, when you will naturally grow into the knowledge and understanding necessary to go gleefully attacking your registry. All in good time. Better wait ‘til you are fully prepared to do such things from the vantage point of a master, rather than the uninformed enthusiasm of an amateur.

Ditto with the dangerous eraser/ wiper freeware available for free over the Internet. You can really mess things up with such things. You can, if not supremely careful, demolish one or more important files on your hard drive. Loss of data, or even the system files you need to run XP, can be problematic.  This could result in the need for a complete reinstallation of your operating system.

Beta freeware: don’t bother. There are safer forms. Beta ware is highly experimental. It can mess up your system. An experienced computer technician that I know doesn’t even bother with Beta forms of freeware any more. You really need to know a lot to play with Beta freeware: possibly a second/third hard disc to store/ modify such things on, and plenty of RAM (say, a full gig?) Just about any freeware you can download is available in non-Beta forms. Anything a Beta can do, some other freeware will do just as well. Read all the documentation first, as they say. Hunt, or some other freeware sight, for an alternative for whatever it is you want to do.

39. Don’t go relocating your music, pictures, or video files all over the place. It’s so dangerously simple to move files, once you learn how! However, it can make them alot harder to find and/or access, especially when trying to access them via the file hunter in your Media Player, or an unfinished file in Kazaa’s Shared Folder feature.

Keep it simple.

40. Try to avoid running two or more programs at once. With more ram, or perhaps an extra hard disc, you may get away with it better than low ram and a 1 gig first hard disc drive.

Freeze-ups? I usually am reckless, and resort to power off via button on computer tower. I then usually wait a minute or two for whatever computer elements to recover themselves. Then I reboot with button, then press F8 key repeatedly till I get to the page that let’s me choose ‘last know configuration’ for boot-up to desktop. If I get a frozen arrow/ cursor on my passward/sign-in page, I reboot via tower button again, F8 and last good config each time.  And maybe again. Sometimes this leads to my needing to do a repair installation anyway. There’s a better way, if your freeze-up lets you…

… wait a minute after the freeze-up, and see if things come to life. If they don’t, see if you can’t get the mouse to start button and turn off that way. Let the machine rest a bit, and restart. (the control>alt>delete keyboard method may work, but if your frozen, your frozen, and even the Task Manager card won’t pop up…or if it does, it may still prove unnavigable. Restart somehow, and use F8 >last good configuration>enter, til it works right.) There are, no doubt, other methods …

.. but if you follow all the tips here, plus any other tips, rationally chosen with discretion, you should have less problems with losing memory as you work, or whatever it may be that is causing your freeze-ups.

Avoid freeze-ups while Internet surfing by eliminating unneeded internet/web page buttons that accumulate in the task tray below, as you go(right click on button > close)

... and don’t let your computer frustrate you. It’s only a machine. Don’t let it confuse you. It is loaded with a myriad of ‘factulae’ which will simply take awhile to gracefully arrange themselves on your humanoid system disc (ie., your brain.) There is a certain ‘lead-in time\event\lag-time’ factor to all this eventual understanding. No doubt this kind of thing applies even to advanced users. One ought not to be too much discouraged by failures, or too much encouraged by successes, along the way. Take a break from your computer once in a while (remember those friends and that fresh air you once had?)

(P.S.: I regret, as I am not a gamer, that I have little to offer here in that direction. I do know, however, that you usually need to use game software that is specific to your system make and OS: any old disc won’t do, so I hear...and it helps to have plenty of ram, and a 3-D capacity video card installed for gaming.)

I hope the above serves as a suitable springboard for the beginner. I hope also that my revisions to the earlier versions, whether more on the technical or aesthetic side of computing, make it even more useful, in the long run.

The above is the result of three years experience. (I wouldn’t have bothered, had it not been for a certain English class, and hours of struggling with Word programs, and school library computers!)

For those who like to know such things, my system has 1.6 gigahertz processor, 384RAM (soon to upgrade!). 20 gig hard drive. I use Int. Explorer, and nearly all the abovementioned freeware sits on my machine (also Word, without ‘streets and tips,’ ‘encyclopedia,’ and ‘money’ installed.).

I have tried Opera freeware version, find it nice. Opera browser is said to be smaller, and less of a strain on your machine, but is a bit too complicated.) Mozilla I don’t understand: have used it very little. Netscape browser is too complicated, but it DOES offer a handy crop of search engines of variant – and reasonably described – types! In any case, I have currently discarded them all in favor of the much reviled Internet Explorer (6, in my case.) Oh well…

This revision about firms it up for what I can offer for now. Print it out, and keep it handy for reference, beginner folks (print it out on your more sophisticated school library computers, if they have the software and printer for it, and ‘allow’ you. Use the fancy software/printer you may not have at home, to make a booklet of it, if you can.) Read yourself to sleep on it for a week, and you should have it mastered and understood.

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