How to make Windows XP last for the next seven years

Vista, schmista. Follow our tips for keeping your XP setup humming happily for a long, long time

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Get other Vista goodies

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Vista includes a lot of other goodies as well, and you can get most of them for free or via shareware. Desktop search

Vista's built-in search is vastly improved over XP's and may well be the operating system's biggest productivity booster. You can get the equivalent with any one of a number of free desktop search programs, including Google Desktop, Copernic Desktop Search or Microsoft's own Windows Desktop Search.

Network management

Vista includes plenty of networking improvements over XP, including the superb Network Map that displays every object on a network and provides detailed information about it. You can't get the exact equivalent of this in XP, but you can come close with free Network Magic from Pure Networks Inc.

It includes a Vista-like network map, as well as plenty of other extras, such as wizards that walk you through the process of adding network devices and fixing broken network connections. In fact, in some ways, it goes beyond what Vista does, including creating reports of your network activity and testing bandwidth. There are also for-pay versions of the software, but you don't really need them, unless you want advanced features such as remote access to your network's files.

Network Magic
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Get a network map and more with Network Magic. (Click for larger view.)

Start-up screens

Finally, if for some bizarre reason you're a big fan of the Windows Vista boot and log-on screens, you can mimic them in XP with some free tools from Stardock. First, download Logon Studio, which lets you customize your log-on screen. Once you do that, you can apply a Vista-like log-on screen called Vista Reaction. To mimic Vista's boot screen, get BootSkin and use the Real Vista boot screen.

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Tweak XP settings for faster performance

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Although there are good reasons to switch to Windows Vista, faster performance isn't one of them. Vista adds several new features designed to improve its speed, but they are mainly intended to buy back the performance lost by Vista's increased resource hunger. A few simple tweaks to an existing XP setup can make it fly.

 
Performance Options dialog box
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Limit XP's visual effects for a speed boost.

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Lose the eye candy. All the animations and visual effects that XP uses can sap performance, particularly on low-end systems. Yes, we know we just told you ways to add more eye candy to XP, but users' tastes vary -- as do their machines' capabilities. If you prefer fast over frilly, you can turn off XP's eye candy to gain speed.

Go to Control Panel --> System --> Advanced tab, and in the Performance area, click the Settings button. On the Visual Effects tab, choose the Custom option, and clear as many of the check boxes as you can stand -- the more check boxes you clear, the faster your system can run. Most people won't notice much of a difference in appearance as long as these two boxes remain checked: "Smooth edges of screen fonts" and "Use visual styles on windows and buttons." Click OK twice, and you're done.

TCP Optimizer
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Tweak XP's Internet settings with TCP Optimizer. (Click for larger view.)
 

Optimize your Internet connection. A computer without a fast Internet connection isn't much of a computer nowadays. Vista automatically tunes the Internet connection for best performance, but you can get performance that is nearly as fast on XP by using a connection tuning tool. The TCP Optimizer tool from SpeedGuide.net is free and easy to use.

Just choose Optimal Settings near the bottom of the main screen, select the rated speed of your Internet connection using the slider bar, click Apply changes, click OK, and then reboot your computer. If the tuning causes any problems, you can restore the previous settings from the backups that TCP Optimizer keeps each time you make changes.

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