Give XP the performance tools of Vista

Scott dunn By Scott Dunn

Windows Vista has an all-in-one window for monitoring the health of your system and tweaking its performance — but what if you use XP, not Vista?

With just a couple of downloads and a few drags and drops, you can add a Vista-like performance center to Windows XP.

Vista has a one-stop tune-up tool

Who doesn’t want a faster, healthier computer? Using diagnostic and maintenance tools can keep your system revved for maximum performance, but in many cases these tools are spread out all over your Start menu or hidden entirely.

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Vista provides a partial solution by adding a Control Panel icon that’s chock full of system utilities. To access this icon in the Vista Control Panel, click the System and Maintenance category, and then launch the Performance Information and Tools icon. The resulting window provides links to a number of system-measurement and performance-tweaking utilities that provide one-stop tune-ups.

But what of XP? Fortunately, with just a little effort, you can create your own hive of performance tools in Windows XP — and even Windows 2000. Here’s what you do.

Assemble tool shortcuts in a new folder

Start by creating a folder that will hold your performance-tool shortcuts. If you want this folder to appear as a menu on the Start menu, right-click the Start button and choose Start, Open or Start, Open All Users. Navigate to the location you want for this folder, and then right-click a blank area and click New, Folder. Enter a name and press Enter.

In this folder, you’ll add shortcuts to tools that are the same as or equivalent to the utilities found in Vista’s Performance Information and Tools window. In some cases, doing this is a simple matter of using the right-mouse button to drag icons from the Start menu, drop them into your new folder window, and choosing Create Shortcuts Here.

In other cases, it’s easier to create a shortcut from scratch. To do this, right-click a blank spot in your new folder window, and then click New, Shortcut. Enter a command line like taskmgr.exe. Click Next, enter a name for your shortcut, and click Finish.

In a few cases, you’ll need to download some freeware equivalents to provide features that aren’t found in Windows XP or 2000. For example, the freeware program Fresh Diagnose is an approximation of Vista’s system health report. (Although the product is free, you do have to register it if you want to use the program for more than 11 days.)

Table 1 shows in the left-hand column the items that are found in Vista’s Performance Information and Tools control panel. This includes those that are only found under the advanced tools link, omitting one duplicate (visual effects). The right-hand column gives you links to the equivalents that will create your new performance center.

Table 1. Simulate the Performance Information and Tools feature of Vista by creating shortcuts in XP or 2000.

Vista feature
How to duplicate it in XP and 2000
Manage startup programs
Download, install, and add a shortcut to a free tool like Windows Defender, Autoruns, or Startup Control Panel
Adjust visual effects
XP only: create a shortcut with this command line:
control.exe sysdm.cpl,@0,3
Launch the shortcut and click Settings under Performance. (Does not work in Windows 2000.)
Adjust indexing options
Download, install, and add a shortcut to a free tool like Gooogle Desktop Search or Copernic Desktop Search
Adjust power settings
Right-drag the Power Options control panel icon to your new folder and choose Create Shortcut Here.
Disk Cleanup
Right-drag the Disk Cleanup icon to your folder from the following menu: Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools. Choose Copy Here.
Event log
Create a shortcut with this command line:
Reliability and Performance Monitor
Create a shortcut with this command line:
Task Manager
Create a shortcut with this command line:
System Information
Right-drag the System Information icon to your folder from the Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools menu. Choose Copy Here.
Disk Defragmenter
Right-drag the Disk Defragmenter icon to your folder from the following menu: Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools. Choose Copy Here.
System Health Report
Download, install, and add a shortcut to a free tool like Fresh Diagnose.

If you want to go Vista one better, you can of course add other shortcuts that you think will be useful. For example, if you like to tweak Windows services — for example, turning off unneeded services to save on memory — create a shortcut to services.msc. The Web site Black Viper has extensive info to guide advanced users in this process.

That’s all there is to it! Now anytime you need to look under Windows’ hood, just open your new folder (or your new item on your Start menu, if you created one) and select the tool you need. No more hunting all over your system for just the right tool.

Bonus Vista performance tip: Microsoft has released an update for Windows Vista that addresses a number of problems. Among other things, the update promises to improve performance, such as speeding up disk input/output by as much as 15%.

The patch will be distributed through Automatic Updates later this month. But if you want the benefits sooner, you can download the update now from Microsoft. Just see Knowledge Base article 943899.

Have a tip about Windows? Readers receive a gift certificate for a book, CD, or DVD of their choice for sending tips we print. Send us your tips via the Windows Secrets contact page.

Scott Dunn is associate editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He has been a contributing editor of PC World since 1992 and currently writes for the magazine’s Here’s How section.
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