Set up an aged XP laptop?
August 28, 2010 7:26 PM   Subscribe

How best can I set up an ancient Gateway laptop?

I managed to fix my neighbor's "totally fried" Gateway laptop from 2005 by taking it all the way apart, cleaning it thoroughly (the shit that came out of there was horrifying), wiping the drives, and reinstalling XP from the recovery disks. I imagine that the stock virus protection software is all but useless (along with most of the other bundled software).

I don't hold out too much hope for this box's longevity, but its owner's needs are pretty minimal. She just wants to be able to check email, catalog photos, and maybe do some occasional word processing.

I don't know too much about Windows (it's been a while since I did anything at all with it), so I'm really uncertain how best to 'set it up' for my neighbor. I reckon she'll need some anti-virus software, but beyond that vague inkling, I really have no idea of how best to configure/extend the life of an old XP box.

Got any recommendations for what software I can install or settings I should amend to give the box a fighting chance of working for a little bit longer?
posted by solipsophistocracy to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Microsoft Security Essentials is the most light weight and effective AV I've had in a long time.
Load up Firefox with Adblock.
Put a copy of a secure HOSTS file on there.
OpenOffice or Google Docs for word processing.
Set it up to permanently use OpenDNS to prevent phishing and other malware sites from being accessed.
posted by msbutah at 7:30 PM on August 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

well - my computer at work is a 2001-ish 1ghz tower w/128 megs of ram (IIRC. might be 256, but I don't think so). For what I use: database entry, websurfing, etc... It does the job. Not nearly as fast as I'd like... but definitely useable as long as I don't have a ton of programs open or doing heavy work. Really you shouldn't have an issue.

As for software? I'd recommend firefox 3.x... I use chrome at home and it's rendering engine is fast, but for minimal memory, firefox still is better. I know people bitch about leaks, but at work, I know from experience, that firefox is just the way to go (and trust me, I used chrome for a long time at work, before I realized it just wasn't cutting it)

I don't know what sort of word processing needs, but if it's nothing too fancy abiword is totally useable. It's open source, so just google and download. It's very nice and quick. Not a bloated word processor like Office or OpenOffice. I use Thunderbird at work - I'd recommend the older versions (2.x?) The new version has an interesting interface (tabbed, etc...), but a bit of a resource hog compared to the older branch.

For AV... I've been using Avira, but I found that it hasn't fully protected me, sadly. I saw (on the recent mefi post linkage re: malware infested Network Solutions domains) that AVG was one of the 50% that detected the malware/virus that was discovered, whereas Avira didn't. I just haven't been too keen on AVG since they've really overloaded it with shit and made it pretty resource intensive the last time I used it.

I used clamwin which is minimal resources, but I don't think it's really that good at detecting the latest threats. Just don't buy Norton or McAfee, they both SUCK!
posted by symbioid at 7:37 PM on August 28, 2010

Seconding msbutah. You may also be able to eke out a bit more performance by running MyDefrag, and making sure there aren't any extraneously starting applications with Autoruns.
posted by Phyltre at 7:57 PM on August 28, 2010

Avast! has a good, free anti-virus program for Windows (and Linux) also. It has a 30 day (IIRC) trial, but you can use a disposable email account to register it at anytime, and it provides frequent definition updates also.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 8:58 PM on August 28, 2010

I use Microsoft security essentials and it's fine.

If you want to give it a real speed boost, put in a solid state drive. Especially on an old machine with low memory. Although, that said from 2005 I'm not sure if it will work with SATA drives. Hmm.

Why not go all the way and install Linux on it? I recently helped my dad reanimate some really old machines, laptops that actually had Win 98 license key stickers on the back. Putting Linux on an old machine should speed things up. And if they mostly use web-apps it should be fine. There's almost no risk of viruses and so on, and supposedly Ubuntu has become pretty intuitive.
posted by delmoi at 10:30 PM on August 28, 2010

2005 is not an old machine, not for her purposes especially. XP is a workhorse and stable as can be, no problem there that I can see.

MS Security Essentials, mentioned upthread, is great stuff. Firefox, with AdBlock and FlashBlock; you can still use whatever flash YOU want; I love it. Opera or Chrome as a backup, for anything that doesn't render well in Firefox, for whatever reason. I didn't like Abiword, had some holes in it, but that was maybe five years ago, I'm not sure if they've continued work on that or not. Foxit reader for PDF, real fast, real light.

If that laptop doesn't have a ton of memory you'll be able to buy some very inexpensively, but probably it'll work fine with what it's got, for what it's going to be used for.
posted by dancestoblue at 11:33 PM on August 28, 2010

Best answer: Use Codestuff's "Starter" application to prevent unwanted programs and services from running automatically at startup. Use the Black Viper site's XP configuration menu to guide you in your editing of unnecessary services.

Add VLC player to the list of apps.

More speed tips for XP that work for me from here and other sites:


Indexing Services is a small little program that uses large amounts of RAM and can often make a computer endlessly loud and noisy. This system process indexes and updates lists of all the files that are on your computer. It does this so that when you do a search for something on your computer, it will search faster by scanning the index lists. If you don't search your computer often, or even if you do search often, this system service is completely unnecessary. To disable do the following:

1. Go to Start
2. Click Settings
3. Click Control Panel
4. Double-click Add/Remove Programs
5. Click the Add/Remove Window Components
6. Uncheck the Indexing services
7. Click Next


Windows XP can look sexy but displaying all the visual items can waste system resources. To optimise:

1.Go to Start
2. Click Settings
3. Click Control Panel
4. Click System
5. Click Advanced tab
6. In the Performance tab click Settings
7. Leave only the following ticked:
- Show shadows under menus
- Show shadows under mouse pointer
- Show translucent selection rectangle
- Use drop shadows for icons labels on the desktop
- Use visual styles on windows and buttons


You may have noticed that everytime you open my computer to browse folders that there is a slight delay. This is because Windows XP automatically searches for network files and printers everytime you open Windows Explorer. To fix this and to increase browsing significantly:

1. Open My Computer
2. Click on Tools menu
3. Click on Folder Options
4. Click on the View tab.
5. Uncheck the Automatically search for network folders and printers check box
6. Click Apply
7. Click Ok
8. Reboot your computer


Your desktop background consumes a fair amount of memory and can slow the loading time of your system. Removing it will improve performance.

1. Right click on Desktop and select Properties
2. Select the Desktop tab
3. In the Background window select None
4. Click Ok


System Restore can be a useful if your computer is having problems, however storing all the restore points can literally take up Gigabytes of space on your hard drive. To turn off System Restore:

Open Control Panel
Click on Performance and Maintenance
Click on System
Click on the System Restore tab
Tick 'Turn off System Restore on All Drives'
Click 'Ok'


If you have a lot of folders and subdirectories on your computer, when you access a directory XP wastes a lot of time updating the time stamp showing the last access time for that directory and for ALL sub directories. To stop XP doing this you need to edit the registry. If you are uncomfortable doing this then please do not attempt.

Go to Start and then Run and type "regedit"
Click through the file system until you get to "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\FileSystem"
Right-click in a blank area of the window on the right and select 'DWORD Value'
Create a new DWORD Value called 'NtfsDisableLastAccessUpdate'
Then Right click on the new value and select 'Modify'
Change the Value Data to '1'
Click 'OK'


Surprisingly, the beeps that your computer makes for various system sounds can slow it down, particularly at startup and shut-down. To fix this turn off the system sounds:

Open Control Panel
Click Sounds and Audio Devices
Check Place volume icon in taskbar
Click Sounds Tab
Choose "No Sounds" for the Sound Scheme
Click "No"
Click "Apply"
Click "OK"


This is one of my favourite tweaks as it makes a huge difference to how fast your machine will 'feel'. What this tweak does is remove the slight delay between clicking on a menu and XP displaying the menu.

Go to Start then Run
Type 'Regedit' then click 'Ok'
Find "HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\"
Select "MenuShowDelay"
Right click and select "Modify'
Reduce the number to around "100"
This is the delay time before a menu is opened. You can set it to "0" but it can make windows really hard to use as menus will open if you just look at them - well move your mouse over them anyway. I tend to go for anywhere between 50-150 depending on my mood


This tweak reduces the time XP waits before automatically closing any running programs when you give it the command to shutdown.

Go to Start then select Run
Type 'Regedit' and click ok
Find 'HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop\'
Select 'WaitToKillAppTimeout'
Right click and select 'Modify'
Change the value to '1000'
Click 'OK'

Now select 'HungAppTimeout'
Right click and select 'Modify'
Change the value to '1000'
Click 'OK'

Now find 'HKEY_USERS\.DEFAULT\Control Panel\Desktop'
Select 'WaitToKillAppTimeout'
Right click and select 'Modify'
Change the value to '1000'
Click 'OK'

Now find 'HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\System\CurrentControlSet\Control\'
Select 'WaitToKillServiceTimeout'
Right click and select 'Modify'
Change the value to '1000'
Click 'OK'
posted by rumbles at 11:52 PM on August 28, 2010 [10 favorites]

I just breathed new life into a 2003 laptop by throwing Xubuntu on it. If she's not tied to MS-centric programs and just needs web-browsing and a little bit of photo editing, it'll work great. Install the idiot-proof Picasa on there for managing photos and she'll be good to go.

If you do stick with windows, give her AVG and Picasa, then your choice of Google Chrome or Firefox. If she's going to be doing a lot of web browsing, with many tabs open, I'd recommend firefox, since it's a little less memory-heavy. If she's more of a single-window user, Chrome will fly even on that older hardware.
posted by chrisamiller at 5:04 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I highly recommend MS SteadyState (which is free) for any one who's not computer litterate and use it only for basic functions.
posted by WizKid at 10:46 AM on August 29, 2010

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