HOW TO: get Windows XP running well on the Eee PC

After all the poking and prodding which went into our review of the XP-equipped Eee PC we couldn’t resist trying a few simple optimisations. Why? Well just because okay? We’re geeks: we don’t need an excuse!

The first thing we did (after connecting a USB mouse because the too-tiny trackpad drives us crazy) was to pull the UI back from the screen-chewing default XP theme to the leaner and cleaner ‘Windows Classic’ mode. It’s less wasteful of the very limited screen real estate especially when you set the Start menu to the matching ‘Classic Start menu’ single column choose the ‘small icons’ option and prune the menu items a bit as well. It also uses slightly less resources and thus makes things a tad zippier.

Above: Tight fit — XP’s default UI was designed for much larger screens than the Eee PC’s tiny 7 inch panel…

Above: Much better — scaling everything back to the ‘Classic’ UI mode makes much more sense both in screen space and using slightly less system resources

Then we deep-sixed eye candy such as the transition effects for menus and toolbars and showing the contents of a window while it was being dragged. And we ditched the wallpaper (yes we’re a little boring that way).

Next to go was System Restore. Deactivating this not only removes one background process that’s always watching for changes to system files but it reclaims the disk space where those backup files would be stored. System Restore was set to a maximum of 456MB..

While on that space-saving kick we dove headfirst into the Recycle Bin which by default ropes off 10% of each fixed drive in your PC. In the case of the Eee PC’s 3.71GB SSD that was 380MB. We pulled it down to a more reasonable 2% or 76MB. So with just those two easy steps we’d gained 760MB which is equivalent to four episodes of Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show (one of the standard units of measuring disk capacity).

(Of course you can claw back well over 1GB by cutting XP down to size but this isn’t something you do on the Eee PC itself. You’d use a tool like nLite to create a pre-install XP image where entire Windows components and options such as languages removed and then you’d install that onto the Eee PC. nLite is a Godsend for such tasks because it also lets you tailor the image for unattended installation with all your post-install customisations as defaults. There’s a great step-by-step tutorial here at the Wiki. But if you want to go down that path you may as well buy a Linux Eee PC for $499 download the necessary XP drivers from the Asus’ Web site and roll your own XP image from an existing XP install disk).

Above: The biggest loser — nLite lets you really cut XP down to size although it requires a fresh install of your customised image

Encouraged by our earlier victories over disk space we turned our attention to system speed taking sword in hand and slashing our way through the forest of unwanted startup items. A few obvious candidates in the system tray fell where they stood but in order to root out Asus’ RealTek HD Sound Effect Manager utility – which is basically ‘ear candy’ unless you feel your OS needs audio cues with echo and karaoke effects – we had to use Windows’ handy but little-known ‘msconfig’ tool which reveals auto-start programs and background services located in the Registry. (This utility is usually buried many layers deep on your hard drive so do a search for ‘msconfig.exe’ to locate it and then drag a shortcut onto your desktop or Start menu.)

At least a third of XP’s startup services can be disabled without any ill effect on most home PCs and we pushed that well over the halfway mark on the Eee PC. We also installed Tweak-XP one of our long-time favourite tweaking tools in order to get even more granular when it came to deeply-buried and ‘secret’ Registry options.

The result? We honestly expected to shave a few seconds from the Eee PC’s boot time but gained only one second in our favour. However we shaved XP’s memory footprint by almost 20% going from 171MB down to 138MB. That’s not cause for fireworks but it all adds up – and it’s certainly better to have that little extra bit of pep in XP’s step on a device like the Eee PC.