Windows XP / Getting Started

Optimizing the location of the boot files

The speed at which your files are read depends on where the files are located on your hard drive. Also, when a file is fragmented (which is when one file is scattered all over the disk), it takes more time to access that file than if all of the pieces of the files were side by side. Using tools that are available in Windows and other third-party utilities, you can defragment and place the Windows boot files on the disk where they will be accessed faster.

Windows XP has a new feature called the Prefetcher, which determines what files on the hard drive are used during the boot process and where they should be placed on the disk for optimal speed. Although this is not the only benefit that the Prefetcher provides, it makes optimizing the location of the boot files easy.

Using disk defragmenter

Windows XP includes a boot defragmenter, but it is a little tricky to get it to run. By default, it is run only in the background and cannot be started directly by a user. After your computer has been idle for some time, between 5 and 30 minutes, the system will read the Prefetcher's boot data and start the defrag. The system defrag is run in the background and is invisible to the user. Eventually, if you leave your computer on long enough, it will defragment the boot files.

Microsoft has a very talented team working for them and they even took into consideration that often your system boot changes. For example, you might install an updated device driver or add new hardware.To solve this problem, the system will re-defragment the boot files every three days.

Windows keeps track of the last time it optimized the boot file so it can calculate how often it should run the boot defrag. If you are interested in finding out when the last time the boot defrag was run, open up regedit and navigate to: "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\ Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVersion\Prefetcher" and then look for the key named "LastDisk LayoutTimeString".

An operating system that takes care of itself? Yes,Windows is getting smarter and smarter. However, there is still one problem: There is no possible way to directly initiate a boot defrag. The only way is to leave your computer on for a little while without using it at all. If you are impatient and do not want to wait, then a solution.

The system will only initiate the boot defrag when the system is idle. Typing in a command that will start the boot is not possible. However, you can tell your computer, even when it is not idle, to process the idle tasks. This will indirectly start the boot defrag. Although because the boot defrag is most likely not the only idle task waiting to be run, there will be other processes run as well, which can cause your computer to appear to be doing a lot of hard work as it completes all tasks. During this time, your computer should not be used for any intensive activities, such as playing games. If you try to use your computer while the idle tasks are being processed, you will notice slow performance until the tasks are completed.

Do the following to tell the system to start to process all idle tasks:

  1. Click the Start Menu and select Run and then type Rundll32.exe advapi32.dll,ProcessIdleTasks in the text box and select OK.
  2. Your computer will now begin working on the tasks.

Performing these steps will allow your system to defrag the boot files. However, because the boot defrag is done every three days, processing the idle tasks more frequently than three-day periods will do nothing to help you boot because the boot defrag will not be on your idle tasks lists all the time.

Using other shareware boot defrag programs

The built-in boot defragmenter is pretty darn good. However, there are a few things that other, third-party programs, feel they do better. And in fact, there actually are a few applications, such as Diskkeeper and O&O Defrag, that actually do more in their boot defragmentation process.

During the boot-up process, there are a lot of different things going on at once. Among others, drivers are loaded, system files are loaded, settings are read from the system registry, the builtin boot defragmenter starts to lack in support when talking about the registry files, the files table records, and other system files. Just like any other system data files, the registry files can become fragmented with their daily use. In order to cut down on hard drive seek time for the registry and other system files, which can become quite large over time and more prone to fragmentation, it needs to be defragmented. This is where the third-party applications come in.

Boot time system defrag with Diskeeper

In order to defragment system files, and other files that are normally in use, the defragmentation must be done during the early stages of the system boot. This will allow the defrag program to have full access to all files so that it can place them together on the disk. One of the programs that allows this to be done is called Diskeeper, which is developed by Executive Software. A shareware copy of Diskeeper can be found on Executive Software's Web site, located at If you have not already installed Diskeeper, please do so now before proceeding any further. Do the following to run a boot time defrag:

  1. Before you can run a boot time defrag, there needs to be continuous free space on your drive.To accomplish this, simply run a normal online defrag through the Diskeeper utility.
  2. After you have completed the online defrag, click the Action menu bar item, expand Change Your Settings and select Boot-Time Defragmentation.
  3. Once a new windows pops up, you will have the option to select the drive, as well as several other defrag options. Make sure that you check: Put all folders together on volume, Run the system CHKDSK utility, Defragment the paging file, and Defragment the MFT (Master File Table).
  4. Once you have set the correct options and made sure that you selected On Next Manual Reboot, reboot your computer when you are ready for the defrag.

Boot time defrag with O&O Defrag

Just as with Diskeeper, with O&O Defrag there is a boot-time defragmentation option. This allows the system files that are in use to be defragmented, as well as other special files such as the master file table. O&O Defrag is developed by O&O Software and uses different defragmentation algorithms than the Diskeeper program. A shareware copy of O&O Defrag can be found on O&O Software's Web site, located at Do the following to start a boot-time defrag in O&O Defrag:

  1. Launch the O&O defrag application and select Add Job from the Jobs menu bar item.
  2. Once you are in the Edit Job window, click the Volumes tab.
  3. Next, click the drive letter of the drive you wish to defragment and the drive that your boot files are located on. Most likely this is your C: drive.
  4. Select the Defragmentation Method for the Selected Volume you want to defragment. It is recommended that you select COMPLETE/Access for this defragmentation.
  5. Once you have selected the method, make sure to check the box for Activate BootTime Defragmentation and then click the Set button.
  6. Next, click the Time Plan tab and select when you would like the job to be run. You can also set up the job to be run on a weekly schedule by selecting Weekly in the Frequency drop-down box.
  7. Click the OK button and you will see the job appear under the job list window. You are now finished setting up O&O defrag and your system will be defragmented at the time you scheduled the program to execute.
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