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5 Ways to Keep Your Windows XP Computer Humming

Tips and Tricks to Hold Off Father Time

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Windows XP has been out since 2001, but it's still the most popular Microsoft operating system (OS) in use today. Windows 7 is gaining fast, but XP still has more than 60 percent of the market, and many folks aren't ready to give up on it yet. If that's you, here are five things you can do to keep XP going strong, putting off that new Windows 7 machine as long as possible.

1. Add More RAM. RAM is memory your computer uses to run programs, and the general rule of thumb is "More is Better." Many XP computers, having been bought many years ago, will have 1GB (gigabytes) of RAM or even less (my father's computer, for example, came with 512MB (megabytes), which is barely enough to run the OS). It's very hard to get anything done these days with that amount of RAM.

The practical limit on how much RAM a Windows XP computer can use is about 3GB. Thus, if you put 4GB or more in, you're just wasting money. Adding any more than you have now (assuming you have less than 3GB) is good; getting to at least 2GB will make your computer much snappier. More information about adding RAM is available on About.com's PC Support site.

2. Upgrade to Service Pack 3. Service Packs (SPs) are rollups of fixes, enhancements and additions to a Windows OS. Often, the most important things in them are the security updates. Windows XP is at SP 3. If you're on SP 2 or (hopefully not!) SP 1 or no SP at all, go download it right now. This minute. You can download it by turning on Automatic Updates; download and install it manually; or order it on CD and install that way. I strongly recommend turning on Automatic Updates in XP.

3. Buy a New Graphics Card. If you have an XP computer, it's likely you also have a very old graphics card. This will affect your performance in a number of ways, especially if you're a gamer. Newer cards have more RAM on board, taking much of the load off your central processing unit (you've probably heard abbreviated as CPU). You can get a mid-grade card for little money nowadays, but the effect on your Internet experience, and in other ways, could be significant. A good place to start is About.com's PC Hardware/Reviews site.

4. Upgrade Your Network. This isn't directly XP-related, but it has a big indirect role. By upgrading your network from dial-up to cable broadband, for example, will result in a huge performance increase for your XP computer. If hardwired broadband isn't available, try satellite broadband from a company like HughesNet, which is available in most remote areas.

Your home network may be ready for an upgrade as well. For instance, most homes use the wireless technology known as 802.11b/g to connect computers through a router. The latest standard is 802.11n, and I've found it to be much faster than the older standards. That will speed up file-sharing and other tasks your XP network does. And, as you may have guessed, About.com has a website for that as well -- the Wireless/Networking site.

5. Download Microsoft Security Essentials. XP computers are more susceptible than Windows Vista or Windows 7 to attack. In addition, spyware and adware -- the computer equivalent of junk mail -- can build up over the years and slow your computer to crawling-through-oatmeal speeds. Microsoft has an answer for that which wasn't available when you bought your machine: Microsoft Security Essentials.

Security Essentials is a free program that guards your computer against worms and viruses, spyware and other bad stuff. It works very well, is easy to use, and highly recommended. It's been protecting my computer for months, and I wouldn't leave home (or my computer on) without it.

Eventually, you will need to get a new computer, since Microsoft will stop offering support for Windows XP, including security updates. But taking these steps will help you get the most out of the time you have left.

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