As with everything else in the computer world, BACK IT UP! I am referring to XP restore point and backing up the registry independently. These are two of the smartest things anybody can do.
You can learn how to backup the registry and restore it here:
You can make a backup file of the registry using REGEDIT. Just enter REGEDIT into the RUN command box. Click on OK. Click on My Computer (make sure it is highlighted). On the FILE menu, choose EXPORT. Export the .Reg file. You could also burn a copy of this to CD and then have XP Recovery Console installed on your computer. You can learn how to install XP Recovery Console here:
In order to use Recovery Console, you must know the administrator password for the computer and you should familiarize yourself with the Recovery Console command set...you do not want to have a crash and then try to learn what the commands do, have a strategy first!
Learn how to use a System Restore Point to restore your computer in case of a crash:
You must have admin rights to use Safe Mode when the computer needs to be restored. You can restore the computer in Safe Mode.
I would first, if I were you, do a test run by doing the above. Ensure you have your admin password and you can use the recovery console and get into safe mode.
Now, after you have done these things, you are better prepared instead of worrying about recovering from a system failure.
There are pro's and con's out there from every person I have talked to regarding the efficacy of registry cleaners and compactors. Some IT people I have talked to advise never to use them...I think, because all IT people are inherently scared to death of a crash causing them more work or because the local hard disk is of relative unimportance to them, the only hard disks they are worried about are server hard disks.
But for home owners wanting to improve the performance, I am one of those...I find a registry cleaner to be invaluable. I actually do two things...I clean up the registry and then I compact the Hives, both seem to reduce clutter and improve performance.
No two pieces of software are perfect...by this, I mean, each piece of software works differently, finds different errors and considers different things to be a problem.
I use two main ones, each one seems to find a different set of errors to fix:
jv16 powertools by Macecraft:
Cost is a very modest $29.95 and you get not just a registry cleaner, but also a whole suite of other nifty tools. You get to run a backup of the registry before it does the clean. You get to "fix" errors rather than just delete them. One of the other tools is a hive compactor, and that makes it worth the money right there. I have used jv16 powertools for several years with satisfactory results and no crashes. What I love the most about this one is not only has the software done what it is supposed to and been stable, but the updates have been free for several years now! Magnificent purchase and well worth the initial fee.
Registry Mechanic by PC Tools
I have used this one for years as well, it does a great of finding errors and fixing them. There is an updater that updates the database of known issues. This software also has a hive compactor. It is $39.99. Version 7.X is latest. It also can be set to set a system restore point. I have a yearly minimal fee, I believe for updates, but don't remember...must be like $9.99 or something.
I have tried several other ones, and found none better than these two.
I have, in fact, tried others, some of which do nothing either to the registry or to the performance level of the O/S. So I stick with the tried and true.
I would also recommend that you use CCleaner to first clean your computer of trash and garbage...do not be quick to just click ok, check out the list of files it recommends on ridding your computer of. This is a freebee!
I would also defrag my hard disk using a FREE utility like Auslogics Disk Defrag:
I find this utility better than XP defrag and it is sort of fascinating watching it do its thing. It is similar to Norton Utilities defrag utility, but up to this point, Auslogics has created a real freebee treat.
My normal system routine is:
Clean Computer of Garbage first
Defrag Hard Disk
Run Registry Cleaner
Run Registry Compactor (hive compactor)
Make sure you have system restore points automatically set before doing anything.
I think doing the above will help you immensely, but nothing is more important that backing your system up FIRST!
Sincerely - Jim Clark