Windows XP - Service Life Extension Project - Part 2
February 25th, 2014
More information on how to extend the “End of life” of your Windows XP based computer "and improve the performance of your PC".
If you haven’t read part 1 of this series I suggest you do so now and then return to this page.
Hardware improvements over the years:
We will take a look at Memory and how much impact it may have on your computer’s performance, How much life is left in your hard disk drive and what your options are to replace it and possible improve performance as well and finally your CD/DVD drive, graphics card and power supplies.
Three major types: DDR, DDR2 and DDR3 Early XP based computers used DDR memory and may have had as little as 256MB installed. Later models may have included 512MB and possibly as much as 1 or 2GB of memory. Home built computers especially the newer units may have 4GB of DDR3 memory installed which is the maximum amount of ram a 32Bit operating system can access, any addition ram over and above 4GB is simply not seen by XP.
A little history:
When XP was released in 2001 256MB of memory was considered to be sufficient and 512MB was all you will ever need. Well like all forecasters they often miss the mark. 1GB (2 x 512MB) is more realistic, 2GB is better still and for maximum performance of some applications 4GB may be your best bet. Unfortunately some computers where limited to only 2 memory slots on the motherboard. 4 slots is the standard these days. With that in mind you can go to Crucial’s ‘Advisor Tool’ or the ‘System Scanning Tool’ to find out how much memory and what type of memory your PC will support. Keep in mind that for the 32Bit version of XP which almost everyone is using, 4GB of memory is the maximum amount supported, anything more is a waste of your money. Also upgrade in pairs (matching sets), don’t try to mix your original 256MB stick with a new 512MB stick, buy 2 512MB sticks (about $40.00), two 1GB stick will cost about $50.00 dollars.
If you do decide to purchase additional memory I’ll give you some installation and testing tips in part 3.
2) How much life is left in your hard disk drive?
Hard drives are mechanical devices which as mechanical devices wear out over time. The older your XP computer is and the more you use it the more wear your hard drive has sustained. Some people leave their computer on 24 hours a day running up a large number of hours on the drive. Fortunately there is a means of determining the health of your drive called “S.M.A.R.T.” (Self Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology). You can install software designed to read your drive’s SMART values and determine if the drive is nearing the useful end of its life. The software will display a number of values, but some are more significant than others. More on this in part 3 of this article.
3) Disk drive interface:
IDE interface: Early Windows XP computers had IDE (Parallel ATA) hard disk drives. The maximum size of a PATA drive was limited to 137GB. With the release of XP Service Pack 1 IDE drives could easily reach 500GB in size with improved data transfer rates when using an ATA/133 interface and drive. PATA drives are obsolete by today’s standard and in limited supply with prices and reliability rating from customers all over the map. If you decided to purchase a replacement drive, after you receive it test it and test it again before you put it in service.
Both Windows XP (Pre Service Pack 1) and some motherboards simply could not support larger hard drives.
More on drive analysis and testing software later in Part 3 of this article.
SATA-I (Serial ATA interface): Available in some of the more costly PC in early 2004. SATA-I increased data transfer rate to a theoretical max of 150 MB/s. In reality typical speeds where in the 50 to 80 MB/s range due to hard drive limitations.
SATA-II: Available in some computer in late 2005 or early 2006, it improved ability to transfer data to and from the drive to 300 MB/s, however typical hard drive transfer rates when SATA-II was first release and incorporated in the latest computer at that time were still only able to reach a transfer speed of about 100 MB/s. In some cases you could make the SATA-II hard drive connect and work with a PC that only supported SATA-I interface via a jumper on drive.
SATA-III: Improved ability to transfer data up to 600 MB/s. Almost all drives sold today are SATA-III but have the ability to support SATA-II and in some cases via a jumper the original SATA-I interface. Some of the newest SATA-III models may reach 150 MS/s for the first 25% of the drive’s capacity.
Even today virtually all hard drives are slower than 150 MB/s, the newer and better drives typically will test / benchmark at about 120 MB/s at the front (first 25%) of the drive and taper off to a slow 60 MB/s near the end (the last 20% of drive space) of the drive.
4) Hard Disk Drives versus Solid State Drives:
Hard drives (HDD) are mechanical devices and far more prone to failure than a Solid State Drive (SSD) and are far slower than a SSD. If you still have your original drive that came with the computer chances are it’s nearing the end of its life expectancy. I’ll show you how to select a newer and faster performing drive.
Where a good hard drive can transfer data at speeds up to 150 MB/s a Solid State drive (SSD) can easily reach 500 MB/s to 600 MB/s when connected to a SATA-III interface. The down side is that SSD drives are expensive, about 6 to 10 times the cost of an equivalent hard drive. Still if your XP computer has a SATA-I or SATA-II interface a 128GB SSD will cost you about $90.00 dollars, a 250GB SSD about $150.00 at sale prices and a 500GB SSD about $330.00 when you find a bargain price at today’s prices. Do some comparative shopping and you may find a good price to drive capacity ratio. By contrast a 1TB hard drive may only cost $90.00 dollars, that a lot less money and a larger capacity; so if you want to speed your old XP computer a new hard drive is probably the best and least expensive path. A top of the line hard drive such a Western Digital WD1003FZEX would be my choice both for speed and reliability.
There is also a difference in the physical size between a hard disk drive for a desktop computer and a Solid State Drive which are much smaller in size. If you plan to upgrade to an SSD you will need an inexpensive adaptor bracket unless you have a laptop which should not require any special hardware, just be aware that you need to verify with the manufacture that the SSD you purchase will mount properly in a laptop.