By Jim Aspinwall
Disk Cleanup cleaned out
Q: I've lost the Disk Cleanup program file on my Windows 98 SE system. I can find the program's icon and title under Programs > Accessories > System Tools, but when I select the menu item, the program doesn't launch. Can I fix this?
A: The Disk Cleanup entry on the System Tools menu is actually just a shortcut that points to the actual C:\Windows\Cleanmgr.exe program file. In your case, the shortcut may be broken, but it's easy to fix. Click Start > Programs > Accessories > System Tools, right-click the Disk Cleanup entry, then select Properties. Make sure the Target field contains C:\Windows\Cleanmgr.exe, then click OK and try the Disk Cleanup shortcut again. To simply launch the program, click My Computer, right-click the C: drive icon, select Properties, and use the Disk Cleanup button in the Properties dialog. If the program file itself is missing, you'll get an error, and you may have to replace the file from your Windows CD. To do so, insert your Windows CD, then open an MS-DOS prompt window (click Start > Run, then type cmd). At the command prompt, type the following exactly as it appears and press Enter:
extract /A /L C:\Windows D:\Win98\base4.cab cleanmgr.exe
This command will search all the CAB files on your Windows CD (in the D: drive, Win98 folder). Once Windows locates the file you need, copy it into your C:\Windows folder.
When 64MB isn't enough for XP
Q: I've read conflicting reports about the minimum amount of RAM required by Windows XP--it's either 64MB or 128MB. Will I compromise XP's performance on my laptop if I use only 64MB?
A: You're seeing the age-old discrepancy between a minimum requirement and a recommended minimum. Yes, you will notice a significant difference in performance if you double Windows XP's minimum requirement of 64MB to the recommended 128MB, and many believe XP will not perform adequately on just 64MB. Microsoft (and many other companies) release a minimum RAM requirement, which means that the operating system will not run with less memory than the stated amount. The recommended minimum refers to the amount of RAM you'll need to run XP effectively, without freezes, crashes, or performance hiccups. Adding memory improves the performance of all OSs, and it's safe to say XP requires as much as 256MB to really cruise. The more memory you make available to the operating system, the less time the system spends saving little- or never-used programs and data to the hard drive, called swapping to a virtual memory file.
If you're using less than the recommended 128MB, you can also affect XP's performance using Microsoft's tips for Windows 2000 server performance improvements. Basically, you can select the size of Windows' swap file, or pagefile, the area where the OS saves unused programs and data.
To resize your swap file, click Start, right-click My Computer, select Properties, then choose the Advanced tab. Click the Settings button in the Performance box, then the Advanced tab. To resize desktop and laptop memory, use the Programs setting under Processor scheduling. Set the pagefile size by clicking the Change button under Virtual Memory. In the Virtual Memory dialog, select Custom Size and set the pagefile size according to your typical application use. Microsoft recommends setting this to half the amount of RAM on your PC if you use file-intensive applications, such as databases, or to equal or double the amount of RAM for applications that don't produce multitudes of files, such as word processors and Web browsers. Note: The default size setting varies; Windows manages the swap file itself and determines what's best for your system, but that method fragments the swap file and other files on your hard drive, further slowing overall performance. Click OK to close the dialogs and restart your computer when prompted.
RAM prices are on the rise again, so now would be a good time to install as much RAM in your system as you can afford. Especially with a laptop PC, the less your system uses the hard drive--a real power hog--the longer your battery will last.
When Windows Media Player won't copy to CD
Q: I am using Windows Media Player 7.1 on Windows 98 with an HP 16X CD writer. When I click the Copy To CD button in Media Player to copy my current song, I get an error message stating that Media Player cannot find a CD recording device. Is my CD writer incompatible?
A: Windows 98, Me, and 2000 do not automatically recognize CD burners--internal or external. Instead, they rely upon the third-party recording support bundled in Media Player or CD-recording software. If Media Player does not recognize your drive's burning capability, you may need to find and install an updated driver. That is, of course, assuming your system can support CD recording in the first place. CD recording requires that the system BIOS and motherboard chipset are current enough to support the CD-ROM drive as recordable for both data and music. Check with your motherboard's manufacturer and read its BIOS specs to see if they meet the ATAPI (AT Attachment Packet Interface) industry standard. The specifications for the system board should clearly spell out whether it supports ATAPI drives, and most of the boards made since around 1997 do.
If your motherboard passes muster, check the status of your CD burner and its drivers. Click Start > Settings > Control Panel > System and choose the Device Manager tab and find the name of your device. If there are problems with the driver, you'll see a yellow-highlighted exclamation point next to the CD-ROM drive listing. If that's the case, simply update your drivers from the manufacturer's driver disc or Web site. (For more on driver troubleshooting, click here.)
If your PC already has the right driver, check to see if your system is properly configured. Click Start > Settings > Control Panel > System, and choose the Performance tab. If the dialog reads, "Your system is configured for optimal performance," move on. If instead, you see "Drive C: is running in Compatibility mode," select the File System button, then the Troubleshooting tab. Deselect any check boxes to remove any settings that force the disk drive to run less than optimally. (The default for a properly running system is to have none of the boxes checked.)
Finally, test to see whether your system will write CDs outside of Media Player (the software itself could be the problem). Try the CD-recording software that came with your drive or choose one of many CD-burning apps at CNET Download.com.
If all else fails, the problem may stem from the CD-burner drive itself. Microsoft's Knowledge Base articles Q306319 and Q268818 suggest testing the drive by writing a data CD to make sure the drive and Windows function correctly together. It also recommends using CD-R vs. CD-RW media for recording audio CDs, as certain audio CD players cannot properly read some CD-RW media. If none of these steps works, you may have to resort to calling tech support.
Jim Aspinwall is the author of IRQ, DMA & I/O (a PC configuration bible), the coauthor of Troubleshooting Your PC Bible, and an industry columnist and reviewer. He frequently writes for CNET Software. Send us your comments.