Improving the stability of Windows 9X/ME


Home Although Windows 2000 and XP are far more stable, offering far fewer lockups, Illegal operation errors or dreaded blue screens of death than previous versions of Windows, millions of PC users still depend on Windows 95, 98 or Millennium Edition. Many of those have PC’s that don’t meet the system requirements for Windows 2000 or XP and they don’t see the point in buying a new PC just to get Windows XP. Many may have PC’s that may meet the system requirements for the newer versions of Windows they might not want to upgrade their operating system software for one reason or another.

Sticking with an older version of Windows for one reason or another doesn’t have to mean having to give in to frequent crashing, rebooting and potentially losing a day’s worth of work. There are many tools both built into Windows and available from third parties that help keep Windows 9x and ME running smoothly.

The first step is scanning the computer with up to date anti-virus software to find and remove any viruses that may be inhabiting the hard drive. Regardless of operating system, a virus can cause a computer to be unstable.

A major cause of instability is having an excessive number of programs running in the background. Use msconfig in Windows 98 and ME to cut down the number of programs that start up when Windows starts up. To use msconfig, go to the start menu and select ‘run’. In the run window type in msconfig and click on the ‘Ok’ button. In the msconfig window that appears, click on the ‘Startup’ tab. A list of programs set to run when Windows starts up appears. Programs can be disabled from starting up by unchecking them. Click on the ‘Apply’ button and then the ‘Ok’ button then reboot when prompted.

The programs that run in the background that are the most problematic when it comes to instability are spyware programs such as Gator, eZula, Xuipter, and that send personal data to marketing companies, blast peoples’ computers with popup ads, make computers lockup, and give all kinds of error messages. To get rid of spyware programs use a program called Ad-Aware, a free download from to scan for and remove spyware programs. After a computer is cleaned of spyware using Ad-Aware it runs so much faster with far less crashing.

Device drivers, the software that make hardware devices work with a computer can often create problems that lead to crashing. When drivers for a device are incompatible with other device drivers, programs running in the background or even Windows itself, lock ups and BSOD’s will result. Hardware manufacturers are constantly are constantly issuing new drivers for devices that they make. Go to the web site for each hardware device and download the latest driver for all the hardware in the PC. The drivers that the most often overlooked by the vast majority of computer users are the drivers for the chipset of the motherboards in their PC’s. Updating the motherboard chipset drivers is the driver update that can most increase stability of Windows 9x and ME.

Often crashing while playing games is related to DirectX, a software layer that acts a go between games and other software and the device drivers. Often updating DirectX will solve problems related to gaming. Go to and download version 9.0 the latest version that will run on Windows 98 and ME. Windows 95 users have to use version 7.0. Keeping DirectX up to date is an excellent idea. Before downloading and installing DirectX, update the device drivers first the latest DirectX works best with the latest device drivers. If problems persist even after updating DirectX, there is a DirectX diagnostic utility that identifies problems that are related to DirectX. Go to the Start menu and select Run, in the space type in dxdiag and click on the ‘Ok’ button. The DirectX diagnostic utility has areas for video, sound, input, and network play that will help identify a DirectX related problem and lead to a solution.

In addition to device drivers and DirectX, something else needs to be kept up to date Windows itself. Microsoft has a tool built into Windows 98 and later called Windows update that will keep windows up to date with the latest patches to improve stability and fix security vulnerabilities to keep hackers out of your private data.

Sometimes the system files that the Windows operating system needs can sometimes become corrupted leading to the blue screen of death. When this happens, Windows 98 users can use a utility that comes with Windows 98 called System File Checker to scan for corrupted system files and to restore them from the Windows CD. To use the System File Checker to the start menu and select run. Then type in sfc into the space and click on ‘Ok’. When System File Checker start up the option to find and replace corrupted system files will already be checked off. System file checker also provides an option to restore a file if somebody knows what system file they want to replace. Click on the ‘Start’ button in the System File Checker window to start scanning. If System File Checker finds a corrupted system file you fill be prompted for the Windows 98 CD and will re-copy the file from the CD into the location on the hard drive that it needs to go.

The Windows operating system has a central database of settings called the registry. If the registry gets corrupted or if there is invalid data contained within the registry then a countless number of Windows error messages can result. The tool to fix registry problems is called Scanreg. To use scanreg to the Start Menu and select ‘Shut Down’ In the shut down dialog window select "Restart in MS-DOS Mode" and click ‘Ok’ At the C:\WINDOWS prompt type in ‘scanreg /fix’ (no quotes) and press the enter key. Scanreg will scan the registry and make any repairs that are necessary. When scanreg is finished the computer can be rebooted.

The problems that make PC’s running Windows 9x/ME unstable and the solutions have centered on Software so far. Hardware can be just as responsible for making computers crash. One of the biggest causes instability related to hardware is that there is too much heat inside the computer itself. In order to function properly there needs to be proper airflow through the computer case. A fan often built into the power supply unit draws warm air out of the computer. This fan can malfunction like any other electrical mechanical part, and when it does the heat builds up causing the computer to lock up. Often there will also be an intake fan in the front of the inside of the computer case. This fan brings cooler air from outside the computer to help cool down the internal components.

The most heat comes from the CPU chip, so much in fact it has it’s own heat sink and fan. Make sure that the fan is spinning properly and that there in nothing obstructing the heat sink. Overheating can still happen even if the fans are working properly when there is a build up of dust on the components inside the computer. Nothing can fill a computer’s insides with dust, ashes and debris like cigarette smoking. If making a computer stop working is the goal, cigarette smoking is the way to do it. Using compressed air from a can or from an air compressor will blow out the dust and debris out and the computer working properly again.

The ram in a computer being an electronic is almost never though as being able to malfunction but it can. Bad ram is often the cause of illegal operation error messages. To find out if ram is causing error messages there is an excellent utility called docMemory that can be downloaded from The downloaded file creates a diskette that starts up the computer and runs the docMemory program that scans the ram by storing data on all the installed RAM and then inspects it when it is read back.

Windows 9x and ME have been used for years now and Microsoft has moved along to bigger and probably better versions of Windows. With a little regular maintenance can make the Windows 9x /ME operating systems useful as long people need to use them.



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