Using MSConfig to Solve Slow Computer Boot Times

There is nothing more depressing than sitting down in front of your relatively new, state-of-the-art computer system and being disappointed in its performance.  One of the key factors in our perception of a computers speed is its boot up time.  If it takes a long time to ready itself on power up, we feel like the computer is slow.  This is compounded when installing software or performing maintenance that requires we restart the computer one or more times.

Generally, a slow boot time is an indicator that too many programs are being launched at start-up.  While we might choose to live with this situation for a while, it will compound itself when more are installed, as each program that starts up takes a little bit of the computers resources, specifically RAM memory.  If enough of them take a tiny portion of memory, system performance in general will be compromised.

So what are these programs that are causing so much havoc?

Are they spyware or malware?

No, they’re not.  They are usually small applications (most often called services) that come packaged with software you install, like a printer driver, office suite, or a document reader.  What they do is start on boot up, so that when you launch that program it will be ready right away.

In theory this can improve computing efficiency, especially if it’s an application you will use over and over.  It can save time in repetitive tasks.  If it takes 15 seconds to initiate a print driver service on boot up, and it shortens print time by 5 seconds each time you start it, you will start having a net saving of time on your fourth print job.

Unfortunately, each program treats itself as though it’s the only application you’ll ever use on your computer. What good is having a service start for your printer, your digital camera, and your office suite when you boot your computer if you’re just going to surf the web?

Corrective Action – Using MSConfig

Luckily, it’s relatively easy to modify the list of applications and services that start up when you boot your computer.

Windows has a built in tool – The Microsoft Windows Configuration Utility.  You can start it by typing msconfig in the “search programs and files” dialog on the start menu in Vista/7, or in the box you get from Start>Run in XP.

Msconfig is a powerful utility, because changes you make here will be echoed in the system registry, which can mess with your computer.  Set a system restore point before you go messing with it, because accidents can happen.

To speed up your computer, the most important tabs are the “Services” and “Startup” tabs.  Let’s start with Services.

By default, there is quite a list of items in this category.  They are identified, fairly intuitively, by name.  The manufacturer is also listed, and you’ll find that most of them are Microsoft.  Conveniently, there is a “hide all Microsoft services” radio button, so that you can see those that come from other vendors.

If there are vendors of software that you’ve uninstalled, or hardware that you don’t use anymore, you can disable these services fairly safely.  Some of the Microsoft items can be removed as well, but your individual system usage and configuration may vary, so it’s probably best to leave them all enabled, at least for now.

The “Startup” tab, on the other hand, will almost undoubtedly be full of items that you can do without.  A general rule of thumb is to leave any that are provided by your computers manufacturer (e.g. Toshiba, Dell) because they are related to special programs for the hardware, like CPU usage monitors and the like.  Unless you print a lot, you can disable the startup entries that relate to your printer.  The same goes with the Java Runtime Environment.  Disabling it will cause a delay whenever you launch a program that uses it. If you find yourself staring at a “loading” screen every time you launch a program that uses it, you can always come back and turn it on.

The Google Update program is a good candidate to uncheck, though you should leave anything related to your antivirus program turned on, so you don’t have to remember to check for updates regularly.  Unless you view a lot of .pdf files, you can turn off the Acrobat reader’s startup package.

Programs removed from the list remain ready to be re-enabled, so if you make a change here that has an unintended result, like making the load time for your Office suite unbearably long, you can just come back to msconfig and re-enable it.

A lot of times, you’ll have programs in your Startup menu that sound completely mysterious. If that’s the case, simply type in the Startup item name and do a Google search.  ProcessLibrary and both have huge libraries of file names so you know what they are and if they can be safely unchecked.

Other programs

There are other programs that can customize this part of Windows operation, and perhaps optimize it further than you can manually.  CCleaner has a startup manager included, and there are programs like Autoruns that can do a bang-up job of helping you manage your Windows boot up cycle. Both are free.

For those just wanting to fix an immediate drag on system resources, msconfig and a little bit of knowledge and experimentation should get the job done.

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