BOOT CAMP 560 (21/01/09)

Startup and Shutdown Problems, part 2


As we saw last week booting up a Windows computer involves a lot of steps that have to be carried out in strict sequence. Most of them take just a few seconds but things can slow to a crawl during the very last stages after Windows has finished loading. This is when the programs you’ve selected to start with Windows are launched, along with the background Services and utilities. 


Some PC owners mistakenly believe that a slow boot up has something to do with files becoming disorganised and ‘defragging’ the hard drive or cleaning the Windows Registry will cure it. Sadly neither does much good; a bi-annual defrag might make a cluttered PC a little livelier and a Registry cleaner can sometimes fix an annoying system error but neither has any significant effect on how long it takes a PC to boot up.


The commands that launch all of the bits and pieces that start automatically with Windows can be found in two places. The first one is the Startup folder, which is a specialised User folder. If you copy or drag and drop a program shortcut from the desktop into the Startup folder, that program is launched automatically at boot up. It’s as simple as that.


The second group of start-up commands are buried deep in the Windows Registry. They are responsible for launching dozens of small programs that run in the background. Most of them are Services and utilities that are supposed to assist other programs. Some use your Internet connection to seek out and download software updates. This can be very useful; your anti-virus programs, for example, uses a Service program to download the latest signature files. However, most of them are just a waste of space and sap your machine’s resources. Do you really need to be told that your media player software is out of date – even though it still works perfectly well -- or be reminded to pay for a trial program that you stopped using a year ago?


Registry commands are also responsible for the myriad of little icons that cluster around the clock in the Taskbar (this section is called the System Tray). Many PC users haven’t the foggiest idea of what half of them do and rarely, if ever, use any of them. Try a few for size, right-click on them and you’ll see obscure menus for opening control panels that adjust your PC’s sound effects, tweak mouse or touchpad settings, configure browser toolbars or change preferences on long forgotten programs. Almost all of them are completely useless. In addition to slowing down the boot up, they waste precious resources because they’re running all of the time. If you want to fiddle around with any aspect of your computer you will usually find a perfectly good set of adjustments in the Windows Control Panel or in the programs own configuration menu. We’ll begin the cull next week. 


None of the procedures we’ll be using are in any way risky and all can be easily undone, nevertheless, we will be making changes to System files so it’s good practice to make sure that all of your irreplaceable files are safely backed up. I also recommend that you set a new System Restore Point before every operation, and if you’re unsure how to do that see this week’s Top Tip.


You’ll want to see how well you are doing so time how long your computer currently takes to boot up, before you begin. This should be from the moment you press the On switch, to the PC being usable -- the activity icon (hourglass or spinning disc) is replaced by the mouse pointer and the hard drive activity indicator no longer continuously lit. You might want to repeat it two or three times to get an average.


So let’s make a start; we’ll round off this week with a something simple and check the contents of your Startup folder. In both XP and Vista you’ll find it by going to Start > All Programs > Startup. Hopefully it will be empty, if not you can safely delete any program shortcuts you find there, unless of course it’s for something that you absolutely cannot do without.


I cannot think of anything that might qualify although I can see it is tempting to put shortcuts to programs that you use every day, like your browser, email program and word processor, in the Startup folder. However, because they’re all launched at the same time they compete for hard disc and memory resources and this can easily add a minute or more to the boot up time. Lose the lot and if you want to launch a program click on the desktop or Quick Launch icon and it’ll be ready to use in a fraction of the time.


Next Week – Startup and Shutdown Problems, part 3





A large, constantly changing collection of Windows system files containing configuration information for both the PC and programs stored on the hard disc



Programs and utilities that operate in the background that are usually launched automatically with Windows



Inert samples of computer code used to identify viruses, worms, spyware and Trojans



System Restore in XP, Vista and Windows 7 can get your PC back up and running if something unfortunate happens. It’s very easy to use and you’ll find it by going to Start > Programs > Accessories > System Restore; click ‘Create a Restore Point’ (XP) or ‘Open System Protection’ > Create (Vista) and follow the prompts.


To use it just retrace the above steps and this time select your latest Restore Point from the calendar and follow the prompts. If Windows won’t start normally you can usually launch System Restore from Windows Safe Mode, which is started by pressing the F8 key immediately after switch on. Select Safe Mode from the Advanced Options menu that appears and when it has finished loading follow the above procedure to launch System Restore.


Don't forget, there's a full archive of previous Boot Camp Top Tips at



© R. Maybury 2008, 3112

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