BOOT CAMP 561 (28/01/09)

Startup and Shutdown Problems, part 3


The usual reason for Windows taking more than a couple of minutes to boot is the time it spends loading dozens of small 'Service' programs that operate behind the scenes. Some of them are okay and belong to Windows but many more are put there by the software that you install on your computer, so the slowdown can be quite gradual and often goes unnoticed for the first few months. Most third-party Services (i.e. not part of Windows) are a complete waste of space. They slow your PC down both during and after boot up, so this week we'll look at how you can thin them out, and hopefully perk up your PC.


Service programs are mostly launched by Registry commands and as regular readers will know this critical set of system files is strictly off limits to novices. Fortunately Windows comes with a simple configuration tool that lets you safely tinker with the relevant bits of the Registry, letting you take back control of your computer's startup programs.


The tool is not listed on any menus, but in XP, Vista and W7 all you have to do is go to Run or Search on the Start menu and type 'msconfig' (without the quotes) and click OK. In Vista and W7 you have to be logged on as the Administrator and you may be asked by the UAC to grant permission to continue, if so just click the Continue button.


On the box that appears select the Startup tab and you'll see a list of entries with tick boxes. Unticking an item stops it running at startup. In the unlikely event that a disabled startup entry causes problems you can go back into msconfig and re-tick the box, so there's very little chance of getting into trouble.


If you see more than a dozen ticked entries on the msconfig startup list there is room for improvement and you may be able to shave up to 30 seconds off the boot up time. If there's more than 20 then the boot up savings could easily be a minute or more, but don't untick anything just yet.


Some entries you must keep, like the ones responsible for launching essential Windows Services, your antivirus program it's signature file update service and your firewall (if you are using a third party application). The startup list may also contain malware infections, like Trojans and keyloggers, and to make life really difficult some of them have the same or very similar names to legitimate entries, so you have to be on your guard.


So how do you tell what's what and whether or not an entry is safe to uncheck? You may be able to figure some of them out from their name, but the safest method is to consult the list of almost 18,000 startup items published on the website ( Each listing has a brief explanation of what it does, plus a simple Status code that tells you whether or not it is necessary. Items classed as 'N' are not required; 'X' means it definitely has to go as it's malware or spyware; 'U' stands for user's choice and is safe to uncheck but you or a program may need it at some point and items marked 'Y' should be left checked.


So let's begin, and the first thing to do is close all running programs except your browser, set a System Restore point (see last week's Top Tip) and open msconfig. Note down the top two or three items and check their purpose and status at Sysinfo. The one's we're interested in are rated by sysinfo as N, U, and X. When you have found a couple of entries that can be safely disabled go into the msconfig startup list, uncheck them and click OK. Windows will tell you that the PC needs to be restarted. Click OK and the PC shuts down and reboots.


Don't expect any dramatic changes at this stage, the PC may even take a little longer to boot as system files have to be rewritten but when Windows reappears you will see a balloon message in Vista, or an information box if you are using XP, reminding you that you've blocked or disabled some startup items. You can ignore it because you'll probably be using msconfig again. However, you should respond to any other warning messages and recheck the relevant entry in msconfig if a program reports a problem. If Windows boots cleanly you go back to the startup list and repeat the exercise on the next two or three entries.


It's important to go through the rigaramole of rebooting and checking the entries on the sysinfo site a few at a time as it means you'll be keeping a running check on your Internet connection. Trust me, the last thing you want to do, after unchecking a score or more Services, is to have to go back and find which one that was responsible for the disconnection. When you have finished (see also this week's Top Tip), reboot twice; on the second reboot time how long it takes and compare it with your benchmark time (see last week's Boot Camp) and hopefully you will see an improvement.


Next Week - Startup and Shutdown Problems, part 4





Login account, with full access to all aspects of a computer's configuration and operation



Malware program that records keystrokes, looking for bank accounts passwords and PINs, which are then sent out to scammers and fraudsters



User Account Control - introduced in Windows Vista, to stop users doing daft things, or making mistakes by asking them to confirm actions that could affect system stability or security



When you've unchecked everything you can on the startup list you can disable the warning message that appears after each reboot. In XP simply tick the box that says 'Do not show this message again'. In Vista you have to right-click the Disabled Startup entries icon in the System Tray then (somewhat bizarrely) select Run Blocked Programs followed by System Configuration Utility. On the message box that appears tick the 'Do not show again...' box.


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



(c) R. Maybury 2009, 0701



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