Speed Up Startup by Halting Startup Programs and Services

Increase your PC’s performance and speed up startup times by shutting off applications and services that you don’t need.

One of the best ways to speed up your PC without having to spend money on extra RAM is to stop unnecessary programs and services from running whenever you start your PC. When too many programs and services run automatically every time you start up your system, startup itself takes a long time—and too many programs and services running simultaneously can bog down your CPU and hog your memory.

Some programs, such as antivirus software, should run automatically at startup and always run on your computer. But many other programs, such as instant messenger software, serve no purpose by being run at startup. And while you need a variety of background services running on your PC for Windows to function, there are many unnecessary services that run on startup. For example, on many Windows XP systems, the Wireless Zero Configuration Service runs to automatically configure a wifi (802.11) network card, even though no such card is present in the system. (Windows Vista does away with the Wireless Zero Configuration Service entirely.)

Eliminating Programs that Run at Startup
The task of stopping programs from running at startup is particularly daunting because there is no single place you can go to stop them all. Some run because they’re put in the Startup folder, others because they’re part of logon scripts, still others because of Registry settings, and so on. But with a little bit of perseverance, you should be able to stop them from running.

Cleaning Out the Startup Folder
Start by cleaning out your Startup folder. In Windows XP, it is in C:\Documents and Settings\<User Name>\Start Menu\Programs\Startup, where <User Name> is your Windows logon name. In Windows Vista, find it in: 

C:\Users\<User Name>\\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

where <User Name> is, again, your Windows logon name. Delete the shortcuts of any programs you don't want to run on startup. As with any shortcuts, when you delete them, you're deleting only the shortcut, not the program itself. (You can also clear out the startup items in Windows XP by going to Start ¨Programs¨ Startup and deleting items you want to remove. In Windows Vista, go to Start ¨All Programs¨ Startup.)

Next, clean out any tasks that have been automatically scheduled to run. In Windows XP, you’ll find them in your Scheduled Tasks folder. Go to C:\WINDOWS\Tasks, and delete the shortcuts of any programs that you don’t want to run.

In Windows Vista, you'll have to run the Task Scheduler, and delete tasks from there. Go to the Control Panel->System and Maintenance->Schedule Tasks. The Task Scheduler appears. Click "Task Scheduler Library" to display the tasks that have been scheduled, as shown in Figure 1. Look for any tasks that you don't want to run. In particular, look at the Triggers column and see whether any tasks are listed "At system startup." Such tasks start every time you run your PC. To see details about the task, including what it does, the executable fi le, how often it is scheduled, and so on, double-click it and look through the various tabs.

Figure 1.
Look for any tasks that are scheduled to run at startup in Windows Vista’s Task Scheduler, and delete them if they’re unnecessary

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When you’ve identified a task you don’t want to run on startup, highlight it, click Delete, and click OK when you’re prompted.

Using the System Configuration Utility

Taking the previous steps will stop the obvious programs from running at startup, but it won’t kill them all. The best tool for disabling hidden programs that run on startup is the Startup tab in the System Configuration Utility, shown in Figure 2. To run it in either Windows XP or Windows Vista, type msconfig at the Search box in the Start menu, in a command prompt or in the Run box and press Enter. (If that doesn’t work, first do a search for msconfi g.exe, and then when you find the file, double-click it.)

To stop a program from running at startup, go to the Startup tab in this utility and uncheck the box next to the program. It can sometimes be difficult to understand what programs are listed on the Startup tab. Some, such as America Online, are clearly labeled. But often, you’ll see a phrase or collection of letters, such as fs20. That’s the name of the running fi le—in this case, fs20.exe, which is Free Surfer Companion, a pop-up killer, cache manager, and surfing utility.

To get more information about a listing, expand the width of the Command column near the top of the Startup tab. Expand it enough and you’ll see the startup command that the program issues, including its location, such as C:\Program Files\Free Surfer\fs20.exe. The directory location should be another hint to help you know the name of the program.

When stopping programs from running at startup, it’s best to stop them one at a time rather than in groups. You want to make sure that you’re not causing any system problems by stopping them.
So, stop one and restart your PC. If it runs fine, stop another and restart. Continue doing this until you’ve cleared all the programs you don’t want to run automatically.

Figure 2.
The Startup tab of the System Configuration Utility

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Each time you uncheck a box and restart your PC, you’ll get a warning stating that you’ve used the System Configuration Utility to disable a program from starting automatically. If you don’t want to see that warning, disable it by checking the box in the dialog box itself.

After you’ve used the System Configuration Utility to identify programs that run upon startup, you might want to try disabling them from within the programs themselves. Run each program that starts automatically, and see if you can find a setting that allows you to prevent it from running on startup. For example, to get rid of Apple QuickTime’s startup item, right-click the QuickTime icon in the notification area, select QuickTime Preferences, go to the Advanced tab, and uncheck the box labeled “Install QuickTime icon in system tray.”

Using the Registry to Halt Programs Running on Startup

Even the System Configuration Utility won’t necessarily let you identify and kill all programs that run on startup. You might also need to hack the Registry to disable them. To do so, Launch the Registry Editor by typing regedit at the Start Search box or a command prompt (see Chapter 13 for details) and go to:
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run.
The right pane will contain a list of some of the programs that run automatically at startup. The Data field tells you the path and name of the executable so that you can determine what each program is. Right-click any program you don’t want to run, and choose Delete. That will kill any programs that run and are specific to your account. To kill programs that run for every user of the system, go to:
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run and follow the same instructions for deleting other programs that you don’t want to run at startup.

Shutting Off Services that Run at Startup

Constantly running in the background of Windows are services—processes that help the operating system run, or that provide support to applications. Many of these services launch automatically at startup. Although you need many of them, many aren’t required and can slow down your system when they run in the background.

You can prevent services from running at startup by using the System Configuration Utility, similar to how you halt programs from running at startup, but using the Services tab instead of the Startup tab. When you go to that tab, you’ll see a very long list of services, most of which Windows requires to run. A good way to weed out unnecessary services is to see which services weren’t created by Microsoft, which aren’t required by Windows, and which have been installed by a third party. You can then decide which to stop and which to run. To see non-Microsoft services, click “Hide all Microsoft services.” You’ll see a list like the one shown Figure 2.
The System Configuration Utility is useful, but it doesn’t necessarily list every service that launches on startup. A bigger problem is that turning off services is more of a shot in the dark than disabling programs. When you disable a program, you can get a sense of what the program does. But when you turn off a service through the System Configuration Utility, there’s often no way to know what it does (or did).

A better way of turning off services at startup is via the Services Computer Management Console, shown in Figure 3. Run it by typing services.msc at the command prompt or Search box. The Services Computer Management Console includes a description of all services so that you can know ahead of time whether a particular service is one you want to turn off. It also lets you pause the service so that you can test out your machine with the service off to see whether it’s needed.

After you run the console, click the Extended tab. This view shows you a description of each service in the left pane when you highlight the service. The Startup Type column shows you which services launch upon startup—any services with “Automatic” in that column. Click the top of that column to sort together all the services that automatically launch on startup. Then highlight each service and read the descriptions.

When you find a service that you want to turn off, right-click it and choose Properties. In the Properties dialog box that appears, choose Manual from the “Startup type” drop-down list. The service won’t start automatically from now on (unless another service requires it in order to start), but you can start it manually via the console. If you want the service disabled so that it can’t be run, choose Disabled. (If you disable a service that a critical Windows service depends on, that service won’t be able to start either, which could cause problems.)

To test the effects of turning off the service, turn off any services you don’t want to run by clicking “Stop the service” in the left pane, or by right-clicking the service and choosing Stop. Note that some services can’t be stopped while the system is running. You’ll have to set them to “manual” and reboot to see the effect of turning them off.

Figure 2.
A list of all non-Microsoft services running on a Windows Vista PC

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Figure 3.
The Services Computer Management Console

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Table 1-1 lists some common services you might want to halt from running

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