You just hit the power button your PC, and now you've got enough time to fetch coffee for the entire office—because that's how long it takes for your computer to go from "on" to "ready to work." If your PC's bogged down by a bunch of programs that automatically start up when it does, it can take forever to get started every morning. Without a major hardware upgrade, there's not much you can do to cut the time it takes for Windows to actually boot—but you can trim and tweak the amount of time it takes for your desktop to get to a working state. Let's take a look at a few ways you can cut your Windows' desktop's loading times using built-in utilities and third-party tools.
When you install a new piece of software on your computer these days, more often than not it will set a little bit of itself to start up automatically when your PC does, either to check for updates, make it seem faster, or just remind you that it's there at all with a little icon in your system tray. Problem is, when you install lots of software but don't use it all, these little startup entries can suck away CPU cycles, memory, and time. Reclaim them by removing the ones you don't need.
Remove Startup Items Without Downloading a Thing
While many programs promise to clean up your startup for you, you can make quite a few adjustments in Windows itself, without using any kind of extra tools.
The best, safest, and most basic place to start is in your Windows Start menu's Startup program group. Navigate to it and see what programs appear there. Right-click on any one and choose Delete if you don't need it starting up on its own.
Once you've done that, it's time to bring out the big guns. Windows can also start up items planted in your registry automatically. To see what those are, from the Windows Start menu, choose Run..., and type
msconfig then hit Enter to start the Windows System Configuration Utility. Switch to the Startup tab to see a more comprehensive list of what's starting up automatically. Here's what it looks like.
Now, this list can seem opaque and confusing. What is ctfmon or RTHDCPL? The command column, which sometimes lists a full path to the item's location, can sometimes give you a clue as to what the heck an item actually is. As always, Google is also your friend in these situations. From here you can uncheck items to stop them from starting up. Don't uncheck stuff just because you don't know what it is; uncheck stuff you know you don't need. For instance, if you're not a big iTunes or Quicktime user but you've got the installed for occasional use, uncheck QTTask and iTunesHelper.Once you've unchecked items in this utility, when you restart your computer, Windows will prompt you, saying that it's using "selective startup." That's ok—you can always renable items by typing the
msconfig command in the Run box again.
msconfig takes somewhat of a brave and savvy Windows user, but a few third-party Windows tweaking and cleaning tools offer startup managers that are more user-friendly.
Download and Run a Startup Cleaner Utility
There are literally a gazillion Windows tweaking utilities that include startup management capabilities, but lets take a look at two good ones.
CCleaner (which stands for "Crap Cleaner", see our original review) can scan your system for all sorts of extras and get rid of them, but you're interested in the Startup manager. Hit the Tools button, then the Startup button to get there. Here's what your list will look like. As you can see, it offers a little more information than msconfig above (in the Program and File column), and that may help you decipher what's program is what. You can disable and delete items from your Startup using those respective buttons.
If you don't want to install more software in order to clean up your system (which makes sense), System Explorer (see our original review) offers a portable version, and its startup manager is beefy, with hooks into the registry, an online virus checker, and even Google searches for file names. In the System tab, hit the Startup tab to take a look at what's auto-starting on your PC. Here's what it looks like.
As you can see, using the right-click context menu you can go straight to the registry editor, or do a search on ProcessLibrary.com or Google for the item. Also, the program's publisher and file path are included, which offer more information about what's what and what you can afford to disable.
Delay Item Start to Get to Work Faster
Of course, it's not that one program that's starting up automatically and slowing down your whole PC—it's all of them in aggregate. You may audit your startup list and realise that yes, you do want all these programs to start. But maybe you don't need them to start up at the exact moment you're dying to get into Outlook and read your email, or work on that urgent report. The Startup Delayer utility (our review) does just that—it delays items from starting up from anywhere from 20 seconds to several minutes to hours so you can start working sooner. For instance, if your printer driver pre-loads but you're not printing the moment you log on, you can delay it for a minute or two. Similarly, I really don't need the Java Updater process starting its work before I do, so it is a good candidate for delaying. Here's what Startup Delayer looks like.
Don't Fall for the Myths
There are a lot of myths and misconceptions and misguided "secrets" to speeding up your PC published out there. Don't fall for them. If you delve deep enough into Windows optimisation tips online you'll find tips about deleting page files, cleaning out your registry, setting your PC to use multiple cores manually, and lots of other authoritative-sounding tweaks. Before you do any of that, check out the How-To Geek's awesome guide to debunking Windows performance-tweaking myths.
Have you had any startup editing revelations? What's your favourite PC startup speed-up utility? Post it in the comments.