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Dated: Aug. 13, 2004
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Put Your Foot Down On Slow Startups
Mountain bikers use space-age alloy components to reduce the heft of their rides. NASCAR mechanics tune their cars’ engines for days before the weekend race. The ultimate purpose of these alterations, of course, is to increase speed, and you don’t have to be a rabid sports jock to appreciate quickness especially if you are a PC user enduring agonizingly slow startups.
You don’t have to settle for a system that’s sluggish out of the gate. You can trim burdensome programs that load at startup and rob your PC of system resources and bog it down. In order to do so, you’ll need to identify the culprits behind startup slowdowns, remove them from the starting lineup, and keep an eye out for future offenders that threaten to stymie the speed gains you accomplish.
Before you begin tinkering with your PC’s startup processes, you should always perform the fundamental step that precedes all troubleshooting sessions, back up your important data. Windows has built-in backup procedures that let you make copies of crucial data. Click Start, click Help, and search the Help index for information on backup procedures where you’ll find the informatfon you need to preserve your system’s data.
If, like many users, you aren’t comfortable using Windows’ integrated backup tools, you can invest in third party software that may actually make the job easier. Check out affordable programs, such as GoBack 3 ($23; website) or BackUp MyPC ($39; website), which will walk you through the all important backup process. Knowing you have a complete copy of your system’s information will give you peace of mind, and you will be able to pursue startup problems a little more aggressively.
Identify Speed Traps
One common culprit behind slow startups is a glut of startup programs (sometimes called applets) fighting for position after you hit the power button. A quick way to check for a potential startup overload is to glance at the System Tray, the collection of icons next to the clock on the right side of the Windows Taskbar. These icons make for quick access to a program’s features. However, they also use system resources and slow startup and operating speeds.
It’s easy to identify the purpose of the icons in your System Tray. Usually the program’s name will pop up when you hover the mouse pointer over the icon. You can also double-click to launch the program or right-click the icon to see a context menu that will clarify the program’s purpose. Some of the most common System Tray icons refer to AOL, RealPlayer, Office Suite, and a number of instant messaging programs, such as ICQ, Yahoo!, MSN Messenger.
Whether you decide to disable a startup program is often a matter of preference. If you use a program immediately, every time you start your computer, that icon in the System Tray may be very handy. However, if you use a number of programs only once in a while, and each program loads a System Tray icon, you can bet they’re putting a strain on your PC’s resources.
Once you identify the purpose of a System Tray icon, there are a number of ways to remove or deactivate the icon’s source program. Often, you can double-click or right-click the icon to access a properties or preferences menu that will let you disable the program or just remove it from your computer’s startup routine.
Even if you manage to eliminate a startup program using a right-click procedure, those pesky System Tray icons resurrect themselves, so you may have to use a little more elbow grease to put a stop to their mischief. Right-click Start, click Open, and then double-click the Programs folder. From the File menu, point to New, click Folder, type Old Startup Programs, and press ENTER. Double-click the Startup folder and you will see the programs that automatically load themselves at startup, including the ones that load up even when you try to disable them via the program’s menu.
If you are certain you want to remove a program from your computer’s startup procedure for good, click the appropriate icon and click Delete. If you aren’t sure, just click, drag, and drop the icon into the Old Startup Programs folder you created; this way you can restore your former startup processes by moving the icons from the Old Startup Programs folder to the Programs folder in case you change your mind or if problems develop.
We recommend removing only one icon at time from your Startup folder, restarting your computer, and repeating until you are finished. That way, if difficulties arise, you can immediately restore the last removed icon.
If you can’t identify a program icon in your Startup folder, it’s time to do a little detective work, and for that you will want to use Google (http://www.google.com) or a similar Web search engine. We weren’t sure about the purpose of the AutoPlay Extender icon in our Programs folder, so we ran a search for this file on Google and soon learned the Extender automatically loads our Winamp music program whenever we insert an audio CD into the CD-ROM drive. We hadn’t used Winamp for months, so we tossed this file into our Old Startup Programs folder.
It’s worth noting that removing icons from the Startup folder does not delete the program. Instead, it just prevents the program from worming itself into your PC’s startup processes. If you want to remove a program altogether, use Add/Remove Programs in the Windows Control Panel.
Click the Start button, point to Settings, and click Control Panel (in Windows XP, click Start and click Control Panel). Double-click the Add/Remove Programs icon and scroll through the list of programs to find the ones you no longer use. Click a program’s name, click Add/Remove, and click Yes to confirm that you want to remove the program permanently. In many cases, simply removing old, unused programs is one of the easiest ways to restore startup and all around PC operating speeds.
System Configuration Utility
If you’re using a Windows version later than Windows 95, you can load the System Configura tion Utility. This utility uses an easy to navigate inter face to let you change your PC’s startup procedures.
Click Start and Run; in the Open text field, type msconfig; and then click OK. In the System Configuration Utility, click the Startup tab, and you will see a list of all the programs that may load during a normal startup procedure. Boxes with checks indicate those programs that start each time you turn on the computer; those with blank checkboxes don’t currently start automatically.
Thus, if you know you want to prevent a program from loading, clear its checkbox. Again, keep in mind that this doesn’t remove the program from your hard drive, but it prevents the program from starting up without your explicit command.
One of the challenges in using the System Configuration Utility is identifying the purpose of the listed programs. As with icons in the System Tray, sometimes a program’s name, such as Reminder ScanSoft Product Registration, gives away the application’s purpose, and you can clear its checkbox without worry. Not all applets are so obvious to identify, however, so you’ll probably have to dig a little deeper for programs with more obscure names.
We used the Greatis Startup Application Database to locate program names along with their purposes. The site’s creators divide each program into Necessary, At Your Option, Useless, and Dangerous categories to help you decide whether to clear a program’s checkbox and prevent it from starting up on its own. If you don’t see a file listed on the Greatis database, we recommend checking the Answers That Work program list, which lists many of the same programs, along with detailed descriptions that suggest actions you can take with startup programs depending on your particular system’s configuration.
If neither site helps you understand the purpose of the program you’re investigating, perform a search using Google and look for clues that will help you identify the program. After you figure out what the program does, decide if you want it to load every time your computer restarts. If you decide to remove programs from the startup process, clear only one checkbox at a time.
Windows will prompt you to restart your computer after you make changes in the System Configuration Utility. Click Yes to restart your computer and you may notice that your computer starts up faster. If you remove a program that your PC needs to function normally, you may also notice a glitch or two, but because you removed only one program at a time, it’s easy to start the System Configuration Utility and reselect the last program you removed.
If you’ve been browsing your computer’s contents as you read, you probably already know that at least one applet is related to your antivirus program or firewall. You may also find some suspicious applets that you can’t easily identify, and in these cases, you might have stumbled upon evidence of a virus or a marketing related program that is sometimes called spyware or adware.
Press CTRL-ALT-DELETE once to display Windows Task Manager, which shows all programs that are currently running. If your Windows version includes one, click the Processes tab, which shows the exact filenames of any applets that are running. These applications may cause as many problems as a cluttered System Tray (in fact, many are directly related to icons in the System Tray), but in addition, there are always programs here that are essential to your PC’s health.
You can use the Answers That Work Web site to deduce the purpose of the applets. For example, if your Task Manager displays an applet called DateManager, you’ve installed the DateManager.exe file from Gator. This is a calendar style program that installs a System Tray icon. It also installs marketing software that causes lots of popup ads to appear as you surf the Web and may also disrupt the operation of other programs, which means removing this applet might well improve your PC’s speeds. To end a program, click the file name and click End Process. If you your antivirus software and run a complete scan of your computer.
Not all applets are bad, of course. Your Task Manager also displays an applet called Explorer, represented by the file named Explorer.exe. This isn’t the Windows Explorer program that lets you browse your folders and files it’s an applet that is critical to the Windows user interface, and disabling it will cause problems with your computer’s functions.
You may encounter a situation where you end a process in the Task Manager and it resurfaces after you restart the PC. In those cases, use the System Configuration Utility to remove the program from the startup routine.
Keep Up To Speed
Now that you have lightened your PC’s startup load, keep things working smoothly by developing some new habits. Don’t install software unless you really need it, and when you do, watch the System Tray for those annoying startup icons. Check for software updates for all of your programs now and then because patches may eliminate unnecessary applets or replace them with better ones, reducing conflicts and improving your system’s overall speed. Last but not least, always keep your antivirus software up to date to avoid slowdowns and more serious system problems.
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