Remove unwanted programs to free up resources and speed up the time it takes to start and switch off your PC
o, t's not your imagination: your PC really does take longer to boot up and shutdown compared to even a month or so ago. It's not as quick in day-to-day operation either. The radical option is to wipe everything clean and start again, but rather than go down that risky route a far better bet is to review what's starting up with your PC and disabled or even remove unwanted items to free up resources and speed up the start-up process. Once done, we'll turn our attention to your shutdown process and look at ways of shaving seconds off this too.
Why prune those programs that start with Windows? It's not just that they can collectively add minutes to the time it takes to start your PC, they can also consume precious system resources while you're using your PC, resulting in sluggish performance. There's also a security risk too - viruses and other malicious programs set themselves to start with Windows, so it's vital you're able to manually disable and remove these if your security software isn't up to the task.
Windows has a built-in tool that can be used to monitor what starts up with your PC - click Start > Run (press [Windows] + [R] in Vista), type msconfig and press [Enter] to launch the System Configuration Utility. Switch to the Startup tab and you can see what programs are set to load with Windows - each program adds seconds to the boot process, so the more programs in here, the slower your PC will load and run.
The System Configuration Utility offers limited functionality in this area - you can disable items, but not delete them, plus you don't actually get to see everything that's configured to start with Windows. One free program that does give you all this functionality is Autoruns, which you can download for free from here.
Once you've downloaded autoruns.zip, create a folder on your desktop called Autoruns, open the zip file and copy the four files inside into your new folder. Then double-click the file marked autoruns (Autostart program viewer) to launch it.
What loads and when
By default, the Everything tab is displayed, which lists everything Autoruns looks for. Before doing anything else, select Options > Hide Windows Entries and press [F5] so only those entries added after Windows was installed show up.
To find out what programs are set to load on your computer, switch to the Log On tab. This displays the same entries as you'll find in the System Configuration Utility, but each entry is accompanied by information designed to help you identify what exactly it is and what it does. Hopefully most entries will be self-explanatory - Autoruns displays a description and publisher next to the entry, plus its "Image path", which is basically the location of the program or file that's being called by this start-up entry. The step-by-step guide below demonstrates how to manage your start-up programs with Autoruns.
Why do programs start without asking me for permission first?
Security programs like Norton and McAfee start with Windows so they're protecting your PC from the moment it starts. Other programs add extra options to Windows itself, so assume you want to benefit from that functionality at all times. Some load to check for updates automatically, while others don't appear to have any good reason to start with Windows at all.
Any program worth its salt will give you the option of choosing whether or not it starts with your PC, but sadly very few do. With this in mind, follow our advice in this article to control exactly what gets started with Windows, helping you speed up your PC in the process.
Identify and remove unwanted startup items
1. GET MORE HELP
If you need more information about a start-up entry, right-click it and choose Search Online. Look for entries related to online start-up databases such as Pacman's Portal, which help you identify if the entry is safe to disable or delete.
2. DISABLE FROM WITHIN THE PROGRAM
The best place to disable a start-up entry is from within the program itself - open it from its program shortcut or the Notification area of the taskbar and look for an option to prevent it loading at startup if you can.
3. DISABLE USING AUTORUNS
If you have no joy with the program itself, disable it within Autoruns by removing the tick. After you've successfully rebooted a couple of times and used the program with no ill-effects, you can remove it permanently by right-clicking and choosing Delete followed by Yes when prompted.
Disable services and drivers
Programs aren't the only things that load with Windows - Windows Services are invisible programs that load before you log on to your PC. Autoruns lets you disable and remove these, but it's not as intuitive as Windows' own Services Management Console, which is described in detail here.
Other tabs offer some interesting insights into what else loads with your system: you'll discover that software drivers exist as well as hardware ones (typically used by anti-virus, firewall and other security software), plus Autoruns lets you look at hidden parts of your system often infected by malicious software. If using Autoruns to manually remove these kinds of threats, we recommend doing so from Safe mode. You should also use Autoruns to identify the infected files and their locations, enabling you to delete them at the same time as repairing your PC.
Free up more resources in Windows XP
Windows XP employs a technique called prefetching to speed up the loading of programs. When a program is run for the first time, a small file is created and placed in a special folder. The contents of this folder are loaded with Windows, enabling programs to load more quickly.
That's great for programs you use regularly, but what about programs you've removed or only use rarely? The files may be individually small, but collectively they can have a noticeable effect on loading times, plus take up more system resources.
To manually remove items from this folder, click Start > Run, type prefetch and press [Enter]. You'll see files clearly marked according to the program they represent - you can clear this completely, but a better solution is to go through it and remove those you no longer need. If you do delete the entire folder, you'll need to recreate a special file (layout.ini) before the prefetch feature will work correctly - to do this, click Start > Run, type Rundll32.exe advapi32.dll,ProcessIdleTasks and press [Enter].
That's half the story: you can also change the way prefetching works with the help of a free tool. Download Windows XP Prefetch Clean and Control from here, double-click the downloaded program file and choose the recommended option - Monitor boot file launch only - before clicking Set Prefetch Parameters followed by OK and Exit. Restart your PC for the new settings to take effect.
NOTE: conventional wisdom, often preached by Microsoft and its MVPs, is to leave the prefetch folder alone. After clearing the folder you may find startup takes a long time initially to complete, but after two or three subsequent reboots it should be much quicker. While it may not work for everyone, we have empirical evidence to suggest it can have a positive effect, particularly if after optimising your startup routine and defragging your hard drive you still find Windows XP is slow to boot up.
Speed up shutdown
It's always a good idea to close down all open programs manually before you attempt to shut down Windows. It allows you to save your files, plus it gives the application every chance to close itself down properly. Failing to do this can cause problems when you come to shut down Windows itself, so get in the habit of doing so.
One problem occurs when a program fails to respond - Windows will ask you whether you want to wait or end it now. If a program is consistently doing this it might pay to look for a proper solution to the problem, but for a quick fix you can force Windows to shut down non-responsive applications automatically by editing the Registry. Open the Run dialog box by pressing [Windows] + [R], type regedit and press [Enter].
By default Windows waits 20 seconds before forcing an application to close, then a further five seconds if it fails to respond (in other words, it's crashed). These times are determined by two Registry values: WaitToKillAppTimeout and HungAppTimeout respectively. You'll find both by browsing to the HKEY_USERS > .Default > Control Panel > Desktop key
Both are measured in milliseconds - 20,000 for WaitToKillAppTimeout and 5,000 for HungAppTimeout. We recommend changing these to 5,000 and 3,000 (five and three seconds) respectively, but whatever figures you choose, make sure WaitToKillAppTimeout is the greater. Once done, you should see the effects the next time you shut down Windows.
You can speed things up further - but at a risk of data loss, so use with caution - by double-clicking the AutoEndTasks value in the right-hand pane if it exists, and changing its value to 1.
If you still have delays during shutdown then you may need to look deeper for a solution - examine your Event logs (click Start, right-click My Computer or Computer and select Manage) to see if anything's recorded before the Event logging Service is disabled. Try disconnecting external drives like USB hard drives to see if they're causing the problem - on our machine the drive added 30 seconds to the shutdown process when connected. Finally, click here for some more useful troubleshooting advice - the link for XP is on the left-hand side.