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Speed up startup and shutdown
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Remove unwanted programs to free up resources and speed up the time it takes to start and switch off your PC

N
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.
 
Beyond msconfig
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.



Step-by-step: Identify and remove unwanted startup items


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


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.


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