Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Speeding Up Startup

One of the more unfortunate consequences of doing a systemwide overhaul is sometimes I change something that causes something else to stop working, without knowing what the hell I'd done to cause it (because I'd changed so many things).

At some point while I was still using Windowblinds, I noticed that my computer was taking interminably long to start up. It would routinely take 4 and a half minutes from the BIOS posting to being able to open Firefox. Moreso, as soon as the Windows chime plays, it just shows the wallpaper with no icons or taskbar, and the mouse pointer that was movable but couldn't click anything. I would later discover that for some reason if I used CTRL-ALT-DEL to log off as a user and log back in, the computer would finish its startup in no time at all. So I could either endure nearly 5 minutes of waiting, or cut out a minute and a half by jumping in the middle of it by logging out and logging back in. I usually just let it go and used the time to stretch my legs or refill my drink.

It had nothing to do with Windowblinds at all (in fact one of the reasons I uninstalled it was hoping it would fix the startup problem), but it bugged me enough to go through everything I possibly could to speed up my Windows startup.

I won't go into obvious computer maintenance tasks like defragging and running scandisk, I'll assume you've done that already.

First, I cleaned up the Startup folder in the Start Menu. This is the most visible way of knowing what was starting up with Windows on your computer, and was the easiest to clean up (just delete the icon from the menu). However I think because it's so easy to remove stuff from there most programs use more insidious ways to ensure loading at startup. So I moved on.

Oftentimes, you can also right-click on the icons in the system tray and see if there's a "Preferences" or "Options" menu, and see if it gives you the option to disable loading at Startup. Quicktime is an application that springs to my mind that always runs at startup when it doesn't need to, and can be disabled this way.

Next up, I loaded up Spybot: Search and Destroy, and Ad-Aware Personal, and ran a systemwide check for spyware. I consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to spyware, so I don't keep these programs running all the time (that would slow down my computer as much as the actual spyware would), but it's always good to see what falls through the cracks. When I did the check, it found some cookies, but for the most part, my computer was clean.

Next, by clicking Start>Run>msconfig.exe, you are taken to the Windows System Configuration Utility, which lets you edit the .ini files that govern how Windows loads up. By clicking on the Startup tab, you can see the various programs that start with Windows. Some of the programs on there can be identified easily by their filenames, but many are not. Check the folder they're in for clues as to what they do, and if all else fails, google the filename. If you see anything that doesn't need to run, uncheck it. Novice users might want to do this one restart at a time so you know what disabled application causes whatever side-effect pops up. When I did it I saw some programs that loaded with my video card, mp3 player, and my seldomly used webcam, which I went and shut down.

I restarted when prompted. I noticed a little bit of a speedup at shutdown, but nothing major, and that minute and a half of dead time in the middle was still there. I decided to keep looking.

Start>Run>services.exe brings up the Windows Service Controller. Windows services are application-like components that Windows loads up in order to make sure certain options are always available. I learned about what each of the many services did from sites like these (among others that I can't remember specifically), and then went about setting unnecessary ones to Manual or Disabled.

Again, a tiny bit of speed up (maybe ten or so seconds max), and by this point the startup was almost entirely just that dead period, but alas, the dead period was still there.

Then it turned out it was just my Wacom Cintiq driver acting up. It felt like such a throwaway application/service that I never assumed that would be the problem (I was all ready to reinstall my video card drivers before I even thought of the Wacom drivers). Luckily Wacom had newer drivers on their website and reinstalling the drivers cleared the entire problem up.

Now, instead of nearly 5 minutes to start up, it now takes 1 minute and 8 seconds. That's one third of the time! The only applications starting up that aren't completely necessary for Windows to function are my Wacom drivers, my antivirus, and Thunderbird.

There's more about this topic I can elaborate on, but I'll postpone those for a future post. Especially look forward to more information about Windows Services, and being able to start and stop them at your convenience.

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