Secret Windows Fixes

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How to Make Your Windows PC Boot Faster

Disabling Startup Applications

Msconfig's Startup tab lists applications that start on bootup. Here is the list on my test system.

Most of these startup applets and helpers aren't necessary.

Most of the listed startup applets are at least occasionally useful, but none are essential from the get-go. I can manually check for Adobe updates, let QuickTime and Acrobat start a tiny bit slower when I need them, and so on. So l just unchecked all of the applets on the Startup list.

System boot time: 57 seconds.

Now we're talking. Disabling startup applications and a few services trimmed 11 seconds off a 69-second boot time--an improvement of nearly 16 percent.

System BIOS Tweaks

The Asus P6T6 Deluxe motherboard on my test system has two ethernet connectors, but I need only one of them. The motherboard is also set up to check the optical drive to see whether it contains a bootable CD or DVD--and only after that, to try to boot off the hard drive. And finally, since I don't use my external and secondary SATA controller, I don't need a BIOS check for the Marvell discrete SATA controller. Armed with this knowledge, I entered my PC's BIOS during startup, and performed three quick operations: disabling the second ethernet port, setting up the system to boot from the hard drive first, and disabling the discrete SATA controller.

Boot time: 52 seconds

So on my system, disabling a few unused BIOS items netted a savings of 5 seconds at bootup. Not bad.

Cleaning the Registry

Does cleaning the Registry of unused or orphan database entries lead to faster boot times? A number of articles suggest that it does, but many of them base that conclusion on rather extreme testing--loading up a system with a lot of junk, and then using a Registry cleaner to remove the new additions. The PCWorld Labs has tested PC cleanup utilities in the past, and found that they slightly improve boot time (and minimally improve overall system performance, but that's another story). But how effective are they on system whose encrustation of junk occurred naturally?

I used Piriform's Ccleaner 3.12, a popular Registry and system cleaner to autoscan my system and identify items that it thought were useless.

Ccleaner scans and cleans out the system; but does doing so improve boot times?

I handled the cleanup in two steps--first having Ccleaner remove extraneous files, cookies, index files, log files, and other clutter, and then accepting Ccleaner's recommendations regarding unneeded Registry entries and cleaning those out. The first sweep with Ccleaner improved my test system's boot time by 1 second (to 51 seconds,) and the second sweep yielded another 1-second advance (to 50 seconds).

So Ccleaner's cleanup work was good for 2 seconds at bootup-- a modest upgrade. Still, cleaning extraneous garbage from your Registry and your system can have other positive effects, such as reducing the Registry's memory footprint and regaining disk space. Both of those can improve system responsiveness.

I now had one more corrective measure to try: setting the boot timeout delay.

Changing Boot Timeout

You might expect changing the boot timeout not to have much impact, since all it does is specify how long Windows may display an automatic menu, such as the Startup Repair menu. But it turns out that changing the boot timeout does affect boot performance.

Change the boot timeout from 30 to 10 seconds

The default boot timeout setting on my test PC was 30 seconds; but 10 seconds should give users sufficient time to respond to any menus that Windows may present.

The boot time after I made this change: 47 seconds.

This was a repeatable test. It's unclear to me why this alteration has such a relatively large impact, but 3 seconds is 3 seconds.

Final Thoughts

You can dig deeper into each step of the process I've outlined here to reduce boot times further. But with a modest amount of effort, the boot time on my fairly typical system dropped from 69 seconds to 47 seconds, a reduction of more than 30 percent.

Another option, of course, is to throw money at the problem, depending on the system you're starting with. In my speedy production system, the SSD RAID array boots the PC in less than 30 seconds--without the aid of any of the tweaks I've discussed here. Alternatively, if you have a Sandy Bridge PC running Intel's Z68 chipset, you can add a more modest (64GB or less) SSD drive and enable SSD caching of the drive. That can significantly improve boot times and reduce the load time that commonly used applications require.

But even ordinary systems can see substantial decreases in boot time. The key is to optimize each step of the boot process, one at a time. You don't need to do them all in one sitting, either. And be sure to recheck your system's boot time every couple of months, because installing new applications may make it get longer again.

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