Save valuable time by reducing the age it takes Windows to come to life
If you’ve ever used a PC running a mature version of Windows – that is, one that has been installed and used for quite some time, and that has had numerous freeware and paid-for applications installed on it – you’ll know that the overall speed and responsiveness is generally much slower than a freshly installed copy of Windows. The same thing is also true of the boot speed. A mature Windows installation can take noticeably longer to reach the desktop than a brand new installation.
That said, even a freshly installed copy of Windows isn’t quite as fast as it could be when it comes to the boot process. Windows doesn’t come pre-optimised, especially when it comes to the processes carried out during the boot cycle. There are many things Windows does during the boot procedure that probably doesn’t even apply to your PC, such as checking for network connections. On a single-user, standalone PC these operations and checks are still carried out, since they are part of the generic Windows boot process – whether you like and need them or not.
Important note: before making any changes to your system, you should always ensure you have an up-to-date backup of your PC, in case you wish to revert your system to its former settings.
Thankfully, there are a number of things you can do to shave those seconds off the time it takes from switch on to reaching the Windows desktop. To begin with, there are some fairly simple things you can do that provide a slight speed boost during boot up.
Grab yourself a good system tweak utility such as Microsoft’s own Tweak UI, the superb TweakAll from Abton’s Shed Software, or Tweakl. If you don’t have a copy of TweakAll, download the latest version along with the associated plugins from http://www.codeforge.co.uk/mainframes.htm. Go to the Microsoft Web site to download the latest version of Tweak UI. None of these programs has everything the others have, so you could use all three. Don’t worry – they won’t clash. Before making any changes to your system, we always recommend making a full backup of your PC in its current state.
Even before Windows has begun to load your individual settings and programs, there are things you can do to cut down on the time you sit waiting for your machine to reboot. If your PC boots straight into Windows without displaying a menu, then the chances are you may have never even seen the text menu offering assorted boot choices. If this menu does display on your machine, you’ll know how annoying it is if you switch on and leave the room, only to find that when you return, Windows hasn’t even started booting. You should switch this menu off, since you can always call it up on demand just as Windows begins to boot by pressing [F8] a few times. There are two ways to disable this menu. The easiest is to use Tweak UI – switch to the Boot tab and switch off the Always show boot menu option. If you don’t have Tweak UI you can achieve the same result by editing the Msdos.sys file yourself – read on for information about the mechanics of this process. To disable the menu, add a line that reads BootMenu=0.
While you’re editing the Msdos.sys file, there are other changes you can make to increase speed by a slight amount, which utilities such as Tweak UI generally don’t handle. Back in the days when large drives were prohibitively expensive, disk compression was immensely popular. Windows still has the ability to use the drivers required by the compression tools, and will often look for and occasionally load them during bootup, wasting time. Making sure you’re still working in the [Options] section of Msdos.sys, add two lines that read DrvSpace=0 and DblSpace=0 to prevent the DriveSpace and DoubleSpace drivers from loading.
There’s one common pitfall when using a text editor such as Notepad to edit the Msdos.sys file. When you come to save the file, Notepad will display the correct name in the file dialog, but will actually save the file as Msdos.sys.txt if you leave it unchanged – simply switch the file type from Text files to all files and save.
An amazing number of Windows applications, from freeware and shareware utilities to full-blown commercial suites such as Microsoft Office, manage to insert some portion of themselves into your Windows setup. Each one of these programs loads and runs every time you start Windows. Apart from the obvious memory implications, the time added to your boot-up process can be horrendous by the time you get ten or 15 of these resident. A common misconception is that they all run from the StartUp folder – they don’t, and most will be triggered using specialised Registry entries.
It can be difficult to decide what you can and can’t remove from the list of autorun programs, although TweakAll does make it easier by showing the full name, so you can work out which entry belongs to which application. To begin with, a common offender is the Microsoft Office Startup application, which is rarely used yet still manages to load every time you boot. Other programs such as Adobe’s Photoshop insert ancillary extras such as the Adobe Gamma Loader, which you can happily disable. In some cases, you’ll find entries for little-used utilities that come attached to major programs, and in other cases pieces of hardware – the SoundBlaster Live cards can install stuff like this that you’re unlikely to need and can happily switch off until you do, for example.
There are some you should never turn off, though. For all Windows systems, leave entries such as ScanRegistry and SystemTray well alone, as these are critical parts of Windows itself and are best left alone. For Windows Me systems, you’ll need to leave StateMgr alone, too, as this is part of the PC Health system that integrates with essential utilities such as System Restore.
Often, disabling these autorun programs on a global basis isn’t always the best idea. Occasionally, you’ll doubtless find you need one or more of these memory resident utilities. If it’s just one you need, then it’s simple enough to load it from the Start menu. If you have quite a few to load, however, it becomes laborious. Also, not all of these autorun programs appear in the Start menu, especially if they are run via Registry keys rather than shortcuts in the StartUp folder.
For example, you may only connect to the Internet once a day, but find that you need lots of little assorted tweaks such as download managers, dial-up enhancers and Internet security tools and personal firewall applications. Rather than have all of these shunted into memory whenever Windows boots, you can take advantage of Windows’ MS-DOS heritage by creating batch files, which execute these programs as and when you need them for an individual session on the Internet.
While you can use automation tools such as Outer Technologies’ Batchrun (www.outertech.com) to assist in both the creation and execution of these batch files, it’s easy enough to create them yourself.
A batch file is simply a plain vanilla text file saved with a BAT extension, so any text editor will do for creation – but if you’re using Notepad or a similar editor, watch that it doesn’t add a TXT extension to your saved file by default.
An MS-DOS batch file is simply a list of commands, executed by the DOS command processor in turn. To run a program, the command is simply the full path and file name of the program in question. Remember though, that this is DOS we’re dealing with, so the long file names used by Windows are out – you’ll have to use the truncated names used by DOS, which you can establish by calling up the properties page for a program by right-clicking it.
If you’re having trouble finding the full path or even the physical location of a program that loads when Windows starts up, then launch TweakAll again or any utility that can turn autostarting programs on and off. Locate the Registry, INI file or StartUp folder entry for the program you’re having trouble with and copy and paste it into the file – this is also a handy way of discovering what the truncated MS-DOS path is for a program. Finally, simply execute your batch file when needed by double-clicking it or typing the name from a DOS window.
You can make boot logs to check for problems that may be slowing you down.
1. Force Windows to create a boot log and launch Boot Log Analyzer. Click the Show delays button to display only items that have taken a long time. You’ll need to sift through this manually and check to see what’s causing the delays, since it could be anything from corrupted fonts to missing programs.
2. Enable the Show failures button. Usually, you should see nothing more than a failure reference to SDVXD, and this is normal. The most common failure refers to NDIS2SUP.VXD, a network driver.
3. Find the file (usually it’s in the Windows/System folder) and move it somewhere safe, deleting the original. Load Regedit and use the Find function to remove each reference to this file. Boot again and check your boot log – this failure should now be gone.