Programs that automatically start with Windows can slow down your computer’s boot time, making you wait to get a useful desktop while icon after icon loads into your system tray. Fortunately, it’s possible to prevent these programs from automatically starting.
Some of these programs perform a useful function, but many autostart programs are unnecessary and do little more than slow down your boot time — particularly programs that may have been preinstalled by your computer’s manufacturer.
Why You Should Disable Startup Programs
When your computer starts — or, more accurately, when you log into your computer — Windows loads your desktop and all the system processes it requires. Windows also loads programs that are configured to automatically start with Windows. These could be chat programs, file-downloading applications, security tools, hardware utilities, or many other types of programs. On a typical Windows computer, you’ll likely find quite a few programs automatically starting with Windows. Windows hides most of these programs in the system tray beneath an arrow by default. This helps unclutter your taskbar, but it doesn’t help speed up your boot times.
Every startup program your computer loads increases the time you must wait for a usable Windows desktop. Small programs may load very quickly, but heavier programs generally take longer to load. Multiply this by the many different programs set to automatically start with Windows on a typical PC and you’ll see significant increases in boot time. Several years ago, studies found that startup programs installed by a Windows computer’s manufacturer could increase a typical Windows computer’s boot time by as much as two minutes.
Startup programs also occupy memory and use other system resources, although their presence will typically be felt mostly through longer boot times. Worse yet, these programs are often not important, so you’re getting a longer boot time for no real advantages.
Why Programs Automatically Start
Most Windows computers include quite a few programs set to automatically start out-of-the-box. Other programs you install afterwards may also set themselves to automatically start. Most of these programs will appear in your system tray, but some may not and may run hidden in the background. Programs automatically start for a variety of reasons:
- To stay connected: Programs like Skype and other instant messaging solutions automatically start up by default, keeping you signed in so you can be contacted by other users.
- To download and upload: Steam automatically starts to download the latest updates for your PC games in the background, while uTorrent and other file-downloading programs automatically start so they can continue your active downloads.
- To stay running: Programs like Dropbox, Google Drive, and SkyDrive start up with Windows so they’re always running, downloading and uploading your files. Other programs, like your antivirus program, automatically start for the same reason — so they’ll always be running in the background.
- To control your hardware: Hardware utilities often automatically start to monitor your hardware and provide quick access to settings.
Some programs may just automatically start to preload themselves so they’ll open more quickly when you need them. Other programs may place themselves in the system tray exclusively to give you quick access to certain settings. In many cases, you may not want these programs to automatically start with Windows
How to Disable Startup Programs
You can often prevent a program from automatically starting in its preferences window. For example, common programs like uTorrent, Skype, and Steam allow you to disable the autostart feature in their options windows.
However, many programs don’t allow you to easily prevent them from automatically starting with Windows. How you should disable such startup programs depends on the version of Windows you’re using. If you use Windows 7 or earlier, you can use built-in MSConfig tool to disable startup programs, but we recommend you download the free CCleaner and use its built-in Startup Manager — you’ll find it under the Tools section in CCleaner.
If you’re using Windows 8, you’ll find a new startup manager in the Windows Task Manager. This tool also informs you how long each program takes to start when you log in, showing you which programs are really slowing down your boot time.
Which Startup Programs Should You Disable?
With the nuts and bolts out of the way, all that’s left is deciding which programs are important and which you’ll want to disable.
First, use a bit of common sense to understand what each program may be doing. For example, uTorrent is clearly starting so it can continue downloading files, while Skype is starting so it can keep you logged in in the background. if you don’t care about continuing to download files or automatically logging into Skype, you can disable these programs and load them normally when you want to use them.
This only goes so far, however. Some autostart programs may have names you don’t recognize — they may have been included with your computer or a hardware driver and not be related to software programs you use. For more information, you can perform a web search for the name of the program and see what other people are saying. This will give you more information about the program, letting you know whether or not it’s useful.
With Windows 8′s task manager, you can right-click an autostart entry and select Search online to quickly perform a web search for it.
What About System Services?
Some Windows software — both software included with Windows and some software added by programs you install — run as low-level system services. For example, Adobe Flash installs an updater service that will automatically check for updates in the background.
These services can be managed from the Services configuration tool in Windows. However, we don’t recommend messing with these — most programs won’t install services and the ones that do generally need the services for their operation. You won’t see much improvement in boot times or memory use from messing with your computer’s services, although you could cause problems if you disable the wrong services. We recommend leaving system services alone.
Some programs also install useless browser toolbars, add-ons, and other junk. These won’t make your computer take longer to startup, but they automatically start with your browser and can make your browser take longer to start up.
Such junk software can be removed from within your browser’s options window or by uninstalling them from the Windows Control Panel. CCleaner also allows you to disable such software using its Startup tool.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 10/6/13