Tweak your startup list to speed up your computer

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There are a lot of reasons why your computer might be running slowly. But one of the biggest reasons is that you have too many programs running at the same time. This can be deceiving, because you might look at your screen and it seems like only a few are running. It’s the ones that are running that you DON’T see that could be causing the problem.

slow computer

Here’s the basic fact: the more programs you have running, the slower they all run. That means you don’t want to have any programs running if you don’t need them at the time.

The secret is to find the list of programs that run automatically every time you boot up the computer, and tell them not to run every time.

Here’s how you find that list:

In Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7:

1. Click the Start button (the Microsoft logo in the bottom left corner)

2. In the field with the blinking cursor, type: msconfig and hit Enter on the keyboard

3. In the new window that comes up, click on the “Startup” tab. There’s your list.

In Windows 8 or 8.1:

1. Hold down CTRL and SHIFT, and tap the Escape key

2. Click the “Startup” tab. There’s your list.


So now you’re looking at the list of programs that run automatically, every time you boot up your computer. Getting to that list is the easy part. Now you have to decide which items you should disable.

Important note: disabling or unchecking a program in this list does NOT remove it or uninstall it from your computer. It’s still there. It just doesn’t run automatically every time you hit the power button.

The items that I see all the time and disable or uncheck include:

  • iTunes
  • QuickTime
  • Adobe Reader
  • Microsoft Office
  • Anything related to your printer
  • GoTo Meeting
  • Apple Push
  • PaperPort anything
  • Nuance anything
  • Skype
  • Spotify
  • RealPlayer anything

There are others for sure; these are just the ones that come to mind because I see them fairly often.

Of course, you might leave one or more of those checked based on your situation. Some people like to have Skype on all the time, so that the people with whom they communicate can see when they’re online. Or maybe you want Spotify to automatically start streaming your music every time you boot up. There’s no problem with that.

What causes the problem is that so many of these programs insert themselves into the “auto startup” group without needing to be there, and without even asking your permission to be there. Like Adobe Reader. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever for Adobe Reader to be constantly running in the background on your computer, but if you check the MSCONFIG startup list, it’s very likely you will find it there. So what happens when you UNcheck that box to disable it? It changes nothing as far as your ability to use it. When you click on a PDF file, it will open up in Adobe Reader just like it always does.

But Adobe doesn’t care about how fast your computer runs. If you take Adobe Reader out of the startup list, guess what happens after the next Adobe Reader update? Yep, it’s right back in the list again. AND – you’ll see an icon on your desktop for Adobe Reader. This is absolutely the most useless desktop icon ever. No one clicks on that to open the program. You just click on a PDF file, and it opens in Adobe Reader by default (unless you use a different program to read PDF files). But we’ve known for a long time that Adobe doesn’t care about your computer’s performance – every time you go to to get an update to Adobe Reader or Adobe Flash, it will still try to sneak other junkware on to your computer – like McAfee or garbage.

How do you know which items to uncheck or disable?

My general rule is this: if you don’t know what it is, leave it there. But even if you uncheck something that you shouldn’t have, you can always just go back to the list and check it or enable it again.

Some things are obvious. The items I listed above don’t have to run all the time, just when you need them. Other programs in the list you might not be so sure about. What you can do is note the program name, and then do a little research on it. Find out what it does. You might discover that it’s part of the software program that goes with a printer or scanner that you don’t even use any more. Or it might be malware.

On the other hand, you will probably see your antivirus program listed there – definitely want to keep that one. You should of course also keep your program that you use for automated online backup, since that should run without you having to manually activate it.

It’s a good idea to check the MSCONFIG startup list maybe once a month or so, just to be sure things haven’t gotten in there when they shouldn’t be there. Usually there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find something that you’ll want to disable.

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