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Thursday, April 13, 2006

Troubleshooting a Slow Computer

So your computer is slowing down. Maybe you're getting an error at startup or the blasted thing won't shut down anymore. Well, the Microsoft System Configuration Utility is a built-in way to help Windows XP feel better. While this article won't discuss all of the nitty-gritty's in using the utility, I will discuss how to use it to diagnose some problems.

Please skim the article before you start as I've got some additional information down at the bottom on how to automate this process (for those of us that are in a hurry and want technology to be our slaves :)

NOTE: Unfortunately, Microsoft thought that having msconfig on Windows 2000 would not be helpful - boy were they wrong! Well, there's hope for Windows 2000 users out there.

Step 1: Crack it open

To open up msconfig, do the following:

  1. Start
  2. Run
  3. then type "msconfig" (without the quotes) and hit enter
You'll then see the System Configuration Utility pop up.

Step 2: Clean it up

The two tabs we'll focus on are the Services and the Startup tab. Services are basically programs that run as a part of the OS as addons/addins/plugins, whatever you want to call them. Programs in the Startup tab are just programs that startup when the computer starts. This is where you find your classic slow-down problems.

First, let's clean out some unnecessary services:
  1. Click on the Services Tab
  2. Click the "Hide All Microsoft Services" checkbox
    1. you don't want to mess with those unless you know what you're doing. Here's some more info. And, here's some information from the Tech Republic.
  3. From the remaining list, uncheck anything you don't think you'll need
    1. you don't need anything here. However, some services are useful (such as your antivirus, firewall, antispyware, etc.).
    2. it's worth while to look up those services on the internet for information on what they are. It's your computer - you have the right to know what's running on it!
  4. Click Okay to get out of there
  5. Click the Reboot button on the dialog that pops up after
Now, you can skip steps 4 and 5 if you want to do the startup tab at the same time. That's recommended.

Step 3: Shutdown startup town

It seems like every utility developer out there thinks that their program needs to start when Windows starts as if you entire life will revolve around their application. Well, that just isn't true - usually :) Here's what you can do about it:
  1. In msconfig, click the Startup tab
  2. Uncheck anything you don't need
    1. again, it pays to look things up
  3. Click Okay to close msconfig
  4. Click the Reboot button on the dialog that pops up
Once your computer comes back up, things should be noticably better. Of course, this is in proportion to the amount of services and startup items that you uncheck.

One thing though, when your computer reboots, you'll see a window pop up explaining that you're using msconfig and that it's for troubleshooting, bla bla bla. Just put the check in the "Don't show this message again" checkbox and click Okay. You'll get this popup every time you change something in msconfig.

Where does it all really live?

Which brings me to another point. Msconfig really is just for troubleshooting. You can make these changes permanent by looking in the various places that these items live:
  1. C:\Documents and Settings\user_profile\Start Menu\Programs\Startup
    1. You can see this list under Start > All Programs > Startup
    2. You might have to turn off the option that hides some files and important system files. It's found in Tools > Folder Options > View tab (accessible from any Explorer window such as My Documents).

  2. In the registry (Start > Run > type regedit and hit enter):
    • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run
    • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run

      I like to make a "Favorite" of these keys in the Registry Editor for quick easy access

  3. For Windows Services, you can go to:
    1. Click Start > Run
    2. Type services.msc and hit enter
      1. This will give you a nice utility to use to see what services you have, their status and startup configuration. Be careful what you do if you don't know what you're doing. Besides, performance gains here are usually minimal compared to eliminating startup items.
Isn't this supposed to be about troubleshooting?

Now you say, "Wait! I have a problem, not a slow computer!" Well, here's what you do to eliminate conflicting problems:
  1. Open msconfig
  2. Go to the Startup tab
  3. Disable/uncheck all of the startup items
  4. Reboot
  5. Try whatever it was that you were trying to do
    1. If it works you know that something you unchecked is causing the problem
      1. Go back to msconfig and recheck two or three things
      2. Reboot
      3. Go back to step 5
    2. If it doesn't work, then either:
      1. A startup item is not the problem, or
      2. Something you've just checked in msconfig the last time around is causing the problem
        1. Go back to msconfig
        2. Uncheck everything except what you just checked
        3. Reboot
        4. Try again
          1. If it still doesn't work, then go back to step 5, except you know it has to be something that's checked which should only be a couple of items.
Tedious? Yes! But if you want Windows to work right, that's what you have to do.

Make technology work for you

Mark Russinovich has created a wonderful program that gives you more information than you'd ever want to know about what's starting up on your computer. While msconfig comes with Windows, it's really only good for diagnostic work. It really lacks the robustness required to give Windows a good cleaning. Give Autoruns a look - you won't be sorry.

There are also several other programs out there to automate this process. One good free example is Hijack This!. The real benefit of Hijack This! is that not only will it find information relevant to troubleshooting a slow computer, thanks to this online service, you can get recommendations on how safe (or unsafe) some of those items are. You'll still have to do the work to remove stuff that you don't need, but at least you can trust the recommendations!

Good luck and may all your troubles be shot :)


Sunny said...

Do you find your windows system become more and more slowly after used it a few month, the reason is your windows registry stored much rubbish and it becomes bloated. To solve this problem, you can use windows registry cleaners software.

Lisa said...

Working on slow computers can be a pain and indeed very stressful. Finishing something on a slow computer would even take up many hours instead of just several minutes. For me, that's a waste of time and unproductive. I think that's why many companies prefer to hire skilled staff for their IT management. Boston professionals are known for their expertise. Also, most companies provide the best tools and programs for their computers' network support. Boston offers many opportunities for skilled workers!

Thanks for the tips, Dave!

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