How to Control Windows Startup Programs Without Special Software

It’s amazing how many special pieces of software there are for the simple task of managing Windows’ startup items. Especially considering the fact that Microsoft has long included a tool in most versions of Windows for just this purpose. It’s called msconfig, and it’s been there all along waiting to help you speed up your boot process.

Those of you who’ve been repairing Windows PCs for years may be thinking “Come on! Everyone knows about msconfig!”. At Make Tech Easier, we actually get quite a few questions about how to manage Windows startup items, and with the proliferation of malicious “repair tools” on the web, the old stand by is as relevant as ever. And why not? Msconfig gives you a fast, clean, simple and effective way to fully control what starts up with your PC. Not only can it have a huge affect on boot speed, but it can be VERY handy when dealing with auto-starting malware. Here’s how to use this basic tool to get your boot back.

Note: While most versions of Windows contain msconfig, the exact options present may change based on Windows version. The examples and screenshots here are using Windows 7.

Launching msconfig

On Windows versions XP and prior, click Start -> Run, and in the run box enter “msconfig”.

Vista and 7 users can simply type “msconfig” into the search box in the main menu.

General Settings

On the initial configuration page, you’re limited to the basic options. While you can set basic boot settings here, and presumably skip the later sections, that’s not recommended for general use. Disabling ALL services and startup items isn’t something you want to leave up long-term, so unless you’re trying to diagnose a problem, leave this area on Normal Startup.

msconfig-general

Boot

The boot tab contains several useful options regarding system startup. Arguably the most useful option section here is the one regarding Safe Boot options. The choices are similar to what you’d get by using the notorious F8 key on boot, with additional options depending on your Windows version.

msconfig-boot

If you have multiple installations, or like me Windows first clobbered the wrong MBR a few times before finding the right one, initial boot images can be selected and managed from the top panel.

Also make note of the Base Video option, which can be handy for troubleshooting video driver issues.

Services

This is one of the most important parts of msconfig. This tab givs you quick and easy access to the system services and can be tweaked as desired. Be careful of shutting down too many services, some might turn out to be more important than you thought. If you’re unsure, it’s probably wisest to leave it as-is.

msconfig-services

As indicated on screen, some services are considered vital and can not be disabled.

Startup

Under normal circumstances, this will probably be the place you’d go most often in msconfig. These are programs run at the application level when Windows starts. While some malware might live here, you’ll more often find well-intentioned but sometimes useless software like updaters and so-called quickstarters. On a fairly fresh install (such as the one in the screenshots) you may not see all that many, but on a heavily used family computer the number of entries here can sometimes enter the triple digits.

msconfig-startup

Tools

The Tools tab is a fairly recent addition to msconfig, and has little to do with system startup directly. This screen merely provides shortcuts to a few other system utilities like regedit and the system restore tool.

msconfig-tools

It may be old, it may be tiny, but msconfig is as useful as ever. If you’ve used msconfig or similar utilities to bring an old machine back to life, let us know about it in the comments.

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