When it comes to Windows programs that auto start during boot up, they can either be a useful feature to have running in the background or a source of nagging performance problems.
And when problems do occur, they can be a real pain to troubleshoot and fix, especially when you have no idea which one is causing the problem.
Sometimes the best method for troubleshooting, is to disable all programs from auto starting. Doing so will allow you to pin point the culprit, by enabling each program, one by one to auto start and easily isolate the problem.
One way to disable all startup programs is with Windows own built-in tool, System Configuration Utility (also known as MSCONFIG).
To do this, first create a System Restore point that you can use to restore you computer back to normal if something goes wrong.
For Vista owners, use the Start menu to search for "restore" and click on System Restore from the search results. Click the "open System Protection" link at the bottom and create a restore point.
For XP owners, click on Start \ Accessories \ System Tools \ System Restore and create a restore point.
Next, open the Run dialog box, by pressing Windows Key+R or click on Start \ Run and enter msconfig.
Once the System Configuration Utility opens, select the Startup tab and make note of all the items that are not checked (so you can set the configuration back when finished troubleshooting).
Now click on the General tab, then under the Startup Selection area:
- Click on Selective Startup radio button.
- Uncheck Load Startup Items.
- Click the Apply button.
Note: Screen shots are from XP. Vista MSCONFIG utility will look similar.
Now, if you select the Startup tab, notice that all items are unchecked making them disabled from auto starting.
Click the Close button then select Restart to reboot your Computer (or you can delay restarting and click on Exit Without Restarting).
Once your Computer reboots, the problem that you were having should be gone (unless your problem was not auto-start related). At this point, open System Configuration Utility (MSCONFIG) and select the first program then restart again.
You will need to do this one by one until the problem occurs (leave previous items checked). Once you find the culprit, search Google or visit the manufacture web site to see if a fix is available or if other people are having the same problem.
At this point you can reset your items back to the way they were, except for the item that is causing the problem.
IMPORTANT: Be aware, by disabling some programs from auto starting, can prevent some software or OEM hardware on your computer from working correctly (mouse, wireless keyboard, etc…). This is why it's important to first review how your items are set, as mentioned above.
Also, don't be tempted to start making other changes when working with System Configuration Utility (MSCONFIG). Selecting Diagnostic Startup or unchecking Load System Services (under General tab) will wipe out all System Restore points preventing recovery, if needed.
In the event that disabling all auto start programs does cause problems with your Computer from booting up, You can access the System Configuration Utility by booting into Safe Mode.
Just press F8 (continually) during boot up until the Advanced Options Menu screen appears, and select Safe Mode.
Once in Safe Mode, run MSCONFIG and reset your items back to the way they were and reboot.