How to Get Your Computer to Boot Faster

By Paul M. J. Suchecki

When I worked in a television newsroom, it took so long to boot up our computers that we were told to never turn them off in case the next shift needed them for a breaking story. Today, I work primarily out of my home office. I used to consume a full cup of coffee every morning while waiting for my desktop to wake up, but I've found some time-savers to share with you.

Step 1

The biggest problem is that almost every time you install new software, it loads when you boot. I have applications that I rarely use, like optical character recognition, and those that I turn to several times a day, like MS Outlook. By simply loading software only when you need it, you can cut your boot time significantly. To see what is loading now and to pick and choose in Windows XP, click on your "Start" menu. Go to "Run." Type "msconfig" (minus the quotes). You'll be presented with tabs. You're probably operating under Normal Startup, which loads all device drivers and services. Choose "Selective Startup" instead. Under Selective Startup, I've checked Process System.INI file, Process Win.INI. file, Load System Services, Load Startup Items and Use Original Boot.INI. If you are an advanced user and you know what you are doing, you can select or deselect these boxes as you choose. If you click everything except "Services" and then click "Disable All," followed by "OK," you'll end up booting in Safe Mode. Our goal here is to cut back on the Startup programs. Click that tab. There, you'll find a long list of applications like ALCMTR and hpsysdrv. I took the time to enter each of them in Google to search for what they do. Sites like proved useful in determining whether I should enable or disable the applications on booting. Right now, I've only selected about a third of those listed. My machine boots faster, and I've notice no lack of performance.

Step 2

While you are in msconfig, look under the "BOOT.INI" tab. You will see a box labeled "Timeout." It is typically set to 30, which adds a half-minute delay. You can readily change it to 3 seconds, but no shorter. Close that tab, click "OK" and reboot for the changes to take place. The first time you restart, you'll probably have a window pop up saying you're in Selective Boot Mode. You can disable the window while preserving your changes.

Step 3

Make sure that you are not loading Trojans or adware when you boot. Not only should you keep your antivirus software like McAfee or Norton up to date, you should load and install an adware fighter like Lavasoft's Ad Aware, which is free for private use and does a good job of removing pop-ups, and tracking cookies and other spyware.

Step 4

At least once a month, clear out your Internet temp files through your browser, empty your Recycle Bin, move unneeded files to a back-up drive and perform a disc defragmentation. In My Computer, right-click on your boot drive. Click on "Properties," select "Tools" and then Defragment. This will take time, so don't run any applications, including screen savers, while performing this task. When your files are closer together, they'll load faster. You can also go through your cookies folder, deleting those you don't need. I keep only the ones that allow me to log on quickly to my favorite sites.

Step 5

Use Stand By mode. Since most of the boot time is used by loading programs, Stand By mode saves time by retaining those programs in memory. It saves power by shutting down the drives and monitors, the biggest power hogs. In Control Panel, you can set up your computer to go into Stand By mode automatically after a certain amount of time. In Windows XP, the Stand By option is presented to you when you choose to power down. Open documents and programs are stored in volatile memory. It's a quick way to get active, and I usually use it when I leave in the afternoons for a workout; however, it's useful to save everything before entering Stand By. If there's a power outage, your most recent changes will evaporate. I don't use Stand By much longer than a couple of hours because my PC is quirky and will tend to exit Stand By on its own. Still it's my only way to set up my computer to use the hard disc to record a television program.

Step 6

Establish Hibernate mode. A better choice for an overnight shutdown is Hibernate mode, which saves an image of your computer's open applications and documents on your hard drive. If you go into your computer's Control Panel, you can set this up so that you enter and leave hibernation by pushing your power switch. You can also establish hibernation after a fixed amount of time that your computer is unused. On your Start menu, access the Control Panel. Double-click on "Power Options." Click on the "Hibernate" tab to enable hibernation. Choose your options; then click "OK." When you decide to leave your computer for the day, go through the Start menu and click "Turn Off Computer." By holding down your "Shift" key, a new Hibernate option will appear. Click on it and your computer will snooze, coming back a lot faster than before when you need it.

Tips & Warnings

  • When I use Hibernate mode, my computer sometimes comes back on by itself. Since my computer and all my peripherals are plugged into a surge protector, I now take the additional step of powering it down before walking away from the machine.
  • If you power down your computer in Stand By with an external device, you will reboot from scratch when you resume.