How to Know What Programs Need to Run at Startup

By Hans Fredrick

When you start a Windows computer, it performs a number of set actions in a prescribed order. Startup programs are those that start automatically as soon as the operating system launches. You can reduce the time it takes for your system to be ready to use upon startup and increase the performance of your computer by limiting the programs that start up automatically. You need to determine which programs are essential upon startup in order to know which ones can be safely removed from the list.

Step 1

Determine which programs are currently running at startup. You will access the startup screen differently depending on which version of Windows you are running. To see your startup programs in Windows XP, run "MSCONFIG" from the "Run" option in the Start menu. This method will also work in Vista, or you can enter "system configuration" in the search bar accessed from the "Start" button. Once you open System Configuration, click on the "Startup" tab to view your current list of startup programs. To view your startup program list in Windows 7, Microsoft recommends downloading the "Autoruns" program, which is available on their website. MSCONFIG will also work in Windows 7.

Step 2

Learn what the programs running at startup are meant to do. Use the "Startup Item" name and the "manufacturer information" to learn what the item is. For example, any item featuring the word 'NVIDIA" is likely related to your video drivers, and should be left alone. Others will be services related to programs you have installed on your computer. Common examples include the Adobe Updater for Adobe programs, or Quicktime. Anything you recognize as connected to third-party programs is probably safe to turn off.

Step 3

Look up any Startup Items which you don't recognize. Use a Google search or the database at Bleeping Computer to look up what startup items are designed to do. The information you find will help you decide whether or not you can turn the item off.

Step 4

Decide which programs you don't need to run at startup and turn them off. If a program is essential to the internal operations of Windows, it will be loaded automatically as part of "Windows Services." If a program is listed under Startup as a Microsoft program, then it is best to leave it alone unless you know exactly what it does and are willing to be without it. The research you have done up to this point will let you make informed decisions about which programs you do not need to run at startup.

Tips & Warnings

  • Many modern programs include startup items. When you install new software, look for any options which allow you to choose to not install startup items or to not run the program at startup. Check your startup items list after you install new software to see if it has grown.
  • If there are items that you don't understand in your Startup Items list, do not turn them off. They may be related to important processes needed for the operating system to function properly.
  • Viruses and malware can install startup items. Be sure that you're always using proper virus protection on your computer. Startup items which you don't recognize should be looked up to determine if they are harmful.