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Tue 14 Oct 2008 04:00 AM

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Boot camp

If you're sick of twiddling your thumbs waiting for your operating system to boot, read on as Windows shows you how to cut your boot times.

If you're sick of twiddling your thumbs waiting for your operating system to boot, read on as Windows shows you how to cut your boot times.

It's as inevitable as the sun rising in the morning; as your operating system (OS) accumulates age, it will take longer and longer to boot if left unmaintained. This, unfortunately, holds true regardless of what OS you use on your machine.

There are a number of reasons for the elongated boot time including a fully packed hard drive, un-necessary data accumulation via the installation and un-installation of software and even bloated registry.

All of these factors combined will add a certain amount of time to your OSs' boot time and, if left unchecked, you could be faced with minute long boot times or, in the worst case, an OS crash.

Thankfully, there is plenty you can do to make sure this doesn't happen and going this route is a lot quicker than resorting to a time-consuming system reformat and OS reinstall. So without further ado, lets get on with the tips and tricks.

Trim the fat

One of the reasons an OS can take a long time to boot is because it's running on a fully-packed hard drive. Hard drives perform slightly better when they have free space, so your first point of attack should be to free up disk space. The best way to do this is to get rid of unwanted data such as old e-mails and software.

For your e-mails, the best course of action is to get rid of messages with large attachments. If you're using an e-mail client such as Microsoft's Outlook, simply click on the ‘Size' field and Outlook will reorder your e-mail list in order of size.

Once Outlook has reorganised your e-mails just delete the ones that you don't need in order of attachment size. This will free up valuable disk space and will also give a small performance improvement in terms of boot speed.

When it comes to getting rid of programs, the best way to go about this is by uninstalling them using Windows' Add/Remove utility. You can find this by clicking Start/Settings/Control Panel and then double click on ‘Add or Remove programs'.

Once the app opens and shows you the full list of programs installed, scroll through and think about which software you need and which you don't. Get rid of as much as possible and you should have a load of free disk space by the time you're done.

Clean up crew

Although using the Add/Remove utility to get rid of unwanted software is a solid way to clean up your hard disk, it isn't full-proof. Sometimes programs will leave data in other directories whilst also leaving their footprints on Windows' registry.

This not only consumes a small amount of disk space but the left over bloat in the registry means that the OS has more code to process. This adversely affects boot times and also responsiveness once the OS has actually booted.

To clean up this mess, you'll need to employ utility software such as ‘CCleaner'. This handy app can scan your hard drive and registry for useless data entries, making it easy for you to simply select what you don't want and get rid of it. In terms of unwanted data removal, CCleaner looks for temporary files, un-needed file fragments and more. On the registry front, the app will look through your OSs' registry and will track-down references to missing files, fonts, applications, paths and more.

Once you've installed the application and run it, it should automatically open in the ‘Cleaner' section. Here, you need only click ‘Analyze' and wait for the software to compile a list of un-necessary data.

While Cleaner is fairly accurate in terms of determining what is needed and what's not, you should try and look through the list, just to make sure it hasn't inadvertently selected something important. Once you're happy with the list of selected files, hit the ‘Run Cleaner' button.

Next, click the ‘Registry' icon on the left hand side of the app's main screen and then hit the ‘Scan for issues' button that's located at the bottom. Once a list has been compiled, as before, go through the list to make sure nothing major is being removed and then hit ‘Fix selected issues'. Your registry should now be bloat free. Stopping and starting

Your next stop on the road to quicker boot times is to prevent too many programs from loading along with Windows, as this will make the system available for use much quicker. To do this, you'll need to take advantage of the ‘System Configuration utility' that's bundled along with your OS.

To call this app to screen, simply click Start/Run and type in ‘msconfig' and hit Enter on your keyboard. The app will load with six different tabs; General, System.ini, Win.ini, Boot.ini, Services and Startup.

Of these, the last one is the most important for speeding up boot times. This tab essentially lists all the programs that start along with Windows. Disabling any of these will not only result in quicker boot times but will also make more memory available, thus making your computer as a whole feel a lot more responsive.

Look through the list of programs that run at startup and deselect all the non-essential ones. For example, instant messaging programs such as Google Talk and MSN Messenger load by default with Windows but disabling these will make the OS boot much faster and, you can simply run these programs when you need them.

Other apps you should look out for include disk indexing apps that track photos and other content, scheduler programs and even printer utilities. All of these can be executed later without any detrimental effects on your system's well being.

While you're stopping third party software from booting along with your OS, you should also trim the load list in terms of Windows-based ‘services'. Services are executable files that perform special functions for the OS and these generally run silently in the background. However, while some services are essential for Windows to run, there are some that can be terminated, thus freeing memory and shaving seconds of your boot time.

To find out and modify what services start with your PC, click on Start/Settings/Control Panel and then double click ‘Administrative Tools'. Next, click ‘Services' and you should be presented with the full list of Windows' Services.

The first order of business here is to determine which of these Services start automatically with the OS. To do this click the ‘Startup Type' heading and the list should automatically be reorganised showing you the Services that start automatically. Services that can be safely stopped for a non network-based desktop computer include Messenger, Server, Remote Registry, Secondary Logon and Task Scheduler. Unfortunately you'll have to manually stop each of these from running in turn.

To do this, double click on the service you want to stop and change the ‘Startup type' from ‘Automatic' to ‘Disabled'. You can then also click the ‘Stop' button to immediately stop the service from running.

Final destination

The last port of call to trimming your boot time is to defragment your hard drive. Defragmenting your hard drive will place data in continuous, logical blocks so the hard drive can access the data quickly, rather than wasting time looking for the various chunks across its storage platters.

Windows features a built-in defragmentation utility and this does a decent job or reorganising data. To defragment your drive, double click on ‘My Computer', right click on the drive you wish to defragment and click on ‘Properties'.

Now, click the ‘Tools' tab and hit ‘Defragment Now'. Next, click ‘Analyze' and then, once the app has completed its scan, hit ‘Defragment'. The process can take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours depending on how fragmented, how large and how fast or slow your drive is.

Besides the Windows defragmenter there are also third party defragmentation apps available such as Diskeeper. This app has a specialised defragmentation mode that analyses a computer's boot process and reorganises data so that access to those particular chunks of data happens the quickest.

Note: When you make changes and accept them, msconfig will ask you to restart and on next boot, a warning message will pop up telling you of your actions. Simply accept them and proceed as normal.

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