Commentary
1/7/2004
02:00 PM
Fred Langa
Fred Langa
Commentary

The Explorer: Curing Sloooooooow Restarts

Hardware and software tweaks can make your PC start much, much faster.



Ever wonder why some PCs start up in what seems like seconds, while other grind on for minutes before they're ready to use? "Sleep Mode" and "suspend" features help somewhat, reducing the time from when you sit down at the keyboard to when you can begin working, but everyone needs to fully reboot from time to time.

Some parts of the boot process depend on how the PC and its BIOS (the "Basic Input/Output System that controls the lowest level of hardware functionality) work together: As such, some parts of the boot up are designed in by the manufacturer and are beyond your control. They vary from brand to brand and model to model, and can't be changed, period.

But other parts -- including some BIOS functions -- can be controlled, and can make your PC much faster starting. I'll present some of the most universally applicable Windows 9x speedups in this column, and then I invite you to join the discussion to share brand- and model-specific tips and tricks to make our PCs start faster. By the time we're done, we could have quite a collection of speedup tips!

Can You Bypass Bootup?
Sometimes, the fastest way to restart a PC is simply to bypass all the low-level hardware checking altogether. And although this trick has been around forever, amazingly few people know of it:

Next time you need to quickly restart Windows (when your PC already is running) go to the Windows Start button and select Shut Down/Restart as you normally would. But before you click "OK," press and hold the left shift key; keep the left shift key depressed until you see the words "Windows is now restarting..." This one little trick alone can shave as much as a couple of minutes off the reboot time on slower systems!

Eliminate Needless DOS-Level Startup Stuff, Method One
For several years now, Windows hasn't really needed the old DOS startup files called "Config.sys" and "Autoexec.bat." It's true that these files can sometimes be used to good effect in Windows (for example, see By the Bootstraps

for a way to gain up to about 10 percent extra "low" memory for free!), but sometimes those files end up filled with useless junk that just slows you down. Some system makers, for example, include unnecessary lines in those files; and sometimes software you add also alters those files. Anything in your Autoexec or Config file will run -- or try to run -- at every boot, so unnecessary entries there can really slow you down at every restart.

Here's an easy way to see what's in those files, and to control whether they run or not:

Click Start/Run and type MSCONFIG in the text box; hit enter. The "System Configuration Utility" will start up. This utility lets you play with various startup elements that are under Windows' control. You can click on the Config or Autoexec tab, for example, and selectively enable or disable various elements of those files via checkboxes.

But before you make any changes, click the "Make backup" button. Then, if something goes wrong, you can use the "Restore Backup" button to undo any changes you make. (Because I'm a belt-and-suspenders kind of guy, I also make manual copies of my Autoexec.bat and Config.sys files so I can restore them even if I can't get back into Windows.) Ideally, make one change at a time, reboot, and see what the effect was. If it was OK, try another change. If not, undo the change you just made. If you change many things at once, it can become hard to keep track of cause and effect.

Eliminate Needless DOS-Level Startup Stuff, Method Two
If the MSCONFIG trick doesn't work, or if you want more control, make a backup copy of any files you're going to edit (so you can be sure to be able to put things back the way they were, if you need to) and then use Notepad or Sysedit to manually alter Config.Sys and Autoexec.Bat. If you're not familiar with it, "Sysedit" is the Windows system file editing tool, and you can start it thusly: Start/Run, type Sysedit, hit enter.

Once you've loaded the files you want to edit, simply place a "REM" (without the quotes) in front of any lines you want to skip. For example, if your Autoexec has a line like this: C:\somedirectory\someapp.exe you could tell your PC to skip that line (and thus not load "someapp.exe") by placing a REM in front of the line like this:

REM C:\somedirectory\someapp.exe

For best results, REM out one line at a time, then reboot and see what happens. If it turns out you actually do need "someapp.exe" to run, just re-edit the file to remove the REM. (A "REM" is a remark; it's a way programmers embed comments into a file without having your computer try to run the comments. Your PC simply ignores any line that starts with REM.)

Check The BIOS Options
When you first turn on your PC, usually one of the very first things that appears on-screen (long before Windows loads) is an option to "Enter Setup" or words to that affect. Dell systems say "Hit <Del> if you want to run setup," for example. Gateway systems say "Press F1 for Setup," and so on. If you don't know how to access Setup, check your owner's manual or your vendor's Web site. There are only several major brands of BIOSes, but there are literally tens of thousands of model-specific options and features. There's no way I can tell you exactly what to look for in your system. But in general:

Some newer BIOSes have collected a number of boot-time options in one place: Some Dell and Gateway models, for example, have a "Quickboot" option that skips all nonessential start-up steps. This type of option can be a very easy way to speed things up.

Some BIOSes let you choose if all hard drives, floppy drives, and CDs will be re-detected on every restart; or detected once and then only redetected if there's a problem. The latter option makes for faster boots because your system simply re-uses the hard drive, floppy drove, and CD settings that worked the last time.

Some BIOses let you turn off the RAM check (where you see the amount of RAM your system has being counted up). RAM is highly reliable, so you can save a few seconds by skipping this almost-always unnecessary RAM check.

There may be other options, too -- poke around and see. But use caution and common sense: Don't change settings at random, and write down any and all changes you make so you can be sure to be able to put things back the way they were. And, as with the Autoexec and Config changes mentioned earlier, it's best to make only once change at a time, reboot, and see what the effect was. Too many changes at once can make it hard to figure out what's going on.

These tips should get you started, but there are many, many more ways to Speed up restarts. What tricks do you use? What tips can you share? Join in!


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit Fred Langa's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about Fred Langa, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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