Tuning Windows Vista’s Performance : Optimizing Startup

8/19/2011 9:21:56 AM

Optimizing Startup

One of the longest-running debates in computer circles involves the question of whether to turn off the computer when you’re not using it. The “off” camp believes that shutting down the computer reduces hard disk wear and tear (because the disk’s platters spin full-time, even when the computer is idle), prevents damage from power surges or power failures that occur while the machine is off, and saves energy. The “on” camp believes that cold starts are hard on many computer components, that energy can be saved by taking advantage of power-saving features, and that leaving the computer running is more productive because it avoids the lengthy startup process.

In the end, I believe the overall boot time is what usually determines which of these camps you belong to. If your startup time is unbearably long, you’ll certainly be more inclined to leave your computer running all the time. Fortunately, Windows Vista has made great strides on improving startup times, which now routinely measure in seconds instead of minutes. However, if you’re convinced that turning off the computer is a sensible move but you hate waiting even for Windows Vista’s faster startup process, the next few sections provide a few tips for improving startup performance even more.

Reducing or Eliminating BIOS Checks

Many computers run through one or more diagnostic checks at system startup. For example, it’s common for machines to check the integrity of the system memory chips. That seems like a good idea, but it can take an interminable amount of time to complete on a system with a great deal of memory. Access your system’s BIOS settings and turn off these checks to reduce the overall time of the computer’s Power-On Self Test (POST).


How you access your computer’s BIOS settings (also called the CMOS setup) depends on the manufacturer. You usually have to press a function key (normally F1, F2, or F10), a key such as Delete or Esc, or a key combination. During the POST, you should see some text on the screen that tells you what key or key combination to press.

Reducing the OS Choices Menu Timeout

If you have two or more operating systems on your computer, you see Windows Vista’s OS Choices menu at startup. If you’re paying attention to the startup, you can press the Enter key as soon as this menu appears and your system will boot the default operating system. If your mind is elsewhere, however, the startup process waits 30 seconds until it automatically selects the default choice. If this happens to you frequently, you can reduce that 30-second timeout to speed up the startup. There are three ways to do this:

  • Press Windows Logo+R (or select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Run), type msconfig -2, click OK, and enter your UAC credentials. In the System Configuration tool’s Boot tab, modify the value in the Timeout text box.

  • Select Start, right-click Computer, and then click Properties. In the System window, click Advanced System Settings and enter your UAC credentials to open the System Properties dialog box and display the Advanced tab. In the Startup and Recovery group, click Settings and then adjust the value of the Time to Display List of Operating Systems spin box.

  • Click Start, All Programs, Accessories, right-click Command Prompt, and then click Run as Administrator. At the command prompt, enter the following command (replace ss with the number of seconds you want to use for the timeout):

    BCDEDIT /timeout

Turning Off the Startup Splash Screen

You can prevent the Windows Vista splash screen from appearing, which will shave a small amount of time from the startup. Press Windows Logo+R (or select Start, All Programs, Accessories, Run), type msconfig -2, click OK, and then enter your UAC credentials. In the System Configuration tool’s Boot tab, activate the No GUI Boot check box.


Activating the No GUI Boot option means that you won’t see any startup blue-screen errors. In other words, if a problem occurs, all you’ll know for sure is that your system has hung, but you won’t know why. For this reason, the small performance improvement represented by activating the No GUI Boot option is likely not enough to offset the lack of startup error messages.

Upgrading Your Device Drivers

Device drivers designed to work with Windows Vista will generally load faster than older drivers. Therefore, you should check each of your device drivers to see whether a Windows Vista–compatible version exists.

Using an Automatic Logon

One of the best ways to reduce startup time frustration is to ignore the startup altogether by doing something else (such as getting a cup of coffee) while the boot chores occur. However, this strategy fails if the logon process interrupts the startup. If you’re the only person who uses your computer, you can overcome this problem by setting up Windows Vista to log you on automatically.

Configuring the Prefetcher

Prefetching is a Windows Vista performance feature that analyzes disk usage and then reads into memory the data that you or your system accesses most frequently. The prefetcher can speed up booting, application launching, or both. You configure the prefetcher using the following Registry setting:

HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SessionManager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters\EnablePrefetcher

There’s also a SuperFetch setting:
HKLM\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\SessionManager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters\EnableSuperfetch

In both cases, set the value to 1 for application-only fetching, 2 for boot-only fetching, or 3 for both application and boot fetching (this is the default for both settings). You can try experimenting with boot-only fetching to see whether it improves your startup times, but my own testing shows only minimal startup improvements. The more programs you run at startup, the more your startup performance should improve with boot-only fetching.
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