Speeding Up Computer Start-up

Does your computer take too long to start up? Even the 45-60 seconds mine took seemed interminable; turn on power, get coffee, and still have to wait for the rolling dots to complete the cycle.  Even then, the final stages of the startup files had to complete, the icons would occasionally flash or reset a time or two until, finally, and the cursor was no longer a blue rolling circle but the familiar arrow.

A number of things determines how long it takes your computer to startup.  Your processor, the computers engine, sets the speed of all processes and how fast they run.  Ultimately though, hard disk speed and the number of drivers and programs that run at start slow down the boot time of your computer more than anything else.

If you are running any modern Windows Operating System (OS); 7, 8, 10, you can check what files are running at startup.  Open the run box by clicking on the OS icon in the lower left of the toolbar. In the white box type “msconfig.exe” (no quotes). If you have are not logged in as an Administrator, you will be prompted for the Admin password.

The system configuration panel will then open.  Since we are talking about speeding up the computer startup, select the Startup tab. On some Windows, systems there will be a link and message to use the Task Manager Startup section.  If you have this, click the link.  The two sections are similar so what follows will pertain to both.

sys-con2Here you will see a list of drivers and programs that run when your computer starts up.  Many of them are required and will indicate they are from Microsoft or the PC manufacturer.  It is probably best to leave these alone until you do more research into what these apps control.  The more of these listed, and their impact, the longer it will take your computer to startup.

You will see familiar names such as your antivirus software, your printer, Adobe, and Realtech.  These are often drivers or “watcher” programs.  These programs watch your system for viruses, keep track of updates or let you know when your printer ink is low.  Some of these are necessary, such as your antivirus software; others can be eliminated if you don’t use the associated program often or do not want notices on updates.  This list also includes the software publisher, status (enabled/disabled) and the startup impact.  This last is an indication on how much the program slows down the startup process.

You can disable most startup programs by right-clicking on a name and selecting Disable.    You can also see the file location, file properties and search for the file online for more information.  If you have a large number of startup files, especially those with impact high, disabling any unnecessary ones could reduce your startup times.  Of course if you have a fast processor, fast hard drive or very few startup files, disabling a few of these programs will not make much of a difference. BE VERY CAREFUL! Disabling the wrong start-up program can disable your printer, networking or interfere with your anti-virus program.

As you can see from my list, I had less than 10 startup files enabled.  Only of these were listed as high impact, Dropbox and Logitech.  You can also see from the list the large number of startup programs I have disabled over the years.  Adobe, Quickbooks, and other programs that are needed occasionally, but are not needed to run at startup.  Any of these programs can be started manually.

Even with so few startup files, my startup times from a cold boot (power to computer completely off) was over 2 minutes.  This may not sound like a lot, but 2 minutes every day becomes 12 hours over the course of a year.  When you are rushing to check email, waiting a few minutes for the computer to boot and loading the email client can seem like an hour.

With the addition of some new technology, computer boot times and overall computer speed can be greatly increased.  Solid State Drives (SSD) were originally devised for laptops, notebooks and tablets.  They are small, low power and, since they have no moving parts, shock proof.  These are not really “drives”; a more accurate name would be Solid State Storage.

SSDvsHDD An SSD is an array of storage chips similar to that on a flash drive. Controllers and management software also make up part of the package. These “drives” are more expensive per megabyte than a standard drive (1 Tb HD ~$50.00/1 Tb SSD ~$250.00). Until recently, large SSD sizes were unavailable or much too expensive.  That is no longer the case.

An SSD’s biggest advantage is speed.  An SSD can speed up not just the computer start-up process but any program startup and file storage process.  These drives are FAST!  They also use less of the CPU (computer processor) which can speed up the computer 5 – 10%.

But there are advantages to SSD’s other than speed.  Power consumption is 60% lower than standard hard disks. SSD’s generate much less heat, are shock proof and make no noise (no moving parts). These attributes make them exceptional for use in notebooks, laptops, and small-form computers.

Another advantage is reliability.  Since there are no moving parts, less heat and power consumption, SSD’s are 4-10 times less likely to fail than standard hard drives.

Over all, SSD’s make a great upgrade to a slower PC.  If you are in the market for a new computer, it would also be an advantage to purchase one with an SSD.

Installation of my SSD was straightforward, but a bit unusual.  Along with the SSD I purchased a special SATA to USB cable along with the Apricorn EZ Gig Cloning Software.

Cloning my C: drive, which contains the boot sector, Windows 10 and most of the programs, to the SSD was the first thing to do.  Temporarily connecting the SSD to the computer was a simple matter of plugging it into the SATA end of the cable and plugging the other end into a USB 3.0 port on the computer.

Running the software required administrator privileges.  The program checked all the drives on my computer and created a list of each. I selected the source drive, where my C: drive is located, and the destination drive, which in this case was my SSD.

When doing any cloning or backup, you must make certain that you have the correct drives selected.  One mistake and you could erase all your data!  The program asks several times if you are certain all settings are correct, before beginning the cloning process.

Cloning went very quickly.  I made a clone of my 1 Tb C: drive with 380 Gb of data in about an hour.  The next step was replacing my old drive with my newly cloned SSD. This part was a bit more technical but easy to do.

Turn off the computer, unplug the power cable and press the power on button.  This releases any stored charge on capacitors on the main board which could cause a short.

Opening the computer case revealed an issue with dust buildup on the inside and on the fan blades.  A quick cleaning with a small vacuum and air can got everything dust-free.  Just be careful doing this and don’t touch any of the electronics with the vacuum.

Computer cases from different manufactures support the hard disks differently.  Mine had two screws holding a bracket which housed the two hard drives.  If you have more than one drive in the computer, make a note of which cable is plugged into the C: drive. After removing the C: drive and cable, you will notice that the SSD is quite a bit smaller than the hard disk it is replacing.  Most likely it will not fit in the hard disk enclosure.  There are adapters available but are really not needed.  Since the SSD has no moving parts and is shockproof, you don’t have to worry about it moving around in the case. I secured mine to the side of the hard disk bracket using stick on Velcro. This made it easy to access and secured it from any movement of the computer. This is a common practice with computer upgraders.

I plugged the SSD into the same SATA port the original drive used.  This is important since Windows and the computer BIOS will recognize the drive as the same as the original – it is a clone.  If you plug the SSD into a different SATA port, Windows, and the computer, will get confused and you have to tell the computer which drive to use in the BIOS.  Windows may require a few reboots to change its settings or may require a special utility to fix any boot issues.  This is only a problem if the SSD is your boot drive.  Since I used the original SATA port I did not have any of these issues.

You do not have to use the Apricorn software; there are many other cloning programs available.  I used Apricorn since it was suggested by both SSD manufacturers I was considering (SanDisk and Samsung).

Instead of cloning the original drive, you could also do a complete reinstall of your operating system and all applications.  This process is very time consuming and requires you to have complete backups of all documents, passwords, settings, drivers and access to all the install programs and key codes for your applications. This has the advantage of cleaning any old and unused programs, settings and left-over bits and bytes of programs from the computer.

Overall the change-over from a standard hard drive to a SSD went exceptionally smoothly and took about two hours from installation to last first startup of the new drive.  The advantage is that my computer now cold boots in about 5 seconds, applications launch immediately, and the entire system seems more robust.  A much welcome change to the standard hard drive system I had last week.