One of the best feelings that accompanies turning on a new computer for the first time is how quickly it boots. From the time you press the power button to the time your desktop appears feels almost magical if you’ve gotten used to painfully slow boot times. I’ve spoken to owners who have created their own routines to deal with slow booting computers. Some never turn off their systems. Others refuse to apply any patches or updates that require a reboot. I once had a boss whose computer took so long to boot that he would come into the office, hit the power button, and then retreat to the break room for 20 minutes while the laptop took its own sweet time. There a better ways though, and in the following I will explore a few methods to reduce PC boot time.
You might assume with the proliferation of speedy storage such as SSDs and fast Intel i7 processors that slow boot times would be as rare as a Zip Drive. Yet here we are in 2016 and slow boot times are one of the most popular user complaints. In order to reduce PC boot time, we need to delve deeper into the causes of the problem.
Slow PC Boot Time, A Lingering Problem
Slow PC boot times seem like a problem we should have eradicated back around the time Windows 95 hit the streets to much fanfare and corny Jay Leno jokes. Intel was releasing new processors at the peak of Moore’s Law, storage was increasing in capacity and performance, and gamers were driving AMD and NVIDIA to release fast dedicated graphics card to handle their increasingly complex games. USB arrived and made it easy to attach peripherals, which was both a blessing and a curse as we’ll discuss. Windows 95 made computers approachable for the masses. Much to the chagrin of DOS and MAC users, but Windows 95 really was a watershed moment for the PC.
I mentioned Windows 95 as a turning point here because it marked an era where attaching devices to your computer became trivial. Before USB, one had to work around the confusion of getting your devices recognized by parallel or serial ports. USB made it infinitely more easier to connect keyboards, printers and external storage devices. The downside to this was that each of these devices required drivers that needed to load into memory in order for Windows to recognize them at boot.
More Peripherals Prompt Slow PC Boot Times
Each new version of Windows included more features which required more storage. Storage and memory manufactures created products to match these needs, but this also came at a cost of slow PC boot time. More physical drives meant more system checks on those drives at boot. Memory checks run at POST took more time as well because Windows began utilizing larger chucks of memory. By 2000, we had computers with more peripherals attached to them, accommodating larger capacity drives and able to handle more memory.
POST (Power-on Self-test) is the diagnostic sequence that runs when the computer is turned on. It determines if the keyboard, memory, drives and other hardware are working correctly. If everything tests OK, the computer will boot into the operation system. If not, the user will usually be presented with a BIOS error message. All these new features and peripherals along with larger storage and memory capacities meant POST had more work to do.
That brings us today where new desktop PCs might come with as many as a dozen or more USB ports. Even laptops provide three or four ports. As handy as they are, they breed drivers which slows down PC boot time. New computers feels so fast out of the box because they don’t have as many drivers to load on boot. Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can decrease your boot times without sacrificing reliability.
Start with the BIOS
The BIOS is the best place to start when you’re looking to decrease PC boot times. A lot of companies will configure the BIOS making it easier to add additional drives, boot from CDs, or enable WiFi or Bluetooth. When you’re getting your computer setup for the first time, many of these deault settings are reasonable. But once you’ve got things working as you like, you can return to the BIOS and disable those that don’t apply to your configuration. Here are a few tweaks I recommend:
- Move your boot drive to the First Boot Device position.
- Disable boot devices not in use. For example, if you don’t need to boot to a CD, disable that option.
- Disable Quick Boot will bypass many system tests. Not as important today as it once was.
- Disable hardware you aren’t using such as Firewire ports, PS/2 mouse port, e-SATA, unused onboard NICs, etc.
- Update to latest BIOS.
Enabling Quick Boot will speed up boot times
Any changes you make to the BIOS will need to be saved and your computer will need to be rebooted. If you decide you need to boot from media or enable a device, you can always go back into the BIOS and make those changes.
Manage Programs that Launch at Startup
Controlling exactly what programs launch will help Windows launch you to the desktop, ready to work as fast as possible. It seems like every product I install asks to launch with Windows, which can be helpful, but can result in slower PC boot time. It makes sense to launch programs you want to run 24/7 without giving them much thought. But do I really need the Google Chrome or Office updater running at boot? I know I don’t need Steam running in the background. Keep in mind that all of these updater program (or any program that resides in your system tray) uses some memory.
From Windows 10, right-click the START button and select Task Manager. Then select the Startup tab and you’ll probably see at least a dozen program that have been given permission to boot at Windows startup. Sort by Startup Impact and look over the list to make sure only those programs you care about most are listed. If you find one you don’t need, right-click on it and select Disable.
When I looked at my list recently, I found a number of updater programs from Slack, Google, and Logitech. I can update each program from within the program itself so I disabled each of them. If the program listed doesn’t make sense based on its name, I recommend leaving it alone.
Caution: I know some people recommend disabling Services using MSCONFIG, but I do not recommend this strategy. Unless you really know what you’re doing, I recommend against disabling or delaying Services within Windows. Many services are dependent on other services and the names make difficult to determine those dependencies. So I say avoid the hassles altogether.
Start with your BIOS. Then move on to programs that launch with Windows. If you’re still looking for tweaks, here are a few more to consider.
Shorten Timeout Values: If your system is setup to dual boot (Windows and Linux is common), you can change the timeout value. It’s usually set to 30 seconds so it might sense to change it to 10 seconds. Run MSCONFIG and then click on the Boot tab to change the value.
Install an SSD: This one requires opening your wallet, but might make the biggest difference if you’ve done everything else I’ve mentioned. Once you get used to booting from an SSD, you’ll never go back. But you already knew that. Samsung 850 Pro drives are especially fast and reliable.
Upgrade Windows: While I didn’t love Windows 8, it sure did boot faster than Windows 7. And Windows 10 boots even faster. This is a drastic step, but the latest version of Windows does tend to boot faster than older versions.
Add More RAM: If your computer is less than a year or two old, this probably won’t make a difference. But upgrading from 4GB to 8GB of RAM under Windows 10 can increase boot times.
Using these tips, I’ve been able to drop my boot time from 55 seconds to 33 seconds. Shaving off 40% boot time isn’t bad! I actually only reboot my computer after Windows installs updates that require me to which has been once a week or so under Windows 10. Otherwise, I leave my computer on 24/7 and set my monitors to turn off after 10 minutes.
Do you have any tweaks you’ve found that cut down on PC boot time?