Master Config Your PC


All of us geeks know ways to tweak our PC in various ways, but there are just so many entry points that I wanted to do a post on them.  The most popular PC settings, designed for the average user, are of course available through the Control Panel.  This post is about settings beyond just the typical.


Disable/Remove Pesky Apps
Got programs on your PC that are annoying?  Getting pop up ads, programs that came pre-installed, or Internet apps that slow down your PC?  Of course a decent anti-virus program is important but it certainly does not prevent many pesky annoying programs from getting on your PC.  A few of the tools here can be used to quickly remove or disable those unwanted programs. 

  1. Use Ad-Aware
    Ad-aware is a free, very popular, award winning program that scans your computer for ad based software and removes them.  Much like an anti-virus program, but focused on advertisement pop-up and similar applications.
  2. Use msconfig
    The “System Configuration Utility” (aka msconfig) lets you easily disable programs that startup when your computer starts or services that run in the background.  Many pesky programs that run automatically on your PC can be easily ‘turned off’ with this tool.


System Configuration Utility (msconfig)
One of the least known configuration tools on a users’ PC, this is also one of the most handy.  This can be really helpful to track down all those pesky startup items and system services that sneak their way onto your PC to drag down performance.  I’ve realized amazing startup performance improvements by disabling non-Microsoft startup items.  AutoRuns (mentioned below) is another free download which gives easy access to over a dozen categories of startup items.

A good practice here is to first disable everything under the “Startup” tab that you don’t recognize, reboot, and try using your PC.  The same applies to the “Services” tab.  First filter out all the “Microsoft Services” (look for the checkbox) and disable all the services that you don’t recognize.   After using your PC again for awhile, go back and only reactivate the programs or services you need.

Access Points

  • Win-R, run "msconfig"

Gives Access To

  • System Boot Menu
  • Key .INI Files
  • Disabling Services
  • Disabling Startup Items


 
System Properties

A common gateway to a collection of system properties.  Makes me wonder why they couldn’t get all these settings / config options in one place.

Access Points

  • Win-Break
  • Click "Start", right-click "My Computer", click "Properties"

Gives Access To

  • Basic system info (memory, processor)
  • Change computer name
  • Join/leave a domain
  • Device Manager (hardware)
  • Edit Environment Variables
  • Performance Visual Effects
  • allow Remote Desktop
  • System Restore disk space
  • Automatic Update settings

 

Computer Management Console
Part of the Microsoft Management Console system, the "Computer Management" console (compmgrmt.msc) gives an aggregated view of most of the MMC modules.  From the command prompt, run "dir /b/s %windir%\*.msc" to see all the modules available.

Access Points

  • Win-R, run "compmgmt.msc"
  • Click "Start", right-click "My Computer", click "Manage"

Gives Access To

  • Users & Groups
  • System Services
  • Indexing
  • SQL Server
  • Disk Management
  • Events & Logs
  • Drive Shares

 

Delay Startup of Services on Vista
Windows Vista has a new startup type for services which simply delays their loading a little so that there are fewer services that startup all at once.  I’ve found by going through and setting some of the “Automatic” items to “Automatic (Delayed)” has improved startup time (the PC is more responsive earlier after a reboot).  Run “services.msc” to see the list.

 Master Config, Services

 

Free up disk space with Disk Cleanup (cleanmgr)
Windows has had a handy tool for a few versions now that cleans up temp files, the recycle bin, little known log files, and more.  Run “cleanmgr”.  I usually apply all the options (except compression of old files on XP) and even automate a cleanup periodically using clearmgr command line options and task scheduler.  For an even more thorough cleaning, check out the 3rd party freeware tool CCleaner (originally stood for Crap Cleaner).

Vista Disk Cleanup 

 

AutoRuns, for everything startup
A free download, AutoRuns has 16 categories of programs, services, handlers, etc that startup automatically, most of them just after a reboot or user login.  There’s a lot here, so be careful.  Best to make a backup first using the File / Save menu, then make changes.  If it’s a bit much, stick with msconfig.exe and services.msc (above), they limit the items you can turn on/off to a reasonably safe subset.  But if you want the full meal deal, this is it.

AutoRuns Screenshot

Ad-Aware, remove pesky advertisement apps 

Ad-Aware is a free download (avoid the upgrade paths, stick to the free app) that has been around a long time now, is highly awarded, and easy to use.  It quickly scans your computer, much like an anti-virus program, but focuses on removing pesky ad pop-up types of programs that frequently sneak through web sites or other software that gets downloaded.  After using this app, use msconfig to disable other annoying programs that aren’t necessarily pop-up advertisements.

 Ad-Aware Screen Shot 01 Resized

 

Registry Hacks
Of course most system settings are stored in the registry.  There are 1,000s of tweaks, way too much to list, so I’ll list some popular registry hacking links.

 

Windows Management Service (WMI)
WMI is a programic interface for modifying Windows settings.  It requires that the OS/app supports WMI programming, which of course Windows does.  It can be very powerful for creating apps or scripts that configure a PC quickly/easily.  You can also target WMI on other PCs.  I have a script that sets my favorite settings on all my PCs that I just run from my one main system.

To try it out, see this little example or the Scriptomatic utility.

 

Command Line
Can’t forget the power of the command prompt and it’s role in power hacking your PC! There are advanced prompts too, such as JPSoft’s 4NT and Microsoft’s PowerShell.   Windows comes with a ton of command line tools and config apps.  I’ve listed the WinXP command apps on my PC, and there are some good lists online that explain what command line tools are already on your system such as ss64.com’s A-Z index and Microsoft TechNet Commands A-Z reference.  Best way to learn about these is to go through and run them with /? for help.

If you’re using 4NT, use this command line to see all the Windows command apps on your PC:

dir /b/s %windir%\*.exe;*.com > ExeList.txt %+ del ExeTypes.txt %+ for %a in (@ExeList.txt) do (set tmpType=%@exetype[%a] %+ if %tmpType eq 1 .OR. %tmpType eq 7 echo %a) >> ExeTypes.txt %+ del ExeList.txt %+ ExeTypes.txt


Other Tools

  • TweakUI, A MS PowerToy that provides nice UI to additional registry hacks 
  • CCleaner, Cleans crap off the PC (temp files, IE history/files, etc)
  • XPlite, A powerful componitized uninstaller/installer for Windows components
  • Windows SysInternals Tools, Diagnostic and informative tools for Windows
  • Ad-Aware, removes pesky ad aps from your PC, free and has won many awards


References

Update (6/20/08): This post was updated to include info on delayed loading of services, the Disk Cleanup tool, and additional resources to command line tools.

Comments (5)

  1. Mandragoran says:

    <<All of us geeks know ways to tweak our PC in various ways>>

    But the PC’s are always finding new and clever ways to screw up, so we have to keep running just to keep up with them.  I’ve been trying Mark’s procexp and TcpView, and had some success; e.g., I have shut down the Windows Popup that kept telling me I needed anti-spyware, which would pop up again within a second or so after I closed it, and which said I should click on the icon for information, but nothing happened when I did that.  I’m still not sure which of the many processes that I closed actually cut its throat, but it has shut up.  OTOH, aoltsmon and its buddy aoltpspd only stay closed a second or two and come right back, and I haven’t found the demon that runs them.  

    And, with TcpView, little or nothing actually closes when I tell it to, everything just keeps going.  There are half a dozen or so lines that say something about time delay, so I suspect that is what they are doing, and they just keep on keeping on.  That may have something to do with why I have to click the mouse more than once to wake it up and make it do anything, but not every time.  

    I’m looking forward to digging into what makes things happen, following some of your paths; maybe I can beat the demon yet.  

    And, yes, I do realize that the final solution is to clean off the whole hard drive and start anew, but it always seems there isn’t enough time for that.  Maybe tomorrow:-)

    Anyway, thanks for the goodies.  I’ve been wondering where to find some of that, and here it is.  

  2. Dan says:

    Excellent post, added to favorites.

    Thanks so much !

  3. Michael Ruka says:

    Hello Noah Coad,

    I am looking for a computer technician that has seen and fixed the problem that I have below. Because I have read and tried all different ways to fix it with no success.

    My name is Mike, My Windows Vista home Premium 64-bit will not load all the time. I have a two month old Hp computer with not to much installed on it. I have a new Hp printer, I have norton antivirus with antispiware and office home and student 2007. I purchased my computer from Best Buy. The problem that I am having was looked at a couple of times by the geek squad. I purchased new restore disks and had them reinstalled by them. This did not fix the problem. So they told me that the problem is normal and also said it is just windows being windows. I did not believe  them so I am trying to get a solution from a different sorce. When I boot my computer up on or around the 8th to 12th start up it will not load up past the black screen with the Microsoft Corporation logo in the center bottom screen which would be the green loading bar. It keeps running and running and running. This happens all the time on or around the 8th to 12th startup just like clock work. When this happens I have to shut off the computer with the power button. When I restart the computer it will go to start up repair which never fixes it. I contacted Hp and they told me to punch in msconfig and then click on startup and uncheck anything that does not say Microsoft on it so I did and that did not work. I contacted Microsoft and they told me to download a free tool from them called Sysinternals Autoruns tool. It works like msconfig but more in depth. I asked them what I should look for and they told me to uncheck  anything that does not look like it should be there. I didn’t think that was a good answer so I did not download it. Now I am looking for more help to my problem so I am contacting you for advice. I am hopping that you could help me with this problem. I am looking forward from hearing from you.

    Thank you,

    Michael Ruka

    ruka1929@yahoo.com

  4. Joe says:

    Best and most comprehensive (and understandable) explanation of the process of cleaning up a computer.  You deserve 5 stars for your ability to write clearly.

  5. Ger says:

    I have a weird problem, one of the admin users in my Vista laptop always gets the pop-up : you have used System Configurator to make changes in the way windows starts. She has (i know no clue) how this was caused as she is no windowssavvy.  When executing the instruction, whatever happens (the reboot etc) it keeps on coming back with that instruction. When i do Normal startup, it falls back to selective startup and fills the checkbox load startup items. when i select it the the normal startup radiobutton is filled, i click apply and it falls back to the previous situation etc etc. The following weird result is that IE8 and Mozilla 3.5 don’t work anymore but only Apple Safari allows me to go to the internet. I also went back a number of restore points to no avail. I don’t know it anymore. C U help?