I don't know about you, but I love spending the first 10 minutes of every workday watching Windows start up. It's like a Zen thing. If you'd rather get right to work, though, the following tips should help you make Windows start much more quickly.
Lighten the load
A typical PC loads a lot of programs every time it starts. Each of the icons in your system tray (the area near your clock) represents an auto-start application. And there are probably other programs on your machine that start automatically but don't make their presence known so easily. Each autoloading app slows your boot time--a little or a lot. And because most of them continue to run in the background, they rob you of a little performance.
Before you start eliminating autoloaders, though, make sure you can undo your changes. In Windows XP, Select Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Restore. Select Create a restore point, click Next, call your restore point something like before removing autoloaders, and choose Create. Click Close once you've created the restore point.
In Windows Vista, select Start, Control Panel, System. Under 'Tasks' on the right side of the window, click System Protection. In the System Properties box that comes up, click Create at the bottom of the window.
XP users should now select Start, Run, type msconfig, and press < Enter >. (In Vista, select Start, type msconfig into the Search box, and press < Enter >.) Click the Startup tab, and you'll see a list of all your autoloading programs, each with a check box. Uncheck an item, and it will no longer load at startup.
Choose your autoloading apps
Which applications should you leave checked so that they continue to autoload? First and foremost, you don't want to operate without your antivirus, firewall, and other security programs. Yes, these programs slow your PC's boot-up and shutdown, and they can even cause conflicts, but the cost of not having them running is too high to bear.
For any other program in the list, use your judgement. Don't ask yourself "Is it a good program?" but "Does it need to be on all the time?" For instance, I unchecked Adobe Elements' Photo Downloader, a program that I use whenever I download photos from my camera, because it serves no purpose when I'm not downloading photos. On the other hand, I allow Copernic Desktop Search to autoload because it needs to index my data files continually.
After unchecking the programs that you don't need to autoload at startup, click OK and reboot. Windows will load with a very wordy message box that might look like an error message. Just check Don't show this message or launch the System Configuration Utility when Windows starts (the wording is slightly different in Vista) at the bottom of the dialogue box and click OK.
Windows dusting and cleaning
If an autoloader diet doesn't sufficiently accelerate your boot-up, try these tweaks:
Clean out the Registry. The larger your Windows Registry, the longer the OS will take to boot. My favorite Registry cleaner is ChemTable's US$30 Reg Organizer, which is both a powerful Registry editor and a general Windows maintenance tool. If you don't want to pay to put things in order, try the less-powerful EasyCleaner from ToniArts.
Use fewer fonts. Loading hundreds of system fonts takes time. If you have more than 500 fonts on your PC, remove a few. Sue Fisher's free The Font Thing utility will help you whittle your font selection down to size.
Add RAM. Faster hardware means faster boots (and shutdowns, and everything in between). There's no cheaper, more effective way to improve your hardware's performance than by adding RAM.