Speed up startup

The first thing the system does after power up is check certain aspects of the hardware: CPU, ROM, drives, ports, expansion slots and finally the physical RAM in your machine. This last part of the check (carried out by the Start Manager) is the most time-consuming. This goes right back to the very early days of the Mac, when RAM was generally not as reliable as it is these days, and errors could creep in from one session to the next. Also, back then, Macs had a lot less RAM (as little as 128KB) than they do now. New Macs are sold with a minimum of 128MB of RAM, and it only stands to reason that that is going to take longer to check than 128KB! Even the far greater performance of G3 and G4 processors doesn't entirely offset the extra time taken to check such huge amounts of memory.

Since Mac OS 8.5, Apple has provided the facility to switch off the memory test, although in its wisdom it has chosen not to tell people how. You therefore won't find this little trick anywhere in the documentation.

MEMORY CONTROL PANEL Hold down the and

Note: if you find, later on, that you're getting odd crashes, you can always switch the memory test back on to make sure you haven't developed problems.

While you've got the Memory control panel opened, check where it says "Disk cache". This should read at least 1MB for every 32MB of RAM you have installed. You can sometimes (note, not always) tweak a little bit of extra startup speed by setting this to 1.5MB for every 32MB installed (so your 128MB iMac would have a disk cache of 6144KB).

OS RAM Next, the OS launches, and reserves for itself a partition of the RAM it has just tested. If you've got RAM problems, and the system tries to carve out a chunk of faulty RAM for itself, you'll have problems pretty quickly.

ACTIVE SYSTEM FOLDERS The next thing the system does is look for an active system folder. Presuming that you only have one system folder installed, this shouldn't be a major time-waster. (Maintaining multiple system folders is a subject for an entirely different tutorial.) However, if you have a large hard drive (again, common on newer Macs), the time taken to find the system folder can be affected.

If you find that you're waiting a long time before the "happy Mac" icon appears at startup, first make sure that you have a system disk selected in the Startup Disk control panel. It may seem an obvious thing, but if there isn't a disk selected there, the Mac has to go through an exhaustive search of all volumes before it finds your system folder - if you only have the one, this is time wasted.

It's also useful to perform routine maintenance functions like rebuilding the desktop (start up with the and

EXTENSIONS The next thing the Mac does on startup is load all of your extensions, control panels, the Finder and anything in the "Startup items" folder into memory. Obviously, the more extensions you have installed, the longer it is going to take for all of them to load. On a side note, loading lots of extensions eats up your RAM, slows the system down and leads to instability.

OPTIMISE EXTENSIONS The Extensions Manager (see January's Here's How) can be a lifesaver in this regard. Using the Extensions Manager, you can optimise your system to run only the extensions you're going to need for the particular task you are going to perform. Planning to play some games? Set up an extension set that maximises game performance. Working on an Excel report? You probably don't need all those game-related extensions anymore.

Aside from the improved performance, you'll gain by such optimisation: you'll be loading up far fewer extensions and saving precious time on startup. The one compromise is that you'll have to hold down the space bar each time you start up, so that the Extensions Manager will open up and let you choose your sets of extensions.

A shareware application called Startup Doubler, by Marc Moini (www.marcmoini.com), speeds up the loading of extensions by "caching", in a similar way to how Web browsers speed up often-visited pages by loading the content into a reserved chunk of RAM. Startup Doubler creates its own disk cache, separate from the one already specified in the Memory control panel, into which these settings are loaded.

Note that it is very important when installing Startup Doubler that you first restart without extensions. Do this by holding down the key when you start up. Then, next time you start up (after installing the program), Startup Doubler surveys the extensions you install. The second time you restart after the installation, you'll see the benefit of Startup Doubler's caching techniques.

After you've created your sets of optimised extensions using Extensions Manager and then installed Startup Doubler, you should go through and restart your machine with each different set of extensions in turn. Startup Doubler creates a file called "*Startup Doubler Extension" in the Extensions folder, but this file is not, in fact, an extension. It's more like a preferences file.

Each time you restart with a new set of extensions, you should go into the Extensions folder and manually rename this file to the name of your set of extensions, making sure to keep the star at the front. So, for instance, after you restart with your Games set of extensions, dig around in the Extensions folder to find the file called "*Startup Doubler Extension" and rename it "*Games". Then, in Extensions Manager, add the "*Games" file to your Games set. Do this for each of your sets of Extensions, and they will all be optimised to start up quickly.

Note for users of Mac OS 9 If you have Multiple Users configured on your machine, you may experience a long pause at the end of the startup process, after the "Welcome to Macintosh" screen has disappeared and before the desktop appears. There are a number of factors that can cause this, but most of them can be fixed by installing the latest version of the Multiple Users software, downloadable from www.apple.com Third-party appsIf you want to take a commercial route, you can quicken the performance of your hard drive using any number of commercial applications such as Norton Utilities or TechTools Pro (www.micromat.com), either of which will speed up your drive generally and make starting up a bit more efficient. SpeedStartup, from Casady and Greene (www.speedstartup.com), concentrates only on fixing hard drive issues that affect startup, and represents a much smaller investment.

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