Do you know how awesome the System Configuration (msconfig.exe) tool is? I had an idea but, until doing a complete research and lots of testing for this article, I wasn’t aware of all its great functionality. I’ve discovered some great configuration options and you should read this tutorial to learn about them.
Starting the System Configuration (msconfig.exe) Utility
As with most Windows tools, you can start this utility in several ways. One is to search for "system" or "system configuration" in the Start Menu and click on its shortcut.
Another is to type msconfig.exe in the Run window or the Start Menu search box, and press Enter.
The Windows Startup Selection
In the General tab, there are options available for how you want Windows to start up:
- Normal startup - starts Windows as is, with ALL the installed startup items, drivers and services.
- Diagnostic startup - this mode is similar to booting in Safe Mode. Safe Mode runs only Windows services and drivers. This mode might run, on top of them, networking services or important services from third-party applications such as your antivirus, firewall or security suite.
This mode is useful if you want to rule out Windows files and services as being the source of possible system stability problems. If you select it and click Apply, you will notice that Selective startup is then shown as selected. Don’t worry! This is normal. It happens because Diagnostic startup is a selective startup with a predefined set of settings.
- Selective startup - starts Windows with its basic services and drivers. Also, it allows you to select other services and startup items you want to run, from the Services and Startup tabs.
IMPORTANT: If you switch between startup modes, do some troubleshooting and then use Normal startup again, you should be aware that all the services and startup items become enabled. If you want some items not to start automatically at each Windows startup, you need to go through the list of services and startup items and edit them again. Once you make changes, in the General tab, the Selective startup is going to be checked as the active startup selection.
Configuring the Boot Procedure
The Boot tab is a very important one. Here you can view the operating systems installed on your computer and select the default one (if you have a multi-boot setup).
To select a new default operating system, click on it and then on "Set as default".
For each of the existing operating systems, if you click on Advanced options, you can set things such as the number of processors (cores) allocated to the operating system at boot, or the amount of RAM memory available to it.
IMPORTANT: If you set a maximum number of cores and RAM memory, Windows will continue to correctly identify the number of cores the processor has and the amount of physical RAM memory. However, it will only use the number of cores (processors) and the maximum memory you set.
Another interesting setting (in case of a multi-boot setup) is the Timeout. The number of seconds you set represents how much your computer will wait for you to select between the available operating systems, when booting. If no choice is made during the set time, the default operating system will start.
By default, this is set to 30 seconds. If you have a multi-boot setup, you might want to set it to a smaller value. Personally, I prefer to set it to only 10 seconds. This way, if I don’t select another operating system, the total boot timing of the default one is not impacted much.
For each operating system, you can also select if you want to make a Safe boot or not, using any of the available options:
- Minimal - the normal safe boot, with a user interface and no networking services enabled.
- Alternate shell - opens the Command Prompt in safe mode. The networking services and the graphical user interface are disabled.
- Active Directory repair - a normal safe boot which runs, additionally, the Active Directory services and features.
- Network - the normal safe boot with networking services enabled.
Then you have a set of options which can be applied to both normal and safe mode boot procedures:
- No GUI boot - during boot, you are not shown the usual loading screen, only a black screen with no information.
- Boot log - during boot, Windows write a complete log with information about the startup process. Usually, it can be found at this location: "C:\Windows\Ntbtlog.txt".
- Base video - this option is very useful if you just installed bad video drivers. It makes a normal Windows startup, with the difference that it loads only the standard video drivers that come with Windows, instead of the ones specific to your video card.
- OS boot information - this option should be used together with No GUI Boot. The usual Windows loading screen will get replaced with a black screen, displaying complete information about the drivers that are loaded during the startup process. If your Windows crashes during boot, this visualisation mode can be useful to identify the driver that causes the crash.
NOTE: Using the Boot tab works very well with Microsoft Windows operating systems. If you have a multi-boot setup involving non-Microsoft operating systems, you might need to use other tools for managing the boot procedure.
Managing Startup Services
The Services tab shows a list with all the services that start when Windows starts. For each service you see its name, the manufacturer, the current status and the date when it was disabled (if it was disabled).
You can check the services you want to run at startup and uncheck the ones you don’t. If you want to see only third-party services, installed by your applications, check the box which says "Hide all Microsoft services".
Also, please note that the selections you make in this tab are applied to your current startup selection, from the General tab. If you were using a Normal startup and then you disabled some services, the startup selection gets changed automatically to Selective startup.
Managing Startup Programs
The Startup tab shows a list with all the programs and files that start when Windows starts. For each items you see its name, the manufacturer, the "command" used to start it (the path towards the program and additional parameters, if used), the registry startup location where it is stored and the date when it was disabled (if it was disabled).
An interesting aspect to remember about the registry location is that, if you see a location starting with HKLM, it means that the startup item is "global" - applied to all user accounts defined on the active operating system. Disabling them from one user account, means that they get disabled for all user accounts.
The locations starting with HKCU are for startup items active only for the current user account. They might not be starting up for other user accounts. Also, such items need to be disabled individually, for each user account, if you want to prevent them from starting up completely.
Just like the Services tab, the selections you make are applied to your current startup selection, from the General tab.
Launching Administrative Programs and Panels
I bet very few people know about the Tools tab and its functionality. If you click on it, you get a list with Windows administrative tools such as: the Action Center, the Windows Registry, Event Viewer, etc.
For each tool, you see its name and description. If you click on it, you can see the command used to start it, in the "Selected command" field.
To run any of the available tools, select the one you want and click Launch.
This tab is pretty handy as it lists administrative tools generally used during troubleshooting system stability or performance problems.
Saving your Settings
After making all the changes you want, don’t forget to press Apply or OK, so that they get applied.
Also, if you are using the tool for the first time, when closing it, you will be informed that you need to restart your computer in order for the changes to get applied.
If you don’t want to see this message again, check the box which says "Don’t show this message again" and choose the restart option you prefer.
As you can see, the System Configuration (msconfig.exe) utility is very versatile and offers functionality very few people know about. It can be a great tool for managing the startup process of your computer and for troubleshooting stability and performance problems.
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