A few weeks ago, some of our readers asked us to recommend the best programs for managing the Windows startup. We decided to listen, do some thorough testing and share our recommendations. If you asked yourself: "Which startup manager should I use?" don’t hesitate to read this analysis.
The Startup Managers Being Tested
First, I would like to thank you - our readers - for the very useful input you’ve given when we asked about the startup managers you are using. You helped me trim the list of programs and test a small but very representative mix. The programs which were tested are the following: Autoruns for Windows, Soluto, Starter, Startup Delayer, System Configuration, WhatInMyStartup and WinPatrol Free.
As you can see, I’ve chosen only free programs which have a focus on managing startup items. I did not test programs which have this included as secondary functionality or commercial programs.
The Testing Procedure
I installed a security suite and a couple of programs. They were mostly programs which behaved pretty baldy during the tests I made for the 8 Ways Quick Application Installations Ruin Performance analysis. I also installed the startup managers themselves. Most of them added their own startup entries.
I ended up with the following programs added to the Windows startup: IDF PC Audio driver, Microsoft IntelliPoint driver, Synaptics Pointing Device driver, Trend Mico Titanium (Main Console plus Session Agent Monitor), Startup Delayer, Google Update, Skype, Windows Siderbar (Desktop Gadgets), IncrediMail, Yahoo Messenger!, Adobe Reader and Acrobat Manager, Java SE Auto Updater, WinPatrol Monitor, Winamp Agent, Soluto Console, Startup Delayer and the fishy Linkury Chrome Smartbar and System Explorer by Mister Group (I don’t know what they do but they sure don’t do anything constructive for users).
Also, I had a couple of additional non-Microsoft Windows services added at startup: the Adobe Acrobat Update, Andrea ST Filters, AMD External Events Utility, Trend Micro Solution Platform, HP Service, Macrium Reflect Image Mounting, Soluto PC Genome Core Service, IDT Audio, Yahoo Updates! and the fishy System Explorer Help Services (by Mister Group).
This makes for a pretty crowded and annoying startup list.
I created a complete system restore point and tested each programs’ effectiveness. I restored my system each time before testing a new startup manager and recorded my results.
Reviewing Each Startup Manager
Let’s briefly see what each startup manager has to offer:
- Autoruns for Windows - is a program that really stands out. If you want to know absolutely EVERYTHING that’s running at the Windows startup, this is the program that will show you. It has tabs for each type of startup items: logon programs, Windows Explorer startup items, Internet Explorer startup items, Scheduled Tasks, Services, Drivers, Codecs, Desktop Gadgets... and the list continues. The information it shows is complete and sometimes overwhelming. Other than that, its functionality is pretty basic: you can enable, disable or delete startup items. You can also open their Windows properties and search for information on the web about them. Another cool feature is that it allows to save and compare snapshots of your system at different points in time, so that you can see what’s different.
- Soluto - this is the most user friendly program I’ve tested in this roundup. It’s strength is that it is the only program able to advise the user, based on the wisdom of its user group. You don’t have to be very knowledgeable to manage your startup items in a reasonably safe manner. Another cool fact about it is that you can restore all the items you disabled or delayed and it is the only solution having complete "undo" functionality. Soluto is also able to manage your Internet Explorer’s startup and help fix some of the crashes you encounter. Another distinctive thing about is that it doesn’t split boot items into startup programs and startup services. Both categories are integrated into one big list, which is split into groups of recommendations: No brainer (remove from boot), Potentially removable (advanced users) and Cannot be removed with Soluto. The newest version also has remote management functionality which seems to be working well but was not the focus of my testing.
- Starter - it is a very simple product which shows only your startup programs and not your services. At least not in a way other products do. It chooses to show all Windows services and doesn’t help you filter which services are non-Microsoft or which added themselves at startup later on. What makes things work is that, unlike the Services tool from Windows, it doesn’t help you set services as having a delayed & automatic startup. Therefore it is best not to use it to manage Windows services. Also, it was the least effective product in my testing, being able to detect the smallest number of startup programs.
- Startup Delayer - as the name implies, this startup manager is focused on giving you options to delay the startup of programs. You can choose between several presets on how you want the tool to delay programs. Also, you can set some interesting wait rules between applications, so that you make sure an application is completely loaded before others start loading. It can also schedule programs to run at startup only on specific days, which can be useful on systems with a more complex setup. The program also shows a list of running processes and services. However, it doesn’t offer much in terms of functionality for managing services. You can only start, stop, pause or restart services. You cannot manage the way they start or quickly filter them and show only non-Microsoft services, for example.
- System Configuration - we presented this tool in detail in a previous article. Its functionality is very basic and gets the job done quickly. You can only disable or enable startup programs and services. On top of that you have options for managing the default boot operating systems and how Windows boots. You can also use it to launch some of the most common and useful system tools in Windows. Not surprisingly it proved to be one of the top solutions for managing your startup items.
- WhatInMyStartup - this is the most straightforward product in this test. It focuses only on showing startup programs and not services. Also, it does a good job at that, having the second best detection rate. It allows you to disable or delete items, search on Google for information about them and check their properties with ease. Unlike other programs, it also allows you to add a new startup item.
- WinPatrol Free - offers features which make it a combination of Autorun for Windows and Startup Delayer. However, it doesn’t offer all its detection features for free. To get a complete list of startup categories similar to Autorun for Windows, you need to pay for the PLUS version. Also, you can delay startup items but you don’t have functionality as advanced as in System Delayer. Its detection rates were pretty good.
Important Observations & Things to Consider
No application was able to completely remove from startup the security suite I installed: Trend Micro Titanium Internet Security 2012. Most of them were able to disable only the main console which is the interface with the user. Its protection services remained intact and later on, they started the main console, so that the suite could be used. This is great, as it means the computer remained secure.
Out of all tested programs, Soluto was the only one that detected the security suite and did not recommend that the user remove it from startup and refused to give the means to do so. Also Starter did not list the suite’s startup entries at all. Not sure if this was by design or simply a detection failure.
Soluto is the only program that has complete "undo/revert back" functionality for all the decisions you make. All the other programs offer you the chance to re-enable disabled startup items. However, if you choose to delete an entry, it is lost forever and your decision cannot be reversed.
One thing I noticed is that some programs install both services that run at startup and program entries. If a startup manager is not able to detect both, then it will not be able to really remove that program from startup.
Regarding delaying programs, not all of them can be delayed even though you set a delay time in a tool which supports this functionality. Don’t expect this to work for every program out there. Generally this doesn’t work for more complex programs which have both startup items and services.
I summarized my test results in the table below:
*System Configuration - It offers complete undo functionality because it doesn’t allow you to remove startup items completely, only disable or enable them. Therefore you can always undo your settings.
*WinPatrol Free - I noticed it wasn’t able to really delay or disable drivers from being loaded. This isn’t a real issue though, as you would want to have your mouse drivers starting up to offer complete functionality or the ones of your sound card.
The Best Startup Managers?
Making a one-size-fits-all recommendation is impossible for this niche of programs. They are very diverse in the way they manage startup items, the functionality they offer and the needs they meet.
Therefore, I would like to split my recommendation based on the needs most people are likely to have:
Are you a knowledgeable Windows user? Do you need a complete view of all startup aspects? - Autoruns for Windows is the only tool that will satisfy your needs.
Are you a knowledgeable Windows user? Are you interested mostly in setting up advanced launch rules for delaying and waiting for startup programs? - Startup Delayer is the answer for you.
Do you need quick, basic editing of your startup items? - You don’t need to download anything. Simply use the System Configuration tool in Windows. Here’s how: How To Use the System Configuration Tool & All its Awesomeness!
You consider yourself a less technical user? Do you need advice you can trust when managing your startup items? - Then Soluto is your only real choice.
I hope my research satisfies your curiosity and provides the answers you need. It meant a lot of work and it was pretty hard to make recommendations.
Before you go, I am curious to know if your experience matches the results of my tests. Don’t hesitate to share which solutions you prefer and why. Also, don’t hesitate to share tools to avoid. I’m sure there are plenty of them on the Internet.