When I run “MSCONFIG” to show everything that is loaded or run automatically on startup, I get a really long list of things I don’t understand. What’s what? How can I fond out which ones are safe to turn off?

Here’s the list of what it shows right now. Maybe you can tell me?

It was a long list. I couldn’t take the time to track down each item on the list.

The problem, of course, is that everyone’s startup list is different. Depending on your computer, the hardware installed, the software installed, the programs you run, the features you have enabled… each of those, and more, can cause an entry in the startup list.

It can get really confusing, really fast.

In the case of the original question where the person had a long list of startup items, I checked on a few of the ones I didn’t immediately recognize, but they didn’t turn out to be anything bad.

What do I mean by “checked on?” It’s pretty simple, really: Google. There are a couple of sites out there rank quite highly when you look for the executable file name you find in your start up list. For example if you look up “nwiz.exe” – a random entry in my own startup list – the top results are sites that will tell you fairly clearly what it is. (Many will also offer to sell you a product, but you certainly don’t need to buy anything to simply find out what a particular executable does.)

Nine times out of ten, the answer simply tells you that the program belongs to something you know of or expect, and you can leave it alone, or use the program’s configuration to turn off the startup item. The “nwiz.exe” on my machine is a support program for my video card that enables additional features. I could turn it off, if I wanted to, and I would simply lose those features.

If you’re seeing errors on startup relating to a program or directory not being found, the MSCONFIG startup list is one place to look. If any of the startup entries reference programs that you no longer have, you can most likely safely uncheck them so that Windows doesn’t try to run the program that doesn’t exist any more.

But the bottom line is that it’ll take a little but of sleuthing on your part if you want to clean up your startup list. As I said, Google each item, determine if what you find out about it applies to your system, and take appropriate action based on what you find.

Three additional, but important points:

Stay Safe: The #1 cause of startup-related problems is malware. I’d start with this article: How do I keep my computer safe on the Internet?, and make sure you’re safe and set up to regularly scan for viruses and spyware. Whenever there’s a problem these days, this is #1 on my list of things to do.

Backup: It’s unlikely that you damage your system or make it unbootable just by playing around with MSCONFIG, but do you really want to take that chance? As always when making changes to your system configuration, especially if you’re not 100% sure of what you’re doing, backup your data. You should be doing this regularly anyway, but particularly now.

MSCONFIG is just the beginning: In reality, MSCONFIG’s startup list only includes certain classes of startup tasks – those that are most commonly affected by your installed software and configuration. Autoruns, a free tool by SysInternals.com is both a little geekier, and much more complete. If you’re diagnosing a suspected problem, the items listed in autoruns are also worth investigating.

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[tags]ask leo,leo notenboom,msconfig,startup list,startup task[/tags]