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Why windows takes so long to start up.

by Steve Wiseman on September 7, 2006 · 45 comments

in Windows


Most of us have had a brand new computer at one time. It’s a great feeling. You boot up windows and within 30 seconds you are surfing the net, checking your email, or playing your favorite game. 10 months down the road things aren’t so nice anymore. You power up your computer and it seems to take forever to load.

Even when you are careful about what you install it seems that each day it takes longer for it to boot. It’s not your imagination – and there are a couple of good tips to keep your boot time short and sweet.

As always – backup your system before you start any of this. If you make a mistake you might need to restore from backup

Update (09/08/2006) – There has been some controversy about the prefetch folder. I think this issue needs to be looked into. I did have a reputable source for this information: It was the “Windows XP Annoyances” book by O’Reilly. Page 210. Titled “Keeping an eye on prefetch”

1. The prefetch cache

The first tip I want to talk about is the windows prefetch. Windows XP has this feature that loads commonly used programs – at boot time.

Here is how it works: Yesterday you used MS Word, and Duke Nukem 3D. Today you boot your system to check e-mail. It sees parts of these two programs in the prefetch folder and loads them into memory before windows completes the boot process. The benefit is faster application launch times. If you really wanted to use MS Word, it would pop up really quick when you double clicked on it.

The problem is most people have been running windows for years, and the prefetch gets clogged with stuff that you almost never use. Windows takes forever to boot because it is prefetching a 1.0 copy of Napster, and you just want to check your email before you have to go to work.

What can be done about it? Well there are a few things we can do to tweak the prefetch cache. One method is to disable it partially, and this can be done quite easily.

Simply browse to the windows folder (Ex: C:\Windows) and under there you should see the prefetch folder. Go into the prefetch folder and delete all the files (Careful! It should look like this c:\windows\prefetch) And here is a screenshot of one if you still have questions

The first thing to note is the next reboot will be slow. This is because windows needs to relearn the prefetch for system files. Subsequent boots will run much faster since the sludge of programs has been removed, and only new ones are in the cache.

The trouble is that it will only help you for a while – until the prefetch gets clogged up again. We need to edit a registry key to tweak it. Open regedit and browse to this key:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters

Under this key you should see a value named: EnablePrefetcher

It has 4 possible values:

0 – Disabled : The prefetch system is turned off.

1 – Application : The prefetch only caches applications.

2 – Boot : The prefetch only caches boot system files.

3 – All : The prefetch caches boot, and application files.

We don’t want to disable it entirely. This would actually make boot times *longer*. This is because this feature is also used to speed up the loading of boot files. That is why we are going to pick the number 2 option. It allows us to keep the advantage of caching system files, without continually clogging the system up with applications.

Set the value to 2 and reboot.

The 2nd time you boot it should boot much faster. Remember that the side effect is that launching individual applications once windows has loaded will now be slightly slower.

2. Hard drive fragmentation

Over time your hard drive will become fragmented. An over simplified explanation of fragmentation is when your files and folders are not all stored in the same spot. For example lets say you had a large movie file. If it were fragmented the first 5 megabytes are at the beginning of the hard drive, and then next 5 are at the end. It takes longer for windows to read the file than it would if it were all in the same spot. The point is that if each file is stored in a linear fashion, and the drive does not have to move all over the place to read it – it will load faster. XP has a built-in defrag tool, and it is simple to run. Open “My Computer” right click on the boot drive, and go to properties. Now click on the tools tab.

Click “Defragment Now” and the following window should appear:

Before you click on the “Defragment” button you want to close all applications and be aware that it might take hours to complete. If you leave something running it might keep windows from completing the defragment operation.

Click on the defragment button and you can walk away. Or you can watch it defrag your hard drive:

3. Disconnected network drives

I am using networked drives all the time. If you have ever put your machine on a network and connected to a shared drive, this can slow you down too. If you have a drive that is still mapped, but cannot be reached it will slow down windows during boot time. This is because windows will wait…wait…and wait some more for the remote server to respond. To clean these out open “My Computer” and go to the tools menu. Click on “Disconnect Network Drives” It will open a window that looks like this:

Click on the drives you no longer need, and click OK.

4. Spyware & Adware

These can have a big impact on your start times. If your PC gets loaded with spyware, it spends a large portion of its boot time making sure those pesky programs are loaded and ready to throw popup adverts at you all day. To check and clean your system of spyware there are three free programs that I highly recommend:

1. Microsoft Windows Defender

2. Ad-Aware

3. SpyBot Search And destroy

5. File and Printer Sharing

One other item that can significantly impact is the “File and Printer Sharing” feature within windows. Obviously, if you are sharing your printer, or folders you don’t want to disable this – so this tip is not for you. If you never use it, then why waste your time waiting for it to load?

Here is how to turn it off:

Go into the control panel. Click on “Network Connections”

Now right click on “Local Area Connection” and click on properties

Uncheck the “File and Printer Sharing for Microsoft Networks”

Click OK, and reboot.

That wraps up our windows startup optimization. And if you are tired of waiting for windows to shutdown, then check out our article on speeding that up too!

Stay tuned. We are about to release a new version of our Remote Reboot program. This version adds a feature suggested by David in our forum. It allows you to specify the shutdown reason that is written to the event log on Windows XP, and 2003. If you are not sure what I am talking about…this should remind you:

One final note, if you have any ideas for a free utility you would like to see, please post to our forum…or better yet check out the ones we already have

One more thing…Subscribe to my newsletter and get 11 free network administrator tools, plus a 30 page user guide so you can get the most out of them. Click Here to get your free tools

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{ 1 trackback }

Restoring the “Old” WinXP SP2 | Aha Moments
August 29, 2010 at 12:37 pm

{ 44 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Ahmed Helmy October 5, 2009 at 8:22 am

Good Work man thnx for help

2 V S Rawat November 5, 2009 at 11:00 am

Excellent. Very useful writeup. Thanks a lot.

3 moamar kaddafi November 6, 2009 at 11:35 am

Tq man…

4 Craig November 29, 2009 at 6:16 pm

I tried the prefech changes you suggested and can’t for sure say if I’ve noticed a shorter boot time. Since that time I’ve also read a few other articles on the same subject and wanted to ask what your take was on them? Your article does make perfect sense to clean out programs which are no longer installed or used.
Do you still feel this is worthwhile?

5 bioskiller December 7, 2009 at 5:59 am

hi all,
i had the same prob, after the boot i had to wait with an empty dektop for 2-3 minutes. i did all the above mentioned and nothing, the same prob. i downloaded bootvis and found out that filter manager was my problem. i decided to clean my nvidia driver off the system, cause i used to just update my driver and not cleaned out the driver before. well it was the driver, cause the prefetch folder is empty on my pc and all the help i found was not helping me. i recommend bootvis to all of you,

but i have to say this help section was great explaining but did not apply to me.

thanks anyway.

i hope this comment helps others to boot quicker, keep an eye on what u install , lol.

6 Stephan de R. December 23, 2009 at 12:34 pm

You have left out a speed-up possibility:
reduce the number of programs that appear on the desktop.
My system starts up showing dummy icons on the desktop.
Then sklowly finds the correct ones for each program.
It is much better to have a special folder named say “Quick DeskTop” included in “Quick Launch”
Anyway, there are a number of duplications between these two, which can ve elliminated.
Having an empty Desktop removes the need of windows to access program-files you may rarely use.

7 Mark March 18, 2010 at 10:37 pm

I did all above but my pc is booting 25 min
without any text and images!!!
If I re-boot it – everything is fine.

Could somebody Help?



8 Bob April 20, 2010 at 10:36 am

If your Pc is slow on fresh OS system check you hard drive setup, if you have Sata & IDE mixed your PC on start up will try IDE’s first and slow the PC down, anyway that’s what I found and that it took 4mins to boot even if I set the bios otherwise, I changed to all Sata hard drives and booted to welcome in 30secs.

9 Dylan April 27, 2010 at 11:42 pm

Nice work, this article really helped me out.

10 Faisal April 28, 2010 at 10:29 pm

This is really cool.Thanks a lot for your effective article.

11 nelhig May 7, 2010 at 10:04 am

Wow, I am so happy I found this web page! I unchecked the printer share box, plus I turn off my printer at start up, and as of this morning I no longer want to throw my computer out the window. It was taking close to 20 mins to stop doing whatever it was doing to function without freezing, stalling and being down right frustrating. Works like it should now, swift and easy. I am very relieved! Thanks!

12 unstopabull May 22, 2010 at 1:27 pm

WOW WOW WOW .from 3min booting time to 50sec . THX ALOT

13 JP Banks May 25, 2010 at 3:29 pm

Your Article is well written,and I really did appreciate it. However when I open “regedit” I only find the following entry that is close to what you say should be. I find (HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE) and nothing else. I am running Win XP Media. Accross from this entry is another pane. It has a heading of NAME, TYPE, DATA. Under Name is: (Default). Under Type is; REG_SZ. Under Data: (value not set), and that’s all. So there is no way to select a vaule. I was able to delete the Prefetch folder info but like you said it’s just getting cluttered up again. Can you tell me what else to do to prevent the build up again. Thank you.


14 Anne May 26, 2010 at 11:23 am

Very comprehensive – thank you for posting!

15 Nihal June 8, 2010 at 6:03 pm

What should I do if My computer is on the Active Directory domain? I can’t disconnect network drives and disable File and Printer Sharing.

16 Steve Wiseman June 11, 2010 at 1:51 am

Actually you can, as long as your computer is not sharing files, you will still be able to connect to other machines with it enabled.

17 grunthos June 11, 2010 at 6:57 pm

YE GODS! This is BRILLIANT… . Computer used to get so far on the black screen then sit accessing the hard drive for a long time without moving the progress bar before (finally) logging on.

I know you said it would take a long time the first time you rebooted… But just clearing the prefetch directory and resetting the prefetch key reduced the boot time (first time) from several minutes to about 50 seconds….

and it’s down to 20 seconds on subsequent reboots! WELL DONE!
(I would have your babies if I weren’t the wrong sex)

18 amarin July 3, 2010 at 1:18 pm

thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!^___^ God bless!!

19 remote monitoring July 7, 2010 at 4:56 am

Last time I had this problem with Windows XP. And my computer never recovered after that rebooting. But it was old and slow and I was already planing to buy a new one, so I just bought one.
And now I have Windows 7 on it and till now I had no problems except for getting used to this unseccessful windows edition 🙁

20 Jerome September 9, 2010 at 11:16 am

It worked! It solved my slow start-up time. Forever gratefull.

21 Amos Jonathen February 5, 2011 at 10:24 am

Why would my pc only be slow in the morning?

22 Steve Wiseman February 10, 2011 at 12:58 am

Probably because your virus scan is set to scan all drives in the morning. That would be my guess.

23 Sandy February 16, 2011 at 11:03 pm

Why can’t I find this on my computer? I run windows xp and have had tons of issues mostly that when I click on any of the icons on my home page of my computer it takes forever for anything to open up. As well when I go to install a download it takes a very long time no matter the size of the download???
HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Memory Management\PrefetchParameters

24 Shan Khan February 23, 2011 at 10:05 am

When I start my computer, LAN icon takes long time to load as a result window hangs for a while & as soon as LAN icon appears then speed of window come to normal, please advise me what to do, i will be very thankful to all of you.
Shan Khan

25 Faizan May 19, 2011 at 2:17 am

I was suffering from a very frustrating issue, wheneven i logon Windows, desktop icons appear after 8-10 minutes. I followed your steps prior to the steps mentioned here:
your steps didn’t worked for me. I don’t know why,the points you highlighted are reasonable but still not working.

26 Steve Wiseman May 19, 2011 at 10:11 am

One thing to check – are you on a network (LAN). And if so, do you have anything on your desktop that is pointing to a network resource (Server/Workstation) that no longer exists?

27 mary bare June 3, 2011 at 11:34 am

it takes forever for my pc to come on and even more forever for emails to load.i just got my laptop at christmas. its a windows 7 so i know its not old. i need a BOOK for dummies to help me. i cant follow your instructions.

28 Bill Egge August 7, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Your computer us slow due to how the files are layed out on your hard drive, not necessarily if its fragmented or not. After a few updates your files will be placed randomly acroos your drive and the seek time required to access those file will increase and thus slow down your computer considerably.

Replace your Hard drive with an SSD and you will see a huge increase in performance. SSD’s do not have a performance hit on how files are positioned.

29 vishal bandre September 2, 2011 at 12:27 am

Is there any other reason for slow down windows startups than prefetch folder.
Is Microsoft Security Essentials really protects my windows, because one i have?

30 Sandeep CA October 14, 2011 at 6:01 am

I have performed the above operation sin my PC and am very much satisfied as my system performance has become faster than how it was earlier

31 Rizwan November 13, 2011 at 6:59 am

It was really useful as it worked for me and thanks alot for those ho posted this.

32 dane December 1, 2011 at 8:57 pm

OMG thanks! clearing the prefetch folder for me enhanced my pc’s loadin up speed! it went from like 2-3 mins to like 30 seconds! Thanks a bunch

33 doug December 24, 2011 at 1:34 am

Thanks very much,the prefetch hint has solved a lot of my boot time problems.

34 Harikrishnan December 30, 2011 at 11:15 am


35 Hashem January 2, 2012 at 4:03 pm

does this also work on windows 7? or only xp?

36 Steve Wiseman January 4, 2012 at 2:57 pm

I think most of the advice would only apply to XP, since much of this stuff has changed in Windows 7

37 Kristen Barfod January 5, 2012 at 5:33 am

Thanks a lot, I was about to throw away my old XP-laptop, which took forever to be useable after turning on. Cleaning the prefetch folder etc. has worked miracles for the boot time, so I think I´ll keep it!!

38 Adrian September 2, 2012 at 3:11 am

Works on win 7 too.

39 Namsu November 12, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Ive read all the information and have tried all of them except the cache thing (hoping to do it soon). It still hasn’t improved which is really annoying I also did scans for viruses, malwarebytes and even AVG safe mode. I uninstalled all the programs that i don’t need, i typed ‘msconfig’ on run and took of some things that i don’t need on the startup. However it still hasn’t done anything to speed my terrible computer and to add to all the pain and suffering now i cant even connect to the internet. My ip address has suddenly changed to and im connected to the internet through an ethernet cable. All this is really ridiculous as my computer was working perfectly fine just 3 days ago and now its on the verge of death!!!! If you guys can help me I will be soooo grateful!! This problem is really frustrating!!! Please help

40 Namsu November 12, 2012 at 2:43 pm

+ my sound has also seem to have died :/

41 mani January 8, 2013 at 3:37 am

my system booting time take 2min and set-down after CPU power don’t disconnect why?

42 Namsu January 13, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Ive got it working again .. Finally !!

43 Brian February 26, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Clearing out prefetch and setting enableprefetcher to 2 worked like a dream. My ‘puter is so much faster at startup it’s like a new machine! I had to readup about regedit elsewhere before I understood what to do though. Many thanks.

44 Rupert February 27, 2013 at 3:58 pm

how to do the same for windows 7?

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