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How to boost Windows 8 performance

November 12, 2013 06:30 AM ET

Streamline startup

A common cause of system slowdowns is programs that load unnecessarily at startup and bog down your system. There are several ways to speed up startup.

A good place to start is the Task Manager. You've got several different ways to launch the Task Manager -- take your pick:

  • Press Ctrl-Shift-Esc.
  • Right-click the taskbar on the Desktop and choose Task Manager.
  • Type task manager on the Start screen, and click the Task Manager icon that appears on the left under Apps.
  • Press Ctrl-Alt-Del, then choose Task Manager from the screen that appears.
  • Right-click the lower-left corner of your screen and select Task Manager.

If you see the phrase "More details" at the bottom of the Task Manager screen, click it. If you see the phrase "Fewer details" at the bottom of the screen, you're already in the right place.

Now click the Startup tab. You'll see a list of programs and services that launch when you start Windows. For each one, you'll see its name, its publisher, whether it's enabled and the "startup impact" -- how much startup is slowed down by launching it. According to Microsoft's developer site, apps labeled as having high startup impact use more than 1 second of CPU time or more than 3MB of disk I/O at startup, medium-impact apps use 300 to 1000 milliseconds of CPU time or 300KB to 3MB of disk I/O, and low-impact apps use less than 300ms of CPU time and less than 300 KB of disk I/O. (Story continues below the screenshot.)

Windows 8 Task Manager - Startup tab
Using the Task Manager's Startup tab, you can prevent programs from launching when Windows starts up.

If you'd like to stop any of the programs or services from launching at startup, right-click it and select Disable. This doesn't disable the program entirely; it simply prevents it from launching at startup. If you later decide you want it to launch at startup, get back here, right-click it and select Enable.

Some programs might have a small triangle next to them, indicating that they have multiple processes that run on startup. Click the triangle to see all the processes. It's not a good idea to disable some but not others, because that could cause instability in the program. So either disable all the processes or none.

You'll likely recognize some of the programs and services that run at startup, such as SkyDrive. But you'll also probably come across many that aren't familiar to you and whose purpose is almost impossible to discern. What to do about something called "persistence Module" or "hkcmd Module?" Should you turn them off or leave them on?

The Task Manager offers some solid help. Right-click an item and select Properties, and you'll see more detail about it, including its location, whether it has a digital signature from a company you know and other information such as the version number, its size and the last time it was modified.

Alternatively, when you right-click you can select "Open file location" and you'll open File Explorer to the folder where the file is located. That may give you a clue about the program's purpose.

Best of all, though, is to select "Search online" after you right-click. Bing launches and provides links to sites with information about the program or service. You'll usually very quickly find out information about the item, including its purpose and advice on whether it's safe.

For more ways to use the Task Manager to speed up your system, see "Track and fine-tune performance with the Task Manager" later in this article.

Clean out the Startup folder

There's another place to go if you want to stop programs from launching when you start your system -- the Startup folder. You can run File Explorer in one of these ways:

  • Press the Windows key + E.
  • Click the File Explorer icon on the Desktop's taskbar.
  • Type file explorer on the Start screen and click the File Explorer icon that appears on the left.

Make sure you can view hidden files in File Explorer: Click the View tab and check the boxes next to "Hidden items" and "File name extensions" in the Ribbon at the top.

Next, click the Computer icon in the left pane and navigate to:

\Start Menu\Programs\Startup

where username is your Windows logon. Delete the shortcuts of any programs you don't want to run at startup. Don't worry; you won't delete the programs themselves, only their shortcuts.

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