Windows loads and runs a vast number of programs behind your back. Some of them are necessary but most just slow your machine down and use up valuable RAM that would be better used running your programs.
Many of these secret ramhogs load when you start Windows. A worthwhile performance improvement (faster boot and livelier keyboard response) can be had by preventing unnecessary goodies from loading and running. Real techies can do this barehanded, but for most of us a software tool makes it a lot easier.
Reliable tool is Startup Manager V1.5 written by Brian Stowers of Creative Gaffers Software. You can download Startup Manager from the Aptiva Toolbox. This particular page offers three different programs, go to the bottom of the page and download startman.exe to obtain the software I am describing here. The program is a little old but it is still the best one out there in my humble opinion. It shows you what is loading at boot time and allows you to turn stuff off by just giving them a red checkmark.
The Startup Manager window shows a line for each piece of software that could be loaded at startup time. There is a status column (enabled or disabled). You turn stuff off by setting the status to diabled (big red X). If you change your mind, you can turn it back on just as easily, set it to enable (green checkmark).
You shouldn't have all that many programs starting at boot time. I am down to just three, the driver for the keyboard touchpad, Zone Alarm firewall, and something called kernelfaultcheck.
Which brings us to the tricky part. What can you turn off? Gotta be careful here, it is possible to turn off something needed and get all wrapped around the axle. Obviously you want to leave hardware drivers like touch pads and wireless modems running, if you still have the hardware in the machine. Naturally if you got rid of the wireless modem last month you can speed things up by not running the wireless modem driver. In fact you ought to use Add and Remove programs to clean such a driver right off your machine.
What can you get rid of? As mentioned, drivers for hardware you no longer have. "Speedup" or "helper" programs for Adobe and Office and Easyshare and Itunes and such. CTFmon.exe. Update schedulers for stuff like Java and Bios and Spybot and Adobe. I'd rather have a faster computer and just hit the "check for updates" tab inside Adobe or Spybot or Office when and if I want an update from the web.
Then there are the wierdo programs with wierdo names that mean nothing to you. If you want to really bear down on them you can google on the program name and some of the time you will get solid advice (Necessary part of Windows or Virus) and much of the time you get "This is a program that loads at startup" which means the website hasn't a clue. Conservative folk leave the unknown stuff alone. Daring folk disable it and usually everything works OK.
The column "Command" is actually the disk file name that would be loaded. The file name is often a clue as to what the software is for. The "Location" column shows from where the load and run command comes. Things marked [REG] load and run from keys stashed in the registry. This is only of interest for techies who might use Regedit to fiddle around, but things like that are not for the fainthearted. Things marked "Startup Folder" load and run from disk folders named startup.
As I mentioned, Startup Manager is a little dusty (my version is date stamped 2 Jan 2000), but it works well on XP. Before writing this post I googled around for something more up to date. There are such and I tried them all but cannot recommend any of them. Too complex, load to much adware, and support complex procedures that I'll never use, and in fact can cause real trouble. I vote for Startup Manager V1.5.