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What Can I Disable in Task Manager’s Startup List?

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When I look at Task Manager’s Startup tab I get a really long list of things I don’t understand. What’s what? How can I find out which ones are safe to turn off? Here’s the list of what it shows right now. Maybe you can tell me?

The problem, of course, is that everyone’s Startup list is different.

Which programs start automatically depends on your computer, the hardware installed, the software installed, the programs you run, and the features you enable.

It can get really confusing really fast. It can also impact your computer’s performance.

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Task Manager

Task Manager’s Startup tab replaces the old msconfig tool in prior versions of Windows.

Run Task Manager by right clicking on the clock in the taskbar, and clicking on Task Manager.

Task Manager's default view
Task Manager’s default view

By default it comes up with a fairly simple display. If present, click More details in Task Manager’s default display to expose the Startup tab.

Task Manager's Startup Tab
The Startup tab in Task Manager, on a relatively clean machine.

Task Manager includes a little more information than msconfig did — most notably the “Startup impact” column.

In the example above, a relatively clean Windows 10, we have five start-up entries:

  • Microsoft OneDrive, the synchronization software for OneDrive
  • Spotify, one of the pre-installed programs that comes with Windows 10.
  • Task Manager, Task manager is itself configured to run automatically.
  • VirtualBox Guess Additions, a part of the VirtualBox software I use to run different versions of Windows and other operating systems.
  • Windows Security Notifications, the application responsible for the small shield icon in the notification area of the toolbar.

A more complex example is my laptop.

Startup Tab on a machine with lots of software installed.
Startup Tab on a machine with lots of software installed.

You can see it’s a much lengthier list of programs that all start at some point when I log in to my my machine.

How do we figure out which ones we actually need?

Detective work

Many of the items in the Startup list are components obviously related to software you recognize.

For the rest, right-click on the item and you’ll find there’s a handy “Search online” link.

Search online option in Task manager Startup
Search online option in Task Manager Startup tab.

Click that, and a web page will open searching for the named item.1 For many items, this will give you clear clues as to what the item is for and why you might want it to run automatically.

However…

Search can be misleading, so I have to advise that you bring some skepticism to the table as well. In the example above — Adobe GC Invoker Utility — several search results indicated that it was malware! In my case, it is not; it’s a component of Adobe software I have installed. Reading the information returned by the search, I learned that:

  • It is not necessary to have it start at Startup.
  • Malware does, occasionally, disguise itself as this program. The actual location of the file is important.

File location

For many (though not all) items in the Startup list, the right-click list also includes an item called “Open file location”. Click on that, and Windows File Explorer will open to the actual location on your hard disk containing the file that’s run on Startup.

An Adobe Startup program in Windows File Explorer
An Adobe Startup program in Windows File Explorer.

In my case, the location is exactly as expected:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Common Files\Adobe\AdobeGCClient

Malware that tries to disguise itself as this program is often placed elsewhere.

Even if you’re not worried about malware, the location of the file will often tell you what it’s for, or at least what it’s associated with.  In this example, even without having performed a search, the file location would have told me that the file is related to the Adobe software installed on my machine.

Detective work will not always be conclusive, but in most cases it’ll get you what you need: an understanding of what the startup entry is at least related to.

But can I disable it?

This is a question I can’t answer, at least not for every entry you’ll find in your startup list.

As we saw above, research tells me I could disable Adobe GC Invoker Utility if I wanted to.2

The answer for each item in your startup list will depend on what you find, what you care about, and what your research tells you.

What I can say is this: disabling startup items in Task Manager’s list is relatively safe. At worst, something you care about will stop working. The fix is relatively easy: put it back into Startup and reboot.

Task Manager is just the beginning

Task Manager’s startup list only includes certain classes of startup tasks — those most commonly affected by your installed software and configuration.

Autoruns, a free tool by SysInternals.com, is both significantly geekier and much more complete. If you’re diagnosing a suspected problem, the items listed in Autoruns are also worth investigating.

Caution: unlike Task Manager’s list, you can make your system unbootable using Autoruns. Make absolutely certain you have a system image backup before you go that route.

Is it worth it?

In many cases, people look at the Startup list to improve their system’s boot time, and occasionally its performance thereafter. As you can see, however, truly analyzing all of your startup entries can be a time-consuming effort.

Alternatives that might be more effective include:

  • Uninstall software you don’t need. This will remove any associated startup utilities as well.
  • Replace an older hard drive with a Solid State Drive (SSD).
  • Defrag that older hard drive, if you haven’t in a while, if you’re not going to replace it.
  • Add RAM if your machine is tight on RAM usage and has capacity for more.

Generally, utilities advertised to improve boot speed — particularly registry cleaners — do not have significant impact.

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Video Narration

Footnotes

1: Unfortunately, this seems hard-coded to use Bing.

2: I did.

17 comments on “What Can I Disable in Task Manager’s Startup List?”

  1. The “problem” with HijackThis (which I agree is an excellent tool) is that it’s perhaps the geekiest of all. It really takes someone familiar with it to interpre the results. That being said, there is a support forum for exactly that. This link will take you the site providing HijackThis: http://ask-leo.com/d-hijackthis

  2. Hi, I just discovered your site and it’s helped me already. I tried a quick search on your archive but didn’t find an answer.

    I’m cleaning out programs and came across wildtangent web driver. Wildtanget may have come with this new (11/05) Dell XPmedia edition.
    Specific question: Can I delete Wildtangent safely?

    This program has web accessibility according to my Norton Firewall. A Google search suggests it’s unnecessary or suspicious. As I tried to remove (using add/remove), the message warned it’s a media player that runs Wildtangent and Dell games. I don’t do games but hate to eliminate all possibilities for someone else in the future.

    A general question: Are these various media players redundant? Won’t programs such as Real or the Windows component do the same job?

    Thank you

  3. I have everything “unchecked” in the msconfig list. Everything works fine on my machine. Anything that is NEEDED by the machine (in my situation “nvidea” stuff), are automatically “checked” (re-started) when the machine starts up again anyway – so I leave them alone. The msconfig stuff is just “luxury” processes anyway – nothing critical.

  4. Hi, I have removed all but “systray” or something simular on all my computers without any problems, so far. I don’t know how much faster it makes my computer, but it has not hurt any of them yet.

  5. Win Patrol is a step up from msconfig and it is free. The program identifies and monitors the association of every entry and offers suggestions regarding the selected item. Also, for a small fee, by contribution, you can upgrade to a more robust version. Have been a happy user for years.

  6. Don’t forget:

    Antivirus and protection tools also runs on startup.
    If you disable them you may be opening several doors to virus, adware and spyware

  7. I’d just like to find out the description of a program in the start-up list in “msconfig” so i know if it’s safe to disable it. i’m using vista home premium if it helps. Dell inspiron 1720. Thank you very much.

  8. Like Sean said, this is a terrible response – wordy and the question wasn’t even answered. Sure, you can Google every item in msconfig, but what if you don’t know if it’s absolutely necessary to keep? Not every description you Google gives you this information.

    Thanks to Sheeze for posting the link to the “start-up list.” You can search on each file in msconfig and it will tell you what is does and if it’s necessary. And I’ll bet all of your files are there – as of today, they have 21559 items listed.

  9. Brilliant – I’ll do some trawling to discover what must remained checked. My Dell Inspiron takes 8′ to be usable!

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