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’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.
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 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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.