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What's hogging my machine for so long on startup?


When I power on my laptop, it takes about 14 seconds to go from
splash screen to desktop. But then it takes about 3 minutes before I
can do anything. By that I mean the “hard drive status light” stays
solid green or flickers very rapidly as to appear almost a solid green.
This usually means that something is reading or writing data, no? As
long as the status light is lit, I can move my cursor around the screen
but I can’t access any of the shortcuts, start button, etc. I can’t
even access task manager or process explorer to find out what’s using
up my CPU. I suspect it’s my antivirus and/or antispyware checking for
automatic updates but by the time I CAN access TM or PE, the offending
program has completed whatever it was doing and System Idle Process is
showing 99%.

Any ideas on how I can force open TM or PE under those circumstances
to verify what that resource hog really is?

You’re facing a common problem.

So common, it’s something that my wife also sees from time to time
on her laptop.

There are several reasons, and as you’ve seen it can be a little
tricky to determine what the problem might be. I’ll throw out a few
things to try.


The hard disk light being on fairly steadily does indeed mean that the computer is actively reading, and perhaps writing, to the hard disk at a fairly good clip. I agree with your suspicions that it’s likely an anti-virus scan in progress. It turns out that’s exactly what it is on my wife’s computer Smile.

“The solutions vary depending on the malware scanner you happen to use.”

In her case, I have the virus scan scheduled to happen in the middle of the night. Yes, we tend to leave our computers on all night, when backups can happen in addition to things like virus scans, without impacting our ability to use the computer. If, for some reason the computer was turned off over night, like when we’re traveling, then immediately after boot the anti-virus software notices that a scan is over-due, and performs it immediately, slowing down the machine for some time.

That’s kind of annoying. But, for what it’s worth, we choose to live with it for now since, as I said, most of the time the machine is on 24 hours, and the scans happen in the wee hours of the night.

The solutions vary depending on the malware scanner you happen to use. For some “scan immediately if overdue” is an option that you can turn off in the scanner’s scheduling options. For others, you may simply need to change the time of day that the scan should happen to be a time when the machine is more likely to be on, but not actually in use.

If none of those are options then getting into the habit of booting the machine about 15 minutes before you need it may be more practical. I have my machine automatically reboot overnight, so I login first thing in the morning when I get up, and then let it finish the login startup-sequence and download mail while I fix coffee and feed the dogs. By the time I’m done, it’s done. And the dogs are happy.

Back to my wife’s machine; even though I stated that we’ve elected to let it be, since it happens infrequently, I’m also planning to swap anti-virus software to a package that hopefully has slightly better scheduled / startup behavior. (She’s currently running CA Anti-Virus.)

Now, to the more general question of identifying startup hogs.

I use a two pronged approach.

First, I installed Startup Delayer from r2 Studios. This lets me control which programs start when on startup, by inserting a delay for each. In a very practical sense you don’t need everything right away when you boot, so by delaying when some things start up you often end up with a machine that’s more usable more quickly. In your case, by spreading out the startup items over time you may be able to see empirically exactly which one it is that, when started, brings your system to its knees.

Startup Delayer can’t delay everything, and some programs resist being delayed (in particular, the next time you take an update to that program you may find that the delay has been removed). But it’s a useful tool, and allows you to take a backup snapshot before you start so you can restore to your original settings if you decide it’s not worth the effort.

The other thing I do I’ve referred to as being very geeky, because I just do it for fun. I have Process Explorer in my auto-start. That means that every time I boot the machine Process Explorer is there fairly early and lets me watch what’s happening.

Depending on exactly how and when your machine bogs down, it’s possible that Process Explorer may come in too late, or you might not be able to click on the appropriate column heading to sort and have it respond in a timely manner. But most of the time it will, and I’m guessing that this will quickly help you identify your culprit.

To add Process Explorer to your startup, just create a shortcut for it in the Startup menu. (I have more detailed instructions in this article: How do I get something to open automatically when I log in to Windows?)

Do this

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18 comments on “What's hogging my machine for so long on startup?”

  1. CCleaner ( has a Startup tab in its Tools section, from which you can see the programs and apps which run during start-up, and which allows you to disable or delete unnecessary or unwanted programs from the start-up sequence. Personally, I disable Acrobat Assistant and delete the QuickTime at Startup entry.

  2. I’m the person who originally asked the question. I followed Leo’s advice and created a shortcut for Process Explorer in the Startup menu. It showed 3 processes running at startup: System Idle Process (2-3% CPU usage); my antivirus program (12-14%); and Windows Genuine Advantage (about 85% depending on the other 2 processes.)

    WGA does not appear in any utility I’ve run to determine startup programs. Not in CCleaner, not in Autoruns, not in WinPatrol, not in r2 Studios’ Startup Delayer. To add to the confusion, it only appears in Process Explorer for about 95 seconds and then completely disappears leaving only System Idle Process and my AV program using the CPU.

    Leo thought it might be a corrupt or damaged WGA file so I ran a diagnostic tool from Microsoft (mgadiag.exe) and my machine came back as “genuine” with no flags or warnings. So for now, I’m following Leo’s thoughts of “…booting the machine about 15 minutes before you need it…”

  3. Leo’s comment about not being able to have Process Explorer respond to a sort-on-this-column click in a timely manner is true on loaded systems. Fortunately, there is an easy workaround. Process Explorer starts with the same sort column that it exited with. So if you click on the CPU usage column before you exit Process Explorer, it will start out sorted by CPU usage the next time around.

  4. I too, have determined that a 15 minute turn on before using the machine makes sense. It’s frustrating sometimes to have to do this but it seems to work!!

  5. Each time I startup my laptop there is a message, “Please don’t turn off your computer –updates are being installed” and sometimes there are 10 updates, which take a very long time. I don’t get this on any other computer. Would using Process Explorer help me rectify this so that installs are done at a different time? Thank you.

  6. Roberta,
    Sounds you are on a corporate network and hence are being “forced” needed updates. IT departments push these out at the most inopportune times, but best option is just to accept them, go get a coffee or get through the morning’s phone calls.

    As for booting machine and leaving it running for 15 minutes, I’d recommend agaisnt that sicne I REALLY want to see/know how it boots every time (what has changed, been added, etc). Following its boot on a daily (or however often you do reboot) basis, you can then also easily figure out why it is not behaving like it used to.

  7. One thing that’s annoying is that many of these programs wait to run until I log on even though I typically install everything to be used by “anyone on this computer”. Would assocating these startup programs with a system account allow then to run immediately? If so, how do we do that?

  8. One thing I’ve noticed is that startup takes longer after an “emergency” shutdown (i.e. holding the power button for a few seconds until shutdown occurs). In the Midwest we have powerful thunderstorms that can cause nasty power surges if lightning hits a power line or blows up a transformer. I lost one computer that way, even though it was plugged into a good surge protector. So when storms suddenly start forming we often need perform emergency shutdowns on our computers. In just a few seconds, Windows (XP or Vista) obviously does not have enough time to complete its usual orderly closeout and shutdown. So when the computers are restarted, they almost always take additional time to boot up completely. It can sometimes be 2 or 3 times as long as a reboot following a normal shutdown. It’s a small price to pay for complete electrical protection, and we now know the computers need that extra time before they are useful.

  9. As a novice, help me out. Where does one find “Process Explorer” and “CPU Usage”?

    Given I’m having the same issues with start-up and enough patience to wait the suggested 15 minutes start-up time I’d like to try the other suggestions.

    Many thanks,


    Process explorer is a free download. More here. One of the things it shows is CPU usage.

    – Leo
  10. Thom,
    Your “CPU Usage” info is located at the bottom of your Task Manager. Find it via your keyboard by typing CTL+ALT+DEL two times; the dialog box should appear and you can scroll down to the bottom of it for CPU Usage.
    I recommend you get the Process Explorer by going to “”; it’s a free license and program that’s “worth the money.” Happy surfing and you’ll soon be overcoming that self-titled “novice” name. JRED7713

  11. AlSimons,
    Thanks for the work-around tip on exiting after ensuring the CPU Usage was located where I wanted it in Process Explorer at next start-up. Just one more close-down op (along with CCleaner) that helps my boot speed tomorrow. JRED7713

  12. My PCs boot up and are usable straightaway.

    I have been thrilled with the latest version of Norton AntiVirus (version is 2009). While I have used and recommended NAV (usually by buying it within Norton SystemWorks Standard Edition – it is also in Norton 360 and Norton Internet Security) for its security, I now recommend it for its performance.

    It runs much faster in just about any phase of an antivirus/antispyware program – during installation, boot, quick & full scans, updates and shutdown. I wonder if they cut out the guts!

    While I don’t recommend it for everyone, I shut off Windows Automatio Updates, as it also runs at boot up.

    I do recommend running Updates manually, at least monthly, as some updates won’t be made during Automatic mode. Windows Genuine Advantage is one such update; also is the upgrade from Windows Updates to Microsoft Updates.

    I am also confident enough in NAV 2009 to not require a separate antispyware program.

    There are other programs that have auto-update routines which reactivate themselves in Startup when these apps are upgraded (Java, QuickTime, iTunes, Acrobat Reader). When these apps get updated, I manually go back to MSCONFIG and deactivate them.

    That’s the way I ride!

  13. I have seen from my experience that programs like TuneUp Utilities, AdvancedSystemOptimiser etc do a decent job of optimising the performance, including a shorter start up time. They help you to identify and disable unnecessary startup programs. In my experience, most AV programs scan by default only the startup and memory objects at startup, which is necessary; Not a full scan.

  14. i strongly reccomend AnVir Task manager to solve this problem, it shows you all the applications, dll’s and files that start at startup and gives you the chance to eliminate them, plus it also warns you if a program tries to attach itself to startup too. You will be surprised to see how every program you install tries to find itself a place on startup :)

  15. I can strongly endorse the recommendation to use AnVir Task Manager, which is free. It’s ability to watch for startups is particularly valuable if you don’t want RealPlayer, Google, Adobe Reader and others all starting their little automatic updaters. The worst that can be said is that it does tell you rather more than you might want to know. Just don’t let that put you off.

  16. “But then it takes about 3 minutes before I can do anything. By that I mean the “hard drive status light” stays solid green or flickers very rapidly as to appear almost a solid green.”

    Is the Indexing Service enabled?
    Did you shut down properly or did you just pull the plug? You might have chkdsk running.
    Investigate what is starting with the system. Real Player and Quicktime (to name two) are not required.
    Do you have any mapped network drives? If so, are you connecting to the LAN? Try booting with a wire to the switch/hub instead of wireless.
    In the case of CA, you have the options of Secure and Reviewer. Reviewer is a bit slower.
    Empty your temp files and web caches, compact your mail folders. Defrag. Reboot. Defrag.

    Three minutes before the machine is usable is unacceptable.

  17. With Process Explorer, try adding a shortcut of it to your ‘Startup’ folder (right-click Start, click open ‘Programs’, click open ‘Startup’) – putting a shortcut in here will cause that link to be acted on during start up and may get you your Process Explorer active at the right time.
    It may not work, but a simple step to test. Just delete the shortcut when you’re done.
    I have a few programs and network links in this folder that I use every day.


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