Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

I'm trying to reduce the amount of "stuff" that's running on my Windows XP machine. I note that there are a lot of services enabled by default. Do I really need them all? What can I safely turn off?

I get this question a lot. People are concerned about how much software is running on their machines, and when they look at the list of services, there's a long list of things they don't understand.

The problem with this question is that there's not a single, or simple answer. Like so many things about Windows and your computer... it depends.

With one exception, my advice is to leave well enough alone. Most of the services running by default are either required for something you care about, or relatively benign. In normal usage, if a running service isn't actually used or needed, it takes up very little memory or CPU time. (If it does, you likely have other problems, such as a virus or an insecure connection to the internet.)

"With one exception, my advice is to leave well enough alone."

If you're trying to feel up memory, you're really better off just adding memory to your machine. In the long run it's cheaper and more effective.

Windows Messenger Service

The one exception? The "Windows Messenger Service". Please note: I'm not talking about the Instant Messaging program. The Windows Messenger Service is simply a notification service that is meant to allow system administrators to pop up a message box in the middle of your screen with an alert of some sort. Unfortunately, anyone can send such a message, and it's the source of many spam pop-ups.

To turn it off, right click on My Computer, and select Manage:

Computer Management Dialog

Expand Services and Applications by clicking the boxed plus sign to its left, and then click on Services:

Computer Management - Services Dialog

Scroll down until you find a service named Messenger:

Computer Management - Services Dialog - Messenger Item

Right click on Messenger in the list, and click on Properties:

Computer Management - Messenger Properties

Click on the Stop button to stop the service, change the Startup Type to Disabled and click Apply. The result should look much like the above.

Other Services

What if you really, really want to turn off unnecessary services?

Well, to start with, prepare to start doing some research and some trial and error experimentation. As I said to begin with, "it depends". What can be turned off safely for one computer might cause problems for another, depending on how they are configured, and how they are used.

First, you can quickly see which services are running the Computer Management dialog above my making it wider, or simply scrolling the list to the left to display the Status column. "Started" means that the service is currently running. Scroll a little further left and you'll see a default description of that service.

One of the best resources for understanding what Windows Services are, and whether or not they're needed was a site by someone who called himself "Black Viper". Sadly his site disappeared suddenly, but thanks to the Internet Archive, a copy of his Service Configurations page still remains. Here you can see not only somewhat more detailed descriptions of the services, but also his recommendations at the time as to which services might be required. (That information is also mirrored at Major Geeks.)

The process to then go through is to examine each service, determine if it might be optional for you, and if so, try turning it off. Caution: you're playing with fundamental Windows configuration here, so a) backup, b) be prepared to reboot into safe mode if needed to recover your system, c) make sure you have your recovery console and/or Windows XP CD available, "just in case", and d) backup.

But like I said at the beginning, in my opinion it's much safer and quicker so simply let sleeping services lay, and just add some RAM to your system if you feel so motivated.

Article C2592 - March 13, 2006 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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8 Comments
jason quigley
March 25, 2006 3:36 AM

I have a compaq presario v2000 notebook and I have recently moved into a college campus that provides free ethernet broadband internet connection. usually you just plug in the cable and the system should automatically work. after searching for a while the Realtek RTL8139/810x Family Fast Ethernet NIC returns a message stating "limited or no connectivity." It also states that the network has not assigned me anetwork address. When I try to repair it the system returns that it can not assign a IP address. Is there something that I am missing on my computer or is it purely the network managers problem. Eveyone elses connections appear to work. Can you give any advise before I have a go at the uni village manager. thanks jason

Lynne Haywood
March 28, 2006 6:33 AM

My computer is so slow I have to go do something else after clicking the mouse while I wait for the computer to take action.


On start up I get the error message:-

RUNDALL

Error loading

C:\Program Files\Acceleration Software\Anti-Virus\sstsman.dll

Acceleration is something I tried to uninstall but obviously parts of it remain.

Also my Task Manager says 100% CPU usage and I do not know what it is doing.

How can I speed things up?

thanks, Lynne

meenu
April 18, 2006 12:42 AM

tell me about the information of bootup in xp windows.

Randy
April 23, 2006 10:01 AM

"The Elder Geek" has a more complete description of each service and his opinion on whether you can turn it off at http://www.theeldergeek.com/services_guide.htm . I find he's more likely to pull the trigger on a service than not, which is worrysome, but at least there's info there to help you decide. I turned off quite a few services on my machine with no ill effects, and hopefully have sped things up a bit.

Daniel
May 28, 2006 1:17 AM

thanks heaps for the windows messenger removal!! u's are champs
peace!

Chris
November 27, 2006 12:22 PM

Helpful article... I looked at the messenger program and it was already set to disabled, and I do have csrss.exe running in task manager.. so what now? regedit? AI'm afeared... dowanna break stuff..

Senban
June 2, 2007 10:23 AM

Thanks. That idiotic piece of native malware was driving me nuts. Who builds malware in to an operating system. AAAAAARGH!!!

Michael David Mills
October 9, 2008 6:09 PM

Of The Background Programs On My Dell Computer what Windows Vista Background Programs do i not need.

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