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

When you start Windows many programs start automatically as well. It can be difficult to identify everything and whether or not they're all necessary.

What's all this stuff running after I boot Windows?

When you start Windows you're starting much more than just the operating system. Many applications that have been installed will also have tools or utilities that start automatically when the system starts or later when you log in. And there's a bunch of places that start-up tasks get defined; besides your programs-startup folder there are several places in the registry as well.

Many start up tasks are necessary to carry out the things you expect your computer to do. For example if you run MSN Messenger then chances are you'll want want it to be running as soon as the computer starts. Another important example might be virus scanning software.

However, many are not required at all. My favorite (or least favorite) examples are the Real Audio and Quick Time media players. The players themselves are fine and I use them both. However they both also install additional tasks that are started each time you log in to Windows. In most cases they simply check for software updates, but in some cases they also periodically present you with pop-up "messages" that, in my opinion, are really just another form of pop-up spam.

And some start up tasks we're never really sure about until we disable them and something breaks.

Identifying what gets started when you log in has gotten a lot easier in Windows XP. A program called "MSCONFIG" is included that lists exactly what happens on startup. (Start, Run, type "MSCONFIG", and then select the startup tab). Using MSCONFIG it's very easy to turn off those items you don't want starting every time.

In Windows 2000 and Windows 9x there was no embedded support but there are tools available. Sysinternals has the freeware tool autoruns that's recently been updated to make deleting auto-start items easier. For years I ran a free download utility also called Startup Cop which was published in a PC Magazine article. Alas, the utility is no longer free as PC Magazine's library is now subscription only, but I still recommend it. Advanced Startup Cop while also not free is another application that will help you identify and control what's running.

So what's safe to delete? Well, if you're not sure it's probably safest to leave it alone for now ... BUT ... for the record, I have both realsched.exe (Real Audio's annoy-ware) and qttask.exe (Quicktime's equivalent) disabled.

And I'll look at how to identify the tasks running on your machine in a future post.

Article C1847 - October 7, 2003 « »

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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.

Not what you needed?

October 19, 2003 8:39 AM

"In Windows 2000 and Windows 9x, there was no embedded support, but there are tools available."

If I understand you correctly, are you saying that msconfig.exe is not available in those versions of Windows? If so, then I would have to disagree. I have used msconfig in both Win98 and WinXP. It is not available in Win2k and Win95, though.

Mark Odell
January 24, 2004 10:06 PM

Leo wrote:
> For years I ran a free download utility also called Startup Cop which was published in a PC Magazine article.

Danny wrote:
> I have used msconfig in both Win98 and WinXP. It is not available in Win2k and Win95, though.

msconfig for Win2K: [72 KB]

Ger's System Configuration Utility (a clone of msconfig) for Win95:

February 7, 2004 3:10 PM

There's an excellent and free tool to see and modify the startup programs. It's called Startup Control Panel and is at . You can add it to your other control panels or run as a regular program.

April 15, 2004 7:09 AM

i agreed that win 98 has msconfig

May 18, 2004 2:56 AM

Not sure if anyone can help me, but I need to disable wizards for both adaware and pop-up stoppers that appear during every single start up of my pc. They appeared after I downloaded a fileshare program through kazaa and so far I think I've tried absolutely EVERYTHING to get rid of them. Have Windows 2000, so unable to run msconfig. Any ideas? :(

May 18, 2004 8:18 AM

A spyware cleaner like Spybot Search and Destroy, or AdAware should clean you right up. Links on my recommendations pages:

June 1, 2004 4:46 AM

can any one explain abt HDD password?

June 1, 2004 9:30 AM

You'll have to be a little more complete. What HDD password? Where are you seeing this?

July 20, 2004 5:58 PM

whenever i login to my use account in my network, my computer using windows2000NT shows a popup message reg678.dll missing. How to solve this problem?
Moreover, when i login IE automatically opens up. How to stop it. If i remove from startup, can i use IE after i login. Most of time when i login it fails to run the network script and i am not able to acess the net via my organisation network. I need to boot again and it takes two three trials to get it done. how to fix it.
thax for ur help in advance

July 20, 2004 8:36 PM

reg678.dll is the result of a virus. Your other symptoms feel like spyware. You should get updated anti-virus and anti-spyware software and databases, and scan. Recommendations:

August 9, 2004 2:49 AM

I regularly check what's running at start up and ADWATCH informs me of any attempted changes (although it's not always clear whether I should allow the change), but what is PREFETCH and how do I control what goes in there?

August 30, 2004 4:22 PM

i was wondering how i could turn off AOL from automatically starting. It starts by itself randomly.

September 7, 2004 2:41 PM

hi i am running windows 2000 professional on my computer the computer is working fine but of late i am having the following problem thatis
while the computer is on and runnning the computer will suddenly restart and when it restart it will work fine for a couple of minutes or so say like 3 to 5 minutes or even longer then suddenly it will restart
i do no twaht is the problem
can some one please help
thank you

September 7, 2004 7:46 PM

I'd have you look at this article: my guess is your power supply, but that's just a guess.

October 19, 2004 5:50 AM

when i am closing down my pc. when it gets to the stage where is say's saving your setting it sometimes takes over an hour to shut down..any thoughts on this matter...cheers alan

October 19, 2004 8:28 PM

It depends on the version of Windows. This is typically a driver problem under WIndows 9x. I'd make sure your drivers are as up to date as possible.

October 20, 2004 6:16 AM

When I start up windows XP Home Edition the MY DOCUMENTS folder opens automatically.I have my system set up to run multiple users and all users have the same problem. Any ideas.

November 8, 2004 11:06 AM

Hi - I just wanted to say thank you for all the advice. :)

February 12, 2005 8:32 AM

Hello Leo.

I have a "rogue" execution of MSIEXEC running at windows XP start-up, plus also when I insert a disk, be it software or audio disk. Recently, I tried to update OFFICE 2K and the installer seemed to get stuck. After things finally stopped happening, I had about (no lie) 100 IE windows open. So, I am thinking that this instance of MSIEXEC is from that busted install attempt. There are no active parameters passed with it, so it doesn't SEEM dangerous, but it certainly IS ANNOYING !

Any ideas, Leo ?


February 12, 2005 9:36 AM

With 100 IE's I'd be more suspicious of spyware or a virus myself. I'd start with an up-to-date scan for both. Then I'd also run the system file checker.

February 12, 2005 10:14 AM

Will do that, but in the mean-time, how can I keep MSIEXEC.EXE from running at start-up and when inserting a disk as mentioned above ?

February 12, 2005 10:22 AM

It depends on what it's asking for or attempting to install. I'd start with the scans mentioned.

February 17, 2005 2:40 PM

Ok, Leo. I have run both Virus-scans and spyware scans (thru Ad-Aware and SpyBot), but I am not sure where to run the "System File Checker" from.

As far as what it's asking for, or trying to install, I don't know how to explain this. If I put an audio CD in the CDR drive, the "Windows Installer" dialog opens up automatically, along with the "Windows Media Player". The installer displays the message "preparing to install..." and the install status bar fills in. Once the bar is full, the install attempt finishes (having done nothing), because there are no actual parameters being passed. The audio CD will play normally through the WMP instance that opened at the same time. So... I am thinking that there is a setting SOMEWHERE that whenever a disc is placed in the CDR, it will attempt to run the MSIEXEC. Also, on a software CD, it does the same thing, but usually, the AUTORUN on the software CD will run as well, as expected.

Once this "dummy" install finishes, it REMAINS as a started task and sits in the Task Manager. I want to be rid of this stupid thing, but without affecting it's normal intended function. I just don't know enough technically to fix this.

Hope this helps to explain it better.


March 3, 2005 6:29 PM


A friend has a computer (using Win XP) and when it starts up, the "My Documents" folder automatically opens up. How can this be stopped???

March 3, 2005 6:30 PM


A friend has a computer (using Win XP) and when it starts up, the "My Documents" folder automatically opens up. How can this be stopped??? (It is not in the startup folder either.)

March 5, 2005 9:49 PM

Look at all the other locations and use the tools mentioned in the article.

March 6, 2005 7:38 PM


Sorry, I'm not understanding what you mean by "look at all the other loactions and use the tools mentioned in the article"? (Tools meaning the ones listed at the beginning of this page? What other locations; I already looked in the Start up folder and MSConfig.) Would you please elaborate? Thanks!

March 6, 2005 8:57 PM

The article that you're commenting on references several tools: msconfig being one you've run, autoruns being another that lists several things that msconfig may not. I'd look in there for suspicious items. "My Documents" can result from blank or error entries in any of those locations. Autoruns can also save the information for someone to look at. (If you need me to look at, use the "Ask Leo" link below, and be sure to refernece your comments here ... you can paste the autoruns saved information into the form as well.)

September 20, 2005 10:37 AM


Great article! As far as what is required in your msconfig/startup-tab, there is an excellent discussion of this at

To summarize, the only startup items that you absolutely need are ScanRegistry, TaskMonitor, SystemTray, LoadPowerProfile, and your anti-virus software.

September 30, 2005 12:09 PM

how come when i start xp i have 6 svchost.exe running; 4 system, 1 local, and 1 network... i dont see why it would need 4 system users. is there a way to set msconfig to only be-able to run just 1?

September 30, 2005 10:58 PM

svchost does many things, it's just a helper program. You might be able to turn off unneeded services, but it's often hard to know what's needed and not. This article has more:

November 8, 2005 11:50 PM

my xp computer was recently attacked my several viruses...i was not able to totally clean it up with norton's...i then decided to reinstall windows xp for the manufacturer's disk...all seemed ok until i discovered that my computer would start up automatically when it was connected to the internet from my router...when not connected to the internet it would stay shut down..i then decided to upgrade my os to windows xp professional to see what would happen...and sure enough my computer is still starting up automatically when it is conected to the internet...what do you recommend?

November 9, 2005 7:49 PM

I'd check the BIOS or network card settings for a setting that controls wakeup on network activity.

November 28, 2005 8:48 PM


I was looking to lighten up the load on my pc by removing a few startup processes.

I used Spybot Search&Destroy to identify the processes, but it didn't identify all of them.

I removed a few, and I have the bad feeling that I erased some important startup dll, because now my music plays broken up whenever disk access increases to anything but idle.

Do you know if there is indeed a dll file that prevents music playback breakup when disk access is increased?

I looked through MSCONFIG and all start ups are currently active, however, i fear that spybot may have erased some of the reg entries.

Any help with this is greatly appriciated. Thanks.


December 5, 2005 3:40 PM

Hi, How do I hide my System 32 page when it comes when i start my puter? thanks

December 15, 2005 8:47 PM

This article may help:

Joe McDonald
December 28, 2005 3:01 PM

i have yahoo messanger 6.o running of XP home it had been working fine but in the last 3 months every once in a while now the keyboard reacts very slow in the pm messanger window and chat room window. (works fine in all other apps) Before clearing cache and temp files resolved it but now nothing i do resloves it . I have run virus scan, uninstalled and reinstalled the program.. please advise

nsd M_691j5
January 15, 2006 9:33 AM

To: "Joe McDonald"
** RCP VAR = 7 **
Post: You need a spyware deleter like Spybot SD or Spysweeper. Please google the download and scan your computer after updating. This should do the trick
__** END **__

T Cannon
February 17, 2006 10:55 AM

good article Leo - simple and to the point. It also raises many more questions though, naturally. Questions such as, do these automated startup programs effect the loading or operation of wanted programs? How does a person remove or disable a Microsoft program that isnt wanted without effecting other software? etc etc. It would be good to hear your thoughts on those questions too. Once again top little article.

February 17, 2006 11:05 AM

I have an interesting problem that I cant seem to find an answer too. My PC is an XP home OS with a 3gig P4, 1 gig of RAM and 256MB Vid Card. I use the PC mainly for photo editing but also play the Sims and GP4. Recently both those games keep closing themselves down for no apparent reason. I have replaced my RAM, run diagnostics on my Vid Card and CPU and my system is running well below the supposed max temps, system and CPU temps. Is it possible my M/B is fading? If not can you suggest a reason for this happening ?

February 18, 2006 8:16 PM

T Cannon: unfortunately there's no blanket answer to any of that. It really depends on the specifics of each program you're concerned about, as well as the specifics of what you want out of your system and how you use it.

March 9, 2006 6:11 AM

Dear Sir
I have found there ... Are these harm full in C:\windows\prefetch
csrss in C:\windows\system32


Don Fletcher
March 16, 2006 7:22 AM

I have had a Dell PC for 2 months and it works fine. Just recently, when I log in to Windows XP, a folder labeled "Dell" automatically opens on my desktop. I close the window and continue with no problems. It is really just a minor inconvenience, but how do I keep this from happening?

Anthony Roberts
July 5, 2006 4:39 PM

Dear Leo
I have found in C:\windows\prefetch and csrss.exe in C:\WINDOWS\SoftwareDistribution\Download\16b2c96a0c41f4dfdb4d3cc228a4f819
Are these harmful? I've read that csrss.exe in the system32 folder is normal and required, but no info on the file in these other locations.


October 29, 2006 7:31 AM

When I log in to Windows XP, a folder labeled "Dell" and a folder labeled "MSN" automatically opens on my desktop. I close the window and continue with no problems. It is really just a minor inconvenience, but how do I keep this from happening?

January 1, 2007 6:06 PM

ok...the processes you dont need to have running after starting ur pc can all be end using the task manager. simply press ctrl + alt + delete and end every task it allows you to end except explorer.exe (thats ur windows basicaly) that does the trick. PS: if ever you end explorer.exe just go new task and type "explorer.exe" and it will reload.

February 16, 2007 4:08 PM

Leo I just bought a new computer and got off the phone with sympatico to configure my Outlook Express. I can send messages out but can't receive. Sympatico says it's not their problem I should find out what's block O/E from receiving. They said I should try and disable msconfig sys startup, which I did but it didn't help. Any clue? Thanks

Leo Notenboom
February 16, 2007 4:15 PM

Hash: SHA1

Depends entirely on the error message you're getting from OE.

I'm assuming that you triple checked the account configuration with
Sympatico. 9 times out of 10 it's a typo in the configuration that
causes this type of problem.

My *guess* based on zero additional information, though, is that it's
next most commonly a firewall issue. If you have some kind of firewall
or internet security suite on the new machine, perhaps that's blocking

Version: GnuPG v1.4.6 (MingW32)


March 21, 2007 11:20 AM

As a tip, I found from another website that if you copy the msconfig.exe file from a WinXP machine to a Win2k pc (Winnt\sys32 folder), you can run the msconfig command from your command prompt just like in XP and get your startup items just the same! :)

Laurence Creighton
May 21, 2007 10:16 AM

This is a really good and useful newsletter. It makes it clear how to undertand windows, and fix problems. Keep it up Leo!


June 12, 2007 2:17 PM

A handy tool is, you can type in the processes you find in msconfig and find out what they do. I have yet to find a process that was not listed on this site.

Louis Benn
June 18, 2007 2:31 PM

Csrss is an essential process that should not be stopped, I believe Leo wrote a (brief ;)) article about it... at

@ Anthony Roberts, i'm guessing that is a microsoft automatic update to patch a vulnerability in it.

July 22, 2007 1:41 PM

I have been having an issue with some kind of spyware that automatically starts IE in a loop. I used MSconfig and eventually now the process does not start since I start my Windows with the "Load Startup Items" disabled.

Anyways, now I want to try and download the real IE and install it. I tried IE 7 - it tool forever and after two reboots and a cancelled install - I tried to go back to IE 6. But now IE 6 installer says I already have the a higher version of IE and so I cant install IE 6. When I go to the higher version of IE 7 - it shows me the same symptoms (broken images.) I then tried to go into the C:\Program Files\Internet Explorer and manually delete the iexplore.exe. But I can not delete these files! When I delete them, the files iexplore.exe and hmmapi.dll, magically reappear in this directory within seconds.
Do you have any idea how to fix this? I want to have the ability to use IE - I use mozilla but it does not work on youtube videos but that is a different story.

Thanx for your help!

December 1, 2007 8:11 AM

I have used a program called Starter v 506.0.38 (pub 1993) for years and it does a great job of keeping track of startup in XP. Freeware.

Keith Harris
May 19, 2008 10:07 PM

Hi Paul,

Thank you for your time. I have an unusual problem. After installing the new version of COMODO AntiSpam, since removed, every time I start up the PC IE7 automatically opens and loads the 'downoad' page for the new COMODO AntiSpam.

1. I have run Remove Run Once with no effect.
2. I have tried restore [back one month] with no effect.
3. I have tried an XP clean boot but not changed the situation.
4. I have run msconfig, system informastion and regedit but cannot locate a 'key' or link that would cause IE7 to auto start and load the COMODO page once the PC is up and running.

5. I have run 'Autoruns' and not found a link to COMODO AntiSpam in IE7?

Can you help me - talk me through- the process of locating the 'link' or file - command - registry key that cause this to happen and remove it.

I have send an Email to COMODO but not yet resolved the situation.

All other COMODO products run well and have no problems.

With thanks for your time and help,

Keith Harris

July 16, 2008 6:23 AM

I've just installed service pack 3 on my windowsXP machine and now the 'my documents' folder opens each time I boot up. Not a huge problem but really annoying, please help? I can't see anything for this in the msconfig startup tab to disable. Thanks

August 28, 2008 6:52 AM

Somehow I lost my Microsoft Outlook 2003 pst files. I did the search, which you recommended, and included the hidden files. It did find something. However, when I try to open Microsoft Outlook, it still says that C:....outlook.pst is a not personal files folder. What can I do next?

Thank you.


August 28, 2008 6:57 AM

When I tried to download the XP Service Pack 3 update, my computer crashed. I guess the "blue screen" of death came on (what our IT people call it), and said that I needed to quit this application if this is the first time I've seen this message and reboot. When I rebooted it went back and restored everything to original, thank goodness, but now what do I do? Also, when I want to shut down, it always says "install updates and shut down?, which I say no to everytime. It is annoying.


Thank you.


September 2, 2008 3:34 PM

Hi Leo, Iv'e used "WinPatrol" for years will handle program starts and delay programs + host of other things. A gem. Everyone should have it.
Hello from New Zealand to all your readers.

Jack Stoddart
December 30, 2008 8:52 AM

I am having the same problem , Having restored my computer to the original factory settings all is well with the exception of system 32 appearing every time i boot the computer up. As i am an aged newbie I am reluctant go ito the registry without knowing how to back up my computer. This a Hp pavilion t650uk running Windows XP home.
Any help would be most appreciated
Thank You

You don't know how to backup? PLEASE LEARN! Seriously, for so many reasons, everything on your computer could be lost in an instant with a hardware failure. If you're not backed up, it's could be lost forever.

You can back up the registry before making a change simply by making a system restore point.

- Leo

February 26, 2009 8:03 PM

MSCONFIG is not the best way to edit start up. Start up should be edited through Windows Defender Software Explorer. MSCONFIG should be used for testing purposes only!

March 16, 2009 5:40 AM

hi, please help me with this. i was looking at my msconfig and i have this running in my 'services'. what do you think it is? ##Id_String1.6844F930_1628_4223_B5CC_5BB94B879762## The Manufacturer is 'unknown'

December 25, 2009 7:19 AM

Even I already have a registry optimizer installed on my computer, sometimes I use MSCONFIG to manage the start-up programs.

January 19, 2010 9:37 PM

Hi Leo,

What happen if I deleted Auto Reboot in registry editor?

Stefan Petro
February 11, 2010 5:57 AM

Hi Leo, I am currently experiencing difficulties with my Disk defragmenter, it asks to start CHDSK and SCANDISK. I have cleaned the registry, cleaned my Desktop, hard drive with CCleaner and done practically everything I know of to help my PC performance. Please note that I am only 14..I know you may think pretty young, but not stupid. I am learning Visual Basic and java languages in hopes to create applications sometime. For that I need a good computer. Any help appreciated. My specs: Nvidia NForce 9800 GTX+, 2.40 GHZ, 2.78GB Ram, SP3. I only need it to improve my PC. Thanks,

Stefan Petro

March 29, 2011 8:40 AM

The problem with MSCONFIG and similar is that they need administrator rights to run. In itself, not a problem (apart from the time lost in logging out and then logging back in again with addministrator rights), BUT they are not going to find things that are tied to your normal login, e.g. the infamous "Documents and Settings", HKCU in the registry.

Tools like autoruns should do that.

Robert Kimberley
December 10, 2012 2:45 PM

Years ago I read of this but I never found out the minimum programs you could have running. I'm not sure of most of mine. I must run with about 40 programs.

siou alofa
February 25, 2013 5:16 PM

trying to open a program but the pc is saying The program is already running i closed and reopened my pc but its still saying the same thng

Mark J
February 26, 2013 1:40 AM

That is a problem which sometimes happens when some components of a program are running, but the user interface is not active.
When you get a message saying that the program is already running, you can shut it down by running the Task Manager (ctrl+shift+esc), clicking the Processes tab, scrolling down to the offending program and clicking the End Process button.

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