How to deal with a major cause of slow laptops – start-up services.

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I recently worked on a fairly new laptop of a decent specification (Core i3 processor, 2GB RAM, 5400 RPM hard drive) which was slow, sluggish and close to being unusable. We get these cases fairly frequently and, excepting those with hardware faults, the causes are generally boil down to the same thing: excessive services running at startup.

Equipment manufacturers, to a greater or lesser extent, do deals with software companies who pay to have their software on every machine that rolls off the production line. As an aside, the software will usually be part of the recovery partition image so it’s still there even when you re-install. The software could be anything from a hobbled version of DVD burning software that you need to pay for in order to get further functionality, trial period anti-virus or monitoring utilities for things like the wireless or battery. The thing they have in common is that they all run when the laptop starts, each taking up a bit of memory space and processor power.

When you install printers and scanners and the like, they will generally come with additional software that will do things like monitor for when you connect a digital camera so that it can then start up the picture-printing wizard/ import media wizard, or monitor for when the printer is getting low on ink so that it can easily take you to the appropriate webpage to buy more. The thing they have in common is that they all run when the laptop starts, each taking up a bit of memory space and processor power.

Those readers with retail experience will be familiar with the idea of a loss leader. This is when a shop will heavily discount a product or service to get the customer through the door so that they can then sell them on the more profitable stuff. Free software is a bit similar in that the developers , by giving away the software, can get a customer base which can be monetised in other ways, such as by bundling software such as toolbars or semi-legitimate stuff like registry cleaners/boosters/optimisers into the installer. These other software can also be set to run when the laptop starts, each taking up a bit of memory space and processor power.

The cumulative effect of these kinds of software is to make a modern, fast laptop into a sluggish monster that takes minutes to get to the desktop and minutes more to become half-way usable. One way of stopping these services is using Window’s own controls but your machine can become unusable if you switch off the wrong thing. A much safer way is to simply go through the list of installed programs and use Google to identify which can be removed without adverse effects. You can do this by going to:

Start -> Control Panel -> Programs and Features

A couple of the big ones to look out for are iPlayer Desktop and Google Desktop.

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