[SPEED TIP] Are Autoruns Slowing Down Your PC?

Category: Software

When you start up your Windows computer, there are a bunch of programs that automatically run, before the familiar desktop appears. Most of them are essential; some are dispensable; and others may be malicious. Learn how to tweak your autoruns to improve performance and security...

Ready to Tune Up Your Startup?

There are many software tools designed to keep your Windows system tuned-up and running as efficiently as possible; see my article, Seven Free PC Maintenance Tools. Some utilities, like Advanced System Care, are designed for one-click simplicity. Today, I want to discuss a powerful maintenance tool that requires a bit more effort from its user.

Autoruns for Windows provides information that can reduce Windows launch time, free up memory and other system resources, or help you track down especially stealthy malware. It shows you all programs that automatically run when your PC boots up or a user logs in, and what extensions load into various Windows processes such as Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer. It works on Windows XP and higher, including 64-bit versions. This free software was created by Mark Russinovich, who currently serves as Chief Technical Officer of Microsoft's Azure product.

The Windows System Configuration Utility (msconfig.exe) lets you view and disable a number of startup files and services, but it omits a lot of things that Autoruns catches: toolbars, browser helper objects, Windows Explorer shell extensions, to name a few. These items can be hiding places for malware or they may simply be long-forgotten, unnecessary burdens on your system.

Autoruns utility

To get started, download the Autoruns.zip archive and extract its contents to a folder of your choice. Then just double-click the Autoruns.exe (or Autoruns64.exe) file to start the program; there is no installation required.

Autoruns displays the name and location of each auto-running item. Double-clicking an entry takes you to its directory or opens its registry entry in the Registry Editor. Unchecking an entry disables its automatic execution. The Del key deletes an item from your system. For registry entries, it shows the exact registry key. For files, it shows the directory path and file name.

Left-Click, Right-Click...

Right-clicking on an entry opens a drop-down menu with several options. “Search online” is one of the handiest drop-down options; it launches a Web search using your default browser and search engine, effectively asking “what is this thing?” The search results can help you decide whether the item should be left alone, deleted, or disabled.

“Check Virus Total” is a new option in version 13 of Autoruns. VirusTotal.com is a Web service that scans files or URLs with a total of 57 anti-malware engines. When Autoruns checks Virus Total, you’ll see a ratio such as “8/57” to the right of the item selected. That means 8 out of the 57 anti-malware engines flagged this item as malware. Double-click on the Virus Total ratio to see the full results on a VirusTotal.com Web page. Note that a VirusTotal score of 1 or 2 is probably a false positive, and not an indicator of a virus. On my computer, CCleaner and Google Chrome both got a score of 1, but there's no cause for concern there.

The Autoruns screen is a bit busy, possibly overwhelming at first glance. But there's a way to eliminate the items that do not require immediate attention. The Options button on Autoruns’ main menu lets you hide or unhide groups of entries, reducing the number of items that you need to examine. Hiding all entries signed by Microsoft, for example, limits your view to third-party software. If you hide both Microsoft-signed and VirusTotal Clean entries, you can focus on items that are either unverified or potentially malware.

I recommend that you click Scan Options on the Options menu, then check the boxes labeled "Check VirusTotal" and "Submit Unknown Images", then restart Autoruns. It will then check all items against the VirusTotal database and display the results.

Images highlighted in red are “unverified,” meaning no digital signature is attached that enables verification of the author’s identity. That doesn't necessarily mean it's malicious, just that it requires that you check to see if it's something you definitely want or need.

Images highlighted in yellow are missing a target file. You may want to delete such items (after doing a web search) so that Windows doesn’t waste start-up time trying to launch programs that aren’t there.

Autoruns is a powerful tool for deep troubleshooting. But don’t use it casually or you may delete something that your system needs in order to function. If you fear a finger-fumble, create a System Restore point before making any changes, and you'll be able to undo any mistakes. To create a restore point, click the Start button and type, "create a restore point" in the Search box. Click the "create a restore point" link in the search results and then click the "Create" button at the bottom of the System Protection tab that appears.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[SPEED TIP] Are Autoruns Slowing Down Your PC?"

Posted by:

16 Aug 2019

As usual, a superb article.

In my opinion, autoruns is too complicated and dangerous for the average user (like me) to use.

Please keep up your excellent work.

Posted by:

16 Aug 2019

I agree with Henry Chapman (above) on all three counts.

Posted by:

Dorian Glass
16 Aug 2019

GREAT article, and, very well structured, explained, guided -- txs Bob.

I've known about autoruns for many years, but, have mainly side-stepped it due to, as I've seen now from your article, my inability to fully understand the deeper efficacy of this humble but powerful app.

Thank you v much, this is clearly a boon to easy maintenance, and, yes, peace-of-mind...

A lovely day to you!


Posted by:

John S
16 Aug 2019

A good article, as usual, and autoruns is a good tool. The problem is that what is really needed is a tool that can identify what automatically-loaded programs and services are critical, handy, nice to have, unnecessary, or harmful.

Posted by:

Dr. Sheldon Cooper
16 Aug 2019

Advanced System Care has similar functionality in it's Startup Manager component.

Posted by:

Robert Marshall
16 Aug 2019

I am a less-than-tech desktop Windows 10 user, I always read your articles Bob, just to get some idea of what is going on under the bonnet(UK) - hood to you! and I was interested in this excellent article as I have Autoruns but have always been afraid of using it apart from delaying or disabling a few obvious autostart resource hogs, but your explanations of "Search Online" and "VirusTotal" are news to me, and have opened up some interesting options (the recommended precautions will be taken!) Many thanks and best wishes from the UK.

Posted by:

16 Aug 2019

An alternative is O&O ShutUp10.
This is for windows 10 and there are other versions for other windows versions.
It's free last time I checked and really speeds things up
I run it in default mode which will show you what it will do if you allow it to. This is the safest way to run it if you are a novice.
O&O Shutup really works wonders and no, I am not promoting anything. I'm just a blue collar worker.

Posted by:

Ryan James
17 Aug 2019

This was a great aid and the fact that it helps you decide on what to turn off or delete is great!

Thanks Bob

Posted by:

19 Aug 2019

Has anyone used Spybot? It's a free program and of course you can pay for upgrades but it is a really useful program and does a great job of ferreting out misc. bots and bad stuff in a computer. Not sure if it works with Linux or Apple but it is great for Windows.

Posted by:

19 Aug 2019

Oops. Meant to add that is has advanced features that allow you to view and turn on/off startup programs and items. as well as all the other features.

Posted by:

20 Aug 2019

Fred, above, thank you for O&O tip! I'm a life-long fan of KISS!

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