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Issue #326: October 20, 2013

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Q: My computer takes longer and longer to start up and shut down. I noticed that there are 73 processes running. How do I find and turn off everything that I don’t need for startup? I can’t imagine needing 73 processes running in the background! Am I wrong? Secondly, I recently downloaded something that I decided that I didn’t want and tried to do a restore to an earlier date.  Each time that I try to do a restore I get a message saying that the restore was not successful. I have gone back several dates and retried the restore, to no avail. My last question deals with shortcut icon on the desktop. If they are just shortcuts, do they slow down the computer or not? I surely need your help. Thanks in advance of any response that you send.

– Bill M.
Niceville, Florida

A: Wow, Bill.  You should write more often, so you can ask questions one at a time!  But I’ll do my best to handle your extra-large order.

Let’s start at the top.  Slow starting is a very common complaint with Windows-based PCs.  However, I think that a raw, vague number of processes that are running is a poor measure of what might be causing your system to run slowly.  For example, you said you had 78 processes running.  How did you determine that?  I’m presuming using the Task Manager, but the PC I’m using to write this article shows “Processes: 78” in the status bar of the Task Manager, but when I count the processes listed, only 31 show up – and some of them are duplicates.  Suffice it to say that there is an awful lot of stuff that goes on behind the scenes on your computer that you never see, and that you probably wouldn’t be able to say with certainty that you “don’t need”.  Therefore, I’m not going to go into the intricacies of searching for services that run at startup, but I will repeat something I’ve talked about in the past.  To see the actual programs that run when you boot, hit WinKey+R, type in MSCONFIG, and click OK.  Select the Startup tab, and here you will see all the software scheduled to run at system start.  Proceed carefully!

There are many things that can interfere with a system restore operation.  Because of that, I can’t solve your particular problem without more information, but some of the primary causes of restore failures include:  Malware scanners, malware itself, and file corruption (damage to Windows).  Performing a restore operation involves one process on the computer overwriting files that don’t necessarily belong to it.  Although the intent is benign, this is malware-like behavior, and if your virus scanner is one that uses a technique called heuristic scanning, this behavior might trigger your scanner to intervene.  The best thing to do is to simply suspend the scanner before starting a restore.  Some viruses, and even parts of Windows are designed to protect key files and processes when Windows is running in its standard mode.  To get around that, try running in Safe Mode with Networking while doing the restore.

For your last question, I’m going to play the old “it depends” card, although the answer is generally no.  While the computer is running something that uses most of the screen (a game, a word processor, a web browser, etc.) desktop shortcuts have almost zero-effect on the overall system performance.  However, when the system must refresh the Windows desktop, such as when you close a program or minimize a window, then Windows basically re-builds each shortcut by going and “touching” the actual file to get the icon information and the text that gets displayed.  On a normally functioning system, that happens so fast that you probably don’t even notice it.  But if a system is bogged down enough, you can actually watch as it updates each icon one by one.  If your system is running that slow, you have more problems than just desktop shortcuts, and I seriously doubt that deleting them is going to give you any sort of noticeable performance improvement.

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