Windows has all sorts of hidden little utilities that allow you to tweak and change system settings that you would normally not see in areas like Control Panel. MSCONFIG is one of my favorite tools that has been around since Windows 98. It basically means Microsoft system configuration and is obviously used to tweak various parameters. In this article, I will show you how to access and use MSCONFIG.
Let’s start by opening MSCONFIG in Windows 7. The tool is pretty much the same as in Windows Vista and above, with minor changes in Windows 8, which I’ll cover later. Go ahead, click the Start button and type msconfig.
A system configuration dialog box appears with multiple tabs. The number of tabs can vary depending on which version of Windows you are using. Windows 7 and 8 have 5 tabs: General, Boot, Services, Startup, and Tools.
MSCONFIG General tab
The first tab, which is selected by default, will usually always be the General tab.
Here you will see three selectable radio buttons under the Startup Selection heading. If not changed, normal startup will be selected by default. Diagnostic Startup launches Windows in a “stripped down” functional mode, similar to Safe Mode, but not the same. If you choose this option, be sure to put it back in when you’re done troubleshooting, or Windows will continue to start this way.
Also, if you select Diagnostic startup and click Apply, you will see that it automatically selects Selective startup with only the Load system services field filled in. In diagnostic mode, you get more drivers and services running by default than in safe mode, which I will explain below. If you find that you need to use a Control Panel item or program that simply doesn’t start in Safe Mode, you can try Diagnostic Mode, which loads less than normal startup but more than Safe Mode.
You will notice that when you click Run Diagnostics and then Apply, the Load System Services field is not checked, but filled in completely. This is important because if you go to the Services tab and scroll through it, you will see that only a few services are checked. Now, if you go back to the General tab, click Selective startup again and check the Load system services box. You will see that ALL services are checked in the Services tab, not just some of them.
In the “Load startup items” field, you can set it only with a checkmark, which either enables all startup items on the “Startup” tab, or disables them all. It should be noted that if you selected selective startup and checked both the Load System Services and Load Startup Items sections, then this is almost the same as normal startup, because everything is included.
The only reason to selectively start and check one or both items is to find out if a particular service or startup item is causing the problem. To do this, select the appropriate checkbox on the General tab, then go to Services or Startup, click Disable All, and then check only one item. You restart your computer and see if this service or startup item is causing the problem on your system. If not, you go back to the “Services” or “Startup” tab and select another item. Continue this process until you find the problematic service or startup.
MSCONFIG Boot tab
Now that we have a clear understanding of the General tab and how it relates to the Services and Startup tabs, let’s talk about the second tab: Download. This is an important tab because it has many options for starting Windows.
Let’s start with the boot options, since that’s the main topic of this tab. The Advanced Options button is typically only used by programmers writing device drivers for real hardware.
If you check Secure Boot, you can choose from four options: Minimal, Alternate Shell, Active Directory Restore, and Network. Let’s take a look at each option:
– Minimal is a standard safe mode that loads only the most basic drivers and services into the GUI. In this mode, networking will be disabled. To a large extent, you can only open the explorer and view the information.
– Alternate Shell – This will load Safe Mode using only the command line. The GUI and network will be disabled. Use this mode only if you want to run DOS commands.
– Active Directory Recovery – This is only useful for corporate environments and will probably be used by your network administrator.
– Network – similar to the minimum, except that the network is turned on. Useful if you need to connect to a network share or website to download files.
On the right, you’ll see four checkboxes, which means you can check all four if needed. Let’s take a look at these options:
– No GUI boot – just won’t show the Windows welcome screen on boot.
– Download log. A log file of the entire boot process will be generated, located at % SystemRoot% Ntbtlog.txt.
– Basic Video – Will load Windows in minimal VGA mode, which uses standard VGA drivers instead of drivers specific to the video card installed on the machine.
– OS Boot Information – Since the drivers are loaded during the boot process, the driver names will appear in the output.
The timeout is the amount of time the boot menu is displayed before the default option is selected. If you select the Make all boot options permanent check box, then clicking on Normal startup on the General tab will not return you to the original settings. You will have to manually change any boot settings.
Again, Windows will continue to boot in Safe Mode until you return to the System Configuration Utility and uncheck or select Normal Startup.
MSCONFIG Services tab
Next is the Services tab, which is self-explanatory. The main point here is that you really don’t want to disable any Microsoft system services. You will read many articles on the Internet about useless Windows services that should be disabled, but this really is not a good idea.
Select the Hide all Microsoft services check box and you’re left with third-party services. Disabling third-party services can be helpful, but only under certain circumstances. Mostly this tab is used to disable a service that is causing Windows to freeze, blue screen, or anything else that is not good.
MSCONFIG Startup Tab
The Startup tab is by far my favorite tab, and that’s the only reason I use MSCONFIG at all. It amazes me how slow some client computers are due to the sheer number of programs they run. Even if I have a lot, I usually disable 80 percent of them because they are not needed.
Of course, you need to be careful, especially on laptops, because some startup items control your wireless network card or touchpad, and both will stop working if you take them off. Your best bet is to do a simple Google search for the startup item name or EXE file, which you can see in the Command section.
I’ve also already written a detailed article on Disabling Startup Programs in Windows, which gives you more tips and pointers on what to disable and what not.
MSCONFIG Tools tab
Finally, there is a useful Tools tab, which is mainly related to a whole host of other useful utilities in Windows.
This includes everything from Windows information, UAC settings, Action Center, Troubleshooters, Computer Management, Event Viewer, Programs, System Properties, Internet Options, Command Prompt, Registry Editor, Task Manager, System Restore, and more. E. If you can’t remember where to find a tool or setting, it’s probably listed here.
Overall, the System Configuration Utility is a very handy tool for managing Windows PCs and you should definitely learn it if you want to become a power user. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. Enjoy!