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Check what's loading with Windows using Autoruns

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Is your computer running more slowly than it used to when it was new? Do adverts pop up in windows when you log on to the internet, start Windows or your web browser? Do you suspect that you might have a virus, spyware or adware installed on your computer? If you have one or more of these problems, it could be because of one or more rogue programs that are loading automatically when Windows starts up. The solution is to check what is loading with Windows and try to identify the source of your problems. It isn't that difficult if you use the right tools and one of the best ones for the job is a free one called Autoruns.

Autoruns is a utility by Mark Russinovich and Bryce Cogswell that scans Windows and displays a list of everything that loads when Windows starts. It sounds like it should be quite a simple task, but really it isn't because Windows is so complicated and programs can be set to load in many different ways.

Download the zip file, open it and copy the files anywhere you like because it doesn't need installing. It's important that you right click the autoruns.exe file and select Run as administrator rather than simply double clicking it because to make any changes you'll need administrator status (an administrator account won't do).

The first time you run the program, it will scan for startup programs and after a short time they will be listed. Go to the Options menu and select Hide Microsoft and Windows entries, then click the Refresh button in the toolbar. This is so that legitimate Windows programs are ignored and you'll only see non-Microsoft and non-Windows entries. (This setting is remembered so you won't need to do it on subsequent runs.)

Autoruns

All the startup programs are listed on the Everything tab, but it's better to select each of the other tabs in turn because they act like filters and reduce the number of entries you have to check. The last column in the list is Image Path, which is simply the program location on the hard disk drive. If it says "Not found" then right click the item and delete it. You don't want Windows to waste time on startup looking for files that have been deleted. The publisher column is the next one to look at and when you're looking for viruses, spyware and adware, any item without a publisher or with one you've never heard of is suspicious. Any item with no description is also suspicious.

Unless you are a super geek there will be entries that you won't recognise and no-one knows every file that can load with Windows. Right click anything suspicious and select Search online. A web browser will open and display a Bing or Google search results page. You are unlikely to be the only person in the world with a particular file on their computer and there is likely to be a description on a website somewhere, so check the search results. Google tends to be better at finding obscure files that load with Windows, but you should try both search engines to track down files.

It's best not to delete any entries and instead you should clear the tick box next to an item to stop it loading with Windows. You can then restart the system and check that everything is OK. If after a few days you find that the PC is fine, then return to Autoruns and delete the entry.

Related tips...

Use Autoruns to clean up after an uninstaller
Fix startup errors with Autoruns in Windows 8

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