Do you know how awesome the System Configuration (msconfig.exe) tool is? I had an idea but, until I did complete research and lots of testing for this article, I wasn't aware of all its great functions. I've discovered some great configuration options and you should read this tutorial to learn about them too. This guide covers Windows 7,Windows 8.1 and Windows 10.
How to start the System Configuration (msconfig.exe) tool
As with most Windows tools, you can start this utility in several ways. In Windows 7, search for system or “system configuration” in the Start Menu and click on its shortcut.
In Windows 8.1, search doesn't really work for starting this tool. You should go to the Control Panel and then to System and Security -> Administrative Tools. Here you will find the System Configuration shortcut. Click or tap on it.
Luckily, search works for launching System Configuration in Windows 10. In the search box on the taskbar, type “system configuration” and then click or tap the System Configuration search result.
Another method that works in all Windows operating systems is to type msconfig.exe in the Run window, the Start Menu search box (in Windows 7), the Start screen (in Windows 8.1) and Cortana’s search box (in Windows 10).
When launched, the System Configuration window looks similar to the screenshot below.
Configuring how Windows starts
In the General tab, there are options available for how you want Windows to start up:
- Normal startup - starts Windows as is, with ALL the installed startup items, drivers and services.
- Diagnostic startup - this mode is similar to booting into Safe Mode. Safe Mode runs only Windows services and drivers. Diagnostic startup might run, on top of them, networking services or important services from third-party applications such as your antivirus, firewall or security suite. This mode is useful if you want to rule out Windows files and services as being the source of possible system stability problems. If you select it and click Apply, you will notice that Selective startup is then shown as selected. Don't worry! This is normal. It happens because Diagnostic startup is a selective startup with a predefined set of settings.
- Selective startup - starts Windows with its basic services and drivers. Also, it allows you to select other services and startup items you want to run, from the Services and Startup tabs.
IMPORTANT: If you switch between startup modes, do some troubleshooting and then use Normal startup again, you should be aware that all the services and startup items are then enabled. If you want some items not to start automatically at each Windows startup, you need to go through the list of services and startup items and edit them again. Once you make changes, in the General tab, the Selective startup is going to be checked as the active startup selection.
How to configure the boot procedure
The Boot tab is a very important one. Here you can view the operating systems installed on your computer and select the default one (if you have a multi-boot setup).To select a new default operating system, click on it and then on “Set as default”.
If you have only one operating system installed on your computer, you can configure the way it boots.
For each of the existing operating systems, if you click on Advanced options, you can set things such as the number of processors (cores) allocated to the operating system at boot, or the maximum amount of RAM memory available to it.
IMPORTANT: If you set a maximum number of cores and RAM memory, Windows will continue to correctly identify the number of cores the processor has and the amount of physical RAM memory. However, it will only use the number of cores (processors) and the maximum memory you set.
Another interesting setting (in case of a multi-boot setup) is the Timeout setting. The number of seconds you set represents how long your computer will wait for you to select between the available operating systems, when booting. If no choice is made during the set time, the default operating system will start.
By default, this is set to 30 seconds. If you have a multi-boot setup, you might want to set it to a smaller value. Personally, I prefer to set it to only 10 seconds. This way, if I don't select another operating system, the total boot timing of the default one is not impacted much.
For each operating system, you can also select if you want to make a Safe boot or not, using any of the available options:
- Minimal - the normal safe boot, with a user interface and no networking services enabled.
- Alternate shell - opens the Command Prompt in Safe Mode. The networking services and the graphical user interface are disabled.
- Active Directory repair - a normal safe boot which runs, additionally, the Active Directory services and features.
- Network - the normal safe boot with networking services enabled.
Then you have a set of options which can be applied to both normal and Safe Mode boot procedures:
- No GUI boot - during boot, you are not shown the usual loading screen, only a black screen with no information.
- Boot log - during boot, Windows writes a complete log with information about the startup process. Usually, it can be found at this location: “C:\Windows\Ntbtlog.txt”.
- Base video - this option is very useful if you just installed bad video drivers. It makes a normal Windows startup, with the difference that it loads only the standard video drivers that come with Windows, instead of the ones specific to your video card.
- OS boot information - this option should be used together with No GUI Boot. The usual Windows loading screen will get replaced with a black screen, displaying complete information about the drivers that are loaded during the startup process. If your Windows crashes during boot, this visualisation mode can be useful to identify the driver that causes the crash.
NOTE: Using the Boot tab works very well with Microsoft Windows operating systems. If you have a multi-boot setup involving non-Microsoft operating systems, you might need to use other tools for managing the boot procedure.
Move on to the next page in this guide, to learn how to manage startup services with System Configuration and how to start useful administrative tools.