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After using Windows 7 (this observation applies to previous versions as well) for over a year, I notice that the start-up time (the time after entering my login password before my computer becomes fully responsive) becomes progressively longer over time.

If left unchecked, it is typical for it to take 10-15 minutes for the login to complete. During this time, the computer is unresponsive, often freezes for periods of a few seconds, and constantly reads/writes from the disk.

I know the common "sanity checks" for this problem: Spyware, viruses, unnecessary programs, etc. I don't install unneeded crapware on my system, I don't have spyware, my drivers aren't buggy. The problem isn't a simple newbie mistake. My hardware is sufficiently powerful.

I have made two more observations regarding this problem:

  1. A Windows XP virtual machine that I was using for Skype conversations only is prone to the same problem, even though I installed only Skype, drivers, a few utility programs (when I first made the VM) and installed nothing, nor browsed the web, over the course of its lifetime. Over time, it started taking longer and longer to login (but not boot).

  2. If I format the system drive of a machine that takes, say, ~5 minutes to login, and then reinstall practically all the software that was installed previously, the login time is much shorter (~30 seconds) even though the computer is still doing the same resource-intensive startup sequence.

I have tried using various startup sequence analysis programs, but they have failed to reveal any specific process that takes a very long time. For the most part, it seems that:

  • Most user applications (ie. ones which I have installed) take slightly longer than they should.
  • Monolithic Windows system processes take much longer than they should.
  • The computer is far less responsive than it should ever be, even at 100% CPU and HDD usage (mouse pointer gets stuck, pressing keys on the keyboard simply results in a "system busy" beep from the case, display stops updating).

It seems like there is a very high priority Windows process(es) that becomes much slower, and blocks the start-up sequence. How can I figure out the cause of this issue?

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I have bad the same Windows 7 installation for years. I don't personally experience this problem but I also don't allow applications to the startup procedure –  Ramhound Mar 4 at 20:15
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I'd bet that the main problem is that you accumulate all sorts of spurious autostart jobs over time. Check, in particular, Services and Task Scheduler for stuff you don't want or need -- lots of update tasks set to trigger on logon, eg. (Note that if you're unsure you can simply disable something rather than delete it.) –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 4 at 20:50
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The way to find out what is actually happening rather than speculating is to use the Windows Performance Toolkit. channel9.msdn.com/Events/TechEd/NorthAmerica/2013/WCA-B317 –  David Marshall Mar 4 at 22:00
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Reading quotes like it is typical for it to take 10-15 minutes and takes, say, ~5 minutes to login and the login time is much shorter (~30 seconds) I just scratched my head... I've had a lot of desktops, laptops and whatnots over the past decades but "login times" of more than 15 to 20 seconds was last seen in the nineties by me. 10-15 minutes to log in? Really? More than 10 seconds, nowadays, would make me dive in and figure out/fix whatever was wrong or, as a last resort, reinstall. Are you sure you aren't exaggerating things a bit? (Just curious) –  RobIII Mar 5 at 0:38
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The general concept is called "entropy" - accumulated disorder (fragmentation of files on disk, rubbish in databases such as registry, etc). When reformatting, you're resetting the entropy of your machine to a lower value (which increases it's "potential" in whatever imaginary frame of reference), thus making it work faster for a time being. –  oakad Mar 5 at 1:07

7 Answers 7

10-15min for login? How old is your system? It seems like something related to hardware. If u install a supported os and drivers specific to that system and os, it should work fine and faster. in windows most of the system crashes and slow down is caused by installing unsupported software and drivers. At first they might seem to work fine but later you will end up in trouble. Some softwares might not be compatible with others, especially those who install custom drivers.

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Check your hard disk to see if it is beginning to fail or if it has bad sectors. Reformatting a disk with bad sectors will usually cause the drive to allocate replacements from the spare sector pool, but using a disk with bad sectors can cause extreme slowness as the drive tries to re-read the bad sectors. You might try checking the drive's S.M.A.R.T. information before and after the format, and see how many spare sectors it reports.

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10 - 15 minutes is way too long. If that isn't an exaggeration, I'd say you probably have a hardware problem and don't realize it. Either memory or hard disks will slow down when they're correcting for a lot of read errors. Check out Memtest86 and use the built-in disk tools to check the disk for errors and fragmentation. You could also check SpinRite

If it's not a hardware problem, then the answer is fragmentation, registry corruption, and other complexities of Windows. Any system slows down the longer you use it. Freshly formatting the system drive and re-installing the OS eliminates some of the problems that contribute to this overall slowdown.

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Your fresh install of Windows 7 starts up faster I believe because those fresh installations of programs start making additional requests over time. Adobe's applications are especially guilty of this, however they are not the only guilty software developers. Your fresh installs may only be making 1 or 2 service requests initially but over time additional requests are being added. Not only that but some of those requests may be timing out. And instead of ending the request. the guilty applications make 2 or more requests. All of this activity combined with any other small glitches that accumulate in a Windows system over time can wreck havoc with your start up time.

There is really no reason to have most applications start up when windows starts up. Back when harddrives were slower it provided a way to save a few extra moments. Open the Windows System Configuration tool. Click on the start up tab and disable all unnecessary start up by unchecking the box next to its name. Don't worry, if you change your mind later you can come back and re-check the box again. Then click on the services tab. Be sure to check the box at the bottom next to "Hide all Microsoft Services" then uncheck all unnecassary services.

For example, on my system now there is really no need for Abbyy FineReader to start up when I boot up. So I unchecked all references to Abbyy in the start up tab and in the services tab. Things like your Anti-Virus you'll want to let be and anything your not real sure about don't fool with either. A google search is often revealing when it comes to unknowns.

System Configuration is not the best tool to use when disabling start up programs. Autoruns by Systernals (A Microsoft Company) will reveal all programs and services that start with your computer. You should only make changes to your system using Autoruns if you truly know what you are doing as you could make your computer fail by disabling the wrong items.

Your hard drive may be beginning to fail. The symptoms you describe with your keyboard and mouse are synonymous with a hard drive that is beginning to fail. Check your windows event logs for errors relating to the hard drive.

Click on the start button, then right click on Computer > select Manage from the drop down list. > Give the management console a minute to start > then click double click on Event Viewer > then click double click on Windows Logs > Then click on System. Browse the log file for any critical hard dive errors. When you click on an event it will give you a brief description of the event.

Just because you don't see any errors doesn't mean your hard drive is okay but it is a good sign. Running the Chkdsk command mentioned above, in another Answer, and/or smartmon tools is also a good idea.

If the drive is old it may be time to upgrade to a new model. A new 1 TB drive can be found for less that $80. Drives wear out over time and a drive older than 3 years has lived a full life. If your drive is slow, say 5400 rpms with a small buffer then it will be more susceptible to slowing down. A new 7200 rpm drive with the latest and greatest features is sure make a dramatic improvement to a slow starting system. I should say, for the record, that I have drives in use that are much older than 3 years. I understand full well that this is "bonus time". As I am writing this the primary HDD in my Windows 7 box is beginning to fail. No errors yet but it's getting noisy and is taking a bit longer to seek what it needs to find. The secondary drive is about to get promoted to primary.

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My initial hunch, assuming all else is the same, is perhaps Windows Updates could be affecting boot/login time. However, the usual culprit is usually a lot of software/services starting up at boot that get added on over time.

All of those quick launchers and start up items add up quickly. Other than that I'd be looking at malware (even though you mentioned it already it could theoretically be infected with something that your software isn't currently able to catch yet).

Also, if these machines are connecting to domain controllers or other network resources it's possible that there's latency being introduced by having to sync up with those items.

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I would also suspect the updates, but that cannot be the case: I install the same updates on a fresh install too, and furthermore it doesn't make sense that Microsoft would consistently release untested updates that slow down the system. –  Superbest Mar 4 at 20:09
    
I wouldn't necessarily call them untested but there sometimes exists a tradeoff of performance for security. If you've studied for your Security+ you'd be familiar with the CIA triangle (Confidentiality, Availability, Integrity). The trick is keeping all of those balanced without compromising too much in either direction. At this time, however, there is definitely much more emphasis on confidentiality than the others. Additionally, you may just have some circumstance that may be unique to your system. Otherwise you'd hear about this across 100% of their userbase. –  Bradley Forney Mar 4 at 22:38
    
Ultimately, you're going to have to just do some deep digging and do some critical analysis of what's going on. There's no reason an otherwise clean system should being taking such large performance hits. Spybot has a good tool to see ALL startup items spread throughout the registry and the Startup folder that I often use. All else being equal - you may not have enough memory or harddrive space provisioned for this machine, there may be a process running in the background (such as Windows Update, for example), or you may have something acting weird like a failing harddrive or RAM. –  Bradley Forney Mar 4 at 22:41

Reformatting and reinstalling Windows does make your well used machine faster. However, thats an oversimplification. When you reformat, you blow away all those programs you installed, services, fonts, etc, etc.

Lots of programs install startup programs and services and whatnots that get loaded at boot, which in turn slows the computer boot time down.

You can use a program like Soluto to analyze your boot time and remove or delay items that are slowing down the boot process.

Some people swear programs like CCleaner help as well. However, I have yet to see a registry cleaner do anything useful. And even some are harmful. Even Microsoft says registry cleaners/defraggers do not help.

Another thing that reformatting does is remove fragmentation on the drive. However, fragmentation is not much of an issue on newer computers.

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You appear to have ignored the following key points: (1) The fresh install is still much faster even though I installed the same programs (I literally dump a list of everything before the format and use it like a checklist). (2) Tools like Soluto have been unhelpful (indicated in my post). (3) Windows 7 automatically defragments NTFS partitions. –  Superbest Mar 4 at 20:08
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@Superbest - You can easily accumulate more startup/logon tasks over time, as applications update and add another task "just to be sure". I found some apps with 3 separate tasks to "check for update". –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 4 at 20:52

Since you mentioned that both the computer and virtual machine are taking a long time to login, it makes me think that the hard drive needs to be defragmented.

If defragmenting doesn't work, there are a few other things you should check too:

  • If the hard drive is going bad, it would start to slow down the system too. You should run an error-check on the drive chkdsk /r C:
  • Check to see if any indexing services are starting on start-up (services.msc)
  • Make sure there aren't tons of applications all starting when you login (msconfig.exe)
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To my knowledge, these things are already ran automatically by Windows 7, eg. defragmentation of NTFS partitions and chkdsk after hard resets. –  Superbest Mar 4 at 20:10
    
@Superbest, whilst NTFS is less prone to fragmentation it can still need manual defragging, especially as free disk space approaches 0 –  EionRobb Mar 5 at 1:39

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