When I installed Windows Vista on my computer, I noticed that it did not boot up as fast as Windows XP did. Now I understand that Windows Vista has higher system requirements than XP and during the boot it is loading a lot of new system components and driver models. However, that doesn't justify how slow it boots on my midrange hardware that satisfies all the new higher system requirements. The trend before Vista came along was a constant decrease in booting time. Windows XP booted up much faster than Windows 2000 did. Why is Vista not booting up faster than XP? Despite the Vista boot slowdown, this chapter guides you through the steps of getting it up-to-speed and shows you how to make Windows Vista boot up faster than XP.
Now don't get me wrong: Windows Vista has a lot of great new features and visual enhancements that make it the most feature-rich, stable, and pretty-looking version of Windows from Microsoft to date. However, with all the new features and attractive effects, the operating system has a higher system overhead, which means your hardware has to work even harder. If you are like me, and do not always have the fastest hardware, this chapter will help you get the most out of your current hardware by reducing the heavy workload put on it during the boot process.
Every personal computer has a system BIOS (basic input/output system), which is what takes control of your computer the moment that you turn it on. The screen that you first see when you turn on your computer is called the power on self-test screen, better known as the POST screen. If you purchased your computer from one of the major computer manufacturers, this screen is often hidden by the manufacturer's logo. To get rid of this logo from the screen, just press the Esc button on your keyboard; you'll then see what is going on in the background. At this stage in the system boot, the BIOS is probing the hardware to test the system memory and other device connections. After the POST has completed, the BIOS proceeds to look for a device to boot from. When it finds your hard drive, it begins to load Windows.
The BIOS also acts as a main hardware component control panel, where low-level settings for all your hardware devices are made. The device boot order, port addresses, and feature settings such as plug and play are all found in the BIOS setup screens. For example, if you want to change the order of the drives that your computer checks to boot from, you want to modify the device boot order. I have to modify this setting almost every time that I install Windows because I want my computer to boot off of the CD-ROM to launch the install DVD instead of booting off the operating system on my hard drive.
BIOSs on each and every PC may be made by different companies or accessed by a different method. Nevertheless, the most common way to access the setup screen is to press F2 or the Delete key when the POST screen is displayed. Some computers even tell you which key to push to access the setup screen, as my notebook does. If your PC doesn't allow you to access the setup screen in this way, consult your computer documentation or contact your computer manufacturer for instructions.
While you are making changes in the system BIOS, make sure you do not accidentally change any other settings. If you accidentally change a value of a setting and do not know what to change it back to, just exit the BIOS setup screen as the onscreen directions indicate and select Do Not Save Changes. Then just reboot and reenter the setup screen and continue hacking away at your system.
Most computers are set up so that when you first turn on your computer it checks to see whether you want to boot from drives other than your hard drive. The BIOS automatically checks to see whether you have a bootable CD in your CD drive. If your computer has a floppy drive, it checks to see whether you have a bootable disk in the floppy drive, too. Then, after it has checked all possible locations for a boot disk, the system defaults to your hard drive set in the BIOS and starts booting Windows.
What is the benefit of changing the boot order of your system devices? If you modify the order of the boot devices so that the hard disk with Windows installed will be searched first by the BIOS, the system does not have to waste time checking other devices for boot records. Just by changing the order of the devices, you can shave anywhere from one to several seconds off of your boot time, depending on the speed of your hardware and number of drives your system has installed.
To change the boot order (or sequence, as some call it), you have to enter the system BIOS setup screen that was mentioned previously:
Press F2, Delete, or the correct key for your specific system on the POST screen (or the screen that displays the computer manufacturer's logo) to enter the BIOS setup screen.
Look for where it says Boot, and enter the submenu.
Select Boot Sequence, and press Enter. Figure 9-1 shows an example of the boot sequence screen.
Figure 9-1: The boot sequence setup screen
If your screen looks similar to Figure 9-1, you are in the right place. Navigate to where it states "first device" and cycle through the list to where it states "Hard Disk Drive" or "IDE0" (assuming that your hard drive is connected to IDE0). If your setup screen does not specifically state "first device" but rather just a list of all the devices, simply select the hard disk and move it to the top of the list. That can be done by using the Change Values keys (which for my BIOS, which is made by Phoenix, is the spacebar to move an item up and the minus symbol key to move an item down). The specific keys differ on almost every system, but the basic concepts are the same. You want to get your hard disk to the top of the list or listed as the first device from which to try to boot. If you do not know the keys for your BIOS, there are usually instructions located on either the bottom or right side of the screen where you will be able to find the correct keys for your system.
After you have made the changes, exit the system BIOS by pressing the Escape key, and make sure that you select to save your changes upon exit. After you reboot, the new settings will be in effect.
What are the consequences of changing the boot order? Changing the boot order will not hurt your system in any way if you do it correctly. If by accident you remove your hard drive from the list and save the BIOS settings, you will get an unpleasant surprise when your computer reboots and tells you that it cannot find any operating system. If you happen to get that message, don't worry; you did not just erase your operating system. Just reboot by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Delete at the same time and go back into the BIOS settings and make sure that you select your hard drive as a boot device. After you have done that, your system will be back to normal.
Another possible issue that you might encounter is just a matter of inconvenience. After you change the boot order of the system devices so that the hard drive is listed first, you can no longer use system restore CDs or floppy boot disks. If something has happened to your computer and you need to boot off of those drives to restore your system or run diagnostics, just go back to the system BIOS and lower or remove the hard disk from the first boot device and replace it with either a floppy or CD as needed.
All systems initialize in more or less the same way. During the POST mentioned earlier, the BIOS checks the hardware devices and counts the system memory. Out of all the different types of system memory, the random access memory, better known as RAM, takes the longest to be checked. Checking the RAM takes time, and on a machine that has large amounts of RAM, this calculation can take several seconds. For example, a machine that has 512MB of RAM may take up to 3 seconds just to check the memory. On top of the RAM counting, a few other tests need to be done because your computer wants to make sure that all the hardware in your computer is working properly.
The complete version of these tests is not needed every time that you boot and can be turned off to save time. Most system BIOSs offer a feature called Quick Boot. This feature enables the user to turn off the full version of the test and sometimes enables you to run a shorter quick check test instead. Other BIOSs allow you to turn off the Memory Check only, which will still cut down on a lot of time.
To turn on the Quick Boot feature or to turn off the Memory Check, just do the following:
Enter the system BIOS again by pressing F2 or the correct system setup Enter key on the POST screen for your system.
After you are in the BIOS setup, locate the text "Quick Boot" or "Memory Check," as shown in Figure 9-2. Navigate with the arrow keys until the option is highlighted.
Figure 9-2: BIOS setup screen displaying the Quick Boot feature
Use the Change Value keys to cycle through the options and select Enable for the Quick Boot feature or Disable if your system's BIOS has the Memory Check feature.
After you have made the change to the setting, exit the system BIOS by pressing the Escape key. Make sure you save the changes upon exit.
Use of the Quick Boot feature or the disabling of the Memory Check will not do any harm your system. In fact, some computer manufacturers even ship their computers with these settings already optimized for performance. The only downside to disabling the tests is in the rare situation in which your RAM self-destructs; the BIOS will not catch it, and you might receive errors from the operating system or your system could become unstable. If you notice that your system becomes unstable and crashes frequently or will not even boot, go back into the BIOS and re-enable the tests to find out whether your system's memory is causing the problems.