New troubleshooting features in the Windows 7 System Configuration tool

In this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, Greg Shultz takes a closer look the Microsoft Windows 7 System Configuration utility.

After reading my recent blog post, "Use Windows 7 Event Viewer to Track Down Issues That Cause Slower Boot Times, a friend who just recently made the move to Microsoft Windows 7 from Windows XP asked me whether the System Configuration Utility was still a viable tool to use in Windows 7. After I assured him that it was still a useful troubleshooting tool and described the modifications in the new version, I thought that a lot of people moving from XP to Windows 7 might have the same question.

Therefore, in this edition of the Windows Desktop Report, I'll take a closer look at Windows 7's System Configuration utility.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download and as a TechRepublic Photo Gallery.

Launching System Configuration

Of course, just like in Windows XP, you can launch the Windows 7 System Configuration utility by pressing [Windows] +R to access the Run dialog box, typing msconfig.exe in the Open box, and then clicking OK. However, it is a bit quicker to just click the Start button, type msconfig.exe in the Start Search box, and press [Enter].

Once System Configuration launches, as shown in Figure A, you'll discover several differences when compared to the Windows XP version. To begin with, you'll notice that the word "Utility" has been dropped from the name of the tool. You'll also notice a more concise set of tabs. Let take a closer look.

(Keep in mind that clicking the Help button will provide you with the details of each option in System Configuration.)

Figure A

In Windows 7's System Configuration tool you'll find a more concise set of tabs.


When you look at the contents of the General tab, shown in Figure A, you'll notice that it contains the same three startup options as the Windows XP version. Of course, the default is Normal Startup, which loads all the normal device drivers and services. The Diagnostic Startup option loads only with basic services and drivers while the Selective Startup provides you with the option to selectively load system services and startup programs. (The Use Original Boot Configuration check box stays selected unless you change the default setting on the Boot tab.)


When you access the Boot tab, as shown in Figure B, you'll find options that will allow you to easily boot into Safe Mode as well as configure other boot options that will come in handy when troubleshooting startup issues. For example, selecting the Boot Log check box will create a detailed log in the file C:\Windows\Ntbtlog.txt. Selecting the OS Boot Information check box will allow you to see all the driver names as they are being loaded during the startup process.

By selecting the Safe Boot check box, you can force the system to boot into Safe Mode and then select one of the option buttons to configure how you want Safe Mode to function. If you select the Alternate Shell option, Windows 7 will boot right to a command prompt running only critical system services. Both the graphical user interface and network access will be disabled.

Figure B

You'll use the options on the Boot tab to troubleshoot boot problems.

In the lower right, you'll find a check box titled Make All Boot Settings Permanent. Use this feature with caution!

When you select the Make All Boot Settings Permanent check box, System Configuration will not keep track of any changes that you make. In other words, you will not be able to undo any changes simply by selecting Normal Startup on the General tab. With this setting enabled, you must manually revert any, and all, changes that you've made.

Clicking the Advanced Options button brings up the Boot Advanced Options dialog box, shown in Figure C. In most cases you probably won't need to use these options, but they can come in handy. For example, if you suspect that a boot issue is being caused by having multiple processors, you can limit the number of processors used to boot the system by selecting the Number of Processors check box and specifying a number.

Figure C

In most cases you probably won't need to use the options in the Boot Advanced Options dialog box.


On the Services tab, you'll find a list of all the services that start when the computer boots, along with their current status — either Running or Stopped — as shown in Figure D. Just like in Windows XP, you can enable or disable individual services at boot time to troubleshoot services that might be contributing to startup problems. A new and very valuable feature on the Services tab is that System Configuration will now keep track of the date on which you disabled a particular service.

Figure D

On the Services tab, you'll discover that System Configuration will now keep track of the date on which you disabled a particular service.


Selecting the Startup tab will show you a list of all the applications that run when Windows 7 starts, as shown in Figure E. Two new features on the Startup tab include the Manufacturer heading, which can be a big help in identifying an application and Date Disabled heading, which will help you keep track of the date on which you disabled a startup application.

Figure E

The Startup tab lists all the applications that are currently loading when Windows 7 starts up.


The Tools tab is a really useful resource to have at your fingertips when troubleshooting configuration errors. As you can see in Figure F and Figure G, the list of tools is comprehensive and includes detailed descriptions. And it's easy to use: just select the tool you want and click the Launch button.

Figure F

The Tools tab makes it easy to access and run the operating system's advanced diagnostic utilities — just select the tool you want and click the Launch button.

Figure G

The list of tools provided by Windows 7's System Configuration utility is quite extensive.

What's your take?

Have you used the Windows 7 System Configuration utility for troubleshooting configuration errors? If so, what's been your experience? As always, if you have comments or information to share about this topic, please take a moment to drop by the TechRepublic Community Forums and let us hear from you.

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Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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