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August 24, 1998

System Information tool offers helpful Advanced features

Configuring Windows for the best performance -- or, sometimes, configuring it so it runs at all -- has been a hot topic for years. Two weeks ago, I mentioned the System Information utility that comes with Windows 98. (See, "Crash! Take advantage of these emergency Registry routines if Windows goes south," Aug. 10.) Alert reader Steve Fuller points out some new wrinkles in this tool.

The System Information utility replaces some little-known Microsoft tools for Windows 98, such as the MsInfo32.exe file that came with Microsoft Office 95. System Information brings these tools together with a more powerful interface.

The feature of System Information that particularly interests Fuller is its System Configuration Utility. To get to System Information in Win98, click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, System Information. You then start System Configuration Utility by pulling down the Tools menu and clicking System Configuration Utility. A faster way to get there is to click Start, Run, then type msconfig and click OK.

The Advanced button of this utility provides access to troubleshooting settings that previously required detailed knowledge of System.ini or the Windows Registry.

Within the Advanced dialog box, you can configure Windows to boot up in many Safe, Safer, and Safest modes to eliminate potential start-up problems. For example, you can force Windows to start up in plain-vanilla 640-by-480 resolution VGA mode, or you can disable the Scandisk routine to avoid delays if you need to reboot frequently to test your system.

You can limit the amount of memory available to Windows to test for faulty memory chips. You can also disable Win98's "fast shutdown" features to determine whether they conflict with your software.

Unfortunately, the Help text that is available within the System Configuration Utility provides even less information about the Advanced options than you get by simply looking at the dialog box itself.

I don't propose that you start changing the Advanced options at random to see if they improve Windows. But if you manage Windows PCs, knowledge of these options may be a lifesaver some day.

Microsoft's explanation of the Advanced options can be found on its Web site at This document explains the symptoms of problems you may experience with Windows and why you might change various settings to troubleshoot the situation. The page also links to descriptions of little-known and Msdos.sys options so you can start Windows in troubleshooting modes.

One of the most handy System Configuration features is its Startup tab. This dialog doesn't merely show you what programs run automatically in your Startup folder. It also lists obscure programs that are run by the Registry every time you start Windows.

I recently re-installed the software for an Iomega Zip Drive but then couldn't get the re-installed software to stop asking me to register every couple of weeks. Deselecting the Remind.exe option in the Startup tab eliminated the annoyance. I could have edited this command, of course, out of the Hkey_Local_Machine\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Run section of the Registry. But using the Startup tab is much easier than editing the Registry manually.

Fuller will receive a copy of Windows 98 Secrets for his tip.

Brian Livingston's latest book is Windows 98 Secrets (IDG Books). Send tips to He regrets that he cannot answer individual questions.

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