Services Guide for Windows XP

Posted by Yi Zhan

When I first sketched out the rough draft of what I wanted to include in The Elder Geek I wasn't going to have a section dealing with Services. There are a ton of sites out 'there' that go into excruciating detail on how to extract the last ounce of performance by fiddling with the default XP services. A few hundred e-mails later from readers wanting to know why I didn't have a services section, here it is, ready for you to peruse.

Frankly, I don't recommend you change any of the services from the default installation of XP. Yes, you may pick up a tiny performance gain by fiddling with the settings, but it won't be anything substantial. It's just my opinion, but if you are in a situation where these gains are necessary to achieve an increased level of system performance, it would be wiser to upgrade the physical system to one that is adequate to benefit from the XP operating system.
Please Read These Notes Relative To The Services Guide !
- Changing services settings can be just as dangerous as editing the registry. Have current -tested- backups of your system/data and understand how to restore them if something goes terribly wrong.
- I have not broken down the settings into different 'configurations' for purposes such as game playing, etc. This seems pointless to me since each system is unique and requires configuring differently.
- To edit the value for a service, launch services.msc from the Run option on the Start Menu.
- The recommendations I've made regarding each service are based solely on my personal experience. What I've found or what works for me may bear no relation to what works for you.
What are services? By definition, it's a program that runs invisibly in the background. But can't the same thing be said for a number of programs that run in the background such as anti-virus programs? Yes, but the real difference is that services load and start running whether or not anyone logs into the computer, unlike a program that is launched from the Startup Folder under All Programs.
There are two ways to view Services on your computer. The first is to use the MS Configuration Utility by typing msconfig.exe in the Run box accessed via the Start Menu, followed by clicking the Services tab. If you want a quick visual of which items are running or stopped, this is fine, but the information is limited. The preferred way to make changes to services is to launch services.msc from the Run option on the Start Menu. The Services window shown below will open.
Looking at the Services window you can see it has columns for Name, Description, Status, Startup Type and Log On As. This provides a quick overview of all the services on your computer. Detailed information is available by clicking any of the entries. The four captures below show the property sheet, by tabs, for the Alerter Service.
General Tab


Log On Tab

Recovery Tab

Dependencies Tab

The table below illustrates how I've set up the information for each service.
Service Name Alerter Process Name services.exe
Default Settings XP Home : Manual XP Pro : Manual
Microsoft Service Description Notifies selected users and computers of administrative alerts. If the service is stopped, programs that use administrative alerts will not receive them. If this service is disabled, any services that explicitly depend on it will fail to start.
Dependencies Workstation
Real World Description If you're part of a network that sends and receives administrative alerts this service is for you.
Is this service needed?
Recommended Setting:
Microsoft has assigned what they call a Display Name to each service. I've used that name to create the Services Index. It is the same name that appears in the Name column in the Services Window. Supposedly this name can be changed on the General tab if you want something more descriptive.
Service Name - The name the service is actually called. This name is often quite cryptic while at other times easily identifiable. It comes from the General tab and cannot be modified.
Process Name - The name of the actual process that is run when the service is activated. As you go through the services you'll no doubt wonder why svchost.exe is listed so many times as being the Process Name. The explanation can be found here. The Process Name is taken from the General tab.
Default Settings - These are the default settings for the Home and Professional versions of XP when a clean installation is performed.
Microsoft Service Description - This is taken directly from the General tab. Some of the descriptions are easily understood while others make no sense at all to the average (or any other) user.
Dependencies - Lists any additional services that are required for the service to run. The information is taken from the Dependencies tab.
Real World Description - If I felt the Microsoft Service Description was a bit vague or needed some clarification this is where I tried to give you a better idea of what the service does or why you might want it loaded.
Is This Service Needed? - There are three choices here and I stress that these are strictly my opinion.
A Yes means I believe it's essential to have this service running and set to Automatic.
A Possibly means that depending on your hardware and software choices this service might be one you choose to have enabled. It might have an Automatic, Manual, or Disabled setting.
A No means that I see no point in wasting the resources on the service and that your system shouldn't suffer any ill effects by having it disabled. It will have a Disabled Setting.
Recommended Setting - Again, these are my opinions only, but I feel that for most situations this setting will give you a good balance between system functionality and resource conservation.
Note - Anything else I want to toss in I think you might find helpful.