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What is the Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination and how to use it in Windows 10 and Windows 11

In the decades I have been using computers, one combination of keys on the keyboard has been the 'holy grail', the genuinely fool-proof way of regaining control of an unresponsive program or computer, Ctrl+Alt+Del.

What is the Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination and how to use it in Windows 10 and Windows 11

As most of you know, I am a big fan of keyboard shortcuts, especially Windows Logo key shortcuts. But when it comes to personal computers, the single, most powerful combination of keys has to be Ctrl+Alt+Del (Control-Alt-Delete).

The history of Ctrl+Alt+Del, or the "three-finger salute" as it is more commonly known, was created by an engineer at IBM working on the original IBM PC project in the '80s as a way to execute a soft reboot. The keys were selected for their location on the keyboard so that it required both hands to press all three keys at the same time. That way, you could not accidentally reboot your computer.

The Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination is built into every IBM PC clone computer's BIOS (Basic Input/Output System). Even today, the Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination will still reboot an IBM PC when it is started into the BIOS. And in Windows, Ctrl+Alt+Del has a couple of different uses.

The first use of Ctrl+Alt+Del inside Windows 10 and Windows 11 is to bring up the login screen. Typically, only users whose computers are connected to a domain will be required to use the "three-finger salute" to log on. Every day Windows users are only required to press any key to bring up the login screen.

The second use of Ctrl+Alt+Del inside Windows 10 and Windows 11 is the best and probably the most unknown use. When you are logged into Windows and press Ctrl+Alt+Del, it brings up Windows Security in full screen.

The Windows Security screen inside of Windows 10
The Windows Security screen inside of Windows 10

The Windows Security screen inside of Windows 11
The Windows Security screen inside of Windows 11

The Windows Security screen gives you five (5) options, including Lock, Switch user, Sign out, Change a password, and Task Manager. There are three (3) more options in the lower right-hand corner: Internet, Ease of access, and Power. Here is a list of all the functions.

Lock: This button will lock the computer and require the user who is currently signed in to log on again to unlock the computer.

Switch user: This button will allow another user to log on to the computer.

Sign out: This button will sign out the currently logged-in user. Note: If you have an unresponsive program or a program that you cannot close (like junkware), signing out will close all open programs and then log the current user off.

Change a password: As the name implies, it will change the user's password that is currently logged in.

Task Manager: This button will open the Task Manager. Task Manager has several functions, including managing the running tasks and monitoring system resources. Note: You can also forcibly terminate processes or programs that have become unresponsive.

Internet: With this button, you can select the network connection to use for the Internet.

Ease of access (Windows 10) / Accessibility (Windows 11) - This button allows you to turn on and off Narrator, Magnifier, On-Screen Keyboard, High Contrast, Sticky Keys, and Filter Keys.

Power: This button has two (2) options, Shut down or Restart.

Clean up Windows 11 with Storage Sense and Disk Cleanup

Are you running out of free space on your Windows 11 computer? Or maybe you would like to clean up all the clutter that can build up over time? If so, here is how to clean and free up space on Windows 11 using Storage Sense and Disk Cleanup.

Clean up Windows 11 with Storage Sense and Disk Cleanup

Windows 11 has two (2) built-in programs that you can use to clean up Windows 11; Storage Sense and Disk Cleanup. They both have similar features, and they both can be run manually or automatically.

Note: Both of these programs will permanently delete files on your computer, so you need to be careful what you decide to clean up. Remember, once you delete a file or files with either one of these programs, you cannot get them back.

Storage Sense

The Storage Sense feature inside of Windows 11 Settings

Storage Sense is relatively new, as it first appeared in Windows 10 version 1809. It is relatively simple to use, as it only has a few settings that you can change.

Storage Sense can be run automatically when your computer starts to run out of free space or every day, week, or month. It can delete files in your Recycle Bin and Downloads folder based on how long those files have been there. You can run Storage Sense manually too.

How to open Storage Sense in Windows 11

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo key button to bring up the Start menu.
  2. In the list of pinned apps on the Start menu, left-click on Settings.
  3. Scroll down the right-hand column and left-click on Storage.
  4. In the right-hand column, left-click on Storage Sense.

Disk Cleanup

The Disk Cleanup program inside of Windows 11

Disk Cleanup has been inside Windows for some time now and has far more options for cleaning up Windows 11. And there are two (2) ways to run Disk Cleanup, which I refer to as Standard and Advanced.

Disk Cleanup can clean up user and system files, ranging from the Recycle Bin and temporary Internet files for users to Windows Update and thumbnails for the system.

The Standard way to run Disk Cleanup

  1. Left-click on the Start button Windows logo to bring up the Start menu.
  2. In the upper right-hand corner of the Start menu, left-click on All apps.
  3. Scroll down the list of programs and left-click on Windows Tools.
  4. Left-click on Disk Cleanup.

or

  1. Open File Explorer using one of the following:
    • Left-click on the File Explorer icon (manilla folder) on the Taskbar.
    • Press the Windows logo key Windows logo + E at the same time.
    • Use the Power User menu by right-clicking on the Start Windows logo button and selecting File Explorer.
  2. In the left-side column, left-click on This PC.
  3. In the right-side column, right-click on the drive you want to optimize and select Properties.
  4. On the General tab, left-click on the Disk Cleanup button.

If you started Disk Cleanup from the Windows Tools shortcut and have more than one (1) drive inside your computer, you may be prompted for which drive you want to clean up.

From the dialog box that appears, you will see a list of user files that can be deleted. If you are looking to clean up your user profile, select the files you want to delete and left-click on the OK button.

If you want to clean up system files, then left-click on the Clean up system files button. If this is the drive with Windows installed on it, you will have several more file options to choose from. Select the files you want to clean up and left-click on the OK button.

The Advanced way to run Disk Cleanup

Using the advanced way of starting Disk Cleanup will give you all of the user and system settings options. And you can also use Task Scheduler to run the advanced Disk Cleanup settings on a schedule you set.

The first thing you need to do is open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges. Note: The full name of Disk Cleanup is cleanmgr.exe, but you only need to use cleanmgr in the Admin Command Prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 11

In the Admin Command Prompt, type the following and then press Enter.

cleanmgr

This will start Disk Cleanup, just like starting it from the Windows Tools shortcut. But you can use command-line switches to get all of the options (user and system). You can use several different command-line switches with cleanmgr, but you will only need to use two; /sageset:n and /sagerun:n.

cleanmgr /sageset:n

/sageset:n - This switch displays the Disk Cleanup settings dialog box and creates a registry key to store the settings you select. The n value is stored in the registry and allows you to specify different tasks for Disk Cleanup to run. The n value can be any integer value from 0 to 65535. To get all the available options when using the /sageset switch, you may need to specify the drive letter that contains the Windows installation.

cleanmgr /sagerun:n

/sagerun:n - This switch runs the specified tasks assigned to the n value using the /sageset switch. All drives in the computer will be enumerated, and the selected profile will be run against each drive.

How to create a Scheduled Task to run Disk Cleanup

First, you will need to have created a preset configuration using the /sageset:n switch. Then open Task Scheduler and create a new task.

  1. Left-click on the Start button Windows logo to bring up the Start menu.
  2. In the upper right-hand corner of the Start menu, left-click on All apps.
  3. Scroll down the list of programs and left-click on Windows Tools.
  4. Left-click on Task Scheduler.
  5. In the right column labeled Actions, select Create Basic Task. The Create a Basic Task Wizard will appear.
  6. Give the task a name and description, and then select Next.
  7. Select when you want it to run (trigger).
  8. When prompted for what task you want to perform, select Start a program, then select Next.
  9. When prompted for a program/script to start, select Browse and navigate to C:\Windows\System32\ and select cleanmgr.exe.
  10. In the Add arguments section, type /sagerun:n and then select Next.
  11. Then select Finish, and you're all set.

You can also create a shortcut with the cleamgr /sagerun:n command, that way, you can run it manually whenever you want.

How to enable automatic registry backups in Windows 10 and Windows 11

When it comes to repairing Windows-based computers, the one thing that will positively stop Windows from starting up is a corrupt registry. Having a backup of the registry is essential for quickly getting a system back up and running. So here is how to enable automatic registry backups in Windows 10 and Windows 11.

How to enable automatic registry backups in Windows 10 and Windows 11

In previous versions of Windows, the operating system would automatically backup the registry. In fact, Windows did automatically back up the registry until Windows 10 version 1803.

With Windows 10 version 1803, Microsoft disabled the automatic registry backup to help reduce the overall footprint of Windows. Microsoft would prefer you to use the System Restore feature.

But considering that Windows 10 and Windows 11 can take up to 40GB or more of disk space, the folder that contains the registry backup (Windows\System32\config\RegBack) only takes up roughly 100MB or so of disk space. I do not see a problem with having a backup of the registry.

Now over the past couple of years, I have seen an increase in Windows computers that do not have System Protection enabled. System Protection is the feature that creates and manages the System Restore feature.

So when I get a computer in the shop with a corrupted registry, and there are no System Restore points, then the only thing I can do is reformat the drive and reinstall Windows. But you can re-enable the automatic registry backup with a simple registry edit.

Note: If you are not comfortable editing the registry, don't hesitate to contact a local computer technician to assist you.

From my experience, getting the registry backups going again is a two-step process. First, you create the registry key and restart your computer to take effect. Then you run the built-in task inside of Task Scheduler. Let's start with the registry editor.

How to open the Registry Editor in Windows 10 / Windows 11

  1. Open the Registry Editor by either
  2. Navigate to HKLM (HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE) > System > CurrentControlSet > Control > Session Manager > Configuration Manager
    Registry Editor open to Configuration Manager entry
  3. In the left-hand column, right-click on Configuration Manager and select New > DWORD (32-bit) Value.
    Creating the new DWORD value EnablePeriodicBackup
  4. Name the new DWORD value EnablePeriodicBackup.
    Registry Editor open to EnablePeriodicBackup value
  5. Right-click on the EnablePeriodicBackup value and select Modify.
    Modifying the EnablePeriodicBackup value
  6. Change the Value data from 0 to 1 and left-click on OK.
    Changing the default EnablePeriodicBackup value from 0 to 1
  7. Restart your computer.

Using File Explorer, navigate to the Windows\System32\config\RegBack folder and see if the registry files are backed up. If you encounter a couple of dialog boxes that tell you that you do not have permission to access this folder, left-click on Continue.

You should see five (5) files in this folder; DEFAULT, SAM, SECURITY, SOFTWARE, and SYSTEM. And more than likely, they will be only 0KB in size. If that is the case, we will need to run the task that backups the registry.

Now we need to run the built-in task RegIdleBackup to get the Windows to start backing up the registry. Once you run the RegIdleBackup task, you should restart your computer again to get it fully functional.

How to open the Task Scheduler in Windows 10 / Windows 11

  1. Open the Task Scheduler by either
  2. When Task Scheduler appears, navigate down the left-hand column to Task Scheduler Library > Microsoft > Windows > Registry.
    The RegIdleBackup task inside of Task Manager
  3. In the center column, highlight the RegIdleBackup task and select Run in the right-hand column.
  4. Restart your computer.

Windows will now be backing up the registry regularly, usually every ten (10) days. Now that you enabled automatic registry backups let's check and see if they are working.

Let's use File Explorer again to navigate to the Windows\System32\config\RegBack folder and see if the registry files have increased in size. You should now see they are no longer 0KB.

How to disable or enable auto-start programs and drivers in Windows 10

Updated July 11, 2020

In doing computer repair, I often get asked, "Why does my computer take so long to start up?". Quite often, it turns out that there are items set to auto-start that don't need to or don't exist anymore. Here's how to disable programs, drivers, and services that auto-start in Windows 10.

How to disable or enable auto-start programs and drivers in Windows 10

Now this one doesn't cost any money and can dramatically improve the time it takes for your computer and programs to start up. By minimizing the number of applications that launch at startup, you can also free up memory.

Now there are three (3) programs I use to enable or disable programs, drivers, or services that start up in Windows 10. The built-in programs (Task Manager and System Configuration) are pretty safe to use but still can degrade performance if not used properly. The third program (Autoruns / Autoruns64) can be dangerous because not only can it enable or disable entries, it can also delete them.

Note: I recommended that you make changes one at a time and restart between them. That way, you can find out if you need that program or service you just disabled. Yes, it's time-consuming, but sometimes you have to do it.

Task Manager (Auto-start programs)

The Startup tab inside of Windows 10 Task Manager
The Startup tab inside of Windows 10 Task Manager

Using Task Manager is the most comfortable and safest way to enable or disable programs that auto-start with Windows 10. None of the programs listed here are going to prevent your computer from starting if disabled. You will not find any program listed here that Windows 10 requires to operate.

Now for those of you that are not familiar with Task Manager, it's a built-in program that does a lot of different things. It monitors running programs, system performance, and active processes. And it also manages programs that auto-start with Windows 10.

How to start Task Manager in Windows 10

  1. Right-click on an empty area of the Taskbar.
  2. On the context menu that appears, left-click on Task Manager.

or

  1. Press CTRL + ALT + DEL all at the same time.
  2. From the security screen that appears, left-click on Task Manager.

The first time you run Task Manager, it only displays running apps. You have to left-click on the More details arrow to view all of the tabs. Once you have the tabs displayed, left-click on Startup.

From here, all you have to do is highlight the program name and select the Enable / Disable button located in the bottom right-hand corner.

System Configuration (Auto-start services)

The Services tab inside of Windows 10 System Configuration
The Services tab inside of Windows 10 System Configuration

This program is used mainly for diagnostics, so there are no splashy graphics here. With System Configuration, you can change the services that auto-start with Windows 10. Be careful about making changes here, as they can have a significant impact on system performance.

How to start System Configuration in Windows 10

  1. Left-click on the Start Menu and scroll down the list of applications to Windows Administrative Tools.
  2. Left-click on Windows Administrative Tools to expand the contents.
  3. Scroll down and left-click on System Configuration.

or

  1. Press the Windows logo key Windows logo key + R to bring up the Run dialog box.
  2. Type in MSCONFIG and left-click on OK.

From the default dialog box, select the Service tab. There you will find all of the services that auto-start with Windows 10. Remember that some of the Microsoft services listed cannot be disabled, so it's always best to select the Hide all Microsoft services checkbox at the bottom of the services section.

Once you have made your changes left-click on the Apply button, then left-click on the OK button. You will get a dialog box prompting you to either Restart or Exit without restart. Left-click on Restart, and you're ready to go. Remember to make changes one at a time and restart in between changes.

Autoruns / Autoruns64 (Auto-start programs, drivers and services)

The Everything tab inside of Microsoft Autoruns
The Everything tab inside of Microsoft Autoruns

Autoruns.exe (32-bit) and Autoruns64.exe (64-bit) are part of Microsoft's Sysinternals Suite of troubleshooting utilities and do not come with Windows 10. But they are free, require no installation, and can be downloaded separately or with the complete suite (see links below).

This program is the most complex of them all. And the most dangerous! Why do you ask? Besides being able to disable programs, drivers, and services that auto-start, you can also delete their load points altogether. So be careful!

Once you downloaded the files and extracted them to a permanent location, open that folder with File Explorer. Locate either Autoruns.exe or Autoruns64.exe (depending on your version of Windows 10). Right-click on the release of Autoruns for your version of Windows 10 and select Run as administrator from the context menu.

When you start Autoruns, it automatically scans your computer for auto-start programs, drivers, and services. Autoruns has multiple tabs for the different Windows auto-start locations (logon, services, drivers, etc.), including one called Everything. And if you select the User pull-down menu on the toolbar on top of the program, you can also select the different user profiles.

If you want to disable/enable a program or driver, left-click on the checkbox on the left-hand side of the entry. You can also delete an entry, but I recommend that you back it up first, just in case. If you find you don't need the backup, you can delete the file later.

To back up an entry in Autoruns, you right-click on it, and a context menu will appear. Left-click on Jump to entry ... and the Registry Editor opens to the location in the registry of that entry. Right-click on the selected entry in the Registry Editor, and a context menu appears. Left-click on Export and select a location and file name for your backup file.

Autoruns
Sysinternals Suite

Clean up Windows 10 with Disk Cleanup

There are a lot of programs out there that can clean up your Windows 10 computer. But did you know that one of the best ones comes with Windows 10? Here's how to clean up your Windows 10 computer with Disk Cleanup.

Clean up Windows 10 with Disk Cleanup

Disk Cleanup has been included with Windows since Windows XP and is part of my regular scheduled maintenance. Disk Cleanup can be run two (2) different ways and can have three (3) different sets of options. The first way to run it is from any of the shortcuts built into Windows (Start menu or disk properties). When you use a built-in shortcut, you will have two (2) different sets of options, user and system.

Disk Cleanup user options in Windows 10
Disk Cleanup user options in Windows 10
Disk Cleanup system options in Windows 10
Disk Cleanup system options in Windows 10

When you run Disk Cleanup with user options, you can clean up user-specific files such as downloaded program files, temporary Internet files, and the recycle bin. With system options, you can also clean up Windows system files like Windows temporary files, device driver packages, and previous installations of Windows, just to name a few.

Disk Cleanup command line options in Windows 10
Disk Cleanup command line options in Windows 10

Disk Cleanup can also be run using command line switches. When you do this, you get the maximum options available. But you will have to run it at an administrative command prompt to configure these options. These options include all user and system options plus a few more, like old chkdsk files, Windows Update Cleanup, and Windows ESD installation files.

How to run Disk Cleanup from the Start menu

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo button.
  2. Scroll down to Windows Administrative Tools and left-click to expand.
  3. Left-click on Disk Cleanup. If you have more than one (1) drive, you will be prompted on which drive you want to clean up.

Disk Cleanup will scan your system for files that it can remove and open with the available user options. You can now choose which user files you would like to delete. To activate the system options, you will need to select Clean up system files in the lower left-hand corner. When you do this, Disk Cleanup will close and rescan your computer.

This time Disk Cleanup will now include system files that can be removed. It will also have a second tab on top called More Options. Under More Options, you will find other options, Programs and Features and System Restore and Shadow Copies.

Programs and Features will take you to the Control Panel, where you can uninstall programs or add/remove Windows features. Selecting System Restore and Shadow Copies will delete all but the most recent restore point. Use this carefully, as you cannot get back any restore points once they are deleted.

How to run Disk Cleanup from an administrative command prompt

You can run Disk Cleanup with or without command-line switches. When you run Disk Cleanup without any switches, it opens with the system options selections. When you run it with switch /sageset:n, you will get even more options than the system settings.

The first thing you will need to do is open an Administrative Command Prompt.

How to open a Command Prompt with Administrator privileges in Windows 10

Then type the following into the command prompt to run Disk Cleanup.

cleanmgr

Disk Cleanup can also be used with command-line switches, further expanding on its features. And when used with the /sageset:n and /sagerun:n switches, you can save multiple configurations that can be used in a shortcut or as a scheduled task. Here's an explanation of the /sageset:n and /sagerun:n switches.

cleanmgr /sageset:n

/sageset:n - This switch displays the Disk Cleanup settings dialog box and creates a registry key to store the settings you select. The n value is stored in the registry and allows you to specify different tasks for Disk Cleanup to run. The n value can be any integer value from 0 to 65535. To get all the available options when using the /sageset switch, you may need to specify the drive letter that contains the Windows installation.

cleanmgr /sagerun:n

/sagerun:n - This switch runs the specified tasks assigned to the n value by using the /sageset switch. All drives in the computer will be enumerated, and the selected profile will be run against each drive.

How to run Disk Cleanup as a Scheduled Task

First, you will need to have created a preset configuration using the /sageset:n switch. Then open Task Scheduler and create a new task.

  1. Left-click on the Start Windows logo button.
  2. Scroll down to Windows Administrative Tools and left-click to expand.
  3. Left-click on Task Scheduler.
  4. In the right column labeled Actions, select Create Basic Task. The Create a Basic Task Wizard will appear.
  5. Give the task a name and description and then select Next.
  6. Select when you want it to run (trigger).
  7. When prompted for what task you want to perform, select Start a program, then select Next.
  8. When prompted for a program/script to start, select Browse and navigate to C:\Windows\System32\ and select cleanmgr.exe.
  9. In the Add arguments section, type /sagerun:n and then select Next.
  10. Then select Finish, and you're all set.

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