We love hardware, and if you ask us how to make an old computer go faster, we’ll recommend a hardware upgrade. But 34 million people opt for a software tune-up in the US alone, estimates Iolo, a company that makes tune-up software. PC speed-up software Iolo's System Mechanic 9 does a good job of finding services you don’t use …
A memory upgrade is possibly the easiest thing for even a novice. And these days it's incredibly simple to get the right product for the system - Crucial supply a system scanner that tells you what system you've got, how many banks are free and what memory your machine can take (taking into account BIOS limits etc)
A memory upgrade will also lower boot times as noted in the article. The result seems quite contradictory, but in layman's terms, when Windows boots, it will load as much as it deems appropriate into "real" memory, and load the rest into virtual memory/disk. It still goes through the same process to do this though, but can't write to virtual memory as quickly as the real thing. If you're in the habit of hibernating the system though, it will increase the resume time (but it's a fairly swift process to begin with)
To be honest, I'd say that a non-tech person would have as much luck with an upgrade as they would with something like CCleaner
What about switching off some services using services.msc typed in run dialog?
Use Black Viper list to see which ones you can turn off , if any doubt switch to manual.
Just for interest, and something you've not mentioned here. How much difference does a defrag make to the boot up times? Or is that subject of another article?
I use Ccleaner just to tidy up after de-installs or upgrades (MS tuesdays seem to leave a lot of crap in the registry after you've rebooted). The Startup apps screen in Ccleaner at least allows you just to turn them off which does mean its pretty easy to turn them back on if you've screwed up.
I changed the spark plugs, added a bottle of STP Fuel Injection cleaner, and put one of the whirly fan things in the intake and my Dell Latitude D610 was easily 10% faster. I just know it was.
Regaining virginity ?
Useful article, but what is disappointing is that none of the applications get start up time anywhere near the original 35secs of the new clean install - One feels something could be done to recover this? Is it just extraneous applications that slow down boot? If so, are they really needed? Or could they be arranged to splutter in to life when the PC is up and going rather than forcing the user to wait till they sort themelves out before allowing the user to do anything useful.
Agree about the memory upgrade, particularly for really 'challenged' PCs e.g. 256Mb - its quite easy to do as well - just need to be careful and gentle.
'Twas ever thus
PC manufacturers have skimped on memory for at least as long as I can remember, which is 15-20 years now. It has always been the case that you'll get a faster machine by starting with the manufacturer's config, downgrading the processor, and spending the saved cash on extra memory.
I assume it is because PCs are sold by the number that Intel/AMD assign to the processor, rather than the numbers that the resulting configuration scores in benchmarks. It's rather sad that the general public have been getting shafted for 20 years and *still* haven't noticed, to the extent that those who *are* disappointed with their PC's performance and are willing to spend more cash get diverted down the blind alley of "tune-up tools".
Fix-it Utilities "...it really affected Counter-Strike: Source’s frame rate badly." Oh come on now guys. You telling me a difference of 2 fps is even noticeable ?? I bet your margin for error was at least a frame or 2.
Registry Fix-ups or clean-ups?
Hmm, there are some things which were not measured in this round.
I suffer more crashing programs and inexplicable slow-downs from poor condition of the registry than other sources of annoyance, so I use a Registry fix-up tool as well as a general tune-up tool.
the makers of c(rap)Cleaner also make a nice free defrag tool called Defraggler.
I would be interested to see what the times would be if the machine was re-loaded from scratch and the required applications re-installed.
yes, errr no, ... um - yes
it's impossible to say.
There's a huge placebo effect with stuff like this. partly because the average PC user cannot detect performance improvements (or drops) of less than 50%, so a tune-up on a decently working PC will be indistinguishable from nothing. Yes, it will just about twitch the needle on a benchmark, but for the average Joe: nada. --- Although they'll aways say it "feels" faster, just to be polite.
But ..... the average PC that's been in use for a year or two is going to be in such a state that it's hard NOT to improve it's performance. The main drag seems to be all the temp files, garbage in caches and millions upon millions of cookies. Assuming of course, that there isn't one or more viruses or trojans lurking in there, somewhere.
I just wish all the cr@p cleaners, tuner-uppers and the like would just stick to the basics: remove the junk, scan for baddies and then stop. There's no measurable speed benefit from defragging the registry, or removing orphans or any of these other features, that software makers feel compelled to add, just to bump the revision number to show they're still in business. Once you get past the basics, the chances of screwing things up badly and without noticing go up very fast. Especially for the sort or average users who need these utilities the most.
I always get pcs come back to me after about a year..
To find it full of tons of malware. (Always Limeware in there as well and that sodding ASK.com toolbar)
And where people have tried to download there own 45 versions of reg cleaners etc etc
I normally stick on for them :-
AVG Free edition
Adware Anivery edition
Firefox 3 with ad block plus (No script just gives me a headache telling them to enable it for various bit and bobs)
Which usualy do a good job
Also found Malware bytes to be good...
Basically Keep it Simple and clean
On a different note i am sure you can disbale teh fancy crap xp does with the fonts etc etc which might give a slight performance boost.
A useful test - thank you. I come across a few old PC's and laptops where the HD is practically full, and CCleaner (formerly Crap Cleaner - great name) often removes upwards of a GB of temporary and cache files. That does improve performance, I assure you!
Re: Memory upgrade
From personal experience: 256MB-->512Mb moves you from arthritic, hod-carrying snail to three-legged dog in performance. 512Mb-->1Gb a stonking improvement all round. 1Gb-->2Gb little, if any, improvement to boot times, but a massive improvement to task switching, exiting Office apps / games et. al. and so on. 2Gb-->4Gb, very little change over 2Gb (and here remember only the 64-bit lads get to see it all anyway).
Where's the "before" figures? All your graphs show how "good" each item is relative to each other, but there is no measure of improvement in performance from the original base system. So the information tells us what's better from the assumption we're buying one -- the graphs do not tell us whether it's worth buying any in the first place.
@The Indomitable Gall
That'll be the green bar in the chart that you're after.
"We weren’t expecting the Ram upgrade to improve Windows start-up times, but it did."
Why were you not expecting the RAM upgrade to improve Window's boot time ? Less page file use always speeds up boot times.
Well I hope version 9 is better...
... than the v8 of System Mechanic that I suffered from. V7 was actually pretty good and seemed quite good at maintaining a reasonable level of performance from my old XP system.
Then I got the 'special offer' to upgrade to the latest version, and it all went downhill from then:
o The system started fine, but over time it seemed to get slower and slower - with long periods where it would freeze. 15 minutes between pressing the power button and getting a usable desktop is not my idea of "fun";
o The Iolo software needed to do a software and system scan - and these seem to get more and more frequent and intrusive. The software updates seemed to increasingly need a reboot, and the scan times were up there with the AV ones;
o Strange things started happening - like software apps would intermittently go 'lost' only to return minutes later. Wireless cards would be disabled;
The final straw was following a 'major update' - it did a registry optimise and managed to corrupt the registry keys for a number of apps. E.g. trying to launch IE resulted in the system trying to start an install of Nuance PDF Creator.
After doing some tests, I duly reported this to Iolo "support" and was treated with barely disguised contempt - effectively "we've got your money, ha ha sucker!".
I removed their software (as in deinstall and then had a session with a registry editor to totally purge it) and lo-and-behold - my system freezes stopped, boot times reduced dramatically and the system was a lot more stable. Okay, I then had to spend hours trying to undo the damage it'd done to the registry (and no it didn't do a backup, and I didn't get a chance to fire off a manual one before it hit my system) but the system was fine after that. And yes, I did do a full virus scan, in case it was some nasty piece of malware to blame for my ills!
So - while I realise that I may be just been really unlucky) - if you're going to use these (especially System Mechanic!) then make sure you've got good backups in place. Oh, and maybe learning how to do manual tuning (or use some less highly automated tuning tools) would also be a good idea.
Really 5 mins on Internet discovering what services.msc does and turning of the really un-needed ones helps more.
Getting rid of accumulated junk in run registry and startup folders helps more too.
Look each service or program up with Google
run silentrunner.vbs from www.silentrunners.org
boot up time irrelevance
can someone explain to me the relevance of boot up times ? time and time again you see stuff about 'oo.. a new version of window - how quick will it boot', or 'here is a new EFI bios that can boot xp in 5 seconds'..
who give a F*ck. desktop or laptop - surely most folk make use of standby and hibernate ??? I mean, sure the odd reboot once a week maybe for updates, etc... but who the hell boots up their computer every day! I'm typing this on my MBP and I ain't rebooted that for weeks. But this is not a 'macs are great' mail, my old XP laptop was quite happy hibernating daily too.
So what we're saying it...
... Use Windows Defender or "System Configuration" (under Vista and 7 - otherwise "msconfig") to remove the crap loaded by Apple, Adobe and Sun and OEM muck and use Crucial to tell you what RAM you can get.
Save yourself £50 and get a guarenteed boost to your box.
I love the first image.
Services typically not used:
Automatic updates and BITS
Whats sad though is for normal users they don't ever update the system anyway. I love how many systems I see on a daily basis that have XP Home/Pro without even SP1.
Find some one who know what they are doing
and use hijack this.
Nice review, BUT....
Did you disable the page file after you had given the laptop the full 1gb? If not, why not? XP only needs p/f with under 1gb of RAM, if you run your tests again with the p/f off and a quick blast of Microsoft's 'bootvis' and I bet you'd see yet further increase in performance, and these tweaks are well within the realm of the novice.
System Mechanic recommends you disable automatic updates and BITS? Are they crazy?
You forgot to mention
Once the duties these apps have performed then its best to uninstall them.
Client at my job site got a new laptop and installed Iolo and I told him not to do it until he runs into a REAL problem. He did not listen and right away did a defrag and registry modification and now doing this everyday his laptop is slow as hell.
He must have OCD for not listening to me.
Any chance of changing the page file size and adding to tests?
Sometimes removing virtual ram altogether speeds up boot (especially reboot!) faster than spending a penny on anything! although it will limit memory available, it will speed up its use considerably.
not sure if you guys are aware but CCleaner stood for Crap Cleaner, hence doesnt really tune-up speed wise but makes sure you can get rid of crap etc. Google for CCleaner space results or something similiar, some people shave 1-2Gb off their hard drives. Important if you have a raptor 32Gb 10k drive.
I know that wasnt the point of the article, but space does impact performance sometimes.
Troll because thats what I am :)
Waste of time TBH
I do a LOT of system optimisation, I'd say probobly 80% of my workload involves this. Theres a simple procedure to follow that will seepd up almost any machine and its been the same on all but a few systems.
Disable and remove whatever Norton Product is running.
Run Antimalware, anti virus. Normally by this stage the machines that were struggling are quite spritely again.
Prune the startup through msconfig (yes you really need all those bloody updaters, quick starters, media detectors, print notifiers)
Defrag if needed, then a few small tweeks here and there.
It works on both XP and Vista just as well. There are a LOT of tweaks to be applied to Vista, simple things that make a huge difference.
What you fail to mention is that a huge number of these system cleaners are bundled with, or in fact are themselves, malware. The next thing the user knows, Personal Antivirus is on there and it all goes pear shaped.
A proper clean up of the machine and then if needed, RAM will do the trick every time. As will sorting out some of the manufacturer gaffes a lot of the big box machines ship with (no DMA, Chipset drivers missing, shadowing off, 40pin ide instead of 80 pin ATA...)
Ccleaner (was Crap Cleaner) is great for popping in and seeing what has been bunged on start-up after installing things like camera, printer and Adobe stuff etc.
Amazing how many progs feel the need to be ready to connect to the net and check once every half an hour for updates or have a toolbar or dashboard or other interface hidden but ready to go.
A quick peek on Ccleaner and a few 'what the f's that?' works wonders.
I must admit I pretty much guessed the results fairly accurately at the beginning of the article, but it's nice to see someone actually put in the legwork and do some serious testing.
When one of my users complains of performance issues the first thing I do is look at how much RAM they have in their system, but immediately afterwards, I clean the startup list and defrag the hard disk. Defragging can have truly dramatic results. Also, upgrading to a faster hard drive (more cache, lower seek times) can do wonders.
The biggest job out of these is actually defragging, as it is the most time consuming. Requiring manual initiation, often requiring many passes, and frequently needing some space freeing up to get the job done properly.
Because of this, it is infrequently done in XP, which exacerbates the problem. (as I write this I am currently remoted into 3 separate desktops running updates and defrags after migrating them to a new domain) This is entirely because of politics, as previous versions of windows could indeed have defrag scheduled automatically.
MS bought the defrag technology from Executive Software, from their flagship product Diskeeper. Because of this, Executive Software retained the rights to core components such as the scheduling agent, and the boot-time defrag which could process normally locked system files such as the pagefile and the registry files.
Thankfully, this has changed post-Vista. Not only can defrag be scheduled again, but the windows scheduling agent has been given a steroid injection (seriously, if you've got a vista or 7 machine knocking around, and you've not seen it yet, have a look in computer management, it's very powerful).
Of course, from a sysadmins point of view, the scheduling can all be governed from group policy management on the server, so you can dictate whether your domain machines perform a defrag at a given time, or on a given trigger, such as the computer becoming idle.
I'm not saying this is THE critical update that we've all been waiting for, but any sysadmin will tell you, after a couple of years of neglect, that hard drive becomes fragged to the point where a reinstall can require fewer man hours.
What's the improvement when you give someone who has a fair idea of what they're doing half an hour to make improvements without using 3rd party software?
Registry "Cleanup" causes more problems than it solves (and has left PCs unbootable more than once for me), but otherwise it's a solid set of tools. Especially the System Control, which goes way beyond the normal windows control panel, and the disk usage analyser.
"Using the Minimal Services option didn’t make for a fair test either, because it changed the Windows display scheme to mimic a butt-ugly Windows 95 layout."
ie it turned off the theme's service, this is the first thing I do on a new PC, perhaps that's why I never ran into any performance problems using Vista, with theme's turned off you're not wasting cycles drawing eye candy.
Appearance is subjective, but performance can be objectively measured.
(ps, can anyone tell me why Win2003 has the wireless config service enabled by default?)
tune up software
i installed some tune up software on my dad's XP laptop. it worked a treat. it was called ubuntu...
How about defraggers?
I used to use O&O Defrag, but switched to MyDefrag (free) since it seemed to better understand that the beginning of the drive is the fastest area and used it intelligently. I'd like to see a test between it, defraggler, O&O, PerfectDisk and whatever else you can find to see if it really makes a difference.
Just proves what 99% of techs know already
More ram is a good idea . I've reinstalled thousands of units over the years and the amount of times the problems are down to damage caused by these "utilities" is unreal . If your machine is running sluggish then get your data off it and have it wiped and reinstalled .
and a re-install would do what?
Would have been good to see what a simple re-install of Windows and the core set of programs would have done to the whole thing as well.
I'd agree about the Crucial scanner to identify RAM. I recommend it to anyone who asks me about memory upgrades.
Mike Lin's your man...
I find that Startup Control Panel and Startup Monitor (both free) from mlin.net do best (if I can't be bothered formatting...). The first allows you to easily see what's in the various startup locations and allows you to delete / disable them (works pretty well for spyware as well as normal apps) and the latter tells you when some cheeky little piece of software is trying to implant itself in a startup location (I'm looking at you Itunes!) without telling you.
Five minutes work and you'll speed up your PC immediately, for free.
Oh, and I concur with the limewire comment; any PC I find with that on is usually needing nothing less than a wipe. OTOH, whenever I install FireFox and the user uses it, problems rarely arise.
i dunno if you guys know of it, but google "windows live onecare"
and click on the free scan.
has made a 4 year old lappie run like new, after it had been butchered with spyware, various messengers, flash games and all the crud and detritous kids install.
the crucial scanner is good, but not quite good enough.
the father-in-law's laptop scanner results came up with 256Mb ram, with one slot free to take at most, a 256Mb module. i happened to have a 1Gb stick floating around and chucked that in. 1.25Gb total. works a treat. much better than the possible 512Mb max the scanner reconned.
however, it correctly diagnosed an old HP pavilion i had to only be able to take 512Mb sticks, as it wouldn't post with the 1Gb's i had in for a Dell... even after a bios upgrade. anyway...
i have the luxury of testing to confirm so i can see what i can get.
max your ram. it's cheap enuff. except SD ram. laptop shaped SDram seems to be about 50 sheets for a half gig. DDR1 mini dimms are getting pricey too.
otherwise, then go for a software tweeks. but for god's sake don't pay for it. most the "system optimizers" out there asking for credit card details are scam related.
looking at the "results" from the legit cleaner software, makes me wonder if that is a scam too.
RE: Wotno control?
The green 512MB bar is the control
Incomplete test data
I agree with the others who said this should have been compared with a clean install.
I'd be kinda interested to see how performance varies with different hard drives
I would also luuurve to see how much of a drain virus scanners are (and whether that's increased over the years)
Finally, and you could hear this coming couldn't you, I'd love to see a straight comparison with Ubuntu (since it's the most popular) linux - and remember no virus scanners needed with that either. Declining PC performance is one of the reasons I moved over.
"Useful article, but what is disappointing is that none of the applications get start up time anywhere near the original 35secs of the new clean install - One feels something could be done to recover this?"
Install Linux. It had to be said. :-P
It's not either/or
You don't have to choose between stopping some services on start-up or living with slow boot times.
There's a couple of apps out there that allow you to look at your start-up programmes and phase them in during the first ten min after boot up. So my comp does a fast boot, and things like windows update are phased in five min later. During this time there's a little bar at the top of my screen which tells me the loading state of the programmes I've delayed.
DO NOT TURN OFF THE PAGE FILE, however much memory you have. Thanks.
@Annihilator Re: Crucial
Nice tool, but it did say I could upgrade to having 8GB installed on my machine. What the hell is the point of that in XP Pro?
First off, good article -- it's nice to test the claims of these cleaners, and see which actually do the best job (however little it is, compared to having a clean system.)
I'm surprised none of them really shrunk the registry down. This seems "questionable", but really is possible -- the way the registry is, no-longer-used keys will just be marked as unused, but that space is only reused if another key can fit in that space -- otherwise they registry grows bigger. It really can be defragged.
It's very odd (ahh the mysteries of Windows...) that adding RAM changed the registry size, and I had to laugh that one of the products actually made it bigger 8-)
Anyway... this all makes me happy I'm not running Windows. 80 seconds for Office? Bloody hell. My Ubuntu desktop here at work is a P4-2.4 with 512MB, and it starts openoffice in 14 seconds, off a rather slow 40GB disk. (And 4 or 5 seconds if I quit and restart, since it's then already cached.) I've tested a variety of systems (after all I work at a computer surplus), it takes something like a P2 with 192MB of RAM to get openoffice up towards the 1 minute mark (bump the ram to 256MB and it's down to roughly 20 seconds even on the P2.) And Openoffice is the slowest app to start I have, although Eclipse was pretty slow to start too when I was playing with it.
Quite Supprising ...
... that there has been no Mac Moaners ....
"Jeezus - why dont you just all buy a Mac Crab Apple product cuz everyone knows they are the best and don't need these Windows PC tuners ?? "
Gotta be a Paris cos she loves a good load of RAM in her slot.
@Andy 70, re: price of RAM
Round these parts (downtown Bangkok) there are some very well-known (nay, notorious) IT emporiums that sell just about every kind of hardware imaginable (apart from the very latest or top-of-the-line kit, unfortunately). I noticed a few years ago that many of the shops had hoards of "old stuff" like P3 and P4 CPUs (not the recent ones), as well as SD-RAM and DDR1. Five years ago the prices were pretty reasonable, but recently I have seen that the prices of the old stuff has rocketed.
I guess they offset the ever-reducing margins on the new stuff by keeping their stocks of the old kit and raising the prices as the demand keeps ahead of an ever-shrinking supply. If you really need it, then you really need it! And it's still usually cheaper to buy a couple of sticks of overpriced RAM than to replace a computer.
To get ON topic, if your machine is running slow then buy more RAM. You are never going to need less in the future, and it's cheap enough right now.
As for the software being reviewed, I never saw the point. A few simple steps (mostly outlined above) will save you some cash and time.
Microsoft's Sysinternals team's "Autoruns" program is very handy for power users. And free. And more powerful than a lot of the paid-for stuff when it comes to clearing out startup crap.
It's also once helped me spot and eliminate a keylogger nothing else seemed able to see.