back to article PC tune-up software: does it really work?

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 …

COMMENTS

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  1. Annihilator
    Boffin

    Memory upgrade

    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)

    http://www.crucial.com/uk/systemscanner/index.aspx

    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

  2. Neil Skinner

    services.msc

    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.

    http://www.blackviper.com/WinXP/servicecfg.htm

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Defragging?

    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.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    My Dell

    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.

  5. John Miles 1

    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.

  6. Ken Hagan Gold badge
    Unhappy

    '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".

  7. Brian 6

    Fix-it Utilities

    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.

  8. John Angelico
    Boffin

    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.

  9. Sim
    Thumb Up

    defraggler

    the makers of c(rap)Cleaner also make a nice free defrag tool called Defraggler.

  10. AManCalledBob

    Reload

    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.

  11. Pete 2 Silver badge

    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.

  12. eJ2095

    Oh yes

    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.

  13. James Pickett

    Useful

    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!

  14. TeeCee Gold badge

    Re: Memory upgrade

    Seconded.

    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).

  15. The Indomitable Gall
    FAIL

    Wotno control?

    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.

  16. Tony Smith (Written by Reg staff)

    @The Indomitable Gall

    That'll be the green bar in the chart that you're after.

  17. David Simpson 1
    Thumb Down

    Anyone ?

    "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.

  18. SynnerCal
    Flame

    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.

  19. Mage Silver badge
    Pint

    Waste

    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

  20. stu 4
    WTF?

    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.

  21. The Original Steve

    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.

    Lovely.

  22. James O'Brien
    Coffee/keyboard

    HAHAHAHAHAHA

    I love the first image.

    Services typically not used:

    Automatic updates and BITS

    LOVE IT!!!

    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.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Find some one who know what they are doing

    and use hijack this.

    or

    re-bloody-install windows

  24. Tom 11

    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.

  25. Ian North

    Uh...

    System Mechanic recommends you disable automatic updates and BITS? Are they crazy?

  26. Inachu
    FAIL

    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.

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    Page File

    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.

  28. Jake 4
    Troll

    CCleaner

    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 :)

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Alert

    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...)

  30. Elmer Phud Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Ccleaner

    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.

  31. Psymon

    interesting article

    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.

  32. Roger Paul
    Pint

    I'm curious...

    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?

  33. Kotonoha
    Go

    Tuneup Utilities

    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.

  34. Tom Smith 1 Silver badge
    Heart

    Theme Service

    "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?)

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    tune up software

    i installed some tune up software on my dad's XP laptop. it worked a treat. it was called ubuntu...

  36. Michael Kean
    Happy

    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.

  37. Matt Brigden
    Grenade

    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 .

  38. Ian Entwistle

    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.

  39. Calum Morrison
    Thumb Up

    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.

  40. Andy 70
    Thumb Up

    missed one.

    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.

    munglebunky

  41. Shaun 1

    RE: Wotno control?

    The green 512MB bar is the control

  42. spegru
    Unhappy

    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.

  43. J 3
    Joke

    Heh...

    "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

  44. Maty

    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.

  45. John H Woods Silver badge

    @Tom 11

    DO NOT TURN OFF THE PAGE FILE, however much memory you have. Thanks.

  46. My Alter Ego
    Thumb Down

    @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?

  47. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Registry.

    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.

  48. Andy 21
    Linux

    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.

  49. Scott Earle
    Thumb Up

    @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.

  50. blackworx
    Thumb Up

    Sysinternals

    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.

  51. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Reg discovers "Snake Oil Doesn't Work" Shocker

    Hardly a groundbreaking conclusion you've reached here: Most (if not all) of this category of programs rely on the user's ignorance to make any sales at all and are all pretty much worthless, as your testing has shown quite clearly...

  52. A. H. O. Thabeth

    What we know...

    is that just because a dialog box appears asking us to download and install software xxxxx, we do not have to say yes.

    Most of the people reading the reg will think about what is about to be installed and make a sensible choice. Most people do not read the reg and they would not understand the articles anyway.

    Most, if not all, Reg readers know that everything that gets installed will almost in variably slow the PC down.

    I was asked to look at PC for my brother's in-law that was taking about an hour to boot. Yes I said AN HOUR. The owner clearly installed everything that had ever been offered. I am still cleaning it up. Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

  53. Christian Berger Silver badge

    Boot times?

    I mean seriously, Windows has reached a level of stability where it can run for days without doing a new initial programm load. What should be done more often, however, is re-installing the system.

  54. paul clarke

    Simple Tips

    Disable System Restore:

    Turn off all the crap with fonts and stuff:

    Disable drive indexing:

    Sort out the crap in the registry run keys:

    Defrag:

    Defrag Pagefile:

    Get XP ram to 1gb and watch your system come back to life. At least thats what it will feel like. Do you really need MSN messenger starting up? Do you really need your phone sync tools on startup?

  55. Dave Murray
    FAIL

    Registry results incorrectly measured

    I just had a look at the KB page for dureg.exe and it says:

    "Dureg.exe measures data; it does not measure space. Note that because the space that data occupies varies with the storage method and the amount of free disk space that is available, the size of data and the amount of disk space that is used are not equal. Additionally, because Dureg.exe measures data, it does not account for fragmented-unused space in the registry."

    You used this app to test several tools that defrag the registry but MS explicitly state it can't measure that. Did you even read the description of the app before you used it?

  56. lewton
    Thumb Up

    Tweaknow Regcleaner (free)

    How about this - been around a long time but the latest version includes reg cleaner, startup manager, uninstall etc. To get the best effect in regcleaner you have to go options> extreme scan.

    Also there is a MS program called 'autoruns' which is good for analysing startup bloat

    >pardon<

  57. Anonymous John

    Re Re: Memory upgrade

    My impression is that 512Mb was fine for the original Windows XP. But after three Service Packs and loads of patches, it now needs at least 1Gb.

  58. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    I don't wish to carp

    but is this what your readers are clamouring for? Don't we already do this stuff anyhow? Add memory, defrag the HD and remove unnecessary processes and files in startup, don't load unnecessary services, yada yada, comparing half a dozen products I would never buy in a million years. I'm not saying it wasn't interesting, though....

  59. Trevor 7

    what? no sysinternals references

    All these comments and not one reference to the sysinternals tools - pagedefrag, autoruns

    You can also see Mark Russinovich blog about why windows actually needs the pagefile even if you have enough ram.

  60. Neil Greatorex
    Happy

    I've found

    That Windows Startup Inspector (www.windowsstartup.com) is quite handy.

    Use it with spybot resident, turn off all the unrequired services, get a hardware firewall, switch off auto updates & block MS in the hosts. Job jobbed.

    My XP PC is 2003 vintage with 512Mb of RAM & it boots in a tenth of the time the year old 4 core, multigig, Fista PC does at work & is more responsive :-)

    PS I added an old 4Gb drive, which is the swap.

  61. Jamie Kitson

    CFLAGS

    I re-compiled everything with -ffastmath and got an extra 6%.

  62. techmind

    Keep a sense of perspective...

    In the free RAM plot (page 4) you're showing a range of improvement of up to 20MB in 300MB. It's going to be a rare edge-case for which this makes any real-world practical difference.

    Worse, the variation in registry sizes (page 5) you show is 170kB in 47MB, barely over 1 part in 300 (0.36%). Which I can't believe will make a blind bit of difference.

    Now, for comparison, show us the performance of the original system before you'd disabled anti-virus. Depending on your AV, I wouldn't be surprised if that used 100MB+ of RAM, increased boot-times by 30% or more, slowed Windows Explorer browsing of directories with 1000's of small files by a factor or 2 or 3... I'm not suggesting Joe average shouldn't use AV, but using a resource-light product makes a far bigger difference than any of the "tune-up" software you've looked at.

    Disabling Window's Fast Find or whatever they call their disk-indexing service is normally one of the first things I do with a new system - which makes things more spritely and gives the poor hard disk a break.

  63. Gerry Doyle 1
    IT Angle

    Sorry, I thought this was a website for IT people

    "So, where do all these results leave us? The biggest game-changer in system performance was how many services and applications were enabled at start-up."

    Incredible.

    This article read like something from the Evening Herald PC Corner, or gods help us, Ask Jack.

    Does anyone think the resource hits are down to anything except services and applications running at startup? Does anyone ever look at Task Manager, check what's eating their machine and pare them back? Hasn't anybody heard of msconfig? I've got Vista running here on a 2 year old laptop at about 2% CPU and using about 300MB RAM of the 1GB installed.

    I spit on your 'tune-up' software!

  64. Somme1

    @SynnerCal

    Yep this was my experience with the Iolo tools too. My system has never fully recovered.

    Personally I've used a few of these Registry / Tune up tools (both free and commercial) and none have ever made a blind bit of difference.

  65. Kanhef
    Dead Vulture

    Abuse of charts

    The Counter-Strike FPS and registry size charts should start at 0, like all the others. This display dramatically overstates the difference between various tests. The registry size changes are miniscule, and Fix-it Utilities doesn't cut the frame rate by more than half.

    @AC 19:43

    Yes, we techies do this already. But it's good to have a quantifiable measure of how much difference each of them makes. The comparison of the effectiveness of some products is also useful.

  66. Piro
    Pint

    CCleaner!

    In CCleaner's defence, it's a nice, free piece of software for clearing out temp files and trashing redundant registry entries without you having to fish around yourself. I wouldn't say it was for "speeding up" a system, simply to clear out some shite.

  67. Shaun Hunter
    FAIL

    BS benchmark!

    It is a fair comparison to leave these features/services turned off because the program's you reviewed were meant to do this. To alter how a program works during a benchmark of it is a farce. Especially when you conclude said programs don't live up to their claims!

    To gain performance through you have to lighten the load on the system. Did you think they included a magic version of the windows kernel and linking libraries? How you conducted the review negated their chance at being effective.

    I really expect better from supposed experts!

  68. jolly
    Thumb Up

    I agree with techmind - AV's a primary cause of "slowness"

    So having tested changes to performance caused by 1) more ram, and 2) performance enhancing s/w, it would be godd if Emil could perform the same type of test but changing only the type of AV software each time.

    I often read anecdotal evidence of which AV product's the most resource hungry (and most people, including myself, wouldn't miss a chance to bash symantec for their bloatware) but i cant remember seeing a line up of AV products running on a slightly dated PC reviewed for performance.

    FWIW my favourite free AV (for performance) is Avira. And the worst I've ever seen (not free) was F Secure (I think that was what it was called - it was truely dire). But I couldn't say with any certainty if these are the best, or worst in their class. Nor could I say what falls in between and how they compare.

    Footnote: IMO the type of AV software a user chooses is the main cause of a PC running slower and slower over time - especially as each new version takes more ram, more CPU, etc.

  69. Jan Hargreaves
    Flame

    @stu 4

    i power down my computer every day when i don't need it (go out, watch tv, go to sleep). i saved an average of 25% on my electricity bill. on my side i don't understand why the rest of the world leaves their machines on when they don't need them (like i used to cos i thought it was better for the os cos some nerd know-it-all told me).

  70. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    stating the bleedin' obvious

    Whilst in the employ of a rather good, and now sadly defunct PC manufacturer with a consumer line flogged through DSG, we were asked by DSG to test a raft of these applications back in the Windows 95/98 days. Without exception they were of dubious benefit, largely because without exception they all installed memory resident programs and insisted in firing stuff up at inappropriate times. This is commented on by Inachu and others.

    Not one of these products have any advantage over a bit of manual dicking around and regulalry purging the accumulated crap from months of web browsing (assuming you don't prevent the crap accumulating in the first place)..... Unless of course you lack the tech skills to make the right decisions - and that's the market these products are aimed at. Unfortunately these are essentially doing the self same thing, so it's no surprise that now and again PC's become unbootable..... They really shouldn't be used by those who lack the knowlege to make sense of what the tools are telling the user, which kind of negates their reason for being.

    If what your seeing as a user doesn't make sense, you shouldn't even be thinking about fiddling with it and should think twice about letting third party apps do likewise.

    Norton ? My wifes last two laptops came with free time limited Norton subs - the real price was abject lack of performance on the config shipped by the manufacturer (yeah even with 2 gigs of RAM). To be fair, the insane software preinstalls shipped by manufacturers caused me more grief supporting a local charity, family and friends than I would have ever considered credible and Norton was a major contributor to the problems they had with new kit.

    A word to manufacturers - I know commercial pressures and the marketing department all have input, but please.... please no more crippled pre installs on low spec lappies especially where you have half a dozen messaging apps, three or four "critical update" apps for drivers and preinstalled third party guff (critical my arse, just switch on Windows update and leave it, for the love of god) plus Windows/MS update on as default, Norton in the background, two third party LAN/WLAN management apps and god knows whatever else crapware running in the background. I've dealt with kit supplied by one big name that took twenty fsck*ing minutes to boot with software configured as supplied thanks to all the crap layered onto the preinstall.

    Finally......Getting rid of the pagefile ? errrr...... you're surely not serious. Fail.

  71. Dave H 2
    Happy

    Agree with clean-installing...

    I've also dispensed with some "protection" - I stopped using Spybot S&D, particularly because it's "TeaTimer" component was getting so sluggish to load into the system tray (slow on my dual core/2GB machine, unbearable on my old lappy). I've also dropped AVG, in favor of MS's new Security Essentials. Will see how that goes, but truth be told no security app has warned me of anything useful in 5 years. Malware inflicted on my system (by family members) always required more "specialist" tools to get rid of. Family members have now also been gotton rid of (to their own machines, of course). :-)

    So now I'm just using Windows Defender & MSSE. I'd also like to give a nod to "Macrium Reflect Free Edition". I used it recently to move my OS to a new drive - I didn't want to re-install due to time and because the current install was only a month old, so XP Activation would have given me grief. Worked a treat. I actually look forward to finding the time to make a clean install, just so I can image it.

  72. Chris007
    Gates Horns

    Memory all the way

    Back when Windows 95 was first released most computers came with 4mb ram. I built myself a Pentium (120 Mhz) and kitted it with 64mb ram. It ran (at the time) like a dream.

    I kept it until 2000 and gave it to my parents who continued using it until 2003 when they bought a digital camera and it didn't have a USB port to connec to.

    The number of times people have said to me "oh my computer is running like a dog and the guy at <insert rip-off computer store name of you choice here> says I need to spend £'000s on a new one". I've usually made the computer last another 2-3 years by spending little more (and sometimes less) than £50

  73. viet 1
    Linux

    Zen.

    My first PC was an IBM XT ; and it wasn't even my first computer. Since forever, I've seen snake oil sellers come and go, and some even making a profitable business (McAffee, Norton, etc.). Truth has always been Microsoft OS of the moment requires to operate normally (ie, not just running the system but working with it) at least twice the ram usually sold with the computer (and half the CPU speed, but you don't look a given horse's teeth). This rule of thumb applies to linux too, but you can get away with less by tweaking around.

    The main difference is a linux box won't degrade over time as much as a windows box will. Being conservative, I ran the same box from 2001 to this year, 900 MHz cpu - 512 Mb ram. This was a bit of a stretch, if you ask me, but it cope nicely with linux improvements nonetheless, until the video requirements for newer aero-like effects couldn't be met by upgrading my video card any more (they don't make fancy GPUs in AGP...). So I changed, loaded up the new box with 4 Gb ram, and chose an AMD 64x2 3800+ for CPU (this is a 2007 typical config, I erred on the cheap side). Runs great, but what's better, won't degrade in the foreseeable future.

    Meanwhile, windows users are still stuck back in time, standing where I was in the mid-90's, hoping a miraculous software will help them curing a defective OS running on a badly balanced computer. I don't even feel amused. I'm just sorry so much people keep on losing their valuable time and being ripped of their cash, waiting endlessly for a never ready computer. Pretty much a picture of Sisyphus rolling his boulder forever.

  74. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    Cruicially It's a bit wrong

    Sorry but I have to inject at the comment regarding the crucial post by Annihilator. You, sir assume that their scan software works correctly 100% of the time. I can assure you it does not.

    I used the scanner to see if I would be able to upgrade my RAM. I currently have 2 x 1Gb installed).

    Crucial's scanner informed me that I currently have 16Gb installed and would be able to increase that to 2048Gb. Yes folks I could have 2 TB of RAM!

  75. Tim Jenkins
    Coffee/keyboard

    Always do the RAM first

    We finally got around to upping the RAM in a small suite of 8 public-access XP P4s dating from 2004, which shipped with a single chunk of 256MB DDR2 each. We took all the single sticks from the eight and amalgamated these into two, then invested £200 in 12*512MB and put these in pairs in the other 6. Result: 8 PCs with 1GB, hugely better performance (the extra capacity PLUS proper DDR pairing), boot times a small fraction of what they were before, actual multi-tasking and happy punters, all at less cost than a single replacement base unit. Our usual hardware supplier had, of course, suggested the best solution was 8 new PCs for a mere £2500 and relegating the old ones to landfill...

    The grubby Esc key, because we haven't replaced the keyboards yet ; )

  76. Anonymous Coward
    FAIL

    Amateurs

    Most of you sound like amateur technicians. Here's a better idea:

    Don't fuck your machine up in the first place. Make sure your e-mail client reads plain text, don't run any attachments, make sure your system is behind a stateful firewall, only access sites you trust with Javascript on, disable it for the rest. Don't run any untrusted downloads. Don't install crap on your PC you don't need, only install the software you explicitly need.

    Do all this and you wont need any kind of "tune-up", you wont need AV software slowing your machine down. Even if you're mentally incapable of trusting yourself not to run dodgy executable binaries you can at least install AV but no real time protection and make it run a weekly scan or similar, but a competent technician would know as soon as an executable has done something dodgy to their system and could manually mangle it out of the registry with no ill effect anyway.

    If your friends and family are the problem let them have their own system(s) isolated from your network by a VLAN if necessary with heavily firewalled outgoing access and no incoming access. If they get malware slowing down their system leave it on, the slower their system the less harm they can cause everyone else with their idiocy, if you speed their PC up it'll only mean they'll be able to hand their life savings over to Prince Imascammer in Nigeria faster anyway.

    It's just natural selection, those who are weak get ill with malware and are slowed down and eventually die off of the internet when something whipes their PC, whilst those who are strong don't get sick with malware and can continue to do what they do at full speed, spreading their knowledge to eager to listen intelligent people amongst the younger generation. A good firewall config will prevent their infected PC making any dangerous outbound connections.

    May this post of advice allow some of you amateurs to grow and become the strong, those unencumbered with pointless things like AV software. The rest of you can simply continue on your path to become victims of Mr Imascammer and co.

  77. Ronny Cook
    WTF?

    @Kanhef Re: Abuse of charts

    Hear hear! Truncation of graphs is a statistical evil we can live without.

    There's the FPS graph, where a 2% difference winds up looking like a 50% difference, and the registry size, where 150 bytes out of 49000 or so (0.3% change!) *also* looks like a 50% difference. A 2% change in framerate is statistically significant, but I challenge anyone to notice it by eye. The changes are displayed entirely disproportionately.

    @AC 12:18 GMT: Some of us deal with systems used by people who, y'know, actually WORK for a living, and pay our princely salaries in part to keep them working efficiently. Some of those people are stunningly ignorant outside of their areas of expertise and can be relied upon to open every piece of junk that hits their mailbox.

    As such, antivirus and other protection measures have their place, and system cleanup is an ocasional necessity, although we find the best way to do this is to keep work files on a network drive and reimage each PC from a fresh image when it gets screwed up.

    I was interested to see that the system tuners pretty much matched my expectations, i.e. they were all fundamentally useless. Defrag regularly and keep your startup clean (HijackThis! does a decent job and is free, but requires a clue to use) and you'll do as well as most of the packages reviewed here.

    Odd that nobody else has mentioned browser objects here, which HijackThis! can also clean up.

    I have heard that as AV scanners go NOD32 is superior; effective with a small CPU & memory footprint. Not having used it myself, this is merely rumour to me at this time. I can state that the system overheads from Mcafee are ridiculous - resident memory usage frequently exceeds 150MB even when idle and CPU exceed 50% when actively scanning.

  78. mariushm

    Defragment the drive already

    You'd probably achieve the same effect as TuneUp Utilities by simply using a smart drive defragmenter like o&o defrag to move all executable and frequently accessed libraries (dll files) to the front of the drive.

    Setting the swap file to a FIXED reasonable size (and then using the drive defrag software to move it towards the front of the drive) also helps a lot.

    Here here for NOD32, uses about 45MB of memory, which is quite little compared to other antivirus products.

  79. Robbie 1
    Happy

    windows??!!

    mount -t sda1/windows /mnt/winblows && rm -rf /mnt/winblows

    Problem solved.. aside from some syntax errors

  80. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Got some milage from tuner

    I've used a product called Systweak for several years now on various machines and it seems to make a significant difference. I wish you had included it in your review. ( no I don't work for the supplier!)

  81. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    @/dev/random

    Nobody needs these tools, defrag is total waste of time. putting swap at the end of drive is total waste of time, makes absolutely no sense at all, BTW. Then again, Windows mem management makes no sense, either ...

    What a performance increase do you get by deleting 15 unused registry keys If they are not in the following three locations?

    HKLM/Software/Microsoft/Windows/Current Version/Run

    HKCU/Software/Microsoft/Windows/Current Version/Run

    or

    HKLM/Services/Current Control Set

    Nothing, forget about it ... Those are the only places where you should delete stuff and these tools come up with registry keys nobody, not even Windows cares about ... ok, they "clog" up the registry, but you do need quite a few to clog up a registry, never happened to me ... ;-)

    Read a book about MS Windows, pay special attention when it comes to startup section!!!

    Check google for msconfig.exe (which you can copy to win2k, together with another file to have it work there, too).

    On startup tab, take note of what looks suspicious ... nobody wants office/acrobat/blabla to start when Windows starts (All except AV, I say).

    Turn everything off you do not need in services.msc

    @Tim Jenkins

    So you somehow expect a guy will really give you the best alternative for you, which is also the worst for him?

  82. Andrew Stevenson
    WTF?

    Anti secutiry?

    A product that recommends turning off windows update is going to lead to more problems than it solves.

  83. John PM Chappell
    Grenade

    A few myths still floating around amongst the tech literate...

    Disabling the page file can be done simply, safely and is worthwhile for many people. I've read Russonovic and he's wrong, it'd be tedious to go into explicit detail of why but basically he incorrectly analyses the information, rather than being incorrect about the overall technical detail (which is his real field of expertise, in fairness). In practice, most users with enough memory to be disabling the pagefile (it doesn't actually disable paging, by the way), which is just about any system made this century and many older, should probably just set a fixed and very small one, in order to avoid problems with some software that blindly checks for it instead of trusting the OS to do its job as configured by the admin. The specific gain is hugely increased response time, especially from applications you have minimized or where the machine was left idle for any significant period, as well better caching (it's now always in RAM and not occasionally paged out to HDD). The danger is that you manage to put together a working set which really does exceed your available memory and applications begin to get failure responses when making allocation requests. I've never seen this happen without actually deliberately coding it, for test purposes (but I run with 4 GB on my systems).

    That brings us to the next myth... Windows XP, yes even 32 bit XP, can see 4 or more GB just fine. In fact it can see whatever physical memory is installed as long your BIOS can see it properly, you do NOT need a 64 bit OS to take advantage of a lot of memory but a 64 bit OS will make more efficient use of it in many ways (at the cost of some significant overhead, but you have a lot of RAM now, right?). The limitation is the number of unique addresses possible and Windows lies about actual address anyway (to put it simply) so that applications can be writing to the same location (if you believe the raw address) but are in fact not. There is also the 2 GB limit on continuous addressable memory, PER APPLICATION, which can be increased to as much as 3 GB with a boot switch (but there are side effects) and can be circumvented cleverly anyway.

    Truly, if you guys are what passes for the tech elite or even the tech monkeys, these days it is no wonder products like these sell to your customers and friends.

  84. Emil Larsen
    Go

    Replies from the author

    @ Brian 6

    Actually, the margin for error in the gaming test was +/- 0.27fps (95% confidence interval), so the 2fps drop is very significant.

    @ Shaun Hunter

    It was only when we tested Iolo's software that we re-enabled MSN and Snaggit, as these were two programs that were being used and disabling was over the top.

  85. The Indomitable Gall

    @Tony Smith

    "That'll be the green bar in the chart that you're after."

    The one that says "512Mb"? It would have been clearer if it said "unmodified" or something. The article didn't make me really grasp the importance of 512Mb.

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