A common complaint among computer owners is that, over time, their computer starts to run slower.  There are a number of causes including hard drive fragmentation, registry fragmentation, registry errors, malware, general clutter and unnecessary start-up programs.

Taken individually, most of these problems aren’t that serious. Windows is getting better at avoiding fragmentation, and the majority of registry errors (usually created when a program is removed but the associated registry entries aren’t) only result in marginally slower performance. However, malware can present serious security and privacy concerns, and these issues tend to be cumulative. Over time your fast new computer can become sluggish.

More technically inclined users have an edge because they have learned to fight these problems along the way, noticing unnecessary icons in the notification area and disabling them, and occasionally leaving their notebook running overnight to defragment. (While Windows will schedule updates and defragmentation for you, it’s not much help if the computer is turned off or suspended at the scheduled time). But issues like registry errors are difficult to fix without the right software.

When your computer performance begins to suffer (or preferably before it does), there are things you can do. You can begin by cleaning up your hard drive.  Double click on “My Computer”, right-click on your “C” drive, select “Properties”, and then “Disk Cleanup”.  Next, clean up your desktop.  As my friend Fred Ennis pointed out the other week, when windows starts it has to look at every file on your desktop and determine what icon to display – and that takes time.

While up-to-date antivirus software will significantly reduce the likelihood of a malware infection, some can occasionally go undetected. Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware, while not perfect, will often detect and remove spyware, adware, Trojans, viruses and other malware that other products miss, making it a great option for disinfecting systems. They offer a paid version if you want real-time protection, but since I don’t want yet another program running all the time, I just periodically run the free version.

But to really tune up your PC, your best bet is software designed specifically for that purpose.  When I first heard of System Mechanic from iolo technologies I was skeptical, but after using it on three different computers I’ve become a huge fan.  System Mechanic simplifies tasks such as cleaning up your drive, defragmentation, disabling unnecessary start-up items and performing other system optimization tasks.

I tested System Mechanic on a three-year old notebook that had sluggish performance and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of issues it identified and the ease at which it resolved them. Performance definitely improved. I also tested it on my 64-bit Vista desktop and most recently on a test system running Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit. I was surprised how many registry issues were detected on the latter system given that it has only been running for a few weeks.

Technical users can view System Mechanic’s findings and choose what to do about them, while those who wish to do so can run it in automatic mode. I did notice that the program can be a bit overly aggressive when removing start-up programs.  For example, it wanted to remove the Adobe updater (that checks for new Adobe products at boot time) and Windows Live Messenger – both programs that I want to run at boot.  However, removing them from the boot sequence would make the system boot faster, and it is probably better to err on the side of removing them.  Since I reviewed the results, I chose to disable some of the unnecessary software while leaving the ones I wanted running.


My 3-week-old Windows 7 test machine.

I particularly like System Mechanic’s rapid system status assessment and the fact that it immediately offers a “Repair All” option (great for less technical users) and “View Problems” for the more technically inclined.  The latter option opens a dialog with categorized information and various options for each category in the form of a drop-down.  For example, users may wish to simply run recommended actions such as removing system clutter and backing up the registry, but manually view and choose which (if any) start-up items they wish to disable.


Clicking on View problems presents categorized issues.

In the screen shot above you’ll notice that System Mechanic reported not detecting antivirus software, but the system does have the free version of AVG antivirus running on the Windows 7 machine I’m testing it on. I’m sure that iolo will address this in a future update. I’d also like to see a way to tell System Mechanic that I want specific programs to run at system start up and to ignore them in future scans.

I prefer to manually run System Mechanic every week or so, but for those seeking automatic, proactive system tuning, System Mechanic’s Active Care can be configured to periodically perform a variety of tasks including deleting clutter, automatically repairing registry and hard drive problems, and even backing up the registry.  Each task can be selected or deselcted, making Active Care a useful option when installing System Mechanic on a family member’s computer or if we simply don’t remember to periodically run it ourself.

Overall, I highly recommend this product for tuning up Windows PCs. A one year subscription for use on up to three computers can be purchased directly from iolo’s web site for US $39.99.

One Response to Tuning up your PC

  1. Cecelia
    Oct 22, 2009

    We have a lot of machines at work running sluggishly. We’ll have to check this out.

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