(And a brief guide to their use)
Here are some useful programs I have found for improving the performance of your PC. I have listed the programs by categories in order of what I deem to be the most important. While there are many excellent software solutions for improving computer performance, I have opted to list those which I personally recommend to keep the list simple and easy to follow.
The recommendations provided are based upon my own research and experience. I currently have no financial ties to any of these products.
The use or misuse of third-party software is at your own risk.
A disk defragmenter is one of the most basic programs to use for improving computer peformance. Data is stored as files on the hard drive. As data is written, modified, and deleted the files become fragmented (or scattered) throughout the hard drive. This decreases the read and write performance of the hard drive because it must work harder as it gathers data from multiple areas. A disk defragmenter rearranges the data on the hard drive so that the files are all contiguous (that is, together as opposed to spread apart). While Windows includes a defragmenter, it is considered a more basic option.
- PerfectDisk (retail)- PD is a high quality disk defragmenter that offers professional quality data organization that goes beyond the basic disk defragmenter. The SMARTPlacement option rearranges the data for optimal file placement and the Boot Time Defrag optimizes system files that cannot be defragmented during a Windows session. The Professional Edition of PD also has the ability to show which files are in which clusters of the hard disk, space management features to clean unneeded files from the hard drive, and S.M.A.R.T. data to show technical information about the health of the drive(s) on the computer. PD also includes a feature called OptiWrite which prevents fragmentation from occuring in real-time.
- Defraggler (free/retail) - Excellent free disk defragmenter; includes boot-time defragmenting and S.M.A.R.T. data.
File and Registry Cleaners:
Two ways to free up disk space and system resources are to clean unneeded files and obsolete registry entries. As programs are installed and uninstalled from the computer, a lot of data remains. Many programs unpack their files to temporary directories before installing and those files are often left there even though they are no longer needed. Also, various programs use cache and history data which could be deleted after use to free up disk space. These and many other files are often left unneeded and unused. A file cleaner searches for and deletes these old files.
As for obsolete registry entries, these are often left behind after uninstalling programs. The Windows registry is a huge database of programs and settings on the computer. Being a key to Windows itself, it loads everytime you start your computer. Over time, the registry grows larger from installing various software, and often, after uninstalling software, these registry entries remain. A registry cleaner scans the registry for obsolete or erroneous registry data and either attempts to fix them or delete them. NOTE - Registry cleaners can be dangerous if they attempt to remove legitimate registry entries, therefore: (1) Only used trusted registry cleaners (do not use just any registry cleaner but do some research to find the best ones) and (2) Always have the registry cleaner back up the data it is deleting.
- JV16 PowerTools (retail) - JVPT offers powerful tools for registry management, registry cleaning, registry optimization, file cleaning, and many other features.
- CCleaner (free/retail)- Very useful for cleaning old files; includes a registry cleaner.
- ERUNT & NTREGOPT (free) - ERUNT (Emergency Recovery Utility for Windows NT) makes a backup of the registry hives. Use this before cleaning the registry in the event the entire registry needs to be restored. NTREGOPT (NT Registry Optimizer) compacts the registry to free up unused space. Use this after cleaning the registry to shrink the overall registry size down.
Another way to improve performance is to manage memory usage. System memory (also called RAM, or Random Access Memory) is where your computer loads programs when they are in use. These programs can sometimes take up more memory than is needed and can have an impact on performance, especially in computers with low amounts of system memory.
- CleanMem (free)- Calls a Windows API which tells programs to free memory they are not using; runs via Task Scheduler. It should be noted that CleanMem works differently than standard memory cleaners. Most cleaners attempt to free available memory by forcing data into the pagefile on the hard disk. This does free up available memory, but then this normally slows system responsiveness considerably as the data must then be pulled back out of the pagefile into RAM again (since the pagefile is on the hard drive, it is normally significantly slower than RAM). CleanMem, however, uses a Windows API used in .NET programs to free up memory they are not using. The file can then regrow as needed. It does not touch the pagefile at all.
- Cacheman (retail) - Tweaks settings related to memory usage. Cacheman is a useful program for users who want to have more control over the way Windows manages caching. Cacheman also has the neat feature to selectively free up the memory of individual programs (using the "force into pagefile" method).
- TCPOptimizer (free) - Tweaks internet settings for improved performance; especially useful for dial-up connections.
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For beginners, I recommend simply using the "Clean and fix my computer" feature to find and fix/remove obsolete registry entries, delete old temp files, clear Most Recently Used history data, and fix/delete broken start menu shortcuts. Advanced users will have a suite of powerful tools for file and registry management.
Note, ERUNT and NTREGOPT have trouble running when UAC (User Account Control) is enabled in Windows Vista & 7. UAC is a security feature in Windows Vista & 7. The easiest way to get around this problem is to simply right click ERUNT (or NTREGOPT) and click "Run as administrator". Do this even if you are logged into an administrator account. To make sure these two programs always "Run as administrator", right click the ERUNT shortcut and click "Properties". Then, under the "Shortcut" tab click "Advanced". Check the "Run as administrator" box and click "OK". Click "OK" again and then you are done. Do the same for NTREGOPT. Now, these two programs should always run with administrative privileges.
Note, CleanMem includes the option when setting it up to use an "Ignore List" or an "Only List". The Ignore List cleans all processes in memory except those found in the ignore list. The Only List cleans only those processes that are in the only list. I like to use the "Ignore List" and then whenever I find a reason to have CleanMem ignore a process, I add it to the list. For users of Norton Internet Security, I recommend adding "ccsvchst.exe" to the ignore list because Norton Product Tamper Protection will prevent CleanMem from doing anything with Norton. This causes the Norton log files to be flooded with unneeded data, so it's best to just have CleanMem ignore the Norton process. If you are using Norton PC Checkup, the same applies. Add "SymcPCCULaunchSvc.exe" to have CleanMem ignore Norton PC Checkup.
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