Windows users see advertisements for all sorts of system tools and optimization utilities. It’s easy for companies to tell you that you absolutely have to run these tools, but you don’t need most of the junk on offer.
Using these system tools just slows downs your computer, wastes your time, and makes your life more complicated. Simplify your life and skip these system tools — you only need the essentials.
You don’t have to clean your registry. Okay, there are some scenarios where a registry cleaner could theoretically fix a problem — but these are few and far between. Registry cleaner companies often promise that registry cleaners will speed up your PC and fix any crash you encounter, but they won’t. Running a registry cleaner once per week will likely cause more problems than it fixes. The registry is massive, and erasing even a few thousand tiny entries won’t speed your computer up.
If you must use a registry cleaner, use the registry cleaner built into CCleaner and skip all the paid registry cleaners produced by shady companies.
“PC cleaning” utilities are another worthless category of software. Like registry cleaners, they’re advertised on banner ads all over the web — there are even daytime TV advertisements for expensive PC cleaning software.
We’ve covered why PC-cleaning software programs are generally scams. Sure, you can free up space and maybe even speed up your PC by deleting temporary files — but you can do that with the free CCleaner application or even the Disk Cleanup tool included with Windows. Skip the paid applications, which probably won’t work as well as the free alternatives.
Windows doesn’t need help “optimizing” or “boosting” your computer’s memory. RAM optimizers might have made some sense back in the days of Windows 95 when Windows had bad memory management and computers had tiny amounts of memory, but they’re now worse than useless. Using a memory optimizer will actually slow down your PC as it discards useful cache files from your RAM. Modern operating systems are designed to use up your memory — this speeds everything up.
We’ve covered exactly why memory optimizers aren’t helpful in the past. Let Windows take care of memory on its own. If you want to free up memory, close some programs — don’t use a memory optimizer.
There was a time when driver cleaners were useful pieces of software, but they aren’t anymore. You don’t need to clean your drivers, so avoid the paid driver cleaners that promise they can fix all your PC problems. You should even avoid the old free driver cleaner utilities, which haven’t been updated in years because they’re no longer useful.
While you’re at it, don’t bother installing updated drivers at all unless they arrive via Windows Update — it’s not worth the trouble unless you’re experiencing a problem that you know the new drivers will fix. The one exception is graphics drivers — you’ll want to keep those updated for maximum performance if you’re a PC gamer.
Your system doesn’t need to be “optimized” for games by a game booster program. Game boosters promise to speed up your PC games by halting background processes for you, but we benchmarked one and found no real difference in real-world gaming performance.
Sure, if you’re downloading via BitTorrent or using a demanding application in the background while playing a PC game, things will slow down — but you can deal with this by pausing your downloads and shutting down any heavy programs before playing games. Skip the game booster.
Separate Defragmentation Program
Windows has a built-in defragmentation tool that’s more than good enough — and it automatically defragments your hard drives for you in the background when necessary. If you’re an average Windows user, you don’t even need to run a defragmentation program manually — nevermind installing a third-party defragmentation program.
Faced with the rise of solid-state drives, which don’t require defragmentation, defragmentation software companies have dipped their toes into the “SSD optimization” software waters. The idea is that solid-state drives require a program on your computer to optimize them so they can run at their top speed, but there’s no real evidence for this.
Your operating system and the firmware running on the SSD itself do a good enough job of optimizing your SSD on their own. SSD optimization software running on your computer doesn’t even have the low-level access to do a lot of what it promises.
The Windows software uninstallation process isn’t perfect, and it’s true that programs often leave useless files lying around after you uninstall them. To avoid this, some people use third-party uninstallers to erase all the files a program might leave behind.
Third-party uninstallers can certainly help remove some additional useful files, but they’re not worth the hassle for most people. The few files left over generally won’t slow anything down or take up too much space. Unless you install and uninstall a large amount of programs each day, you don’t need a third-party uninstaller. Just uninstall the programs normally and move on with your life.
Windows doesn’t have a standard way of checking for application updates, so every program has to code its own update checker and manage this process itself. Some people attempt to tame this chaos by using a third-party update checker program that will let you know when updates are available for any of your installed programs.
There was a time when these utilities were more useful — for example, Adobe’s Flash Player needs constant updates for security purposes and there was a time when Flash didn’t check for updates on its own. But, these days, any application that needs updating has its own integrated update-checking feature. Windows, browser plug-ins, web browsers themselves, graphics drivers — they’ll all check for updates and automatically install them or prompt you. If a program doesn’t check for updates automatically — like your other hardware drivers — it probably doesn’t need to be updated.
Don’t worry about desktop application updates — install them when prompted, but let your software take care of checking for them on their own.
The desktop firewall industry was worried when Microsoft added a capable firewall to Windows along with Windows XP SP2. They quickly righted themselves by focusing on features the Windows firewall doesn’t have — their third-party firewalls alert you to programs “phoning home” and allow you to micromanage which programs on your computer can access the Internet.
In reality, this feature isn’t very useful. These days, nearly every program “phones home” — if only to check for updates, if not sync your data or access web content. Average Windows users shouldn’t have to decide which applications can and can’t connect to the Internet. If you’re running a program on your computer but don’t trust it enough to allow it access to the Internet — well, you probably shouldn’t be running that program in the first place.
Full Security Suite
Antivirus software is useful, even if you’re careful — the sheer number of zero-day vulnerabilities being found in browser plug-ins like Flash and even browsers themselves make antivirus software a useful layer of defense even for Windows users who keep their software updated and never download applications from untrustworthy websites.
Full security suites are another matter. They pack in every additional feature they can think of — phishing filters, heavy firewalls with lots of knobs and dials, temporary-file cleaning software that considers every browser cookie on your computer a threat, and more. While you should run an antivirus, you don’t need the heavy, expensive, all-encompassing suite of additional tools. If you do need a tool, you can get it separately — for example, if you want a utility to erase temporary files, just use the free CCleaner.
Worst of all, heavy security suites can slow down your computer with all their functions. They also distract you with notification after notification just to remind you that they’re doing something. If they keep pestering you, you’ll think they’re doing something useful and you’ll pay for another subscription when your current one runs out.
Not all third-party system tools are worthless. We’ll be covering the few system tools you actually need to use soon, so stay tuned.
Of course, there are corner cases where many of these programs could be useful. You may want to use a third-party uninstaller to clean up a program that wouldn’t uninstall properly and left a big mess, you may need to prevent an application from accessing the Internet on a locked-down server system, and so on. But we’re not focused on the edge cases — we’re looking at programs marketed to average Windows users and telling you you won’t need to run them constantly, whatever the advertisements say.
Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.
- Published 09/27/13