How to Choose a Suite of System Repair Software
The top-performing system repair software suites in our review are System Mechanic, the Gold Award winner; Glary Utilities Pro, the Silver Award winner; and System Cleaner, the Bronze Award winner. In our article, you'll learn how to choose PC repair software to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 products.
Your computer is similar in many ways to your car. Both were at peak performance and in pristine condition when they were new. They were new and exciting, fast and powerful, and so full of potential. The value of a car decreases the moment you drive it off the lot. Similarly, the value of a computer decreases the moment you take it out of the box. Time and use are the primary foes.
After years of putting miles on your car, your vehicle loses speed, power and reliability. The same goes for a computer: Years of installing and uninstalling apps, collecting cookies on the internet, downloading all manner of files, playing games and watching movies puts miles on your PC. It's only natural for it to become slower, less powerful and unreliable.
However, just because your car has 200,000 miles on it doesn't mean you should buy a new one, and the same goes for your computer: Routine maintenance can extend the life of your computer. Issues like registry errors, unnecessary apps, malware, bloatware, duplicate files, temporary files and fragmented drives cause your computer to perform below its capabilities. This is where PC repair software comes into the equation: Running these apps is like taking your car to the mechanic for a tuneup and an oil change.
Before we get into the details of how system repair software works, it's important to note that you should shelve any high hopes you hold for system repair apps returning your computer to its former glory. As you'll read in greater detail later, none of the system repair apps produced significant improvements to our test computer, and some products even hurt performance is some areas. So just as an oil change and a tuneup won't restore your car to the speed and horsepower it once had, system repair apps won't magically make your computer perform like new again. That's just not a realistic expectation, despite some of the claims made by these products.
In fact, system repair software is not necessary to having a clean and optimally running computer. Nearly every tool and feature found in these apps is available natively as part of Windows' operating system. The problem with using those native Windows maintenance tools is they often require a high level of expertise. That's one advantage that system repair software provides: All the maintenance tools are centralized in a one-click interface so that even the most novice computer users can easily tune up their computer.
Also, PC maintenance doesn't have the impact on overall performance it once had because the Windows operating system has gotten much better at automatically fixing issues. As a result, many system repair programs can actually hurt performance, though the dips in performance are generally undetectable.
In the course of our testing, we found some apps will remove files critical to a restore point, make unnecessary and potentially damaging changes to your file registry, and generally hog more resources than they're freeing up. In fact, while Microsoft hasn't defined system repair and optimization software as malicious software, it has characterized these types of apps as "unwanted software," which is basically like saying they are unnecessary.
PC System Repair Software: Why Use It?
Many people argue that system repair software simply cannot make your computer faster. And there is validity to these arguments, which are generally a response to the big gains claimed by software developers. For example, AVG PC TuneUp claims it can boost performance by 77 percent, increase battery life by 117 percent and recover 75GB of storage; Advanced SystemCare 9 Pro claims it can boost performance by 300 percent. Such claims are not uncommon.
So, if system repair software is generally ineffective and potentially damaging, then why buy it? The honest truth is this: Most people don't need system repair software. In this review, we tested and evaluated the best Windows repair software on the market, which we'll discuss in greater detail later, and even the best-performing apps failed to produce significant improvements to performance.
Still, while disk repair software isn't likely to deliver on manufacturers' marketed claims of performance boosts, using it for routine maintenance and monitoring is still a good idea. PC system repair software simplifies the process, putting all the tools in one place.
To return to the car analogy, using PC system repair software is like having a mechanic attend to your car whenever you need it. Think of it this way: You could, given the knowledge and experience, tune up your car's engine. But if you don't know your carburetor from your transmission, then you'd trust a mechanic. There's a reason why "tuneup" is synonymous in both industries.
PC System Repair Software: The Disk-Cleaner Tool
After years of use, your computer accumulates a large number of temporary files, most of which are unnecessary. The "temporary" label is a little misleading as this assumes the files eventually disappear automatically. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. Temporary files can take up much-needed space.
One of the most useful tools in a suite of system repair software is the disk cleaner, or something similarly named – PC cleaner, disk repair, disk optimization. This utility searches for temporary files and junk files. It can optimize your disk drive so it operates more efficiently, or at least, that's the idea.
In addition to clearing out temporary files, many system repair suites look for duplicate files and rarely used apps. Both tools help to free up storage space and other resources.
System Tuneup Recommendations
Just as regular maintenance helps extend the life of your car, regular maintenance for your computer helps slow performance degradation. That said, you shouldn't simply let your system repair app make changes to your computer without considering those changes carefully.
Some changes it suggests can actually slow your computer further or create greater issues. For example, one of the products we tested automatically removed a file critical to a specific restore point, making it impossible for the restore point to load. The error was irreversible.
Let's take a closer look at computer maintenance that makes sense:
Regularly clear your temporary files and folders. This frees up storage space and improves security. Often, temporary files contain sensitive or vital personal information. Malware and hackers can target these files, because users often don't realize there is sensitive information in temporary files folder.
Monitor running programs and startup programs. The greatest drain on your computer's resources is the number of apps running simultaneously. Many apps run in the background without you ever realizing that they're there. In addition, many apps automatically launch whenever you restart your computer. Disabling unnecessary startup apps can dramatically improve startup speed.
Be careful with registry cleaning or repair. In the '90s and early '00s, Windows' operating systems weren't great at handling the file-registry system, which is a database within your operating system where Windows stores low-level settings for your apps. Back then, registry-cleaner tools made sense. However, Windows became good at taking care of its registry. For most people, there is no good reason to mess with the registry. Even with PC system repair software, it's best to leave out any registry cleaners.
If you choose to repair the registry, make sure you create a restore point so you can reverse any damage that may occur. Windows has a native restore point tool but so do most of the system repair apps we reviewed. Creating a restore point allows you to return the registry to its former point as though you never used the tool.
Defragmenting your hard drive often only wears it out more quickly. A disk-repair app often includes a disk-defragmenting tool. Over time, files become fragmented, which means that different parts of the file are stored in various parts of the disk. It's like storing all the parts for an engine in various parts of a warehouse – it takes longer to access the file because the parts have to be pulled from different areas. Defragmentation puts the different parts of the file into one area, making it more efficient to access.
However, while defragmenting a drive was often very effective long ago, this isn't generally the case anymore. In the last 10 to 15 years, hard disk drives (HDD) have become much larger, faster and more efficient. The benefit of a defrag tool isn't as great as it once was. Still, it's a good idea to do it once in a while. Every six months or once a year is enough.
You should never perform defragmentation on a solid-state drive (SSD). Defrag tools are designed to work with HDDs. Since SSDs don't have moving parts, they function very differently. Defragmentation can actually ruin a good SSD. At the very least, it shortens the SSD's lifespan. Fortunately, most disk-repair apps warn you against defragging an SSD.
What is PC Optimization?
Computers are capable of producing a wide array of functions simultaneously. So defining what it means to "optimize" and "improve" your computer's performance is difficult to quantify.
Often, optimizing one facet of performance, such as graphics processing, is accompanied by performance dips in other areas, such as battery life. In addition, no two apps optimize your computer in the same way. For example, we scanned the same computer with each of the 10 products on our lineup. Each of the apps diagnosed an entirely different set of issues, which means they're optimizing different aspects too. That said, there are some commonalities between them.
Most of the system repair suites on our lineup provide a one-click optimization button for easy maintenance. Generally, after clicking on the optimization function, the app cleans up temporary files, looks for registry errors, reduces the number of apps running in the background and the number of apps that start when you boot up Windows.
Some system-optimization apps allow you to reduce the number of currently running applications and services, which frees up system resources. The best system repair suites let you customize what the one-click optimization button does so you can set it up to suit your preferences.
In the course of our testing, we found that the default settings for optimization had mixed results. Depending on which software suite you use, you might see large performance gains in specific areas – like boot speed – but a decrease elsewhere.
None of the system optimizers we tested significantly improved computer speeds across the board. Instead, it was mostly a game of balances, and the improvements were miniscule. For example, the best system-optimizing program only provided a 12.5 percent overall increase in performance. We estimate that an improvement of 20 percent or higher is necessary for the user to see a noticeable result. For more information about how we tested the apps on our lineup, read our "What We Tested, What We Found" section below.
Backup & Restore Tools
Some PC system repair apps feature a data backup and recovery tool. These tools aren't very extensive and are best used to establish a restore point for your system, as opposed to backing up files. Often, the app creates a restore point automatically whenever you choose to fix anything. This is a good feature to look for, because it allows you to revert the system back to that specific point in case the fixes made your computer worse, which is often the case.
Windows has very capable backup and restore functionality built into it (found in the control panel). In fact, most of the software suites on our lineup make use of Windows' backup tool. What these apps provide over Windows' default experience, though, is a better user interface, which provides easier management and understanding.
If you've ever accidentally deleted an important file, you understand the value of a file-recovery tool, sometimes referred to as an undelete function. The system-optimization apps with a file-recovery tool help you find those accidentally deleted files. However, these tools are very simple. Efficacy varies from one software suite to the next. If you are really desperate to retrieve a deleted file, there is certainly better file-recovery software on the market.
What Is Bloatware & Why Does It Matter?
If you've bought a new laptop or cheap desktop, you're likely familiar with bloatware. This is the pre-installed software on your new computer. In most cases, the software is a trial of a product you're not likely to use, like antivirus software. (You can also find bloatware bundled with other software installations.)
Manufacturers largely include bloatware to subsidize the cost of the computer. In other words, the computer is cheaper because bloatware developers pay the computer's manufacturer to pre-install the apps. Removing bloatware can be difficult, if not impossible, without wiping your entire system. Meanwhile, bloatware takes up storage and other resources.
Most bloatware runs automatically in the background whenever you start your computer. This means it takes longer for your PC to boot up because you have to wait for the bloatware to fully start up as well. This is a major reason why old PCs feel sluggish upon startup: There are simply too many applications trying to launch at once.
This is the kind of stuff that PC system repair is supposed to combat. We found that some apps are much better at recognizing bloatware and other unnecessary startup apps. In the best-case scenario, system repair suites can drastically improve your computer's boot-up time by disabling most of the startup programs so that only a few necessary apps run when you start your computer.
Unfortunately, some apps actually try to install bloatware, which is completely counterproductive to the purpose of system repair software. For example, when you download Advanced SystemCare Pro, the installer automatically installs Driver Booster, IObit Uninstaller and IObit Malware Fighter when you only wanted one app.
As such, it's important to pay close attention to the installation process. Make sure you read the user agreement, as this will generally tell you if there is additional software included. In addition, you should always be given the option to exclude additional software. Any time you're prompted to install a different application, think about whether it's necessary or beneficial. Most of the time, it isn't – it's just more software that will slowly eat away at your computer's performance.
In the worst-case scenario, the app attempts to install malicious software. If you don't trust the source of the software, you should never install it. None of the products on our lineup include malware; however, you should always be wary of what gets installed on your PC.
System Repair Software: What We Tested, What We Found
The entire purpose of hard disk repair software is to fix performance issues and improve performance. To this end, we tested each product thoroughly on a test PC. The data culled from our tests serves as the foundation on which we've based our recommendations. As the data is so important, we emphasized working in a repeatable test environment so the results of each product provide a comparison.
The PCs in Top Ten Reviews' testing lab are excellent candidates for system repair software, as we're constantly installing and uninstalling software when reviewing various products. After a while, the PCs become sluggish. When this happens, we generally wipe them by removing all the data and resetting the operating system to its original state. For our tests, instead of wiping the test PC, we decided to use the system repair software to see how well each of the apps on our lineup improved the sluggish performance.
To ensure our results weren't based on a single environment, we created three different versions of our sluggish computer, creating a backup image of each version. The backup image allowed us to revert to the original test PC after we tested each product. In this way, each system repair app was working to fix and optimize the same exact system.
Imagine each image backup as being a footprint in the mud: The system repair software analyzes the footprint, finds the errors and supposedly smooths out the footprint as best it can. Then we're able to make the same exact footprint for the next product using the backup image. Our tests compared the footprint before and after each app's optimization and repairs.
At the beginning of each round of testing, we used PCMark 8 to run benchmark tests of the test PC. This benchmark serves as the baseline for comparison between the unoptimized PC and the optimized PC. We closely analyzed the following PCMark 8 tests: Jungle Pin, Amazonia, Writing, Libre Office Calculations, Advanced Photo Editing, Casual Gaming, Video Chat Playback1 V2 and Video Chat Encoding V2. These tests represent web browsing, basic office processing, graphics processing and video-chat quality. Each benchmarking test consists of three passes at each test, which generates an average speed.
We also used BootRacer to benchmark our test PC's boot-up speed both before and after the optimizations. The boot-up speed is the speed at which the computer goes from being off to when all the startup software has fully loaded, allowing you to use your computer. BootRacer measures this precisely.
To test each product, we installed the system repair suite and ran every available optimization tool. We recorded the number of errors the product diagnosed and fixed. After the test PC was fully optimized according to the app, we ran PCMark 8 benchmarking tests to compare the optimized results to the original baseline benchmarks.
We also recorded three passes with BootRacer to measure improvements to boot-up speed. Each product in our review has a startup manager, though they differ widely in the number of startup programs they recognize and the amount of detail provided on each program. We only disabled startup apps that the software recommended. In some cases, the apps supplied user-provided information so you could tell whether the startup app is worth disabling or not.
Some products didn't provide any recommendations. Disabling startup apps can be tricky. Some apps are critical while others are unnecessary. It's important to pay attention to any recommendations or priority levels the app provides. Once a product was completely tested, we restored the test PC to its original condition and tested the next product.
We also performed diagnostic-consistency tests to determine how well each product recognized and fixed the issues it diagnosed. To test this, we scanned our test computer, fixed all the issues it identified and then scanned it again. If the software is working as it should, then it shouldn't recognize additional errors on the second scan. We performed 28 rounds of diagnostic-consistency tests to ensure the results weren't isolated and to account for variables in performance.
One way to think of diagnostic consistency is to imagine the relationship you have with a car mechanic. When you take your car to a mechanic for a diagnostic tuneup, the mechanic looks at your car and returns with a number of issues he or she feels need to be fixed. After fixing the issues, you have a reasonable expectation that your car's issues are fixed. If you take the car in for another diagnostic tuneup, then the mechanic shouldn't return with new issues. If there are more issues, then it's reasonable to question the mechanic's skill and trustworthiness.
In many ways, system repair software is similar: It's reasonable to expect the software to fix the issues without creating other ones or without exaggerating potential problems to make you feel like you need the app.
Every computer poses unique challenges and issues. As such, the results of our testing should be viewed as indicative and not definitive. You could experience different results on your own computer.
That said, this was the general result of the tests:
PC optimization is a mixed bag. When considering the products we tested, the average overall improvement to the test PC was just 8.3 percent. The best product only produced an overall improvement of 12.5 percent. In practical terms, you'd need an improvement of at least 20 percent to notice that your computer is faster. Some products actually made the test PC slower in particular tests. For example, Norton Utilities decreased the graphics-processing performance after optimization by 5.64 percent. Again, the decrease is minimal and unnoticeable without benchmarking software, but this is something to keep in mind.
Optimization is easy with each product. System repair software is designed with the novice user in mind, as an experienced computer user would likely know how to achieve the same results from the native tools within Windows. To that end, every product on our lineup features a one-click Optimize button. Where these system repair suites differ is in how much control you get over what optimization does. A one-click solution works for those who don't know much about computers, but more advanced users will want to dig into the details. Not all products allow you to do that.
Most apps lack consistent diagnostic abilities. Only two products in our tests had a perfect diagnostic-consistency rate, which means they never found additional errors on the second scan even after the 28th round of testing. Several apps recorded ratings in the high 90th percentile, but many of the apps recorded rates below 80 percent. A few products we tested were abysmally inconsistent with ratings that hovered close to or below 50 percent. These apps always recognized a significant number of issues on the second scan despite claiming to have fixed all the issues after the first scan.
However, it's worth noting that we found no correlation that diagnostic consistency affected performance improvements. So just because a product's diagnostic abilities are suspect doesn't mean the product won't improve your computer's performance in a similar way to a product with a perfect rating.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained the PC system utility suites in our review through retail purchase. The software developers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
System Repair Software: Our Verdict & Recommendations
System Mechanic earns our Gold Award because it produced the best overall improvement. After all of our tests, it produced an overall improvement of 12.5 percent. While this isn't terribly significant, it's better than the second-best product by 2 percent. It also had the best boot-up improvement of 32.5 percent. System Mechanic is also a fully loaded suite of advanced tools.
Glary Utilities earns our Silver Award; it provided an overall improvement of 10 percent and improved boot-up speed by 19 percent. It also had a high diagnostic consistency score.
System Cleaner earns our Bronze Award. While it didn't produce as high of an overall improvement as our top two products, it improved boot-up speed by 28 percent, which was the second-best improvement in that category. It was also one of the few products with a perfect diagnostic consistency score.
Fix-It Utilities Pro is another excellent and reliable option. While it isn't in the top three PC system repair apps, it improved boot-up speed 15 percent and overall performance by 7.5 percent.
Before you purchase system repair software, it's important to realize that these products are best used as tools for basic maintenance. You can achieve similar results with the tools already available within your Windows OS. In most cases, you'll experience a noticeable boost to the boot-up speed, but your PC's general performance will be the same as it was before. Don't be fooled by some of the marketing that surrounds these products – system repair apps aren't going to make your slow computer dramatically faster. To learn more, read our articles on PC system repair software.