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Best PC System Utilities Software
How to Choose a PC System Utilities Software Suite
After over 40 hours of testing and 120 hours of research, Glary Utilities Pro is our pick for best PC utility software because it produced the best overall improvement in our tests. While this system cleaner app didn't drastic improve our computer's performance, it helped more than the competition, with an overall improvement of 12.62 percent. It also increased the bootup speed by 34.52 percent.
If you just want an app that's easy to use and won't ruin your computer, System Mechanic is our pick for easiest system cleaner app. It produced an overall improvement of just 8.59 percent, but it increased the bootup speed by 44.08 percent. It's easily the best designed PC system utility app – even the most novice user can navigate it easily.
If you just want to improve your startup speed, you should consider System Cleaner. While the overall improvement was just 4.78 percent, our test computer’s bootup speed improved by an average of 52.27 percent. In fact, the only significant improvement that any of these products made was to the bootup speed.
All said though, system repair software is a product you don't need and should be very careful using, which we will explain in this article.
PC System Utility: What Do Experts Say?
In previous years, we've warned readers to avoid PC system utility software because these apps can make your computer worse. We're not the only ones that warn against using them either – Microsoft started labeling PC tune-up software as "unwanted software" in 2015 because the apps are too often difficult to uninstall, become invasive and don't improve performance in any measurable way. To make this warning clear, we also talked to several IT and computer optimization experts to get their perspective on PC system utility software. This is what they said:
Constanine Varis, managing director at London-based Computer Being Ltd.
He warns that system repair programs "often do more harm than good. Our clients often purchase utilities such as PC Mechanic only to find out that the performance boost was far less than was expected." Varis recommends users upgrade their hard drives to an SSD (solid-state drive) and "do regular cleanup of cache and temporary files." He suggests that this simple upgrade and maintenance technique will provide users with a better performance boost than any PC utility app.
Ryan Meyer, an IT Professional with over 10 years of experience.
The biggest problem with a slow computer, according to Meyer, is the autoruns – "software, services, and drivers which accumulate over time and run in the background of your system." Cleaning up these autoruns is difficult, he explains, because "it depends on personal preference, and removing the wrong one could potentially cause a machine not to boot."
Todd Millecam, CEO of SWYM Systems, Inc.
With over 20 years of experience using PC utility software and over 10 years of computer programming experience, Millecam argues that modern operating systems have made most of these utility apps obsolete and that the "vast majority of third-party repair and optimizer programs for Windows are malicious in nature and will do your computer harm." In fact, the only PC repair app that he says has provided any benefit is CCleaner, a free PC utility app that helped clear out 18GB storage from his program libraries. He recommends using the internal repair tools developed by Microsoft. He especially warns against any PC utility suite that provides active monitoring, because this does "more harm than good."
PC Utility Software: Why Use It?
As you can see, experts warn against using these apps, arguing that they simply cannot make your computer faster and can often make things worse. And they have a good argument: For example, AVG PC TuneUp suggests it can boost performance 77 percent, increase battery life by 117 percent and find 75GB of storage. Another product, Advanced SystemCare 9 Pro, claims it can boost your slow PC's performance by 300 percent.
So, why should you consider PC system utility software? Well, to tell the truth, most people don't need these suites. We tested and evaluated the best PC system utility software on the market, and even the best-performing product failed to produce significant improvements to performance. The worst performing products made our test computer slower.
In addition, almost all the tools you find in these apps are already built into the Windows OS, and they work just as well, if not better. As such, the only reason to use PC system utility software is if you find the Windows tools to be difficult to navigate and use. One of the good things about PC system utility software is that the tools are all in one centralized interface that turns maintenance into a one-click task.
Many software developers limit the number of computers on which you can install their software. This common practice is an attempt to protect developers from piracy. However, it usually frustrates paying customers.
Some of the PC system utility software suites we reviewed only offer one computer license, which means you can only install the software on one computer. For a product that costs between $30 and $60, you expect to have more control over where you use it. If you have two computers in your household, then it's a good idea to make sure the software developer lets you install the program on two machines. Otherwise, you're stuck with one computer that has the optimization software and one that doesn't.
The best PC system utility software gives you an unlimited number of installs. This means you can install the software on as many PCs as you want. It also means you can uninstall and reinstall the software without worry.
PC System Utility Software: The PC Cleaner Tool
After months and years of use, your PC stores a large number of unnecessary temporary files. As they're called temporary files, you'd think they would go away on their own. Unfortunately, that's not always the case, and you may find that these files take up large chunks of your hard drive's storage space.
One of the most useful features you'll find in PC system utility software is the PC cleaner, or something similarly named. This tool searches your computer for temporary files and other useless junk taking up space. It then permanently deletes those files and gives you more storage space. This can be especially useful on laptops, which traditionally have limited storage.
In addition to clearing out temporary files, many PC system utility suites look for duplicate files on your computer. If the utility software finds any, it prompts you to delete them. This often frees up some storage space on older computers.
PC Maintenance & Tuneup Utilities
Just as regular maintenance helps keep your car running, regular tuneups help keep your computer running effectively. However, that doesn't mean you should let your PC system utility software change whatever it wants to change.
Sometimes the changes it suggests can make your computer slower or create errors elsewhere. For example, several of the products we tested automatically removed a file critical to a restore point, which made it impossible for us to restore the computer to a previous point. If we hadn't prepared for this, we would not have been able to restore our computer to its original point and continued testing.
Here are some PC maintenance tasks you can do easily and without hurting your PC's performance:
Regularly clean out your temporary files and folders. Not only does this free up storage space, it can improve your security. Sometimes, temporary files contain sensitive or vital information, and it's easy for anyone to get access to those temporary files if they really want to.
Always know what applications are running and which ones start with Windows. The largest drain on a computer's performance is the number of applications running simultaneously. If you aren't careful, that number can grow alarmingly in a relatively short period. If your computer takes forever to start, it could be because there are too many applications that start with Windows. Often, each program needs to finish loading before your computer becomes usable.
PC system utility software can easily handle the above maintenance processes, and they are usually included in one-click optimization tools. That said, both tasks can be achieved in the control panel without the help of software. However, there are some tasks that you really should avoid:
Don't bother with registry cleaning or repair. Back in the '90s and early 2000s, Windows wasn't particularly good at handling its own registry. Old machines often had convoluted and contradictory registries, so it made sense to use registry cleaners and repair software. However, even then you needed to be very careful. Today, Windows is good at taking care of its registry, and for most people, there isn't any good reason to mess with it. Even with PC system utility software, it's best to leave out any registry cleaners since deleting the wrong registry can make things much worse.
Defragmenting your hard drive often only wears it out more quickly. Disk defragmenting is another maintenance task that used to be more important than it is today. In the past, performing disk defrag on your hard disk drive (HDD) often resulted in a good amount of freed-up space and improved performance. In the last 10 to 15 years, though, HDDs have gotten much larger and faster, and operating systems have gotten more efficient in how information is written to the drives.
On a side note, you should never defragment a solid-state drive (SSD). Defragmenting is for HDDs and was built with their physical read and write process in mind. SSDs do not work in the same way, and you can easily ruin a perfectly good SSD by trying to defrag it. Fortunately, most PC system utility software will warn you before you try to defrag an SSD.
PC System Utilities Software: What We Tested, What We Found
The entire purpose of PC system utility software is to improve performance. We tested each product thoroughly on our test PC. The data we gathered serves as the foundation for our reviews and all the information we share here. As the data is so important, we emphasized working in a repeatable test environment so the results of each product provide a comparison.
To start, we tracked down an old and very slow desktop home computer that runs Windows 7. The computer is six years old and has 6GB of RAM and 750GB of storage. It's been used primarily as a home computer for writing, photo editing and music production, and it has had hundreds of programs installed and uninstalled over the years. We ran the PCMark 8 Home test multiple times to set the baseline performance. In each test, it ranked in the bottom 12 percent. We also used the BootRacer app to measure the average bootup speed.
Before testing the PC system utility software, we created a backup image of the computer so we could restore it to this sluggish point between every test. This way, every product scanned and fixed the same exact computer.
We installed the PC system utility app, ran every optimization tool it offered and fixed all the errors that it suggested. Once the computer was fully optimized and fixed, we ran the scans three additional times to see if the software was consistent – would it find additional errors immediately after fixing errors? Unfortunately, some system cleaner programs are designed to make you think they’re doing more than they are so you’ll feel like they’re working.
Once we felt like we'd optimized the computer as best we could with the PC utility app, we ran the same PCMark 8 test we used for the original baseline test. We then compared the results to see if the performance had improved.
We also recorded three passes with BootRacer to measure improvements to bootup speed. Each product in our review has a startup manager, and we only disabled apps the software recommended.
Once a product was completely tested, we restored the test PC to its original condition and tested the next product. To ensure our results weren't based on a single round of tests, we cycled through this process multiple times with every product to find a reliable average.
Every computer is unique, with its own challenges and issues. As such, the results of our testing are indicative of comparative performances and not a definitive example of what you'll experience.
With that said, this was the general result of the tests:
Optimizing your PC is a mixed bag. In our tests, the average overall improvement to the test PC was 4.81 percent. The best product only produced an overall improvement of about 12 percent, while the worst decreased performance by 10.55 percent. In practical terms, you need an improvement of at least 20 percent for it to be noticeable.
Optimization is easy with each product. With nearly every product we reviewed, all you need to do is click the Optimize button, and the software takes care of the rest. Where these utility suites differ is in how much control you get over what they optimize. 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.