How to Choose a PC System Utilities Software Suite?
The top performing PC system utilities software in our review are System Mechanic, the Gold Award winner; Glary Utilities, the Silver Award winner; and System Cleaner, the Bronze Award winner. In our article, you'll learn how to choose PC system utility software to meet your needs, along with details on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 products.
Computers are like cars – they are at peak performance and condition when they are brand new. A brand new computer is an exciting purchase: It's shiny, fast and powerful and lacks years of use and abuse.
But just like a car with over 200,000 miles on its odometer, a computer with several years of use – installing and uninstalling apps, surfing the internet, downloading all manner of files, playing games and watching movies – is slower, less reliable and less capable of keeping up with the processing demands of the software you run.
However, just because your computer is slow doesn't mean you need to buy a new one. Your computer could have a bunch of registry errors. You could have unnecessary apps running in the background. You may have installed malware, bloatware and other unwanted software at some point. The more you use your computer, the more these issues become a problem. The grand purpose of PC cleaner software is to fix these problems so your computer runs better, like a mechanic fine-tuning your car.
Before we get into the fine details, it's important to point out you shouldn't have high hopes for what these software suites can do. Yes, they can free up space on your hard drive and ease the software burden on your system somewhat. However, they can't bring a functionally dead PC back to life, and they can't magically make your PC faster, as some claim.
Strictly speaking, PC optimization software is not necessary to having a clean and optimally running computer. Basic maintenance can easily be done manually if you have the experience. In addition, some optimization applications can actually hurt a PC's overall performance.
On top of that, PC maintenance didn't have the impact it once did. The latest operating systems are very good at cleaning house and keeping themselves in working order. In fact, the latest versions of Windows have built-in utility software that can do just about everything a PC system utility suite can. These Windows utility tools, which are already on your computer, are good at what they do, but they can be difficult to find and, sometimes, to use. In fact, while Microsoft doesn't call this software malicious, it has labeled PC tune-up software as "unwanted software."
PC Utility Software: Why Use It?
Some people argue this type of software simply cannot make your computer faster. 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. Others argue that PC maintenance isn't as important as it once was.
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.
Still, while PC maintenance isn't as important as it used to be, you should still try to keep things clean and tidy. PC utility software is designed to simplify the process. Instead of stumbling through Window's clunky control panel of system maintenance tools, it puts all those tools in one place where you run optimizations with one mouse click.
In other words, you should use PC system utility software if you don't have the technical experience to manually maintain your computer. To return to the car analogy, using PC utility software is like using a mechanic. If you don't have the knowledge and experience to change your own oil, replace the air filter, and rotate your tires, then you should let a mechanic do it. Changing the oil isn't going to make your car faster, but it helps maintain performance and minimizes wear and tear. There's a reason why "tuneup" is synonymous in both industries.
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 on our lineup 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 what you buy. If you have two computers in your household, then it's a good idea to make sure that the software developer lets you install the software 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 utility 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, one 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.
Let's take a closer look at PC maintenance that makes sense:
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 of time. If your computer takes forever to start, it could be 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. Sometimes, there are things that you really shouldn't do or are completely unnecessary that your utility software says you should do.
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. It made sense then 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. 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.
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. The benefit of defragging your HDD isn't as much as it used to be. That said, it's still a good idea to do it once in a while. Every six months or once a year is enough.
On a side note, 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.
What is PC Optimization?
Computers are complicated machines capable of an enormous number of functions. As such, it's difficult to define just what it means to "optimize" your computer. Optimizing one aspect of your computer, such as the visuals, usually means you experience a dip in performance elsewhere, such as battery life. How a PC utility software optimizes your computer differs from one app to the next, but there are some commonalities between them.
Most of the utility software suites on our lineup give you a one-click optimization button. Generally, after clicking on the optimization function, the PC utility 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 utility suites restrict running applications and services to free up system resources. The best utility suites let you customize what the optimization button does. This way, you can set it up to suit your preferences.
In the course of our research, we found that the default settings for optimization have 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 optimizers we tested offered significantly increased speeds across the board. Instead, it was a game of balances. The best utility software suite only offered a 12 percent overall increase in performance, but even it showed some negative impacts in certain areas. For more details, read our "What We Tested, What We Found" section below.
Backup & Restore Tools
Some PC system utility software ventures into the realm of data backup and recovery. While these tools usually aren't very extensive or only make use of built-in Windows functionality, they are generally more approachable than what you'll find in Windows.
Windows has very capable backup and restore functionality built into it. In fact, most of the software suites on our lineup make use of Windows' backup tool. What they offer over Windows' default experience, though, is a better user interface. With a better interface comes easier management and understanding.
If you've ever accidentally deleted an important file, most of these apps have a file-recovery or undelete function that helps recover deleted files. System utility suites that offer file recovery allow you to search for and restore files you thought were lost. The efficacy varies from one software suite to the next. There is certainly better file recovery software on the market if this is your main concern.
What Is Bloatware & Why Does It Matter?
If you've bought a new laptop or cheap desktop in the last five years or so, you're familiar with bloatware. This is software that was pre-installed on your computer you likely have no use for. (Bloatware can also come bundled with other software.) Manufacturers install bloatware to subsidize the cost of the computer. Usually, bloatware is a trial version of a program. Removing it can be difficult, if not impossible. Meanwhile, bloatware continues to take up storage space and other system resources.
Many bloatware applications automatically run when Windows starts. What this means for you is every application needs to finish loading before your PC becomes usable. This is a major part of what makes old PCs feel sluggish upon startup – there are just too many applications trying to run at once. Eventually, those applications slow your PC well after startup.
This is the kind of stuff that PC system utility software is supposed to combat. We found that some utility suites are much better than others at recognizing bloatware. In the best-case scenario, system utility suites drastically improve your computer's boot-up time, but only marginally improve overall performance.
Some system utility suites actually try to install bloatware, which is completely counterproductive. For example, when you download Advanced SystemCare Pro, the installer automatically installs Driver Booster, IObit Uninstaller and IObit Malware Fighter when you just wanted one app.
Any time you're prompted to install a different application, you should 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, you could accidentally install malicious software on your computer through one software's installers. None of the products on our lineup include anything of the sort; however, you should always be wary of what gets installed on your PC.
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 of 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.
The PCs in Top Ten Reviews' testing lab are prime candidates for PC system utility software because we're constantly installing and uninstalling software. When computers exhibit signs of sluggishness from the testing we've conducted, we wipe them of all data and reset the operating system. For the purposes of our tests, we created a backup image of the test PC right before we'd wipe it. We did this three times, creating three different images of a slow computer for three rounds of testing.
The backup images allowed us to restore the test PC to its original sluggish condition between testing each app. In this way, each PC-optimizing application in our review had the same opportunity to optimize the same exact computer.
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 because it shows how well the computer performed before any optimization. We looked specifically at 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. Each benchmarking test consists of three passes at each test to calculate an average speed.
In addition to PCMark 8, we used BootRacer to benchmark our test PC's boot-up speed – the speed at which the computer starts from an off position and loads the operating system with the associated startup software.
BootRacer measures the exact time from when you start up a computer to when everything is loaded and you're able to use your computer at full capacity. We recorded three passes with the boot speed for each round of testing.
To test each product, we installed the PC system utility app and ran every optimization tool the product offered. We recorded the number of errors the product recognized 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, which we used to optimize the startup. We only disabled apps the software recommended.
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.
Every computer is unique, with its own challenges and issues. As such, the results of our testing should be considered indicative and not definitive. You could experience different results.
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 8.3 percent. The best product only produced an overall improvement of 12 percent. In practical terms, you'd need an improvement of at least 20 percent for it to be noticeable. While each product produced an overall improvement, some products actually made the test PC slower in particular tests. For example, Norton Utilities' overall score for Graphics Processing was -5.64 percent.
Optimization is easy with each product. With nearly every product on our lineup, 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 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.
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.
PC System Utilities Software: Our Verdict & Recommendations
System Mechanic earns our Gold Award because it produced the best improvement. After all of our tests, it produced an overall improvement of 12 percent. While this isn't terribly significant, it's better than the second-best product by 2 percent.
System Mechanic is also a fully loaded suite of tools. Glary Utilities earns our Silver Award; it produced an overall improvement of 10 percent. It also improved boot-up speed by 19 percent.
System Cleaner earns our Bronze award. While it didn't produce as high of an overall improvement as our top two products, it had the best boot-up improvement in our review with a 28 percent improvement.
Fix-It Utilities Pro is another good option. While it didn't crack the top three PC maintenance apps, it produced an improved boot-up speed of 15 percent and improved overall performance by 7.5 percent.
Before you purchase PC system utility software, it's important to realize that these are best used as tools for basic maintenance, which is already available within your Windows OS. You might experience a noticeable boost to the boot-up speed, but these apps aren't going to make an old, slow computer dramatically faster. To learn more, read our articles on PC system utility software.