How to Choose Registry Cleaner Software
The top performers in our review are RegistryCleanerKit, the Gold Award winner; SpeedZooka, the Silver Award winner; and Ashampoo WinOptimizer, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 registry cleaner software.
You’re reading this because you have a frustratingly slow computer. Maybe it suffers from a lot of errors and takes minutes to boot up. Perhaps it crashes often. Whatever the case may be, you’ve probably been told that registry cleaning software will fix your problems.
The argument usually goes like this – over time, as you install and uninstall software on your computer, your Windows registry becomes a mess of inefficiencies that makes it difficult for your operating system to access necessary data quickly. It’s almost like pouring molasses into the gears of a clock. Registry cleaner software promises to clean out the gunk. But does it?
Every registry cleaner app in our review promises to speed up your computer by removing all the errors that bog down the system and optimizing the registry so data is more accessible and efficiently organized. This seems to always be the first bit of marketing you read. One product we reviewed even says your computer will be 300 percent faster.
Ideally, you’d spend the $20 or $30 for the registry cleaner software, and it would quickly find and diagnose all the errors causing your PC to be slow. You’d find relief as you fixed the errors with a single click of your mouse, and in moment, your computer would be back to normal again. You might even find it a little faster. After all, a 300 percent improvement means that it’s faster than it ever was, even when you first bought it. For example, let’s say your computer took 10 seconds to perform a specific task when it was brand new, but after years of use, it now takes 15 seconds. A 300 percent improvement would mean the computer now performs the task instantly, which would be incredibly impressive if it were at all possible.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in this ideal world, and registry cleaner software rarely, if ever, noticeably improves your computer. In reality, Windows does a pretty good job maintaining its registry, which wasn’t necessarily the case 15 years ago. Windows registry cleaning software doesn’t have any significant impact on performance, as we’ll discuss further. In fact, making changes to your registry with these apps can actually damage your computer’s performance. To learn more about how to optimize your computer, read our articles on PC optimization software.
What Is a Windows Registry?
If you’re unfamiliar with what a Windows registry is, you have something in common with the vast majority of computer users. And there’s good reason for this – the registry is a database that exists in the background. It is the ropes and pulleys behind the curtains of a stage that make Peter Pan fly through Neverland. You don’t see them because you don’t need to see them. The ropes and pulleys are not part of the story, but they are necessary for the story to happen. You aren’t familiar with the Windows registry because you don’t need to be, but it’s a critical part of how your apps run.
The Windows registry is a database where settings are stored for your operating system and most of the software and hardware installed on your computer. Every time you install new software or add new hardware, new entries to the database are made. When you uninstall software, some registry items are left behind, usually because Windows is unable to remove everything. Sometimes malware can install viruses that make changes to your registry without you knowing. Now, any inventory system is only as good as its organization and efficiency. If there are too many unnecessary registry items left behind, then the database becomes less efficient, which makes your computer slower. At least, this is the argument.
One of the problems with registry cleaner software is the diagnostic inconsistency from product to product. Each software has its own definitions and algorithms for diagnosing registry issues, which means two competing programs can look at the same registry and come to vastly different conclusions. It’s like taking a car in to be repaired and having 10 different mechanics give you 10 different diagnoses for that funny sound coming from the engine.
As we’ll discuss in more detail later, we tested each app on the same seven-year-old computer so each one had the opportunity to scan, diagnose and fix the same registry database. And yet, the number of errors these apps found varied between 97 and 8,195. It’s like having one mechanic tell you that you just need to change the oil while another tells you that you need to overhaul the engine.
Now, it’s easy to assume that the product that found the most errors also provided the biggest performance boost, but this isn’t the case. In fact, overall computer performance decreased by 2.63 percent with registry cleaner that found the most errors. On the other hand, the app that found just 97 issues improved performance by 2.2 percent. This is why Microsoft warns against using registry cleaner software – the more you meddle with the registry, the more likely you’ll make your computer slower, if not unstable.
Why Is My Computer Slow, and How Can I Fix It?
If registry cleaner software won’t make your computer significantly faster, then what will? Below are some reasons your computer may be slow and some ways to address the problems.
Nobody likes getting stuck in traffic, especially when they’re on a freeway. You’re supposed to be driving 75 miles per hour, but instead, you’re moving at a snail’s pace because there are too many cars on the road. This can happen to your computer’s CPU.
The CPU processes all the data on your computer – it allows software to do its job. But your CPU is like a highway. Most computers have a dual-core processor, which is like having a two-lane highway. In some cases, you might have a dual-core processor with multiple threads per core, which act like additional lanes. When you first get your computer, it doesn’t have much software installed, so the lanes don’t have much traffic. As such, the data runs as fast as the speed limit allows. But as you install more and more apps, the traffic increases and your computer becomes slower.
To ease the traffic, you can uninstall all of the software you don’t use or don’t use regularly. Simply open the control panel, select the Programs and Features tool and skim through the list of programs. You don’t need utility software to do this.
If you’ve uninstalled all of the unnecessary apps and your computer is still very slow, then you may need to consider upgrading your CPU or RAM, though this may not be possible with some laptops. This is like adding more lanes to the highway, allowing for more traffic to pass through quickly. However, since CPUs are usually the most expensive components, it could be cheaper and easier to just buy a new computer.
Remove Programs From the Startup Menu
Many of the apps you install automatically add themselves to your startup menu. These are the programs that launch whenever you restart your computer. The more apps you have in your startup menu, the longer it takes for your computer to boot up. In many cases, the programs launch in the background for quick access, so you probably don’t even know they are taking up resources.
Many of the apps we reviewed have a startup optimizer that allows you to disable software, but you don’t really need a registry repair program to do so. You can disable the programs yourself by searching for “msconfig.exe” in the Windows search bar. Open the utility, select the Startup tab and uncheck all of the apps you don’t want to start every time you reboot your computer. Doing this can significantly improve your boot-up speed. For example, we were able to improve our boot-up speed by over 50 percent.
Surf the Web Responsibly & Use a Lightweight Antivirus
Viruses, malware, spyware, adware – these all make your PC slower. Some can even make malicious changes to your registry. You infect your computer by clicking on pop-up ads, visiting untrusted websites, opening unfamiliar links in emails and downloading files from questionable sources. Basically, be cautious when using the internet. Don’t download anything unless you trust the source, don’t visit any untrustworthy sites, and don’t open emails unless you recognize the address.
Some antivirus software can actually slow down your computer. This is the biggest reason many people stop using their antivirus programs. However, there are effective lightweight apps like Windows Defender, which is already part of your operating system, that can provide a high level of protection without slowing your computer’s performance.
Remove Unnecessary Plug-Ins in Your Internet Browser
Slow internet is one of the biggest complaints when dealing with a slow computer. The main culprit of slow internet is one you can’t control – the bandwidth. That said, if webpages take a long time to load or your internet browser freezes often, you may have too many plug-ins installed. Just look at the top of your browser. If it’s littered with search bars, weather widgets, news widgets and other tools, then you probably have too many plug-ins. Uninstall the plug-ins and your webpages will load quicker.
Registry Cleaner Software: How We Tested, What We Found
Since registry cleaning software is marketed as a way to restore your PC’s performance, we decided to test programs to find out if they live up to their claims. There is little point in purchasing this software if it doesn’t improve your computer.
With this in mind, we researched over 20 registry cleaner apps. To ensure an apples-to-apples comparison, we eliminated products that didn’t fall within the $20 to $30 price range. This left us with 13 products to test. Only the best-performing registry cleaner software made our lineup, which is telling since some products on this list actually produced negative results.
The Testing Environment
The best way to test registry cleaner software is to scan and repair a really old, really slow computer. We used a seven-year-old Dell Studio desktop running Windows 7. The computer has a 750GB hard drive that is at 85 percent capacity, as well as 6GB of RAM and a dual-core processor. In the last seven years, this computer has had hundreds of apps installed and uninstalled. It’s been used to record music, create art, play video games, watch movies and surf the web. It has also survived malware, bloatware, spyware and adware and has more cookies than grandma’s kitchen.
For several years, the computer greeted us with a registry error every time it rebooted. It is very slow and sometimes crashes for no discernable reason. Basically, it is the prime example of a machine that drives a person to consider registry cleaner software. Could registry cleaner software restore this computer to its former glory? Or is it ready to be put to rest?
Before installing any of the registry cleaning software, we had to gauge the computer’s baseline performance – how slow was it really? To do this, we used performance benchmarking software that runs tests to see how well the computer performs various functions. The software provides scores for word and data processing, graphics processing, web browsing speed, and video chat quality, all of which are common tasks for home computers. Our test computer scored below the 10th percentile for its processor, which means that it’s extremely slow. Things were looking promising for our lineup of registry cleaner apps.
Next, we backed up the registry and created a system restore point. This allowed us to restore the registry after testing each product. In this way, each program was tested on the exact same registry. It’s like giving a broken-down engine to a mechanic and asking them to fix it but then reversing the repairs so another mechanic can fix the same engine. This makes the results comparable.
To test the registry repair apps, we installed the software, scanned the registry, fixed the errors and then ran the performance benchmarking software again. By comparing these results to the computer’s baseline, we were able to measure whether fixing the registry made performance improvements.
Most of the registry cleaner apps improved performance overall, though a few products actually made the test computer slower. However, simply saying the programs improved the computer’s performance doesn’t tell the whole story.
Every single registry cleaner software in our review had at least some negative impact on performance. For example, every product but one made the web browsing speed slower. That said, even the biggest overall improvement of 7.23 percent isn’t significant enough to provide a noticeable performance boost without benchmarking software. The computer never came close to escaping its spot in the bottom 10th percentile.
Only one product, Advanced SystemCare Pro, had a significant effect on the computer. It improved web browsing speed by 29.2 percent, which was noticeable. However, it reduced basic word and data processing performance by 33.5 percent. As is often the case with system optimizing software, gains made in one area of performance are usually at the cost of performance in another.
The bottom line is that none of the products noticeably impacted our test computer’s performance. In a few cases, the software caused major problems that nearly threatened the days and hours we spent testing. One product erased our previously established restore point and created its own restore point, which turned out to be corrupt. Fortunately, we had a backup of our registry, including the restore points, so we were able to easily restore everything. In another case, an app removed a registry key for the performance benchmarking software, which made it freeze every time it moved on to the second round of testing. Again, we were able to reverse this with the registry backup we made.
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 apps in our comparison 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.
What Else Is Important in Selecting Registry Cleaner Software?
As we’ve emphasized many times, registry cleaner software is probably not going to revive your sluggish, unstable computer. In fact, you have a pretty good chance of making things worse. Still, if you remain unconvinced, or if you’re just looking for something to maintain your registry in conjunction with the maintenance that Windows already does, then you should consider the features below:
Ease of Use
Unlike many utility performance apps, registry cleaner software is designed for the most novice users. As such, these programs are very easy to use. You should be able to scan your registry in as little as two or three mouse clicks. These apps are not designed for power users. Most of the programs in our review scan automatically as soon as you launch them.
We graded the ease of use based on the perspective of a novice user. Some apps do have a minor learning curve. You should look for software that doesn’t require you to fill in the context, but you also don’t want one that blindly repairs everything without giving you the option to exclude registry errors.
Registry Backup & Restore
When you don’t back up your registry prior to fixing errors, you risk catastrophe. Meddling with your registry can make programs stop working and make your computer less stable. If you don’t back up your registry, then you can’t reverse these problems. We experienced this first hand.
Most of the apps in our review automatically back up the registry before making any repairs. However, some require you to back up manually. Regardless, this is an essential tool. If you don’t do it, you’re making a big mistake.
Some registry cleaner software only focus on your registry. They scan and repair and backup the registry, but they do little else. Other apps provide additional tools that add value, which may be important to consider when fixing the registry results in few improvements. Some tools, like a startup optimizer, can provide significant performance improvements.
Help & Support
You never know when problems, questions or concerns will arise when using a new application. Top-notch registry cleaner software developers make resources available online such as FAQs for common problems and live chat and phone support for more complicated questions. Email support is standard for all the products we reviewed.
Registry Cleaner Software: Our Verdict & Recommendations
RegistryCleanerKit earned the Top Ten Reviews Gold Award because it made the biggest overall performance improvement – 7.23 percent. While this is too insignificant to be noticeable, it was still almost 2 percent higher than the next-best software. That said, it’s also a very basic registry cleaner app that has nothing outside of the registry optimizer.
SpeedZooka earned the Top Ten Reviews Silver Award, despite its meager 4.48 overall improvement. This app is full of additional utilities, and it made one of the biggest improvements to word and data processing.
Ashampoo’s WinOptimizer 14 earned the Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award. This app is a full suite of optimization software, and the registry cleaner tool is just one of over 30 utilities. That said, it improved our computer’s overall performance by just 5.27 percent and posted negative results in every performance category except for word and data processing.
We have a lot of reservations about this type of software, but at the very least, the best registry cleaner software won’t make your computer’s performance a lot worse. Because you have installed and used programs on your computer over the years, a registry tuner cannot return it to its original condition.