Registry cleaners. Hard for me to believe they're "controversial"
since I've been a huge believer in them in what seems like forever.
In fact one of the most difficult issues I had with my re-review of
the scads of registry cleaners out there (other than the hundreds
that have sprung up over the past 10+ years) is that I couldn't
remember for sure when I started using one.
I know it was in the windows 95 days but when in the Win 95 life
cycle it was is lost in the shroud of time but I've sworn by them
for a long while now.
Registry Cleaner recap - What they do, what they don't do.
Windows 95 and all later versions implemented the registry, which
is a central database which stores virtually all Windows settings
and options. In general if a program is install it inserts
information into the registry. This includes info like the location
of the program on the drive and various options. Windows itself uses
the registry to store configuration information. Needless to say the
registry is a critical Windows component; you can probably run
Windows if a DLL file is munged. Windows might not even boot if the
registry is munged.
Since the registry stores information on programs there are
multiple entries created during a program install. Conversely if you
remove a program via the Control Panel add/remove tool most likely
it won't remove all registry entries for the program. This isn't the
end of the world but you remove more than a couple of programs you
end up with a bunch of junk in the registry that doesn't do anything
but take up room.
The registry also gets "messed up" (a highly technical term ya
know) due to bugs. Yeah, yeah, I know, a news flash about Windows,
it has bugs. That's not a slam, I've never written a bugless program
with the possible exception of "Hello world" but dang, Windows is
one complicated monster and it's bound to happen. Nor is it always
the fault of Windows. Any install program can go about willy-nilly
inserting all kinds of junk in the registry.
So you end up with a bunch of "junk" in the registry. Most times
it's not the end of the world but it's a database and it's not
unlike any other database the larger it is the slower the access
because there's a bunch of stuff to thrash through. Remember how
fast your computer was when you first got it compared to how it is
now? You get the picture. Now that speed issue isn't entirely
related to the registry but the registry has a lot to do with it as
Windows hits the registry "database" any time it does anything.
Remember how stable Windows was when you first got your computer
and how it might be flaky now? Again, there are often other factors
but I've found that errors in the registry can effect Windows
Given this it's worth it to me to keep my registry in top
condition and remove any erroneous entries. They may not hurt but
they're certainly not helping matters.
Registry Cleaners dig deep inside the registry and indentify and
remove bad data.
A walk on the wild side
I downloaded and installed 20 different registry cleaners
restoring the registry to the previous state before running the next
one. Results, for the most part, were pretty bleak. My take is that
a lot of people saw a market for a program that promised Windows
stability and just threw some stuff out there to try and benefit
from a need. Many of these products didn't do a good job and some of
them made chances to the registry that rendered Windows unbootable.
That's not to say there aren't a handful of good ones but I wanted
to settle on a single dependable product.
Top of the heap
Registry Mechanic from PC Tools came out tops for me. Firstly it
didn't do any harm, it correctly identified registry problems and
offered an excellent recovery method to restore a previous version
of the registry in case there were some problems. In addition it
offered several other interesting and useful features.
The primary screen has a pleasing and easy to understand layout.
From the primary Registry Mechanic screen you can scan the registry,
compact the registry (think disk defragment for the registry),
optimize your system, tune up Windows services, monitor the registry
in real time and restore a previous version of the registry.
Click on any image to enlarge
Scanning the registry returns a report of all the problems found
in the registry, a whopping 223 of them. Right clicking on any entry
brings up additional details that will give you more information.
In this example Registry Mechanic found an entry in the registry
for a program file that long longer existed (I had removed it via
add/remove). At this point I could elect to have the entry deleted,
the keep it, add it to the ignore list or do those functions for all
the items found.
When you're ready to clean it's simply a matter of clicking the
The next function from the primary screen is the compact your
registry. I've never found that my registry needed a huge deal of
work in this area but there are several registry compact programs on
the market and it's nice to see that it's included so if you want to
do it you don't have to shell out for another program.
The Optimize Your System brings up a screen that allows you to set
recommended services, minimal services and to restore same in the
event the results aren't helpful. Eliminating unnecessary services
can do a lot to enhance Windows performance and you can find
numerous sites that recommend a set of minimum services that you can
adjust manually but it's nice to have a program do it for you plus
have the ability to easily restore them. When I do this manually I
have to make notes as to what I've disabled and that can be tedious
and prone to mistakes.
The Tuneup your services screen
(screenshot not shown) allows you to enable and disable services
from within Registry Mechanic. This isn't anything you can't do via
the Windows compmgmt.msc program but it's nice to have it included
since Registry Mechanic is, after all, a tool for improving Windows
A screenshot isn't included since it doesn't display
a screen but the monitor your registry function sits in the system
tray and constantly monitors the registry and gives you a notice
when a program changes the registry. This didn't do a lot for me
full time but it's nice to have available when installing a
Finally the restore function brings up a window
with a history of your registry changes. Select your restore point
and Registry Mechanic will restore the system to that point.
The bottom line
Registry Mechanic offers a pleasing interface
from a company that's been around and is going to be around, is
reputable and has a large support infrastructure. But more
importantly than the interface and support, etc. is that fact that
correctly identified registry problems, fixed them and includes additional speed up tools that were the icing on the cake. No
snake oil, no wild claims, just a good solid program that's going to
fix your registry and not cause problems.
There is a 6Mb trial
version available for download
here. I'd strongly recommend you try the trial version to make
sure it suits your needs. If you want to buy it it'll set you back
$29.95 and that's for a three computer license which should give you
a good leg up on fixing and speeding up all the machines in your
household/small office. - Don Watkins