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PC tune-up software: does it really work?

Part One: Windows XP

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Round-up We love hardware, and if you ask us how to make an old computer go faster, we’ll recommend a hardware upgrade. But 34 million people opt for a software tune-up in the US alone, estimates Iolo, a company that makes tune-up software.

PC speed-up software

Iolo's System Mechanic 9 does a good job of finding services you don’t use
Click for full-size screen grab

Can such a large number of people be wrong? We thought we’d take a look at some popular tune-up apps that explicitly claim they will speed up your computer or, when more carefully worded, are “designed” to speed up your computer.

We didn’t set out to see if these applications really could fix registry problems and related crashes because it's difficult to objectively measure such abilities, especially as every program claimed to be able to fix more than 1000 registry problems, most of which were simply dead links and things like having Windows updates disabled. Handy, perhaps, but not as interesting to us as the performance promises.

The five packages on test cost up to £40 and we’ve also tested a small Ram upgrade, which cost us £27, for comparison’s sake. Upgrading memory won’t appeal to everyone, since finding the right Ram for an older PC may not be simple, novices may find opening a laptop or PC daunting, and there may be Bios Ram limits to deal with too.

The test system was a five-year-old Sony laptop running Windows XP Pro 32-bit. It packs a 2.2GHz Pentium 4 CPU, 512MB DDR PC2100 - the upgrade was 1GB DDR PC2700 - and a 60GB 7200rpm hard drive. It last had XP reinstalled two years ago and has been used on a weekly basis since. When first installed, XP booted up in 35 seconds but it now takes over two minutes with all the junk it’s had on it over the last two years.

PC speed-up software

TuneUp’s claim of reducing the size of the registry is questionable

We re-imaged the hard drive before each application was installed. We also re-imaged the hard drive for both 512MB and 1GB Ram tests. Each test was repeated a minimum of three times, with a reboot between each test, to get a good average for comparison. Anti-virus monitoring and Windows updates were disabled, and our internet connection was unplugged.

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