The short answer for which option is best, tune-up software or a Ram upgrade, is: the Ram. But that’s an over-simplification because other computers will behave differently. If you've already upgraded, that conclusion won't help you. But many XP PCs and laptops were sold with 512MB or even 256MB of memory, so these really can benefit from a Ram upgrade. We weren’t expecting the Ram upgrade to improve Windows start-up times, but it did.
Desktop Maestro 3.0’s overall package feels dated, but a new version is due in October
Click for full-size screenshot
Our testing produced very little evidence that registry fixers and third-party defragmenters do any good at all, although other users with serious computer problems may experience otherwise. There is definitely the risk of choosing the wrong option - which was our experience with Fix-it Utilities 9 and Desktop Maestro 3.0 - and then getting significantly worse performance.
All the utilities were, however, able to shave a few seconds off our start-times, but not by using their one-click tools. Instead, you have to explicitly disable services and applications to get the increase in performance. It’s worth remembering that you can also run
msconfig, from XP's Run box, to disable start up programs, although you get a barebones interface with no guidance.
If we had to pick a winner from the list of apps, we'd go for Iolo's System Mechanic 9. It produced the best results - where the apps actually made a difference - and has a decent UI. It also has a good range of features.
CCleaner deserves a special mention becuase, though it doesn't offer as many features and has its flaws, it is free, so it's the obvious one to try first.
We’ve also tested these software packages on a higher spec Vista PC, where we got some quite different results, but we’ll tell you about in an upcoming article... ®
Verdict: Windows XP Apps
Iolo System Mechanic 9
More Info Iolo
More Info CCleaner
Tune-up Utilities 2009
More Info Tune-up
PC Tools Desktop Maestro 3
More Info PC Tools
Avanquest Fix-it Utilities 9
More Info Avanquest
I re-compiled everything with -ffastmath and got an extra 6%.
"That'll be the green bar in the chart that you're after."
The one that says "512Mb"? It would have been clearer if it said "unmodified" or something. The article didn't make me really grasp the importance of 512Mb.
Replies from the author
@ Brian 6
Actually, the margin for error in the gaming test was +/- 0.27fps (95% confidence interval), so the 2fps drop is very significant.
@ Shaun Hunter
It was only when we tested Iolo's software that we re-enabled MSN and Snaggit, as these were two programs that were being used and disabling was over the top.