System utilities software
System utilities software comparison chart for 2017
System utilities software explained
When we talk about ‘system utilities’, the term describes any software package that’s designed specifically to improve and/or maintain the performance and stability of your computer. They go by various different names – system optimizers, PC tools and ‘tune-up’ suites. But they typically address most of the same problems and deliver similar benefits.
What problems do they solve?
There are hundreds of niggles and errors that can afflict your computer as you use it. You might not notice them directly, but there might be certain symptoms you’ve spotted or concerns you might have, such as:
System utilities can solve all of these problems and benefits include: speeding up the overall performance of your computer; cleaning your hard disk drive of unwanted software; and fixing various PC problems.
What else can they do?
That's not all these powerful products can do. They can also effortlessly fix hundreds of Windows errors, free up disk space, back up your important files, even unearth problems you didn't know you had, like lurking viruses, malware and spyware.
And they can do all this automatically. Just put your feet up and, with a few clicks of your mouse, you can launch a comprehensive IT health check that could keep your computer running as smoothly as the day you bought it.
PC optimization and speed boost
Most of the products here claim to “optimize and speed up your system” or claim to be able to “find and fix problems that slow your computer.” How exactly do they do it?
Rather than one magical process, it’s a combination of several approaches. These programs will typically check your hard drives and free up disk space by deleting unwanted and unused files. They will also attempt to update any out-dated hardware drivers and repair common Windows errors (usually caused by missing files) by downloading replacements from the Internet.
For Windows computers, the ‘Registry’ is a storehouse of configuration settings and options – it’s a blueprint for all the hardware and software that you use.
Unfortunately, as you install/delete software from your computer, this Registry can get bloated with unused files or essential files can sometimes be deleted, affecting system performance. Registry cleaners are designed to find and fix any Registry problems, backing up the data and streamlining it to eliminate future errors, crashes, and freezes.
Viruses, malware and spyware detection
If you spend any time on the Internet, then you need to protect your computer from the threat of viruses, malware and spyware. Not all system utilities offer this option. But those that do will help you to safeguard your personal information, block hacking attempts, warn you of unsafe websites and detect/remove dangerous bots, malware, viruses, worms and Trojan horses.
Of course, you might not even need this option. Microsoft provides free virus and spyware scanning via its Microsoft Security Essentials software.
Ease of use
An important consideration when looking at system utilities is whether they are easy to use. Looking over the products here, there is an almost overwhelming amount of jargon to negotiate – registry cleaners, disk defragmentation, partition tables and surface scans.
The good news is that you don’t need to understand these terms to get the benefits that a system utilities package can provide. All pride themselves on ease of use and feature set-up ‘wizards’ that walk you through each process and take care of the hard work for you.
Help and support
As we’ve mentioned, it can be a lengthy process to pick your way through the features of the various system utilities packages that are available. It’s why we’ve broken down the features of each product on this page, so you can see what you get (and what you don’t).
It’s also important not to underestimate the value of on-going technical support. Not all products offer FREE support (via either email ,chat or over the phone) as part of the price. So make sure you pay particular attention to the star ratings on this page.
Q. What are the biggest advantages of a buying system utilities product?
Just as a car requires yearly checks to keep it running efficiently, so your computer can benefit from regular maintenance. System utilities like the products featured on this page combine several powerful clean-up/optimisation processes into one easy-to-use application. Best of all, these processes are automatic so you can spring-clean your PC’s registry or vacuum out the clutter on your hard disk with a few mouse clicks.
Q. Can’t I clean up my computer manually?
Of course you can. You could edit the registry manually, not to mention defragment your hard disk, back up your data and delete unwanted files all by yourself. But some of these processes are extremely complicated. Investing in a system utilities product is akin to having a knowledgeable friend who can just do it all for you.
Q. How do I know if my Registry needs cleaning?
The more you use your computer, the more the registry gets cluttered. Imagine a pack of playing cards, neatly ordered in groups of 13 cards according to the four suits (hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades). It’s easy to find any one card when the deck is organised in this way. But try shuffling the cards and mixing them up. It now takes longer to find the card you want. A cluttered registry can similarly slow down your computer and seriously affect performance.
Q. Can I protect more than one computer?
This will depend on the product that you buy. Most provide a license to cover one computer, but some will enable you to protect multiple household PCs.
Q. Will these system utilities conflict with my existing software?
Generally, no. Although if a system utilities product has a virus/spyware component (and you are already running alternative software), this could cause problems.
Q. Will any of these products work on a Mac?
Some manufacturers, such as Norton, do provide Apple-specific products. But due to the nature of Apple’s OS X operating system, there is less need for system utilities products to improve performance, perform maintenance, auto-create backups and provide anti-virus/anti-malware protection. All of the products here are designed to tackle problems with Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP. Some support for older Microsoft operating systems (i.e. Windows Me, Windows 98) might also be available.
Q. Will I have to pay a yearly subscription?
The majority of the prices here reflect a one-off cost. Yearly subscriptions are usually offered when a product contains a specific anti-virus component. The extra cost typically covers the supply of updated virus, spyware and malware definitions as new threats are detected.
Q. Can I try before I buy?
Yes. Several companies offer free trials of their software, enabling you to download it and test their various claims before buying the full package.
Fragmentation of your hard disk occurs with extended use and it’s an unavoidable (but easily fixed) problem that affects every computer. As you create and delete data from a hard disk you fill up the available space. When Windows can’t store new data together, it splits it up and finds gaps on your hard disk to slot in this information. Split files like these can take longer to access. Disk defragmentation is the process whereby these split files are reorganised on the hard disk so that they are grouped together, making them quicker to access.
Drivers are small pieces of code used by Microsoft’s Windows operating systems and they enable your PC to talk to (and control) its own hardware and any plugged-in devices. Drivers that are out of date or that have been accidentally uninstalled can lead to Windows errors, non-functioning hardware and poor performance.
Malware & spyware
Malware is short for ‘malicious software’. It covers a wide range of nasty and potentially harmful computer programs, including: viruses, worms, Trojan horses, spyware, adware, keyloggers and any other form of software that you didn’t install or allow to be installed on your PC.
Malware is designed to access your computer without your knowledge or consent. A ‘keylogger’, for example, is a malicious piece of code that will secretly monitor and track the buttons you press on your keyboard, with the express aim of stealing login details.
Did you know that when you delete a file on a Windows PC it’s not actually gone? It might look like it’s been erased and you won’t be able to access it. But the file is actually still there. Deleting the file simply tells Windows that the space the file occupies can be used for other data. It might not be used for weeks, months, even years.
Secure deletion is often a feature of system utilities products and they often employ the same comprehensive 5220-22M shredding technique as used by the US Department of Defense.
Many modern applications or services can be set to auto-start whenever you switch on your computer, including the likes of: Spotify, Dropbox and Windows Live Messenger. The more programs that ‘start up’ during the boot sequence, the longer it takes before you can use your PC. System utilities software will typically include a feature to optimise your PC’s start-up sequence, getting rid of unnecessary applications that can create a performance bottleneck.
In computer terms at least, a ‘wizard’ is a user-friendly program designed to walk you through a process. It might be setting up a new piece of software, creating a document or running an anti-virus scan. What all these wizards have in common is that they can break complicated tasks down into easy-to-understand, step-by-step processes.
Advanced System Optimizer
Iolo System Mechanic
AVG PC TuneUp
Uniblue PowerSuite Pro 2017
Fix-It Utilities 15 Professional
Total Defense PC Tune-Up
Auslogics BoostSpeed 9
Glary Utilities PRO