I have a laptop that I use for most of my software testing and review writing. It is about a year and half old, and lately I have been noticing an interesting phenomenon. When I bought it, about 18 months ago, it was blazing fast. Even after I loaded Vista, I was still impressed by how fast it ran. Over time, however, I’ve noticed a significant decrease in speed. In short, my hare has become a tortoise. And I don’t care what they say about racing, in computers, slow and steady gets tossed out the window. As you can imagine, this has become a source of increasing irritation for me, as my computer can take up to 10 minutes just to boot up and connect to the Internet. Yikes! So, when we received an offer from Large Software to review their PC Tune Up program, I jumped right it in with both feet. I mean, come on, even if it doesn’t work at all, it can’t possibly make my computer any slower, right? Hit the jump and we’ll find out.
OK. So, what exactly is PC Tune Up? Basically, it is an all in one utility that will scrub out your computer’s innards, and get that tortoise running like a hare again.
There are four simple steps, each of which is accessible from the push of a single button: Backup, Scan, Repair, and Defragment. That’s about it. We’ll take a closer look at each of the steps and see how they works. We’ll also check out some more advanced features, including the Magic Button.
Backup: The first step, before you ever touch your registry is to perform a backup. There are a lot of utility programs, like PC Tune Up around. Many of them will let you just go hacking away at the registry without backing anything up first. And then what happens? Oops, I zigged when I should have zagged. Instead of a little off the top, I just gave my registry a mullet. And just like that haircut, you can’t tape those cuts back together. So, always backup your registry before you start cutting. That way, if you end up with a mullet, you can just hit restore, take your mulligan, and start over again. On a side note, if you are using Windows Vista, please make sure you run PC Tune Up as an administrator. Otherwise, you will not be able to access the registry to back it up.
Backing up is extremely easy with PC Tune Up. On the main screen, there is a large button that says, “Step 1: Backup”. Here is a hint, if you follow the four steps in order, then you will never go wrong. Anyway, all you have to do now is point the program to the location in which it should store our backup file. Your Backup file will take up to 100 MB, or more, depending on the size of your registry. I was pretty impressed by how quickly PC Tune Up backed up my system. I was prepared to go do something else for a while, but before I had a chance, it was done. All told, it took about 5 minutes to complete.
Scan: The next step is conduct a full system scan. This will detect any number of errors or problems with your computer and eliminate them. There are two options here. Smart scan will, “do a full scan of all your registry files and hard drives to locate any possible issues.” Quick Scan, on the other hand, will scan only your registry files and system folders. Since this was going to be the first time I ran the program, I opted to do a full Smart Scan and see what would happen.
This full scan took a little longer than I expected, but it was well worth it to see all of the problems it identified. It took about an hour to complete the scan. All in all, it found 525 problems with my computer. Wow. No wonder things had been running so slowly. Once it had identified all of the problems, it analyzed what the best courses of action would be for my computer, and formulate a list of suggested solutions. Again, this did take a while. But the good news is that you don’t have to stick around for it. Just let it run on its own and you can come back in a half hour or so when it is finished. Trust me, it is definitely worth the wait (just don’t do what I did and start the scan at 11:00 at night when you have to get up for work the next morning.) Anyway, now that we know what problems there are on your hard drive, it is time to get them fixed.
Repair: This brings us to the real heart of the matter. Now, it is time to wipe all of those problems off of your hard drive. In this step, PC Tune Up will (obviously) repair all of the problems it identified in the system scan from the previous step. One problem I had here was that there is no way to save the results of your scan to repair the problems at a later time. I am often pressed for time when I use my computer, and performing the scan and repair at the same time can take quite a while. So, it would be nice if PC Tune Up could be paused at any time during the process and pick up where it left off when you resume.
I was expecting another long wait while each problem was addressed individually, but this was not the case at all. I was surprised to find that it took only seconds (almost instantaneous) to fix all 500+ problems on my hard drive. It seems that all of the heavy lifting was done during the scanning stage. Repair is just a matter of implementing the solutions which had already been identified. Within a matter of seconds, all of the reported problems were resolve and I was ready for step four, the final stage of the process.
Defragment: Anyone who has been around computers for more than a few years is familiar with the importance of defragmenting a hard drive. As you install and remove programs or files, the structure of your hard drive becomes fragmented, with pieces of files stored in different places. The more fragmented a drive becomes, the longer it takes to access information, causing your computer to slow down significantly.
I still remember defragmenting the four megabyte hard drive on my college computer (pre-Windows 3.1). You could sit and watch fro hours as it moved blocks of data from one part of your drive to another. If a 4 MB drive took hours, I can only imagine how long it would take to defragment an 80GB drive. The answer? About two minutes. I was shocked. This was the fastest defrag I had ever seen. And it isn’t like it just zipped by without fixing anything. It reported a 13% improvement. Wow. Though I do have to admit, I kinda miss watching those blocks get moved around the screen.
Magic Button: Overall, the four step process involved in cleaning off your computer is pretty easy. The program guides you through each of the steps, and really, there is very little room for you to mess things up.
Still, sometimes, you want to just be able to hit “go” and come back when it is done. I know I like to perform these time intensive functions while I am out running errands or doing other activities that will keep me away from the computer. In that case, even returning to my computer every so often to hit, “Next step” is too much.
For those times, and many others, PC Tune Up brings you the magic. The Magic Button, that is. This is the one touch PC optimization button. Just hit this button and PC Tune Up will go through the entire four step process with no intervention from you. It is completely self sufficient. And when you return, it will be off to the races, with your newly optimized computer. I have used a lot of utility programs, but none of them have matched the speed and ease of use of PC Tune Up’s Magic Button.
Advanced Features: One are in which I think some advanced users may be disappointed is the lack of hands on control. The one touch access to so many different settings is great for new users. But the real hands-on tinkerers might find this to be a bit underwhelming. There are, however, a few advanced options which you can access.
First is the Optimize Menu. This allows you to free up memory on your system. As any Windows Mobile user knows, when a program closes, it is supposed to release any memory is it using. This does not always happen, causing your system to run slower (and potentially crash.) Freeing this memory will allow your system to run faster and create a more stabile environment.
One of the biggest ways that your computer can get significantly slowed is during the boot up process. Every application just loves to leave its mark, like a tattoo, on the bootup process. Sure, all of these little tags might make it easier to run the program later, but they can also cause a 3 minute bootup to become 10 minutes or more. Ouch! And don’t even get me started on what can happen when a program is removed from your computer, but the startup file is not fully deleted. Errors galore.
The Startup option lets you scroll through the entire bootup process, and disable or remove anything that is not working right. I should note, however, that some of this information can be difficult to understand. It is often written in registry language or with the full file extension. It would be nice if PC Tune Up gave you the option of seeing only the file name. If you are not experienced tinkering with your computer, be careful with this. These changes to affect your registry and could have unintended consequences.
Finally, PC Tune Up contains protection from Active X controls. These are programs which can be useful, but more often are used maliciously to steal information from your computer. PC Tune Up will automatically protect you from such programs if this function is activated. A nice touch. Again, however, be careful. Some programs may have a legitimate use for this kind of access, and shutting down these controls could cause them to stop working properly.
Conclusion: PC Tune Up is a fantastic utility, which allows you to quickly and easily resolve many of the most common problems which can affect the performance of your computer. Non-technical users will appreciate the one button access to many of the functions, however; this same feature may frustrate advanced users looking for more control. In the end, this moderately advanced user really appreciated being able to set it down and walk away, only to find all of my problems had been solved when I returned (well, all of my computer related problems…I mean, I still have to pay the mortgage, and figure out three kids and whatnot, but my computer ran much better). Overall, if you prefer being the tortoise, then you should probably take a pass here and continue to allow your computer to follow its slow descent through the quagmire of your hard drive. I just hope your computer does not crash before you finish reading this review. For the rest of us, there is PC Tune Up.
What I Like: This puts a number of powerful tools into an easy to use interface.
What Needs Improvement: Some advanced users may not like the lack of user control.
Where to Buy: Large Software
[Note: Large Software provided some of the pictures and screenshots used in this review.]