Advertisements for registry cleaners are all over the Web. There’s an entire industry out there bent on convincing inexperienced computer users that their registry needs fixing, and that, for ten easy payments of $29.95, their computers will be much faster. That isn’t true. The Windows registry is a massive database containing hundreds of thousands of entries, and a registry cleaner might remove a few hundred at most. This is great if you’re obsessively compulsive about removing useless database entries, but you won’t see any difference in performance. What you might see is a new problem because the registry cleaner swept away something important.
What’s the Registry?
The Windows registry is a database that Windows and its applications store their settings in. It contains hundreds of thousands of entries. Some of the entries may be slightly outdated — maybe you’ve uninstalled a program and it left a key or two behind, or maybe a there’s a file extension with no associated application.
What Registry Cleaners Do
Registry cleaners scan your registry for these outdated entries and offer to remove them. Because there are so many registry entries to go through, they’ll sometimes also remove useful registry entries, causing you problems. The Web is full of stories from people who have run a registry cleaner and encountered problems.
In a best case scenario, a registry cleaner will remove a few hundred unnecessary entries and reduce the size of your registry by a few kilobytes. This makes no different in perceptible performance. But you’ll still see shady advertisements like this one all over the Web:
A registry cleaner that claims to improve performance by removing a few hundred registry entries is like a file system cleaner that offers to improve performance by removing a handful of small configuration files.
Using a Registry Cleaner
If you must use a registry cleaner, you don’t have to pay anything. Using a free registry cleaner, such as the registry cleaner included with the respected CCleaner utility (which we’ve covered in the past), is good enough. In fact, you’ll probably have better results with CCleaner than many of these fly-by-night companies. And by “have better results,” I mean that CCleaner is less likely to break things. Any performance increases will still be unnoticeable.
“Optimizing” the Registry
Registry cleaners also claim to optimize your registry, defragmenting it for faster file access. At first, this sounds great — your registry is constantly being used, so surely defragmenting it will offer improvements in speed, right?
Wrong. Or, at least, not really. The registry is loaded into your computer’s RAM when it starts, so you won’t see faster registry performance as a result of this.
If you really want to defragment your registry, you don’t need a registry cleaner. Microsoft offers an official PageDefrag utility for Windows XP. Windows 7 or Vista users will need an unofficial utility like Auslogics Registry Defrag. Auslogics Registry Defrag dramatically overpromises the imperceptible performance boosts you’ll get from running it, but at least it doesn’t tamper with your registry. And at least it’s free.
Use one of these utilities if you want. But I’ll warn you now: You won’t see a difference in performance.
Where Are the Performance Tests?
Here’s the thing: We computer geeks love squeezing every drop of performance out of our systems. People benchmark all sorts of software tweaks and hardware overclocks and create performance graphs that show adjusting one setting makes a certain game 1% faster.
If registry cleaners really worked, there would be serious, independent performance tests that showed the performance increase after running a registry cleaner. But there aren’t. If you find a test, it was likely produced by a registry cleaner company or an affiliate site that gets paid when you buy a registry cleaner. If you disagree with this post, let’s see some reputable performance benchmarks.
Above: Not an actual scientific test. But I bet you can’t find a better chart.
Here’s what it comes down to:
- Registry cleaners offer no perceptible increase in performance.
- Registry cleaners can break things.
- Even if registry cleaners don’t break anything, using one wastes your valuable time and (perhaps) money.
If you’re looking to increase your PC’s performance, there are real steps you can take instead of buying the snake oil on offer. In fact, we’ve got an entire free guide to speeding up your computer, and registry cleaning isn’t involved.