I've always wondered about the effectiveness of 'performance optimization' type of applications. They all talk the talk, but which ones walk the walk? Well, I recently had the opportunity to review TuneUp Utilities 2009, the latest in the company's long line of Windows-based programs aimed at speeding up your computer.
In this review I'll be going over all of the features of the program, ranging from the One-Click Optimization to the UI-tweaking features. Most importantly, I'll be checking to see if the program actually works, and how much of a difference it makes. TuneUp opens with a list of sections down the left hand side of the UI, so I'll go through those one-by-one. I apologize in advance...it's going to be a long one, but I will provide pros and cons at the bottom, as well as my seal of approval/disapproval, so if you don't want to read my long drawl, scroll on down folks. Here we go!
Let's begin with the Start page, the page that is displayed upon opening the program. This is where you'll find a few things, but most importantly it's where TuneUp Utilities gives your system a general overview. There are three sections to the overview: Maintenance, Speed and Health.
Maintenance: Opening the Maintenance section of the Start page will bring up some options. You'll choose when Maintenance gets run (it's automated, but you can activate it manually), as well as what it does when it runs. You can choose for it to correct registry errors, free up disk space, remove invalid shortcuts or just optimize the hard drive performance. You can also tick a box that allows Maintenance to detect if the PC was off if it tried to run, and so it'll catch up. It works well, and just does a basic (mind the pun) tune up of your system. It's for those who want to keep their PC squeaky clean, but are short on time (or are lazy, your call).
Speed: These next two sections are purely for the user, and if they choose to approve or disapprove (read: it's essentially a list of recommendations). The Speed section will ask you for some basic info when you first open it, from internet speed to which peripherals you use (or plan to use). From this it will generate a whole bunch of recommendations that it thinks you should do, in order to squeeze some extra speed out of your machine. It's actually surprisingly detailed. It gave me recommendations on which programs to allow to start up when I boot my PC (apparently it thought the Google updates wasn't important enough), as well as visual effects that I could turn down (it didn't like Aero) as well as some Windows services that should be changed. Honestly, I was alarmed at all the warnings it gave me about my speed. It also checks out performance and makes judgments on that, too; since I use a laptop, it gave me the option to change my power plan to a high performance one as well as optimizing Windows' Search Indexing function. If this all sounds like a lot of work, there is a button for a 'Quick Optimize', but it's probably best to read through the changes first. As I mentioned just before, it asks for internet speed; I would have liked to see a speed test-type function because most people I know have no idea what the heck DSL means, or any of that jargon, so they'll be left slightly in the dark. It's important to know that you can hide also recommendations, in case you won't imagine using them.
Health: The Health section just gives you options based on your operating system that should be changed in order for a higher level of security. For example, I got recommendations to turn UAC back on, disable Administrative Shares, remove network access to the Registry as well as run a System Drive check for errors. Before you question me on those recommendations, the computer I tested it on wasn't actually mine. The recommendations are all pretty handy, and would be good for those less computer literate, as chances are they're not entirely sure what they're doing.
Overview: The Start page is just the tip of the TuneUp iceberg, but a very welcome one. It scrutinizes each part of the computer, and gives you clear instructions on what to do, or the option right on the page to change it. It's damned handy, and I love it to pieces. It only gives the basic overview, but it certainly does save you some space on your hard drive, as well as increasing performance. I think it could do a better job at explaining some of the more complicated things, but it wouldn't let you do anything that could harm your computer, so that's great. I give the Start page 4 TuneUps out of 5.
Welcome to the Increase Performance section. The first person to guess what this section is aimed at doesn't get a prize. There are a few handy tools here, from Drive Defragment (in case you don't like the Windows one) to a Start-up manager, so you can stop those pesky applications from popping up when you turn your PC on. Let's begin.
Drive Defragment: This is a full featured defragmenting tool, that provides a visual overview of your system, showing blue blocks for nominal space and red blocks for fragmented space. It works well enough, so I don't think I need to go into great detail for this. It also gives you the feature to defragment drives automatically, if they need it, so you can click 'begin' and walk away.
Registry Defragment: This tools is pretty obvious; it provides a defragmentation of your registry. It reduces the size, therefore theoretically increasing performance. It works well, and I personally found a slight increase in speed. It should be noted that you are meant to close all other applications before doing this, and if your PC could do with a defrag, it'll ask you to restart it afterwards. It can sometimes take a while, so only do it if you're not busy.
Speed Optimizer: When I clicked the Speed Optimizer, I was greeted with the same screen as mentioned in the Start page, so it's best to read that instead of here.
Start-up Manager: The Start-up manager is actually rather handy, I found. It gives you a list of all programs that, upon boot-up, will start, and categorizes them on whether they're essential, or just optional. If you click on a specific entry, it'll tell you what it does (although the Google Updater entry threw some German at me (?)) which is a nice touch. It's handy for those who want an easy to read list, all in one place.
Overview: Well, I have to say, this section is darn useful. You can defrag your drive, or get recommendations on how to speed up your PC. Everything is clearly laid out, and easy to read. There are no confusing parts of it, it's just what it needs to be. It's nicely laid out and a pleasure to use. I give this section 5 TuneUps out of 5.
Free up disk space:
This was probably my favorite section of TuneUp Utilities 2009. It's only got two subsections, but they're very handy. Also, at the top, there is a visual indicator of how much hard drive space is left. Underneath this, it lists suggested items to clean up, and Windows functions that could be removed. Let's check it out, shall we.
Suggested items for clean up: There were two items listed here, for me. This, of course, could change depending on the user, but from what I've seen it's pretty typical. It listed 'Unnecessary files and backups' first of all, which allowed me to clear Windows Update backups, as well as browser caches and reports/error logs. Whenever I would check this section, it would be surprisingly large (in terms of file space used) and TuneUp Utilities did a good job at cleaning it out, with absolutely no ill effects. Secondly, it has listed Windows Functions. This allowed me to remove Messenger, as well as disable Hibernate and Windows Desktop Search. If you don't use these functions, you can save a nice bit of disk space, and TuneUp help with that in a snap.
Organize files and folders: Under this subsection was a single entry -- TuneUp Disk Space Explorer. Let's explore it, shall we? Sorry about that. Opening this entry greeted me with a screen, asking for a disk scan. So, I did one, and then I was shown a pie chart (and a very nice looking one, at that) of my disk space. It also lists the biggest files/folders, and you can also go into great details, such as which file formats take up the most space. This section just serves to show which areas of your hard drive use up the most space, and thus could be attended to; there aren't any tools to do anything about it in section itself, as it's just an explorer. It's wonderful to use though, and it gave me a great deal of information.
Overview: The free up disk space section is wonderful. It shows you every single file in the Explorer, and how much space it uses, as well as a pie chart overview. You can choose to clean up unnecessary sections of your hard drive, and remove unused functions. It's a joy to use, and does everything it needs to, and just that. I also give this section 5 TuneUps out of 5.
Clean up Windows:
This section has a few interesting entries in it. Firstly is the One-Stop Maintenance, which I'll look at a bit later on. Secondly, there's a Registry Cleaner, a Shortcut Cleaner, and an Uninstall Manager. I think here it should be work noting that under each entry (Uninstall Manager, etc) there is a list of links, which you can click to get to that certain part of the program. Here's an example: Under the Uninstall Manager, it says 'Uninstall Programs' and 'Show installed programs', so you can click of those instead of navigating through the window that pops up. Hope that makes sense, because it's quite handy indeed.
Registry Cleaner: This area typically needs using after you install/uninstall applications, as it tends to leave some rough edges. Registry Cleaner takes care of all that, and lets you choose to do a complete scan of the registry, or only do certain parts (like History Lists, etc). I recommend the complete scan myself, but if you have a lot of files, it could take a long time. For me, running this section didn't speed up my computer at all, but it just gave me peace of mind in knowing my computer was a bit better off.
Shortcut Cleaner: This, again, probably won't aid in speeding up your PC to a great degree, but it helps with the visual aspect of things. Upon running it, you'll be greeted with a list (or not, depending if you have any) of shortcuts that no longer work, and can be removed. It works very well and with great speed too, so it's handy if you're always shifting files and programs around.
TuneUp Uninstall Manager: The TuneUp Uninstall Manager is much like Add/Remove Programs within Windows itself, but with a few differences. It has a list of option on the side, allowing you to view which programs are most/least used, as well as which ones use up the most room. These are the types of things I like to see when doing a bit of PC spring cleaning, and it helps a lot in choosing which applications can be removed. I use this section quite a lot, and find it very handy. Thumbs up from me.
Overview: The Clean up Windows section, to me, was very useful. It provided a very streamlined way of keeping used space on my hard drive to a minimum, and keeping things nice and fresh. It also reminded me of all the old applications that needed to be removed, via the Uninstall Manager. One-Stop Maintenance is a seperate program that runs automatically, and performs all basic tasks, like clean-up of the disc and registry tidying up. It's very handy for those in a rush. Another 5 out of 5 TuneUps from me.
The Solve Problems section has only three entries, but to some, they could be very important. Firstly, we've got a Disk Doctor, for checking your hard drive for errors and to help prevent data loss. Next up is the Repair Wizard, for if your computer is being a pain, and lastly is Undelete, in case you accidentally remove something from the Recycle Bin. I hope you'll never have to use this section (fortunately, I haven't), but it's great for TuneUp to include it. Let's have a peruse.
Disk Doctor: Opening this up gave me the offer to perform a scan on my computer's hard drive. You can choose to do either a basic scan, or an advanced one, but I opted for basic (last time I did an advanced one, it took well over 2 hours) and it said it'd give me an analysis on the next restart.
Repair Wizard: Opening the repair wizard slightly surprised me; it came up with a whole list of checkboxes, each corresponding to a problem. I decided to give it a shot, and ticked 'Recycle Bin is no longer displayed on the desktop'. Upon clicking next, it asked me for confirmation to fix the problems, and then upon another 'next' it said it was done. Fair enough. Quick, easy and painless... just how it should be. Nice job, TuneUp.
Undelete: I had deleted a bunch of .mp4 movies a couple days ago, so I tried to see if I could get them back using this function. I used a wildcard to search for them ("*.mp4"), but it turned up no results. Confused, I decided to just search without entering a term. Over 5000 files found, not bad. Unfortunately, these were all system files/folders that I had not deleted myself, and had been removed via TuneUp's former functions. Perhaps this would work with others, but it didn't work for me, so it will be lacking in a TuneUp rating. If anybody can explain why this is, I'd be interested to hear it also.
Overview: So, how'd this section do, in my opinion? Well to be honest, I'm not actually too sure. The Repair Wizard apparently worked well, but Disk Doctor didn't turn up any errors and Undelete didn't work, so I think I'll give this 3 TuneUps out of 5. 3 stars for the first two functions that I assume would work if one needed them, but no stars for Undelete, as it didn't undelete at all.
This is a section that would be very useful to those unskilled in how to skin an OS, etc, but want to change their look. It provides many ways to safely and easily change the way Windows looks, as well as an easy way to put everything back to normal. I used to use this a lot, and I'll show you why.
TuneUp Styler: The TuneUp Styler is where the business happens. There's a lot of options you can change. For example, you can change your boot screen just by finding a simple .jpg, .bmp or .png image which you can get for yourself, or download from TuneUp's website (there's a link in the Styler). It's as simple as going 'Add Image' and then clicking Apply. Voila, a new boot screen (I chose a nice Trogdor the Burninator piece, for funsies). A new feature for Windows Vista is the Startup Logo chooser. You know the Vista logo that glows and then the sound plays? Yeah, you can change it! I thought it was quite cool, and TuneUp's website provide quite a few nice looking ones, as well as some Logon screens to use. Other things you can do with the Styler include changing system icons, and hiding ones on the desktop (no more Recycle Bin for me). Additionally, you can change the visual style of Windows Vista, but that's fairly limited in my experience. There really is a wealth of features here, and they're all very useful. It does get rather detailed if you dig into it a bit more. I found an option to change the amount of pixels separating each icon on the desktop, which would be good for some, but I, personally, wouldn't imagine it coming into use. Initially, the options are overwhelming, but after a couple minutes you'll be navigating and changing options like a pro, and that's what makes it so great. It has potential to be a big clumped mess, but TuneUp has managed it nicely.
TuneUp System Control: Whilst this sounds like a center that a space shuttle would communicate with, it's actually a very detailed way to get into the nitty-gritty of your computers' look and feel. Here you can change a LOT of option, including the way the Taskbar appears, as well as the system font and animations. It really is a lot to go into, and this review is already pretty long. It lets you also change hardware features, like the amount of memory cache used, and when you all add it up, it can considerably speed up your PC.
I don't really want to go into this, as it's all pretty standard features, so I'll just list them for you. We've got a Process Manager, a Registry Editor, a 'Shredder' (it securely deletes files, and also is in the right-click menu for all files once TuneUp is installed) and a System Information area. As you can see, it doesn't need much explanation. They all do what they're meant to do, simply and cleanly.
Whew. That's a lot of writing. Sorry if I lost a few of you along the way, but that's why I decided to provide pros and cons, and my thoughts at the bottom.
-- Very featured, allows for a lot of customization.
-- It's fast; it makes Speedy Gonzales look like Regular Gonzales, and nicely, too. (10 points if you get the reference)
-- It's simple! This is the most important feature for me, in this program. Having a lot of features is great, but if they're hard to find, it becomes hard work. TuneUp doesn't have this problem, as it's just beautiful to look at and use.
-- ...it costs?
-- It can be initially overwhelming in some sections, but this feeling quickly goes away.
I strongly recommend this program. It may not be everything that the hardcore users need, but for the average PC punter, it's perfect because it's simple, easy and safe.
You can buy TuneUp Utilities 2009 for the very-worth-it price of $50USD, and you can install it onto 3 computers with a single license. If you're cheap, it may be worth waiting 'til April to see what Uncle Neowin has in store for you.