It’s amazing – and disappointing – how quickly PCs can become sluggish, unresponsive and unstable beasts. An entire industry has grown up around this, offering miracle cures in the guise of all-in-one programs that will restore your PC’s speed and stability with just a handful of clicks. PC Tools Performance Toolkit is one such tool or – more precisely – collection of tools, and the question is: is it more charlatan than magician? We installed the program on a sluggish PC to find out what it could do, whether it made any difference and asked ourselves if it was worth the money.
Installation is painless enough, and then Performance Toolkit helpfully updates itself and runs a scan for Registry errors, which is done by PC Tools Registry Mechanic, one of a number of tools installed as part of the main program, throwing up a dire warning about its findings. This is primarily a goad to purchase – it’s at this point you either enter your registration code, purchase the program or continue.
My eight years of dealing with reader queries for the likes of PC Answers and Microsoft Windows Magazine has left me wary about registry cleaning tools. The simple fact is I’ve yet to find one that can be trusted to only delete strictly unnecessary entries. Registry cleaners can just as easily introduce problems as fix them, and because you’re dealing with dozens if not hundreds of entries, finding the mistake can be difficult at the best of times, even if your tool made a backup in the first place.
Consequently we approached this part of the test with extreme care. Performance Toolkit found 85 “errors”, so we tried some alternatives to see what they came up with: Wise Registry Cleaner Free found 213 (202 of which it claimed could be removed safely), while CCleaner only found around 40. Who do you believe? We clicked Repair and the changes were made – although it didn’t mention it, Performance Toolkit does at least back up your Registry, so if you do run into strange problems, restoring this will help – you’ll find the option to do so from the Recover link.
The program’s main interface offers a green “Start Scan” button, which offers a one-click fix to most of your problems – approach this with care, as it’ll clear all history from your computer, whether it’s your browser or recent documents list – and no, there’s no undo button available.
A more methodical approach would be to use all of the program’s tools one-by-one, enabling you to stay in full control of what gets cleaned or repaired. The program is divided into three broad sections: Optimise, Maintain, and Recover, all of which are accessible from the main screen. Click a category and list of associated tools will appear in the program’s main pane.
Optimise your computer
Performance Toolkit offers six “optimise” modules. The aforementioned Registry cleaner is one, alongside the option to Defragment your Registry. This is the option that actually makes Registry cleaning worthwhile from a performance point of view, as it compacts and defrags the Registry to make it smaller and that little bit quicker to access. A reboot is required, and we’d suggest making sure you have your Windows installation disc to hand in case something goes wrong and you need to access System Restore from the “Repair your computer” option on the disc (XP users don’t have this safety net, so it’s important you take a drive image instead).
Tuneup your Services gives you three buttons to choose from: Recommended, Minimal and Restore, which undoes either option you click. Recommended is worth trying to see if performance is improved, but Minimal is likely to introduce too many adverse side-effects.
The Optimise your System button provides processes, free drive space and some system information, plus a section called Performance where you’ll find another button – press this to tweak your system in unnamed ways. Thankfully the online help file reveals what these tweaks are: nothing revolutionary (reducing the miniscule delay when clicking the All Programs link in the Start menu for example), and some of which only apply to XP users. Nothing here is particularly worth bothering with.
The last two sections – Clean your Disks and Shred Your Files – are more privacy tools than performance ones, but we’d recommend visiting the Clean your Disks section before clicking the Start Scan button so important shortcuts like recently used files aren’t deleted without your say-so.
Five tools are provided in the Maintain section – ironically, three of these would probably be better suited under Performance. Those are Defragment Your Disks (potentially the most effective tool for improving performance), Manage Your Services and Manage Your Startup. The other two options provide a link to PC Tools Disk Repair for checking and fixing disk problems, and Health Report, which provides more detail as to why the program has rated your System Health the way it has (it starts off Low until you’ve run all the recommended scans).
Defragment Your Disks opens the PC Tools Disk Defrag tool, and offers lots of useful tools and tweaks for optimising your hard drive for maximum performance. There’s also a useful Boot optimisation section that reveals just how much time it takes to start your computer’s services and startup programs – sadly, it doesn’t reveal which programs are responsible for any sluggish behaviour, and actually managing these is done from the main program by clicking Manage Your Startup. This opens a basic startup manager window – little help is offered in identifying strange entries, and there are better free tools out there, such as Autoruns, for the job.
This section offers two tools – a Restore option for reversing changes made to your Registry by the Registry cleaner, and a shortcut to PC Tools File Recover, a program for scanning your drive for lost and deleted files, complete with options for restoring those files if their condition is still good enough. The tool quickly scans your drive and returns results that can easily be filtered by drive or type, plus you can target your searches and go deeper for files that might have survived a recent format. It’s another strong tool worth having.
The Options button simply lets you tweak a few settings, plus manually launch the Smart Update tool, while the Help Center includes some links to useful Windows tools like Device Manager plus advice and links to various PC Tools websites online.
The tools here are all competent for what they do, but the simple fact is there’s a free equivalent for all of them out there. That makes the £40/$40 RRP – for a single year’s licence – rather prohibitive, even if it allows you to run the program on three computers. There’s nothing here that offers a unique way of drastically improving performance, and while the interface is slick and simple enough, it’s clear this is a collection of disparate tools held together by a single central interface, so the lack of integration is obvious. Considering you can just as easily get by with a collection of similarly individual freeware tools, there’s not an awful lot here to recommend. Good, but nothing special.