Registry Cleaners – Should I pay for one?

Short answer: no

Longer answer: probably not. Registry Cleaners are very popular and very heavily marketed applications claiming to clean up and speed up your Windows installation. But trying to find unbiased information on them is pretty hard. The spammers and web marketer’s pages dominate any search you care to run with the words “registry cleaner” in them. They have multiple fake “Software Report” type pages pretending to test various cleaners and tell you which ones are best. Needless to say they are either put up by the cleaner companies or just clever folk making a few cents on every click-though they get. But these things sell in their thousands so sure they must be providing a useful service? Well maybe but maybe not.

They talk of “cleaning” your “bloated” registry and use other ill-defined terms but don’t provide any actual hard evidence of what benefits they really provide. This should raise suspicions.

The registry is just a text file database of settings that Windows uses. It’s arranged into different “hives” dealing with different parts of the system and then arranged hierarchically in those hives. Your desktop settings, font selections, programs you want on your taskbar and so on are all stored there amongst thousands of other bits of information relating to Windows and the applications you’ve installed on it.

When you uninstall an app, the installer should remove all registry entries relating to that app. But often this process is imperfect and so the registry gets bigger and fuller of orphaned and useless entries. It is mostly these that reg cleaners spot and remove. But does this extra size matter. In reality it makes little or no difference. Because it’s arranged hierarchically, Windows can find the settings it needs to without having to read the entire registry from start to finish, so it being a bit larger than it should be makes little difference. Also Windows’ own entries make up the largest part by far so installed apps are only a small part of the overall size anyway.

You can argue that there are other mechanisms in place that could, in theory make a difference but in practice, in my experience, don’t. I’ve tested Windows before and after reg cleaners have found hundreds of “errors” and I’m as yet unable to notice a difference in speed in either boot time or opening and loading of applications.

If I’m paying say £30 for an app to speed up my system then I expect some £30 worth of value. That £30 could be spent on extra ram or some time from a technician, both of which might very well produce a noticeable improvement. So paying for them makes no sense. If you really feel the need to clean your registry there are free options such as CCleaner which do just as good a job for nothing at all. So save your money.

There is also a very real risk involved in registry cleaning. This automated spotting of errors is not perfect and when it goes wrong it can break your system resulting in very real expense of getting it repaired or reinstalled. In terms of risk/reward they are not a great bet for the end-user. I’ve personally seen them break Windows on several occasions and also seen them cause other problems by repeatedly removing valid settings put there by other programs.

So the bottom line is:

1. Don’t bother unless you have a compelling reason.
2. If you do, then don’t pay for one.

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