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Posted: October 1, 1999
Written by: Keith "Farrel" McClellan
Originally Printed in PC Gamer's Ultimate Hardware Bible, an Imagine Media Publication. All rights reserved. Reprinted with Permission.
System Cleanup Utilities
Commercial system cleanup and optimization packages are the big thing these days. Norton's Systemworks, First Aid, Nuts & Bolts, Safe & Sound, and other such products are out on the market vying for your dollars. The good news for consumers is that because of the large amount of competition, new features are being added all the time. Honestly, you'd think by that by this point, these packages would be full of stuff that optimizes your system - but you'd be wrong.
After testing copies of Nuts & Bolts, Safe & Sound, First Aid, and Norton's Systemworks, I would have to give them a thumbs down. That's not to say they are totally ineffective - the stuff that works, works well. It's just that there isn't enough of the stuff that works, and too much of the stuff that doesn't. Take, for example, the disk defragmenter. Each of these packages come with an excellent disk defragmenter. Not only do they defragment the files, but they also optimize their placement on the hard disk and make sure that the swap file it placed on the fastest part of the drive. The problem is, the disk defragmenter that comes with Windows 98 does the same thing - albeit at half the speed.
The emergency disk that the majority of these programs create do their job well enough, but except for the virus scanning capabilities, they are nearly identical to the startup disk created by Windows 98 - and in some cases, the Windows 98 disk is better.
But that doesn't explain what is so bad about these packages - it just shows places where they could be improved with extra features. The most current package I tested was a copy of Norton's Systemworks. The program touts a registry cleaner that looks impressive. In fact, it detected 80+ entries that were no longer viable. The problem was, it only let me delete two of them. And here's why: most of the other errant entries had been created by the package itself! I don't know why this mattered - they were, after all, errant entries but the program determined that they shouldn't be deleted - and apparently what the program says is gospel, because for the life of me I couldn't figure out how to delete them. There may very well be a way to do it; but if there is, I couldn't find it.
That wasn't the only flaw in the program, however. At one point, its "Crashguard" crashed my system. Yes, you heard me right - and it wasn't just some little shell crash, either - it required a full reboot.
Ok, I know it sounds like I'm taking it hard on Norton's package, but in reality, all of the packages had similar problems. Let's take Nuts and Bolts 98 for example. A launch accelerator is included in this package and, believe it or not, it actually does work. What it doesn't tell you, however, is that in exchange for the extra launch speed, you give up a large amount of system resources that are devoted to a database of quick-load information. If you work with office applications every day, it might be worth your while, but otherwise, it's something to avoid like the plague.
And be warned, any package that touts "RAM-doubling capabilities" or some other such nonsense, is actually compressing the information in the RAM so it can stuff more in - in exchange for speed. Once again, if all you are working with is business apps, this is fine - but for gamers like myself, not a chance.
My recommendation, if you are out to buy a virus scanner, these packages cost just about the same as a stand-alone scanner, so you might as well get one. Otherwise, avoid these packages and take the steps mentioned in this article for a faster, more stable system.