These speedup utilities aren’t worth your money

Scott dunn By Scott Dunn

Can you really get the extra oomph you want for your system just by shelling out a few bucks for a speedup program?

Many effective utilities do exist, but in my testing I found three that I consider to be just a waste of your hard-earned cash.

Dozens of Windows utilities promise to optimize your system’s memory, improve your Internet connection speed, and rev up disk-access times to provide an overall performance boost. Some of these benefits can be demonstrated. For example, in a Sept. 11, 2008, Best Software column (paid content), Windows Secrets contributing editor Scott Spanbauer found three Windows cleanup utilities worth recommending: Business Logic’s WinCleaner OneClick Professional Clean, Piriform’s CCleaner, and PC Pitstop’s PC Optimize.

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Other programs promise fantastical performance. The makers of System Speedup Wizard and PC Speeduper, two nearly identical programs I tested, claim to include “new 2007 hard-disk optimization technology that allows your computer to read data up to 300% faster from your hard drive.”

The Web pages for these products go on to say that each one “optimizes your RAM and configures other settings to speed up your Internet connection and overall computer performance.”

To put these and similar claims to the test, I timed how long it took an XP system to perform the following everyday computing tasks:
  • Boot to the Windows login screen
  • Log into Windows
  • Open a large QuickTime movie file
  • Open a large RTF file in WordPad
  • Exit Windows
I then installed each of four speedup utilities for this review, ran each program’s optimize routine (if it had one), and timed the tasks again. I restored my test machine to its original configuration between each product test. I ran the tests multiple times for each product and averaged the results.

As shown in Table 1, the tests reveal a few minor speedups, but nothing that the average person is likely to notice. In most cases, the differences were under one second.

Table 1. These utilities provided little or no speed up, and sometimes slowed things down. (Time in seconds, smaller numbers are better.)

Boot to login
Log in to Windows
Open QT movie
Open .rtf in WordPad
Exit Windows
Windows XP (no utility)
PC Speeduper
System Speedup Wizard
SpeedUpMyPC 2009
Windows Performance

Given the small and irregular improvements, it’s just as likely that some of the variations were due to random Windows behavior as to any optimizing the products themselves did.

Of course, it’s possible that speedup utilities might have a greater effect on older, badly maintained systems than they had on my one-year-old test system. And to be fair, not every program I tested claims to improve the specific tasks I tested for. Rather, these operations were chosen as ones most likely to make a Windows user wait.

Moreover, most of the products I reviewed provide only a general overview of what they do. None of them offers a help file, user manual, or other documentation describing the nitty-gritty of how these programs operate.

SpeedUpMyPC 2009 and Windows Performance are a little better in this regard, providing short descriptions of each setting. However, you have to know where to click. The information isn’t available in a searchable Help file. Clicking the Help icon in Windows Performance takes you to a Web page that is more marketing than documentation.

In addition, the programs’ customization settings are minimal. You can’t tweak the optimization routines in the slightest, although SpeedUpMyPC and Windows Performance let you choose whether to run individual types of scans and cleanings. It’s like having a car that lets you turn some of your dashboard accessories on or off but prevents you from adjusting the temperature or the station on the radio. And just forget about peeking under the hood.

At least SpeedUpMyPC lets you uncheck boxes for individual temp files before the program deletes them. However, you can’t change the folders and files it considers “junk.”

Given these results, I can’t recommend any of these programs and, unlike other reviews I’ve published, I’m not assigning numerical scores.

Two names, two prices, but the same product

Two of the products I tested appear to be entirely identical except for their names. Even their separate Web sites are exactly alike except for the product name and illustration.

The only apparent difference is that System Speedup Wizard requires installation, while PC Speeduper merely requires that you unzip the download files and launch the executable. System Speedup Wizard, at a price of U.S. $20, is also more than twice the cost of PC Speeduper ($9).

Neither program requires much participation on your part. By default, the Enable Speedup box is checked and Speedup Settings are set to High. The only other option is Realtime, but I couldn’t find any explanation of the difference between these settings.

The “Run [product name] at Windows Startup” setting is not on by default, but the products need to be running to affect your system. After all, the vendor sites claim the technology “works in the background to optimize applications constantly.” Unfortunately, the products themselves don’t tell you that.

Not surprisingly, the two programs turned in nearly identical results on my tests, with less than a one-second difference on the boot test and less than a half-second or no difference on the others.

Both programs offer a 14-day trial period, though I don’t think either is particularly worth trying.

System optimizer has ease of use but little else

SpeedUpMyPC 2009 — like the other programs covered here — presents a tabbed window to organize its features into Overview, System Scan, Cleanup, Optimization, and Settings. The two main actions you can take in most tabs are scan and optimize. The Cleanup and Optimization tabs have further subdivisions and even sub-subdivisions. This makes the interface cleaner and more accessible, but it also makes it more difficult to find certain features.

Although I could find no Help file per se, some of the program’s tabs (such as the Windows subsection of the Optimization tab) provide capsule descriptions of settings after you check the Show tweak descriptions box.

These so-called tweaks are primarily changes to Registry settings. I didn’t examine them in detail, but at least one (“Disable paging executive”) has been debunked as not very useful by the site XP Myths (scroll to the middle of the long page to find the pertinent information).

The Optimization tab also includes features that are parallel to and, for all practical purposes, duplicate features found elsewhere in Windows — such as CPU Monitor and CPU Booster (see Windows’ Task Manager) or Uninstall Manager (see Add or Remove Programs in Windows’ Control Panel).

For example, to get the equivalent of the CPU Booster — which lets you change the priority the processor gives to an application — right-click the taskbar, choose Task Manager, click the Processes tab, right-click the desired executable, and choose an option from the Set Priority submenu.

The Startup Manager feature is not found in Windows, but you can get the same features in Mike Lin’s free Startup Control Panel utility rather than pay $30 for this tool.

If you want a program that requires only one or two clicks to apply a variety of popular speedup tweaks, SpeedUpMyPC may be worth your money. But if you’re on a budget, you’ll save some green by sticking to the advice you find in Windows Secrets.

Multifunction speed tweaker offers few answers

Windows Performance claims to optimize, repair, and clean your system. The program’s five main divisions are Windows Registry, CPU/Memory/HDD, Network/Internet, Configuration/Appearance, and Startup. Within each of these are checkboxes denoting tasks that streamline your system.

UPDATE 2009-08-25: Windows Performance is no longer available.

Unfortunately, the array of options doesn’t clearly explain what’s going on. You can get information on individual settings under the Details column, but the descriptions never amount to more than a few sentences and often assume expertise users may not have.

Also, the upper-right corner lets you turn “Protection” on or off but doesn’t tell you what that means. The page that formerly listed the product’s features suggested this is designed to “eliminate dangerous spyware, block hidden malware from altering your system settings, and repair security vulnerabilities.” (Note that the page is no longer available.) Gee — all that, and no settings or information on how this works.

For all I know, Windows Performance may do some really valuable things for your PC. But — as with the other products I tested — the program has little impact on daily PC tasks.

Scott Dunn is associate editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He has been a contributing editor of PC World since 1992 and currently writes for the Here’s How section of that magazine.