Every time you use your PC it's storing temporary files, caching web pages and generally cluttering up the machine. Add to that the fact that as files are added and removed information gets scattered across the hard disk, entries get left behind in the registry, items are added to menus and to the system start up. It should come as no surprise then that eventually the machine will begin to slow down as it struggles to keep track of all this information.
Fortunately you don't have to accept this tailing off in performance. There are plenty of software tools available that can help you clean up the machine and tweak your system settings to put a spring back in your system's step.
Whether you want a general clean up of the system or need to target a particular area such as the performance of your hard drive these are some of the very best programs for the job.
In no particular order here are the top ten system tuning tools - Note the tools below are for Windows 7 and earlier versions of Windows.
1/ SimWare Utilities SlimCleaner
SlimCleaner is a free tool that takes an innovative crowd-sourced approach to cleaning up your PC. It uses feedback from the user community to recommend the optimal settings for programs and services. You can clean up the system as well as uninstall unwanted software. It also lets you identify the data clogging up your drive and securely wipe sensitive information.
There's a useful hijack log that can help you remove unwanted browser add-ons and toolbars. In addition the program brings together standard Windows tools like Device Manager and Performance Monitor in one handy location.
You can run SlimCleaner from a USB drive making it a useful option if you want to scan several PCs as you don't need to have software installed on all of them. The community ratings for programs are shown on a colour-coded interface so you can see at a glance if a piece of software is good. Naturally you can add your own feedback to improve the ratings. Note that it adds a toolbar to your browser unless you opt out during installation.
2/ Piriform CCleaner Business Edition
Price: £29.95 (1 Year for 1 PC)
The Business edition of this popular consumer software – it's free to consumers and boasts 950 million downloads - offers the same powerful tuning tools with flexible pricing depending on whether you have one PC or several.
It cleans up cookies, history and temporary files from all popular web browsers as well as temporary files from other applications including MS Office. A registry cleaner is included too which will scan for and remove redundant entries, there's also an uninstaller to remove unwanted programs and a startup manager.
You get a drive wiper too which will overwrite free space to ensure that deleted files can't be recovered – useful if you're disposing of an old machine or transferring it to a different user.
For larger organisations there's a Network Edition available. This allows remote management so that you can optimise and manage all of your PCs from one central location.
3/ Uniblue SpeedUpMyPC 2013
Price: £19.95 (1 PC, 1 year)
If you want a simple and quick way of boosting the performance of a single PC then this package from Uniblue is well worth a look. It checks for invalid registry entries, scans for unused processes and services, looks for outdated drivers and offers a number of system tweaks to optimise the way the machine runs. It can also defrag the registry to close up gaps left by removed entries.
SpeedUpMyPC has a simple, clean interface with a graphical indication of your system's status and chunky, clearly labelled controls. It's compatible with both 32- and 64-bit systems of Windows and you can download a free version from the website to try it out, this will identify problems though there's a limit to the number of fixes you can apply.
This is an ideal program for the non-technical user as it logs all of the changes it makes to the system and allows you to roll them back later if they cause problems.
4/ AVG PC Tuneup 2012
Price: £25 (1 PC, 1 year)
Web: AVG PC Tuneup 2012
AVG is better known for its antivirus products but if you have a single PC that needs a spring clean then its PC Tuneup tool is a worthwhile addition to your software library. It can clean up your hard drive and registry, defragment the disk and permanently wipe space.
There's also a tool to optimise your Internet settings for the best performance, a tracks eraser to help protect your privacy and a disk doctor tool to check the drive for errors.
The interface is simple and straightforward and allows you to scan the system and fix reported problems with easy access to the more advanced tools if you need them.
It's good at monitoring resource usage too so you can spot processes that slow your system down. You can run PC Tuneup as a standalone tool but if you have AVG Internet Security or Anti-Virus it integrates with their menu systems to provide easy access to the tuning features.
5/ Auslogics Disk Defrag Pro
Price: £18.77 (3 PCs 1 Year)
One of the main performance issues to afflict PCs is a slowing down of the system due to disk fragmentation. This is where the system splits up files to try to fill space left by deleted items. Being a mechanical component (fragmentation doesn't affect SSDs) the disk is the slowest part of your PCs system, and having to hunt around for file fragments to reassemble them slows things down further.
There is of course a defrag tool built into Windows but third-party alternatives usually do a better job and offer you more options. Disk Defrag Pro has a choice of algorithms so you can ensure you get the best defragmentation method for your PC. It can also clean up temporary files and check for disk errors before running the defrag.
There's a boot time option to ensure files which are normally locked by the system get processed, you can have the program run in the background and it will manage its resources so as not to impact on your work.
6/ Paragon Hard Disk Manager 12 Suite
Price: £31.42 (1 PC)
Paragon Software's products cover just about every area of hard drive operation and maintenance and the latest Hard Disk Manager Suite brings together pretty much all of the drive tools you need in one handy package.
It can create and manage partitions, manage multi-boot systems, optimise space usage, plus backup and recover your data. It also includes tools to migrate data if you're upgrading to a larger hard drive or switching to a new computer – Paragon claim Windows 8 support is coming soon. Additionally you can create a bootable recovery disc to help you restore the system in the event of problems.
Whilst this isn't a general performance tool, keeping your hard drive in peak condition plays a big part in ensuring your PC runs smoothly. If you're upgrading or migrating it's a powerful aid to ensuring the process runs smoothly. And if you are moving to a new system there's also an option to securely wipe free space or an entire drive.
7/ Tune-Up Utilities 2013
Price: £29.99 (up to 3 PCs)
Tune-Up Utilities targets a number of areas of the system including reducing clutter, analysing problems and securely wiping your PC. It can help you fine tune the system start up and defrag the disk.
There's a clever Program Deactivator feature that works out which background tasks you're no longer using and prevents them from slowing down your machine. If you'd rather retain control it gives a star rating to all the programs on your machine, based on the experience of other users so that you can see which are the most important.
Additionally if you have a laptop it can help you prolong the system's battery life by reducing CPU use and switching off unused processes.
As well as performance tools the program also lets you customise the appearance and behaviour of Windows. You can display system information and produce an optimisation report to show what Tune-Up has done.
Volume licensing is available for business users with multiple PCs.
8/ Condusiv Diskeeper 12 Professional
Price: £40.85 (1 PC)
Web: Condusiv Diskeeper 12 Professional
Diskeeper is among the best known names when it comes to maintaining the health of your hard drive. A properly organised disk leads to faster application launches and quicker file access. By reducing the amount of I/O activity taking place it can also help to extend the life of your hard drive.
The program runs in the background to defragment the drive and help to prevent further fragmentation occurring. This is especially useful, particularly with today's disks of a terabyte or more in size, where defragging can take a long time, so doing the job whilst you get on with other things makes sense.
Because it runs in the background Diskeeper ensures that your hard drive is constantly being kept at its peak performance and you don't have to worry about schedulers or remembering to do the job yourself.
If you install it on a laptop it's clever enough to deactivate itself when running on the battery so as not to shorten the machine's run time.
9/ PC Tools Performance Toolkit
Price: £39.99 (3 PCs, 1 year)
Like some of the other tools here Performance Toolkit has a simple dashboard-style interface that gives you an overview of the system state. If you're in a hurry there's a one-click optimisation mode that will run a full clean-up for you. With more time, or just a warier attitude, you can choose to run the various tasks individually via the tabs along the top of the screen. There are also a number of built-in performance presets to help you tune Windows to meet your needs.
The program lets you remove temporary files, clear your browser history, defragment the hard disk, clean the registry and more.
Additionally you can protect your privacy by deleting stored passwords and form data as well as permanently shredding selected files and folders. The program also has a duplicate file finder to help you save disk space.
10/ iolo System Mechanic 11 Business
Price: £37.1 (5 PCs, 1 year)
System Mechanic has an easy-to-use dashboard view that lets you see your PC's status at a glance. On Vista and later systems you can install a desktop gadget to provide a constant reminder of when tuning is required.
You have the option to perform a quick or deep analysis of the system and there's a clear explanation of each problem System Mechanic finds so that you can decide how best to tackle it. When dealing with system clutter for example you have the option to let the program clean up automatically or you can run a wizard allowing you to take decisions yourself.
The scan looks at various areas of the system including registry errors, unnecessary startup programs, system clutter, broken shortcuts and disk fragmentation. It can spot security vulnerabilities caused by missing updates and patches too.
If you have multiple systems you'll also appreciate the Active Care option which automatically scans the PC and fixes problems when the system is idle.