Keep Windows running smoothly with these streamlining tools
As programs are added to your PC, Windows takes longer to boot and your computer feels more sluggish in operation. Much of this is down to the number of programs that start with Windows – not only do they add seconds to the startup time, they also use valuable resources, hampering performance as a result.
You can disable startup items using Windows' own MSconfig tool, but CodeStuff Starter is vastly superior; you get a more verbose description of each startup entry, can delete as well as disable unwanted entries, and quickly search the web for more information on any unknown items.
If you've used MSconfig to manage your startup items, you may wonder how to permanently delete entries you've previously disabled. Simple: use this.
This program enables you to introduce timed delays for specific startup programs, so resources at startup time are shared more efficiently.
This tool for Vista and XP will restrict access to your PC based on user profile, plus undo system changes at every reboot with Windows Disk Protection.
This tiny little tool defrags the paging file and Registry hives in XP, so you can defrag these key system files and give your system a speed boost.
If Task Manager won't respond, this might enable you to recover your system. But only use it in an emergency – otherwise it can crash a functioning PC.
Ultimate Windows Tweaker
Dubbed "TweakUI for Windows 7 and Vista", this handy tweaking tool is packed with optimisation and customisation features.
Auslogics Disk Defrag
Why choose this over the defragmentation tool built into Windows?
First, unlike the XP tool, it runs on a schedule. Better still, it can be configured to run in the background, defragging your drives when your PC is idle, thus keeping performance at top notch.
It can also be used to defragment individual files and folders too, making it your perfect one-stop defrag shop.
Microsoft's unofficial PowerToy is packed full of handy system optimisations and tweaks, making it an essential tool if you use Windows XP.
Free Registry Defrag
Free Registry Defrag skips the "search and delete supposedly useless Registry entries" part of Registry cleaning – where most problems occur. Instead it simply compacts and defrags the Registry itself, which is where the actual optimisation takes place.
Start Menu Cleaner
Some program uninstallers leave Start menu shortcuts behind: this free tool searches it for redundant shortcuts, so you can clear them out.
Tidy Start Menu
Take control of your Start menu with this tool: once installed you can filter programs into a number of set categories, making them easier to find in future.
AM-DeadLink supports all major browsers, to search for duplicates and non-working bookmarks. You can clean out your favourites and ensure they work.
Simply deleting files isn't enough to ensure they're destroyed – you need this tool to securely wipe files, folders or free space, manually or on a schedule.
If you bought your PC from a major manufacturer, this free tool enables you to quickly get rid of the bundled extra software you don't want.
This thoroughly removes drivers and hardware devices. Remove a driver in the usual way, then boot into Safe Mode and let it clean up any leftovers.
When uninstalling software from your PC, you may be surprised by how much detritus is left behind. Revo Uninstaller can perform a more thorough uninstall of programs by searching for leftover files and redundant Registry entries from the program's own uninstaller.
The program also features a Hunter mode for those applications that don't have their own uninstaller, enabling you to remove hard-to-shift software too.
It doesn't matter how diligent you are, rubbish builds up on your hard drive in the form of leftover files, Registry entries and more besides. CCleaner makes it incredibly easy to search for and remove these unwanted items, freeing up space and resources.
This manages your startup items, so you can change the order of programs, delay their start times, and even reduce the priority of resource-hogging startup programs, to speed things up. And you can even set an entry to start up minimised or in an open window.
Some programs you install are more demanding than others, which is where Process Lasso comes in. This free tool sits quietly in the background, monitoring running processes, reining in the more demanding ones, and so ensuring your PC is swifter and more stable to boot.
This freebie enables you to keep a beady eye on which files and folders have been opened by all your running programs, and you can uncover which processes are using which DLL files. In terms of spying on the inner workings of Windows, there's no equal.
A process assassin, this tool should be used with care – it's capable of killing any running process, even your protected ones. And unlike Task Manager it can kill multiple processes at once. When it's appropriate, however, this is the perfect response to unwanted programs on your PC.