Double My Speed and Other Follies of Tech
Columnist: Michael E. Duffy
September, 2011 Issue
I’m always intrigued when I hear an ad for a technology-based service. My January column discussed one of them, called Reputation Defender [“Have a Tech New Year!”]. You hear Charles Osgood pimping for Carbonite, the online backup service. AT&T tried to convince me that I should call for remote live tech support using its Tech Support 360 service (because all my other support experiences with them are so satisfying?). And now, there’s an annoying new pitch from Double My Speed, offering to improve my computer's performance.
First off, the “double my speed” moniker is misleading, since the company doesn’t actually promise to double the speed of your computer, only to “restore peak performance” and “make your computer run like new.” Second, it only works on Windows computers. Third, it offers a free diagnosis that scans your computer and tells you how many “problems” are found, describing them in such a way as to make a computer novice feel certain of impending doom. The coup de grace is that, when you take the next step to “fix all errors and speed up your PC,” you’re redirected to a website to pony up $39.98 for a one-year license to use Cyberdefender Registry Cleaner. If you pay, you receive an activation code that will unlock the “fix it” features of the program you downloaded.
I downloaded the software to perform the free diagnosis and ran it on my trusty laptop (which runs just fine, by the way). It detected 812 errors in my Windows registry. Oh, no!
The registry is the database Windows uses to keep track of software and important system settings. In older versions of Windows, there was no standard location for all this information, so a centralized registry was an improvement. Unfortunately, it also represents a single point of failure if, for some reason, it becomes corrupted. And, over time, it tends to accumulate stuff that’s no longer useful, or information that’s contradictory or missing. It’s also one of the reasons you can’t just move an application to a new computer.
Since the dawn of the registry, there have been programs to fix its problems. Microsoft provided a registry editor, which was only for the very bravest of souls (and system administrators). Over time, automated solutions (of which Cyberdefender is just a recent incarnation) arrived to help the timid.
A little (very little) online research will show you there are many completely free registry scan-and-repair programs. In the past, I’ve used one called CCleaner, so I downloaded the latest copy and fired it up. CCleaner does more than just registry scanning, including removing old temporary files. I just used the registry option, which reported 510 errors. When I chose to fix them, I was given the option to review each, or to fix all of the selected type of problem, such as the cryptic “Missing MUI Reference” (all problem types are selected by default). I took the plunge (after taking the program’s advice to make a backup of my registry) and let it fix everything at once. It took two more scans to get a clean bill of health, since deleting some of the junk reveals other items that only reference junk.
At that point, I re-ran the Double My Speed diagnostic. Amazingly, it still reported 739 errors. I did another download and scan, this time with Wise Registry Cleaner. After an almost-clean report from that program, Double My Speed still reported 551 errors. Then I downloaded and scanned with TweakNow RegCleaner 2011. Double My Speed still reported 556 errors. This experiment was going nowhere is a hurry. And my system was no faster. Ack!
In all the excitement, I forgot to ask the most important question of all: Does cleaning your registry actually do any good? Typing that question into the hive mind, er, Google, yields a quick consensus from a variety of tech sites: No, you don’t need to clean your registry. At all. Ever.
Now, it is true that computers appear to slow down over time. There are some very good reasons for this. First, newer software tends to run slower on older computers, because it was created when the average computer has grown faster. So, if you’re complaining that the latest version of Word or Photoshop runs slowly on your four-year-old computer, stop. Second, computers tend to accumulate stuff that runs without your knowledge. All those programs that set up shop in your Windows task tray when you start your computer use system resources. Some programs (for example, the little “helper” program that iTunes uses) start silently and run in the background. Finally, malware and viruses can affect your system performance. All of these are reasons why corporate IT departments try their hardest to control the “software configuration” of company computers, and protect them with anti-virus programs (which themselves affect system performance as they scan for malicious software).
To prevent slowdowns due to virus infections or malware, all of your computers should be running a good anti-virus program. If you’re upgrading existing software or installing new, you should check to see what the new version requires in terms of hardware and software. If your hardware is near the minimum specification (or below it), or your operating system is an older version (like Windows XP), don’t expect your performance to improve. Alas, tackling the problem of unneeded services that run in the background is beyond the scope of this column. If you’re really worried about this issue, engage a reputable IT consultant to evaluate your situation (it should take less than an hour). If you need a recommendation, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And instead of spending $40 at Double My Speed for something you don’t need (and can get for free), do this: add memory. For $40 or less, you should be able to put the maximum 4 gigabytes of RAM on an older (32-bit) computer. If you’re running Windows with less than that, you’re losing performance because Windows and your applications are fighting over available RAM.
Michael E. Duffy is an experienced and successful startup technologist who's always on the lookout for The Next Big Thing. His personal website is www.mikeduffy.com
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