Registry Cleaners: Do They Really Work?
Often times I am asked about the effectiveness and safety of registry cleaners by friends either experiencing issues with Windows, or wanting to optimize their PC to achieve maximum performance out of their machine.
The answer to this question cannot be answered by a simple yes or no. It is a decision to be made by you, as there is no universal solution. I can only equip you the information you need to determine if a registry cleaner is right for you, which is exactly what I intend to do in this article.
The first thing that you need is a basic understanding of the registry and how data on the registry, specifically keys and their values, are accessed.
The Windows registry is a hierarchical database, meaning that data is organized in a manner similar to your filesystem (Folders containing other folders and files, etc.). The registry is organized into keys, which serve a function very similar to that of folders. A key can contain values, where data is stored, and may also contain subkeys, which may contain further subkeys or values.
Confused? Rest assured that the registry is nothing too new or complicated, and aside from the difference in terminology, the Windows registry is very similar to the technologies you are already familiar with.
The registry is used to hold configuration data for not only Windows itself, but also for all the applications you install. With that being said, when programs are changed, updated, or uninstalled, the programs uninstaller may miss a few entries created by the program, resulting in orphaned, or unused entries.
Normally these orphaned entries don’t have an effect on the performance or functionality of Windows, but after time, a large amount of orphaned entries may accumulate in the registry, increasing the time it takes to access the registry. Although the degradation in performance is very slight, and even unnoticeable for most users, it can still affect the reliability of the computer over time in rare cases.
A solution to the performance degradation caused by orphaned entries is using a registry cleaner. Registry cleaners are designed to identify and remove orphaned entries in order to regain performance. Sounds like a great idea doesn’t it? Theoretically it is. As you can imagine, the detection of orphaned entries hasn’t been the most reliable thing over the years. Some registry cleaners are known to identify critical entries as orphaned, resulting in the removal of an entry required by Windows, or a specific program. This could cripple Windows, requiring advanced recovery, or in some cases reinstallation of Windows.
So with that, keep in mind that registry cleaners are not totally safe. There is a risk involved with the use of registry cleaners, although not as much for the more modern registry cleaners, such as CCleaner and System Mechanic.
So is the slight risk of crippling Windows worth the also slight performance benefits a registry cleaner brings? They are sometimes necessary in the rare case of a botched installation, or the failed uninstallation of a program, but for the most part, you can use Windows without the need of a registry cleaner. Also keep in mind that although many registry cleaners claim to be safe, they still pose a slight risk to your system. Think about it this way; if registry cleaners were totally reliable, wouldn’t have Microsoft already released one? No registry cleaner can guarantee complete safety, but some are more reliable than others (System Mechanic is by far the safest and most effective I’ve tested, since it identifies entries based on a set of regularly updated definitions.)
I also thought it might be worth mentioning that deleting orphaned entries does not reduce the size of the registry. Instead, it leaves overhead, sometimes referred to as fragmentation, in the registry, which can actually slow down registry access time. System Mechanic has a built-in registry compactor, but a free alternative is Auslogics Registry Defrag.
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