Registry cleaners and the Windows registry

By | April 28, 2008

One of the things I am thinking of doing here on my blog is putting more weight on tech topics. That doesn’t mean I won’t write on Web stuff, but I admit tech topics can be often fun – especially if it is something ALL of us can relate to.

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert, but after toying around with PCs for more than a decade, and often surrounded with my real life technician friends, I think it’s perfectly alright to write on tech topics here, more than once in a while. So today, I decided to do a write up on the Windows registry, and what is the best registry cleaner for the purpose of cleaning the registry.

The Windows registry

The Windows registry is basically a large database in all Microsoft Windows systems which stores all the settings and options, preferences, and hardware options of the user. and it keeps growing each time you use Windows. When your computer starts up, Windows always checks the registry to let all installed software know the settings, documents, program paths, and much more stuff. The registry gradually accumulates clutter this way, and this slowly leads to a deterioration in your computer’s performance. When you install and then uninstall a program, traces of it will be left in the registry entries as well.

This is what sucks – Once you have made a change to the registry, you can’t undo it without specialized software (or manual editing). Manually editing the registry would be a nightmare. Think of it this way – The best registry is still a virgin registry.

Since the days of Windows 95, most if not all programs will deliberately leave behind entries in the registry to preserve licensing information, which are not removed during uninstalling them. Also, computer crashes will corrupt the registry.

The criteria of a good registry cleaner

Registry cleaners are supposed to scan the registry, identify, and delete the unnecessary entries in there. But that’s the ideal scenario. The truth is, there isn’t a perfect registry cleaner. All registry cleaners have algorithms which help them “identify” which is an important key and which is junk. There is no way of knowing if removing a registry key will impact system performance in subtle ways. So, any good registry cleaner needs to allow you to backup your registry before you start cleaning the registry.

Here is the manual way of backing up your registry nice and easy:

  • Click (from Windows menu) Start – Run
  • Type in the words – regedit (which opens up the registry editor window)
  • From the box, hit File – Export
  • Save it as something you can remember, preferably including the date

If you observe, there are actually 4 kinds of registry cleaners:

  • Deep scanning registry cleaners
  • Surface/light scanning registry cleaners
  • Balanced scanning registry cleaners
  • Fake registry cleaners

A deep cleaner is actually dangerous to your system because it may delete some important registry keys by being overzealous. A light scanning one, isn’t much use either; it merely skims the surface. A fake registry cleaner is dangerous, because it is malware/spyware disguised as a registry cleaner. Beware of downloading anything simply because it’s free!

The “best” registry cleaner is one that:

  • Defragments your registry
  • Allows backup of the registry
  • Ask you if you want to delete a certain entry, and offer solutions
  • Perform other spin-off tasks BESIDES registry work

There are many free registry cleaners and commercial ones on the Web, but there is only one which I’d recommend, and that’s CCleaner. I’ve been using CCleaner for a long time, and it really removes a ton of extraneous files each time.

There is another free registry cleaner called RegCure, which seems to be pretty good as well, although I find the site which is offering a free product, and the look which is a tad too professional – it just doesn’t go together. To be honest, I don’t need this when CCleaner works fine for me. Nonetheless, if CCleaner gives you issues (although I don’t see how), then this may be a viable alternative.

There are some sources that claim cleaning the Windows registry hardly does anything for your computer, performance wise. There might be some truth there, since I hardly notice any difference after cleaning the registry. But for defragmenting, I definitely notice the difference – mainly in faster start up and pick up.

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