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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Spring clean your PC: Part 2 - The Registry

In the second part of our feature on spring cleaning your PC, we look at cutting out the clutter from your Windows Registry.

Tim Nott & Kelvyn Taylor, Personal Computer World, 25 Feb 2004

The Windows Registry is another infamous repository for clutter and can contain references to uninstalled programs, deleted files, non-existent file types and more.

Microsoft released a tool to deal with this - Regclean - as a free download for Windows 95 and NT, but it hasn't updated it since 1997. It's no longer available from Microsoft, and the company warns of conflicts with Office and Media Player.

However there is no shortage of third-party cleaners. Although these usually include 'Undo' or 'Restore' features, we would advise you to create your own Registry backup with the Windows 98 Registry Checker or System Restore in ME or XP.

One well-known cleaner is Jouni Vuorio's Regcleaner. This is freeware, and can still be found from a web search, but the author has since produced an updated commercial version called Macecraft Regsupreme, which is available as a 30-day free trial. On our test XP PC it found more than 700 erroneous entries, and gave an explanation of each one. Regseeker, another well-known cleaner, found 987 errors.

So is this a sign of a totally deranged Registry? We would say that the derangement was less severe than it appeared. For a start many errors relate to files that have been deleted or moved but still appear in Windows and application recently used lists. Any system is bound to have some of these - or even several hundred.

They shouldn't really have much impact on performance but they will rapidly build up again unless you regularly use a utility such as MRUBlaster. Unless you are prepared to take the findings on absolute trust, you're going to have to go through the error list to see for yourself, which is going to take some time. The golden rule here is in case of doubt: don't delete.

Having cleaned the Registry, you may also want to compact it. This is the equivalent of defragging your hard disk - it gets rid of the empty space left in the Registry files by cleaning. There's a handy tool to do this for XP/2000/NT users called Registry Optimizer. It does not, however, defrag the Registry files on disk, and nor does the standard Windows defragmenter: you can do this with a tool called Pagedefrag.

Other stuff
Icon rot is a familiar feature of Windows 98, ME and 2000 - it's especially noticeable on the Quick Launch toolbar, where shortcuts appear with the wrong icon. One way of rectifying this is to change the icon size in System Properties, apply the change, then change it back. A more elegant solution is to use Tweak UI to repair icons - you'll also find other problems that can be fixed from the Repair tab.

If the problem recurs then run Regedit and go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer . Create a new String Value, and name it 'Max Cached Icons'. Double-click on this and give it a value of 2048. This should cure the problem: if it recurs you can change the value again, up to a maximum of 4096.

Once you've finished cleaning up it's time to defrag. One hint here is to restart in Safe Mode first, which will stop things such as start-up programs and screensavers interrupting the process. Safe mode is also useful for deleting files that may be 'in use' in normal mode.

To help keep malware at bay, and to lessen less web irritation, install a pop-up stopper such as the Google Toolbar. If your version of Windows supports it, consider using the NTFS file system, which, among other advantages, is less prone to fragmentation and recovers far more quickly from a bad shutdown.

In Windows XP you can convert an existing FAT32 partition to NTFS from a command prompt - you'll find full details if you look up 'Convert NTFS' in Help and Support. This conversion is non-destructive of files (though we'd certainly recommend you back up important data first) but is one-way - you can't go back to FAT32 without reformatting.

Use folders strategically; don't put too many files in one folder or it can take ages for Explorer to list them. Split them up into sub-folders and don't store any of your own data files in the root directory of a partition.

All in one
If you'd rather not get too involved, there are many applications that offer 'one-stop' cleaning. Again, we'd advise caution, particularly in the case of the Registry and duplicate files, but if you're prepared to put all your eggs in one basket JV16 Power Tools, from the same stable as Regsupreme, claims to find and remove unneeded files, such as temp files, unused shared system component files and broken shortcuts, as well as cleaning the Registry.

Ace Utilities, which like JV16 Power Tools is available as a 30-day trial, will clean the Registry, junk files, duplicates, invalid shortcuts and more. It earned credit by creating a System Restore point when started, and in 'expert' mode offers a load of options of what to scan and what to leave alone - by default, for example, it doesn't look for duplicate files in the Windows folder and below. It also made a good job of finding junk such as leftover Word temporary files.

Finally, System Mechanic offers a similar comprehensive list of cleaning utilities, a defragger, a 'Tweak' tool and various utilities for 'optimising' Windows and your internet connection - including a pop-up stopper. Again, caution is advised.

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