Top 10 Must-Have PC Maintenance Utilities

Dennis Faas's picture

Die-hard Infopackets Reader Paul B. writes:

" Dear Dennis,

I have been a faithful subscriber to your newsletter for a few years now. While I immensely enjoy reading your articles (especially the software reviews), I am constantly second-guessing myself as to which utilities *I* need to keep my system running smoothly.

As a newbie, I would like to know how many of these 'fix all programs' are really necessary? For example, which utilities do I need for: speeding up, uninstalling, defragging, anti-Spyware, anti-spam, firewall, anti-virus, registry cleaning / fixing... etc. I mostly use my computer to surf the Internet and read email.

Would you help a newbie with a line-up of 'basic' products that are needed to keep my computer maintained? So many products I've read about do the same thing (or so it seems), and I'm very confused as to what I need. Thanks so much for reading this. I read all of your newsletters, and enjoy all of the articles. "

My response:

Great question.

Even though most of us use our computers to read email and surf the 'net (visiting web sites, downloading programs, etc), that in itself may be enough to warrant an onslaught of PC maintenance. Simply put: the web isn't what it used to be, and there's a lot of nasties lurking around every corner.

Having said that, I have compiled a list of the most useful utilities I've come across over the past years. Combined, I firmly believe that these programs will achieve what you are looking for (namely: a clean, clutter-free, well maintained, and smooth running PC).

In no particular order, here are my all-time favorite utilities:

RE: Top 10 Must-Have PC Maintenance Utilities

1. Registry Mechanic [cleans / fixes registry errors]. Why do you need it?: The system registry is one of the core components of Windows; if not maintained, the registry becomes bloated with useless information (usually a result of installing / uninstalling software) and performance degradation, strange error messages, and spontaneous system crashes ensue. Registry Mechanic streamlines the registry, thereby reclaiming lost performance and stability. [Click here to read my review on Registry Mechanic].

2. Spyware Doctor [an anti-Spyware program]. Why do you need it?: Spyware is by far one of the biggest 'nasties' to avoid when surfing the Internet -- yet we all seem to get hit with it one way or another, no matter how hard we try to avoid it. Spyware Doctor provides three-way Spyware protection for your PC through real-time threat blocking, advanced system scanning, and immunization against known browser infections. Spyware Doctor also recently received PC Magazine's Editor's Choice Award. [Click here to download Spyware Doctor].

3. Magic Defrag [optimizes the hard drive]. Why do you need it?: A badly fragmented hard drive can have a major performance drawback; this is especially true if you've never defragged your drive before (but that also depends on how much you use your PC). In short: Magic Defrag keeps your hard drive optimized so that accessing your files is as efficient as possible. [Click here to read my review on Magic Defrag].

4. Ashampoo CD Burning Suite [a CD/DVD burning program]. Why do you need it?: At some point you'll want to offload files from the hard drive for the purpose of archiving (to save hard drive space), to share files with friends, or for portability. Surprisingly, Microsoft has not yet implemented a built-in CD burning program for Windows that does more than just burn music CDs. Comparatively: Roxio Easy CD Creator (ECD) and Nero Burning ROM are the most popular third-party CD burning applications, but both cost in the neighborhood of $79.00 (at the time of this writing) and can be a nightmare to use if you've never burned a CD before. On the other hand, Ashampoo Burning Suite has many of the standard features found in ECD and Nero, yet costs a mere fraction (available through our site for $19.95). Best of all, CD Burning Suite is extremely easy to use. [Click here to read my review on Ashampoo CD Burning Suite].

5. griSoft-AVG [a freeware antivirus program]. Why do you need it?: GriSoft (and similar freeware antivirus programs) help to protect a PC from becoming infected with malicious software. The definition of "virus" is broad nowadays and can often infer a Trojans, an Internet Worm, and even Spyware. [Click here to read a past article highlighting two freeware anti-virus programs, including griSoft-AVG].

6. Zone Alarm [a freeware firewall program]. Why do you need it?: ZoneAlarm helps to block intruders from gaining control of your PC. ZoneAlarm can alert you whenever a suspect program is attempting to communicate with the outside world and is therefore immensely helpful in the prevention of a Spyware or Internet worm attacks. With that in mind, it is also important to note that most firewalls (ZoneAlarm included) do not thwart Operating System Exploits (in which case, an intruder may gain control even with ZoneAlarm installed). Refer to my closing statements for more information on exploits. [Click here to download ZoneAlarm].

7. WinOptimizer Platinum [an all purpose anti-clutter / privacy program]. Why do you need it?: WinOptimizer Platinum saves hard drive space by removing redundant and temporary files, maintains a level of privacy, and allows you to tweak the Startup process (thereby improving your bootup time). [Click here to read my review on WinOptimizer Platinum].

8. Ashampoo Uninstaller Suite [a program uninstaller]. Why do you need it?: Not all software programs are installed in the same manner. For example, some software authors are very sloppy when coding the install procedure and do not include the proper uninstall information; later, the software may not uninstall properly and (more often than not) leaves leftover "gunk" in the registry, clogging up the system. Uninstaller Suite logs all software installations and is able to reverse all changes made to the system, including the registry. [Click here to read my review on Uninstaller Suite].

9. Acronis True Image [a backup program for your Operating System]. Why do you need it?: Acronis True Image goes beyond simple backup programs by archiving each and every byte of your hard drive (and not just the files). If your hard drive goes corrupt or your PC is hit with a virus or Spyware infection, a disk image restoration using True Image is the only sure-fire way to get back into your system with the least amount of down-time (not including a catastrophic hardware failure, of course). [Click here to read my review on True Image].

10. Mailwasher Pro [an anti-spam program]. Why do you need it?: Mailwasher Pro combines heuristics, user-defined filters, and live DNS Providers Blacklist databases [DNSBL] to block spam from reaching your Inbox. Heuristics are used to "guess" which mail is spam, and over time, become more accurate at correctly identifying spam; filters are used to sort potential spam based on user-defined rules; and DNSBL protection immediately flags spam mail if it comes from a known spam origin. All this put together provides exceedingly sufficient spam control. Speaking from personal experience: I'd *really* dread reading my emails if I didn't have Mailwasher (it's that good). [Click here to read my review on Mailwasher].

RE: Windows Update

One other essential area of PC maintenance is keeping the Operating System up to date. Since this aspect of maintenance is already built into Windows, this section of my Top 10 Essentials List deserves its own spotlight. So to play it safe -- and to keep your PC humming along -- don't forget to keep your system current by using Windows Update! Remember: an Operating System Exploit can supersede the most sophisticated firewall, anti-virus, or anti-Spyware software.

On a related note: if you're a new to Internet Security and would like to learn more about exploits (including how to set up a firewall, block spam, popups, and more), be sure to download my PC Security Guide!

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