Submitted by Catherine P.

They’re all over the Internet.  If you haven’t seen one yet, it’s because you haven’t been paying attention.  Everywhere you go online there are ads for Registry Optimizers, Computer Optimizers, Driver Optimizers, etc. that promise to make your computer run faster.  Are these programs worth the money?  Are they safe?  Do they actually help?  Can they save me money on computer repair?  And, most importantly, what the heck is a registry, and why does it need to be optimized?

First, what is the registry and why is it important? Here is the answer in Microsoft’s own words:

“The Microsoft® Windows® Registry is […] a central repository for configuration data. Just what does this mean? Well, I can’t think of any better way to put it than by stating that it’s simply a database for configuration files. […]

“The Registry serves dozens of innovative purposes. […] It keeps track of the software you install on the computer and how each program relates to the others. “

Basically the registry is a complex list of instructions for the computer and programs that run on it.  The theory of a registry optimizer is that as the instructions get garbled and “un-readable” over time, it takes the computer longer to figure out what it is supposed to do.  If we clean up and re-order the instructions, the computer can find things faster and therefore run faster.

Unfortunately, this is good in theory, but not in practice.  The registry, although extremely complex, is stored in a simple form and can be accessed relatively quickly.  While specific errors may need to be addressed when they are causing problems, a blanket “optimization” of the registry can be a recipe for disaster.

A good example is to compare the registry to a brain with a few tumors that need to be removed.  You have the choice of either having a robotic arm perform the surgery, or a skilled neurosurgeon.  The robot knows what the “ideal” brain is supposed to look like and will slice away anything that doesn’t fit that “ideal.”  The skilled neurosurgeon will be able to tell the difference between a tumor and healthy brain tissue, and only cut out the tumors.

This is why the only person that should be messing with your registry is an experienced computer repair technician.  I emphasize experienced because someone with proper experience understands just how dangerous editing the registry can be and acts accordingly. Editing the registry can be like playing with fire. There are a lot of things that can go wrong and cause serious computer problems.  I would never recommend a regular user attempt to use one of these tools because of the potential to do harm.

Does the registry sometimes need cleaning?  Absolutely.  To answer the question though, registry optimizers are nothing but modern day snake oil.  At best, they don’t do any good, at worst, they have the potential to destroy your computer.  While there are many maintenance tasks that are safe for average users, as far as registry and other “optimizers,” my advice is to keep your distance.  If your computer really is too slow, consult a computer repair technician for help.

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