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Registry Mechanic 7.0 - Cleans, But Is It Thorough Enough?

written by: Paul Pardi•edited by: Christian Cawley•updated: 9/16/2008

PC Tools' Registry Mechanic 7.0 could be one of the more important system and registry maintenance tools you will purchase. A clean registry is critical for a high-performance, error-free computer. Is Registry Mechanic up to the task?

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    Many of the popular "tweaks and fixes" available for Windows have questionable results at best. Doing things like optimizing memory or increasing the size of the file cache have dubious consequences. In my long experience, there are only three tweaks that I have found to be effective in improving the stability and performance of Windows (both XP and Vista). First is increasing the amount of onboard RAM. The more RAM the better. The second is keeping your disks defragmented. While only badly fragmented disks exhibit the most notable performance hit, even moderately fragmented disks can negatively affect performance. Finally, keep the registry in good shape. This tweak mainly affects application stability and performance. I've had numerous problems over the years that have been solved by cleaning the registry.

    The Windows registry is a complex and essential Windows component. The choice of a tool to maintain it should not be considered a trivial matter. Registry tools do three main things. First, they remove invalid entries. This reduces the size of the registry and can improve seek time. It also ensures that applications, hardware, and Windows itself are not using the wrong paths or improper application settings. The better registry cleaners will do the sometimes lengthy task of checking each invalid key with the hard disk to ensure that the key its removing actually does point to an invalid reference.

    Second, some registry cleaners will also support compressing or compacting the registry. It's unclear to this author what a registry compactor actually does but practically, it simply reduces the overall disk size of the registry files. The main advantage here is that the registry files end up taking less space on the disk. Finally, some registry cleaners offer a backup and restore utility that will allow users to create a full backup of the registry and restore it in the event of a critical system problem.

    A registry cleaner, then, is judged on how well it does each of these tasks. Does Registry Mechanic measure up? Read on to find out.

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    Help & Support

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 

    The help system implements a local CHM file but does so in an inventive way that I rather liked. It functions as a "quick start" guide, operating really only as a stub. The meat of the help file is on the Web but the local help provides just enough information to get stuck users over some obvious problems. This allows the help content to be updated regularly and as needed while still giving users some basic offline help.

    The only issue I find with this approach is where a registry clean may have disabled internet access. Having some in-depth help might be useful.

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    Price to Value

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 
    Registry Mechanic generally does what you pay it to do. It's stable and fairly easy to use, and comes with just about the right amount of value-added tools. At just under $30, it's a good deal and right in the ballpark of its competitors.

    What's Not: 
    Other registry cleaners seem to do a more thorough job. Users should download trials of a few registry cleaners and test them against Registry Mechanic to see which offers more of what they expect.
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    Installation & Setup

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 

    Registry Mechanic uses a standard, MSI-based wizard installer that operated as expected. I was told during the installation that the product would need 12.9 MB of space on my hard disk. The install actually took up about 12.2 MB (it appears that around 7 MB of that is Registry Mechanic and the rest is the Google Toolbar). It also created 168 registry keys, with 11 of those being for Registry Mechanic.

    The installer prompts you to install the Google Toolbar, so if you don't want the toolbar, be sure to avoid blindly clicking through the wizard screens. The toolbar installation is selected by default.

    The uninstaller did not remove the Google toolbar, but did clean up after Registry Mechanic nicely leaving only five of 11 registry keys behind.

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    User Interface

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 
    Registry Mechanic's UI is generally clear and clean. The colors have adequate contrast, and the icons and images used throughout are professionally done and pleasant. It was generally easy to find my way around and UI elements behaved the way I expected. The UI includes the main application interface as well as a system tray icon, if users choose to enable the registry monitor.

    What's Not: 

    Some items in the user interface functioned oddly. For example, the two buttons and labels on the System Optimization screen don't make sense. On the screen there are two main options, each with an icon, a label, and a button. One problem is that the icon, label, and button are spread too far apart. The icon and the text are together and the text states to "Click here to optimize your system." I first tried to click the text, thinking it functioned like a hyperlink or link button. When I saw that the text wasn't hot, I tried clicking the icon. This also did nothing.

    The button that seemed to be somewhat associated with the optimization tool had the text "Reset Optimization." I understood this to be a separate action that would allow users to reset the work the optimizer did. Finding no way to run the optimizer, I clicked the button. That changed the button text to "Optimize Your System." I then realized that the button turned something on and off (it's a toggle button, despite the fact that it looks like an event button) and that "optimization" is not a process but a setting. Looking through product help confirmed this.

    All in all, this is a poor UI implementation on a lot of different levels. It needs some work.

    Registry Mechanic disables the category navigation buttons on the left-hand side when a certain category is open. When I first began working with the features, I didn't understand why the buttons were disabled. It appears that Registry Mechanic wants users to work on one task at a time. Instead of producing a modal dialog box, the UI opens the feature in the content pane and disable other areas of the UI until that task is completed or cancelled.

    This took some getting used to. What's odd is that the screen is laid out like a web page, with navigation on the left side and the content pane on the right. It strikes me as odd that the navigation elements should be disabled when working in the content pane. While I fully understand why certain tasks need exclusive control in the application, perhaps hiding the navigation would be more appropriate than disabling it, particularly in a world where internet-based navigation is so popular.

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    Product Features

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot: 

    On first launch, Registry Mechanic started a scan without prompting me. On a machine on which I had run multiple registry scanners, Registry Mechanic found 261 issues. One thing that struck me immediately was the speed at which the tool worked. I've been using a competitor's product that I'm generally happy with for years. The only annoying thing about this other product is that it's slow. Registry Mechanic has no issues here.

    Registry Mechanic has three main features. The Scanner, which is the primary feature of the tool, is straightforward and appears to operate fairly well (though see the "What's Not" portion of this section). Scan options can be set in the Settings section of the tool. The deep scan option is not set by default, though it's still unclear what the deep scan option does.

    The scanner I use will validate the findings of the scan by attempting to locate the files or controls in the references it finds as being invalid. It also uses programming logic to determine whether certain entries should be preserved even though they might appear to be problematic. Registry Mechanic did neither but seemed to take a more conservative approach to determining which entries were problems and which weren't.

    The second feature is the Registry Optimizer. This tool claims to compact the registry, making it faster and improving system performance. Users have the option of creating a restore point before the operation. When the optimizer is running, all desktop icons and the Windows taskbar are hidden (though still present--pressing Ctrl-Esc will bring up the Start menu, but with some options hidden). The system needs to be restarted to finish with the compacting process. The system rebooted without issue, though I can't say I experienced any performance increase that was noticeable.

    The most notable tool included in the suite is the Registry Monitor. This is a program that constantly monitors the registry for changes and shows them in a clean and easy-to-understand interface. It will pop up a warning when a specific number of changes have been made (the default is 300 changes). While I question the real practical value of such a monitor, the implementation seems solid if the runtime doesn't slow the system down in any way (of course, I'm not exactly sure I want to use up precious RAM on a registry monitor in the first place). When the monitor is running, I couldn't open Registry Mechanic from the desktop icon. I had to double-click the tray icon.

    What's Not: 

    It is not possible to create a manual backup of the registry (if this is supported, I couldn't find the feature). Registry Mechanic does create a backup of the registry before running. I've had issues in the past where my registry cleaner caused some serious problems with my operating system and the backup was the only thing that allowed me to get back to work. Registry Mechanic can be set to create a restore point before doing any repairs. This and the automatic backup certainly will be helpful in a crisis. But a thorough tool would allow a user to create a manual or scheduled registry backup.

    After the Registry Mechanic scanner ran automatically, I re-ran it and it only found two problems, which was to be expected. I also ran my other registry cleaner (the competitor product). It found 236 problems and marked 104 of them for cleanup. In examining the entries, they appeared to be genuine problems that Registry Mechanic simply didn't find. Registry Mechanic's speed may come at the cost of being thorough.

    The third main feature is what Tools Software calls the System Optimizer. Other than the optimizer itself, it appears the rest of the tools are wrappers for tools that can be found in Windows already. The Optimizer itself is odd. The UI is confusing (see the "User Interface" section of this review) and it was very unclear to me what the feature does.

    Other tools in the System Optimizer section include a process monitor, a performance graph, a drive space monitor and basic system information. Again, each of these is available in Windows already, though Registry Mechanic does provide a single interface for them all.

    One of Registry Mechanic's biggest deficiencies is its lack of a scanning scheduler. All scans must be performed manually. I generally like to schedule maintenance items to occur during off-peak hours when I'm not at my computer. Registry Scanner does not support this.

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    Disabled buttonsCompact registryFirst runInstall GoogleRegistry monitorPost registry compactScanner settingsSystem OptimizerTwo problems
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    Suggested Features

    • Scan scheduler
    • Manual and scheduled registry backup
    • Improve UI functionality
    • Improve scanning engine
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    Overall, Registry Mechanic 7.0 does an adequate job as a registry scanner. But the lack of manual registry backup, the lack of a scan scheduler, some quirky user interface functionality, and most importantly, evidence of a less-than-thorough scan engine make this cleaner only average compared to its peers.
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    Related Products

    Registry First Aid, Advanced Registry Cleaner, Systweak Boost XP