If your computer is starting up slowly or it sometimes hangs for several seconds, geeky friends will ask if you have cleaned your registry lately. Registry cleanup is one of the standard prescriptions for computer performance problems. But what is the Windows registry, and is registry cleanup really necessary? Can it be dangerous to your computer's health? Here's the scoop...
Cleaning the Registry
The Windows registry is a huge database of program settings, file pointers, and other information about how your computer is configured and where things reside on your hard drive. A home user's registry may contain hundreds of thousands of entries. The registry contains entries about fairly trivial things, such as what wallpaper and theme to use. It also contains entries about vital stuff like what programs to load at startup time, and where to find critical Windows system files.
Over time, entries in the registry become obsolete; you may delete a theme or program but its registry entry remains. Hiccups in disk drive read/write operations may corrupt registry entries so that, for instance, Windows can no longer read the entry that tells it where to find Explorer. Some registry flaws can slow down your computer or even cause it to freeze until the flaw is fixed.
Registry flaws slow down Windows startup because Windows wastes time trying to read a flawed entry, can't find the file it references, and then must go look for it the hard way. That's not a critical problem. A program may freeze because the registry entry that points to a DLL or other supplemental file it needs cannot be found. That is a critical problem!
Registry cleaners try to identify and delete or fix flawed registry entries. Cleaning up non-critical flaws improves performance a bit. Cleaning up critical flaws can restore the use of a program you really need. But registry cleanup is a bit hazardous, say some critics, because registry cleaners are not always right about what entries to keep or remove.
The Baby or the Bath Water?
A registry cleaner may delete a setting that you really need, causing Windows to lock up or not start at all. It may change your file/view settings in ways you don't want. It may delete a critical entry so that a program you need won't run. These mistakes happen rarely, but when they happen they result in hours of troubleshooting and re-configuring.
Some tech experts argue that registry cleanup isn't worth the trouble or risk overall. Running a registry cleaner takes time and does not improve performance by more than a second or two during an average day, they say. Others argue that regular registry cleanups make a significant difference in overall performance.
If you want to clean up your registry, make a backup copy of the existing registry first. The best way to do this is to create a System Restore Point, a snapshot disk image of your system's current configuration. If things go wrong with the registry cleanup, you can restore the system to its earlier condition. See my related article on using System Restore for more info.
Avoid overly aggressive registry cleaning. If in doubt about a registry entry's usefulness, leave it alone. Some registry cleaner programs group the flaws they identify into "safe to delete", "questionable", and "dangerous to delete" categories. Stick with "safe" unless you know what you're doing.
Want to try a registry cleaner? See my related article on Free Registry Cleaners and pick one that seems best for your needs and skill set.
Do you have something to say about registry cleaners? Post your comment or question below…
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 17 Dec 2010
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Registry Cleanup (Posted: 17 Dec 2010)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved