Proceed with caution.
That's what I always advise when people ask me about PC-optimization utilities like Ashampoo WinOptimizer 8 and CCleaner. While these tools can be helpful, they can also create problems--usually when users go overboard with the amount of "cleaning" they attempt.
I mention this only for purposes of introduction to Iobit's Advanced SystemCare 5 Free, the latest version of one of the more popular "computer healthcare" products. I recently tested it on a year-old Windows 7 system, and was very pleased with the results.
(One important note right up front: Advanced SystemCare will try to sneak in a few bits of junkware during installation, so be sure you opt out--don't just blindly click Next on each setup screen.)
The program can perform a wide range of functions, starting with the handy Quick Care, which scans for and removes malware, cleans up the Registry, fixes invalid shortcuts, erases your browsing history, and deletes junk files.
When I ran Quick Care on my system, it discovered a surprising amount of detritus--including some spyware that Microsoft Security Essentials (my primary sentry) had missed! Within a few minutes, all that stuff was gone.
Advanced SystemCare 5 also has a Deep Care that lives up to its name, performing more comprehensive security and Registry scans and looking for ways to optimize startup and other areas of your PC.
Thankfully, the program sets restore points before making any changes, so if you run into trouble, a quick visit to the Rescue Center should get you back in business.
I particularly like the ActiveBoost option, which promises real-time system optimization via intelligent management of system resources. The results can be hard to gauge, but I do feel like my machine is a bit snappier with ActiveBoost running.
As I noted earlier, this is just one of many available tune-up tools. But I like the fairly friendly interface, comprehensive toolset, and, most importantly, end results. If your PC is more than, say, a year old and feeling sluggish, Advanced SystemCare 5 Free might be of some help. You definitely can't argue with the price.
Contributing Editor Rick Broidawrites about business and consumer technology. Ask for help with your PC hassles at firstname.lastname@example.org, or try the treasure trove of helpful folks in the PC World Community Forums.Sign up to have theHassle-Free PC newslettere-mailed to you each week.