Symantec bills Norton Utilities as a way to keep Windows PCs running longer by sprucing up their performance.

Gone are the file-recovery tools of yore. In this iteration, Norton Utilities 14 includes tools for managing which programs get loaded when your computer starts and which services run at start-up.

Beyond the need to enter a long random character key and the requirement to activate the product, Norton Utilities 14 is quick and easy to install.

When Norton Utilities 14 starts up, you have four areas in which you can take action. Under the "Optimize" tab, you perform those cleaning functions for which the package is intended. In some cases, such as Registry cleaning, you're presented with a list of problems the product has identified, and asked for approval to proceed.

In others, such as disk defragmentation, you simply click a button, and the process happens with little feedback or indication of progress. Norton Utilities 14 is actually running Windows' built-in defragmentation utility.

The "Monitor" tab lets you check your system performance (via a PassMark rating) and offers a baseline of computers to compare against. You can also monitor changes to your registry, keep track of changes to your system and view which processes are running at any given time.

While performance monitoring is extensive, Norton Utilities 14 doesn't do much to provide context, so unless you run before-and-after performance tests, the number may not tell you a great deal.

The Windows Tools launches tools included with Windows such as a disk defragmenter, start-up manager, disk cleaner, internet file and cookie cleanup, and browser cache cleanup. You can do all this yourself if you look in the Accessories section of the Start menu - basically, Norton Utilities 14 is a slightly more convenient method of running existing tools.

With an administration tab you can create a System Restore Point (something else already in Windows), customise the paths that Norton Utilities 14 should use when scanning, view activity logs and set your level of privacy.

Two of Norton Utilities 14's functions - registry tools and performance monitor - are tasks you can't do with Windows.

On the test machine, Norton Utilities 14 found over 1,200 Registry entries referred as problems. These included software that no longer existed or entries that had been superseded by software upgrades. The registry defragmentation also found plenty to do in the test machine, and it did appear to improve performance.

The PassMark performance monitor was potentially useful, if only to validate that changes made a difference. However, much of the performance total is devoted to video performance, and there's nothing Norton Utilities 14 can do about that. Likewise, the CPU performance numbers are characteristics of the computer's hardware, and since Norton Utilities can't speed up your processor or make the cache or memory access faster, you're stuck with those numbers unless you upgrade hardware.

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Norton Utilities 14 is a means of keeping all of your system maintenance links in one place, but it delivers little that you can't already do with Windows. Two things it does bring to the table are the registry tools, which are useful, and the performance monitor, which is interesting but not always useful.

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