TuneUp Utilities 2009 gives you a window on Windows

TuneUp Utilities 2009 packs a nice variety of capabilities into $50 software

TuneUp Utilities 2009 product shot  Pros: Multitasking utilities software performs a wide variety of tasks in one package
Cons: Doesn’t really improve performance benchmarks, won’t resuscitate a dying laptop
Performance: B+
Ease of use: A
Features: A
Value: B+
Price: $49.95

Trying to squeeze a few more months of service out of my dying Compaq Presario laptop has become a recurring theme for me. I realize what I’m searching for is a kind of laptop version of Geritol, the elixir Lawrence Welk hawked on his show in the 1960s. Now manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline, Geritol was supposed to give older folks vim and vigor and relief from what Welk called “iron-poor tired blood.”

I turned to TuneUp Utilities 2009 from TuneUp Distribution of Darmstadt, Germany. Could this be the laptop equivalent of Geritol, the right combination of B12 vitamins and iron supplements that will make my laptop hum again?

The booklet that comes with TuneUp Utilities says the software can increase performance, free up disk space, maintain Windows, solve problems and customize Windows. It was definitely worth a shot.

Before loading TuneUp Utilities, I took a quick pulse of the Presario 2100, which runs Windows XP with a mobile Advanced Micro Devices Athlon processor, by running the PerformanceTest 6.1 benchmark suite from PassMark Software. The computer had a total score of 167.8, which is pretty low but not surprisingly so for this wheezing laptop.

It took about 10 minutes to install the TuneUp Utilities software, which prompts you with a short questionnaire about how you use the laptop: dial-up modem or DSL? Do you access a company network? Then TuneUp performs an analysis and makes a series of recommendations to boost your system’s performance.

Some of the suggestions were obvious: “You need extra memory.” But others were downright draconian: “Remove the background image from your desktop.” The software did a good scan of all the temp files and programs that were cluttering up the hard drive and made some recommendations I had never thought of. For example, it suggested I remove the secondary log-on — the start-up screen that lets another user log onto my laptop. I can’t imagine anyone else ever wanting to log onto this laptop, so I clicked “yes” to remove that option.

TuneUp rightly pointed out that the Presario had 447M of RAM, but Windows requires 512M for optimum performance. I clicked on Disk Doctor, which shows a stethoscope icon listening to a hard drive. It analyzed my hard drive in about 20 minutes and diagnosed 49 system problems and 1,037 program problems. You could tell TuneUp Utilities to fix the problems, which it did very quickly. It also said I could free up 820M or more of hard-drive space by deleting 16,736 temporary files. I clicked “yes,” and TuneUp quickly swept away the temp files.

After that brief encounter with TuneUp Utilities, it seemed like the Presario was running a little faster. The software might have been a placebo, but I noticed that the machine turned off now when I told it to. Historically, the Presario wouldn’t always shut down when I asked it nicely through the taskbar menu. Instead, I had to hold down the power button for three or more seconds to shut it down.

I ran the PassMark benchmarks again. This time, mysteriously, the total score was lower — 140.8. There were some gains in a few areas, notably CPU compression, CPU encryption and sequential disk write. But the overall performance score was lower after running TuneUp Utilities. Huh? It could be that the five-year-old Presario is beyond hope and that nothing — not even the elixir of laptop youth — could restore it to its glory days.

I liked how the software let me choose whether to have the software fix something or drill down to look at the file situation more closely. It parted the Windows-induced veil that separated me from my files. Now if I didn’t know what was wrong with my laptop, at least I could see where everything was.

Thinking that TuneUp Utilities might show more of what it can do on a halfway decent laptop, I decided to try it on a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion zd7000 with a 2.8 GHz Intel Pentium 4 processor and 512M of RAM running Microsoft Windows XP. This 9.3-pounder has also seen better days, but it is a true workhorse that rarely complains, except for overheating once in a while.

The initial PassMark benchmarks rated the Pavilion at 240.6. I installed TuneUp Utilities — again, in about 10 minutes. This time, the first quick checkup showed that the Pavilion had a possible hacker vulnerability point. Good to know. The solution was to turn on protection again SYN attacks, a type of denial-of-service attack.

The software’s process for checking system errors went much faster on this machine. The TuneUp Repair Wizard showed me details of the problems it had diagnosed. It also analyzed and defragged my hard drive in a few seconds. That step took more than a half-hour on the Presario.

TuneUp Utilities also offers something called the TuneUp Shredder, which gives you a choice of deletion styles. You can do a quick delete, which overwrites the files with zeroes. Of special interest to government users, it also lets you perform a secure delete in compliance with the Defense Department 5220.22-M standard. Or you can choose the Gutmann deletion method, which is very secure but also very slow.

I ran the PassMark benchmarks again, and this time, they gave a total performance score of 139.0 — 1.6 points lower than the original score. The computer showed some marginal gains in graphics and CD-read capabilities, and again, it seemed as though the booting process was zippier and the computer took direction better. The lag time between tasks was also shorter.

I was not impressed with the company’s customer service. When I called the contact number listed in the help guide, a recorded message referred me to the Web site, then a German-speaking voice came on, followed by a beep for me to leave a message. At least I think that’s what the voice asked me to do because, unfortunately, I don’t sprechen sie deutsche. The odd thing is that the number has a Chicago area code. I guess you might get a call back if you leave a message. But because I’ve never heard of tech support for a boxed piece of software working that way, I didn’t leave a message.

TuneUp Utilities 2009 packs a nice variety of capabilities into $50 software. It’s an easy way to view the inner world of your Windows machine, plus it works as a defragger and disk cleaner. If you have a PC or laptop that’s a bit rusty, TuneUp Utilities can free up disk space and restore some of your machine’s youthful vigor. The software also schedules computer maintenance for you, so it might help prevent further troubles down the line.

If, on the other hand, you have a half-decade-old laptop that you are trying to squeeze a few more months out of, this won’t help much. Get over yourself and spring for a new machine. Laptops have come down in price, especially in the past year.

TuneUp Distribution, 312-962-9996, www.tune-up.com

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.


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