Over time, as the hard drive fragments, Windows registry goes awry, and software leaves behind junk even when it’s uninstalled, PC performance begins to slow. Norton Utilities aims to fix the problems that plague PCs by repairing invalid registry entries, removing orphaned registry entries, and turning off non-essential startup programs. This utility suite, which uses a tweaked version of PC Tools Desktop Maestro (the program that would become evolve into PC Tools Performance Toolkit in 2009) as its base, also offers real-time system monitoring, performance tester, system optimizer, file restoration, and browsing history deletion—but lacks some of PC Tools Performance Toolkit 2011’s bells and whistles. Norton Utilities (starting at $49.99 for three licenses) works well, but the three-PC installation limitation may turn off some, especially when Comodo system Cleaner (Free, $39.99), and the Editors’ Choice award-winning Iolo system Mechanic 10 ($49.95, 4.5 stars) offer no such limitations.

system Requirements and Interface Compatible with Windows 7, Vista, and XP PCs, Norton Utilities requires 200MB of disk space, 256MB of RAM, and an Internet connection for registering the software and receiving updates. the left side of the main screen is a column that lets you check out the Optimize, Monitor, Windows Tools, and Administer sections. Clicking one of these opens their content in the main viewing area so you can click a button to clean the registry, manage startup applications, and more. All of the descriptions, thankfully, are written in everyday, simple language.

the Clean-Up Process once installed, the software immediately performed a scan—it found 2,107 problems, roughly the same as PC Tools Performance Toolkit 2011. This was fewer problems found than Iolo system Mechanic 10’s 2,502 Comodo PC system Cleaner’s 2,515, and AVG PC Tools 2011’s 2,705, but the differences may be attributed to differing views of what constitutes a problem.

Clicking the individual tools—”Clean You Registry,” “Windows Defragmenter,” “Clean Your Disks,” and others—runs those system cleaning programs, but I would’ve clicked the inclusion of a one-click clean up tool as in PC Tools Performance Toolkit 2011. You can also create system restore points, scan particular paths, decide which sections of the PC allowed to be scanned, and more. A Help section in the upper-right portion of the interface lets you access a quick start guide should you run into a problem.

Performance Increase I tested Norton Utilities’ ability to clean up a PC by performing three tests—running the Geekbench system performance tool, measuring boot times, and transferring a 1GB folder of mixed media to external storage. I performed each test three times and averaged the results, both before and after using the suite to clean the PC. before PC Tools Performance Toolkit 2011 scrubbed the system, the 2-GHz Intel Core i7 X990 Style-Note notebook with 4GB of RAM, and 80GB Intel SSD booted achieved a 5,903 Geekbench score, booted in 50.3 seconds, and transferred the 1GB folder in 40.5 seconds.

After using Norton Utilities, the GeekBench score rose to an even 6,000, which was on a par with PC Tools Performance Toolkit 2011’s 5,969. Overall, it was slightly better than Comodo system Cleaner’s 5,991, but lower than AVG PC Tuneup 2011’s 6,009, and Iolo system Mechanic 10’s 6,033. the notebook boot time decreased to 45 seconds, which was close to PC Tools Performance Toolkit 2011’s 46.1 seconds (and slightly slower than AVG PC Tuneup 2011’s 43.1 seconds and Iolo system Mechanic 10’s 42 seconds, but faster than Comodo system Cleaner’s 48.7 seconds). the file transfer speed remained roughly the same at 40.1 seconds, which only trailed PC Tools Performance Toolkit 2011’s 39.3 seconds (Iolo system Mechanic 10 measured 40.2 seconds, AVG PC Tuneup 2011 saw 43.2 seconds, and Comodo system Cleaner’s booted in 44.2 seconds).

Norton Utilities includes its own handy built-in performance testing tool that measures your system’s performance both—before and after clean up—by measuring CPU, 2D graphics, 3D graphics, Memory, Disk, and Optical Drive capabilities. You can click “Run All Tests” to cycle through each, or run them individually. before using Norton Utilities the PC notched a 1,639 score; after using it, it skyrocketed to 2,013.

After running the tests, I used the computer extensively to get a sense of how the app had changed the responsiveness of the machine. Though Norton Utilities improved the overall system performance—the computer did perform at a peppier pace—Iolo system Mechanic 10 had a far greater impact, causing windows and menu to open with lightning speed. still, Norton Utilities delivered a noticeable performance improvement.

Additional Features Clicking “Manage Your Services” opened a list of third-party services that are loaded when Windows starts—I was surprised at the sheer number of programs that were active behind the scenes such as Fax and Smart Card services. Like PC Tools Performance Toolkit 2011, Norton Utilities gives you a description of each file, which is a technological godsend for those that don’t recognize the more obscure and technical names. Right-clicking on a name let me start, or block, applications from running at startup. Unfortunately, it lacks any type of health meter than gives you an at-a-glance reading of your PC’s condition.

the panel labeled Windows Tools contains links to 12 Windows tools that you could just as easily launch without help from Norton Utilities: Computer Management, Windows Update, system Properties, system Information, Control Panel, Local users and Groups, Group Policy Editor, Windows Security Editor, Device Manager, Disk Management, Event Viewer, and Performance Monitor. Norton Utilities doesn’t offer much explanation regarding the purposes of these tools; some like Group Policy Editor don’t have a “Run” or “Start” button, so it’s up to users to figure out how to use them.

should You Use Norton Utilities? Norton Utilities did a satisfactory job of degunking and increasing our testbed’s overall performance, but in the age of the multi-computer household, the installation limitations are very outdated; if you want to install it on more than three PCs, you have to buy two licenses, which will cost nearly $100. Contrast that with the $49.99 Iolo system Mechanic 10 which lacks installation limitations and has superior tune-up performance, and the free Comodo system Cleaner that also lacks installation limitations and offers similar performance. still, Norton Utilities is a decent collection of tune-up tools that gets the job done, but there other utility suites serve up more bang for your buck.

More Utility Suites Reviews: •   TuneUp Utilities 2011•   Norton Utilities•   AVG PC Tuneup 2011•   Comodo system Cleaner•   PC Tools Performance Toolkit 2011 •   more