Have you noticed that the longer you have your computer, the slower it runs and the more it crashes? Often this is because whenever you install or uninstall software, add or remove hardware, or change your computer’s settings, the Windows registry is updated. These changes can leave the registry fragmented, with obsolete, corrupted and, in some cases, harmful files. Over time the registry starts to get bogged down and conflicts emerge. Left unchecked, your system will become increasingly unstable, run more slowly and crash more frequently.

So what exactly is the Windows Registry? Ever since Windows 95, Microsoft’s market-leading operating system has been using a centralised hierarchical database to store system settings, hardware configurations, and user preferences. This database is called the Windows Registry or more commonly known as the Registry. When new hardware is installed in your computer, you change a settings such as your desktop background, or a new software is installed, this information is stored in the registry.

The operating system then continually references this information during its operation. Though understanding the Registry will provide good knowledge into the inner workings of your computer, it is important to take extreme care when working with the registry as modifying it incorrectly can cause problems with the use of your operating system. The registry is a key component of the Windows operating system. It is so important, that without it, Windows would not even run. Expert users delve into the registry and tweak settings manually, but the rest of need the helping hand of software to do this dirty work for us.

While browsing the Internet we all get annoying pop-up advertisements every so often. Some, however, claim alarming things like ‘Your registry is corrupted. You need to clean it up. Go to www.blah-blah-blah.com’ or something similar. You probably know it’s important to sort out your computer’s Windows Registry, but where do you start? By not clicking on one of these advertisements, for a start. Why? Well quite often these products are from companies that provide a free scan of your computer and then report dozens or even hundreds of errors that their software can fix – if you kindly part with £20-£40 of your hard earned cash and register the program. What a sucky way to run a business! Anyway, there are plenty of great registry cleaners on the market from reputable companies – and for free!

Comodo’s Registry Cleaner is one such program. Joining the company’s suite of free desktop security solutions, including Firewall Pro and Comodo AntiVirus, Registry Cleaner is available as a small download. The utility makes your computer more stable and run faster by conducting a deep scan of the Windows registry to identify, remove, repair and optimise unnecessary or corrupt registry entries. To what end? To cure system instability and slow down by deep cleaning the Windows registry, of course. An added benefit is that Registry Cleaner’s comprehensive backup program allows you to undo any changes (should things go bad), and can also be set to run automatically at a time you prefer.

Another feature we really liked was the built-in ‘Start Up’ manager. Whenever you start your computer, Windows automatically loads a list of programs that will run in the background as you use your machine. The more programs that are launched, the more system memory is used and the slower your computer will run. Registry Cleaner’s ‘Start Up’ manager lets you specify which programs are launched when you start your computer, so you can delete those not needed and which increase your machine’s boot time.

Comodo’s Registry Cleaner is a really good program. It’s fast, effective, and is a snap to use. And the fact that it’s free means you’ve got absolutely nothing to loose. When we tested the software on our review machine it managed to improve its boot time by around 5 seconds. Total memory usage also dropped, which was also quite an improvement – stemming from fixing 648 registry errors! It didn’t harm our system in any way, either, which is the main thing. Another free registry cleaner worth testing is CCleaner, which also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history. The only downside with CCleaner is that it’s a ‘mild’ registry cleaner and does not go as deep as Comodo’s Registry Cleaner. If you feel uncomfortable using free software for some reason, check out Uniblue’s RegistryBooster 2009 (£19.99)