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 up considerably. Norton Utilities 15 aims to fix the problems that plague PCs by tidying up registry entries, turning off non-essential startup programs, and implementing other tweaks.
Norton Utilities is compatible with Windows 7, Vista and XP, and like the versions before it, the program features a left sidebar that lets you check out the Optimise, Monitor, Windows Tools, and Administer sections. Clicking one of these opens them up in the main viewing area, so you can click a button to clean the registry, scan your hard drive for problem areas, and more. All of the descriptions, thankfully, are written in everyday, simple language.
Clicking Manage Your Services opens 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. Norton Utilities gives you a description of each entry, which is a technological godsend for those that don't recognise the more obscure and technical names. Right clicking on a name let me block applications from running at startup, or indeed allow them to run.
The panel labelled Windows Tools contains links to Windows tools (unsurprisingly) that you could just as easily launch without help from Norton Utilities: Computer Management, Windows Update, System Properties, System Information, the Control Panel and so on. Norton Utilities doesn't offer much explanation regarding the purpose of these tools. Some, like the Group Policy Editor, don't have a Run or Start button, so it's up to the user to suss them out.
Norton Utilities 15 adds Speed Disk (a new way to optimise and defragment your PC's hard drive), Disk Doctor (which scans the hard drive for issues and attempts to repair them), and the UnErase Wizard (file restoration).
Clicking the Start Scan icon sets the software off on a full diagnosis – it found thousands of problems, much like other utilities I've tested, and offered links to the appropriate in-suite tools that would repair the problems.
Unfortunately, the program lacks any type of desktop widget meter, such as that seen in Iolo System Mechanic 11, which gives you an at-a-glance reading of your PC's condition at all times, so you know when to run a scan.
I gauged Norton Utilities 15's ability to clean up a PC by performing two tests – running the Geekbench system performance tool and measuring boot times. I performed each test three times and averaged the results, both before and after using the suite to clean the PC. Before Norton Utilities scrubbed the system, the test notebook, a 2GHz Core i7-powered laptop with 4GB of RAM and an 80GB Intel SSD, achieved a 5,914 Geekbench score, and booted in 50.2 seconds.
After using Norton Utilities, the GeekBench score rose to 6,141, a respectable increase of almost 230 points. However, that was still slower than System Mechanic 11, which we recently reviewed and applied the same test procedure to – with Iolo’s utility managing to up the score 300 points more than that, up to 6,452. Norton decreased the notebook boot time to 38.3 seconds, on a par with System Mechanic 11's 37.1 seconds, and an impressive result.
After running the tests, I used the computer extensively to get a sense of how the app had changed the responsiveness of the machine. Norton Utilities delivered a noticeable performance improvement – the entire OS moved at a snappier pace even with iTunes and Photoshop open.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Norton Utilities 15 comes with a three PC installation limit, and that may turn some folks off.
Norton Utilities did a satisfactory job of de-gunking and increasing the overall performance of our test laptop, but it doesn’t stack up well against rival suite System Mechanic 11. Not only does System Mechanic produce better tune-up results, it costs £25 – which is £15 less than Norton – and it doesn’t come shackled with a three PC license limitation. You can install Iolo’s product on any number of machines. Even so, Norton Utilities is a decent collection of tune-up tools that gets the job done.