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The DNA of any Windows PC is the configuration database known as the Registry. Registry settings determine how the operating system (as well as installed software) looks and acts. When something about the system isn’t quite right, you'll find the problem – and its solution – in the Registry.
Digital Support Technology’s (DST) PC Fixer aims to fix computer maladies through Registry manipulation. In a nutshell, the free XP/Vista-compatible utility performs a Registry scan to identify potential problems and then suggests corrective changes. While we found PC Fixer useful in some situations, some of its suggestions didn’t necessarily make good sense.
You can download PC Fixer for free here (we tested version 2.6.2). "Free" is almost always another term for advertising-supported, and sure enough upon using the utilities Checkup feature to scan your system, you’re presented with a number of small ads embedded within the software.
PC Fixer scans your PC for problems and displays suggested actions in the Checkup results screen.
(Click for larger image).
We ran PC Fixer’s checkup on three different systems running Windows XP Home, Professional and Vista Business. Depending on the system, PC Fixer flagged anywhere from 19 to 76 potential issues concerning either the Windows operating system or components, Web browsers (both Internet Explorer and Firefox), or Microsoft Office software.
For situations when the scan returns an excessively long list of results, PC Fixer makes it a bit easier to digest by letting you display only the specific categories that interest you (for example, Explorer, Services, Startup, etc.) It also labels each entry with either a blue, yellow or red icon that translates into a low, medium or high priority.
According to the company, PC Fixer makes its recommendations based on scouring various Web-based technical support information sources, including Microsoft’s Knowledge base. (The software automatically checks for updates each time you run it.)
If it Ain’t Broke…
On one of our XP systems, PC Fixer adroitly managed to identify and correct a problem with malfunctioning audio (no sound in spite of the fact that the sound hardware drivers were by all indications installed correctly). We found many of PC Fixer’s other suggested modifications helpful, but in general you wouldn’t necessarily want to allow PC Fixer to make all of its suggested “fixes”, as a few could conceivably be inadvisable.
For example, on one system PC Fixer suggested turning off Outlook Express’s automatic blocking of external content (like links and images embedded in e-mail). This is a security and spam-control feature that should only be turned off for trusted senders, and allowing PC Fixer to make its desired modification would have automatically allowed external content through on all e-mails regardless of sender.
Similarly, on our Vista system, PC Fixer recommended suggested that we turn off User Access Control (UAC), another security which forces confirmation before certain important system settings can be changed. While UAC can be annoying and may not be of much help to people that aren’t especially conscientious about what they click on, turning it off can leave you exposed.
Fortunately, PC Fixer logs the Registry changes it makes, and they can be undone if necessary. In a few instances, PC Fixer suggested a fix for a problem that didn’t really exist. On an XP system, for example, the software reported that the Empty Recycle Bin sound wasn’t working, though it in fact was.
Cleanup on Aisle 5
In addition to the Checkup feature, PC Fixer also offers a “Tuneup” which culls your Registry of the various orphaned or otherwise invalid references that inevitably accumulate on a Windows machine after months or years of installing and uninstalling software and hardware.
PC Fixer found hundreds of such items on each of our three PCs, but though billed as a way to enhance performance and stability, the practical impact of this type of Registry cleaning is arguable since it rarely results in noticeable improvements in either area (and it didn’t on any of our systems).
The software also includes a built-in disk defragmenting utility, and it gives you the ability to manually turn on or disable programs that are configured to start with Windows along with Internet Explorer Add-ons (though not Firefox extensions). All PC Fixer does here is consolidate features found various places in Windows, though having everything accessible from one place rather than buried all around the operating system is valuable for novices.
Help From Beyond
If your system suffers from a problem that PC Fixer can't find or fix, DST offers a live technical support option for a flat $19.99 fee per session. The company says its reps are equipped to deal with issues ranging from problems installing or configuring a piece of hardware or software to a virus or spyware infection.
You can initiate support through online chat or a toll-free phone call and, if necessary, the technician can set up remote access in order to view and control your system. You pay for a support session only by PayPal or Google Checkout ‑ the company doesn’t accept credit cards directly.
We tried the live support option on an XP system with a stubborn malware infection that redirected Web searches. We requested support via chat, and upon paying the fee we received a link that let the support rep to view and access our system. As fate would have it, an attempt to restart our system in safe mode for further troubleshooting resulted in blue-screen error, and all further attempts to restart the system in any mode produced the same error, which precluded any further remote access.
Even though DST couldn’t fix our malware problem, we still think its live support is worth trying for a couple of reasons. First, the company promises a full refund if a problem isn’t resolved to your satisfaction ‑ you can request a refund through the PC Fixer software or through a link on the company Web site.
Second, the support rep we dealt with was not only courteous and professional, but also technically competent, something that can’t always be said of technical support personnel these days. Finally, there’s a certain appeal to being able to get support from a third party since it saves you from the uncertainty and potential finger-pointing of trying to figure out who to contact about a problem (Microsoft?, PC maker? software publisher?).
PC Fixer is by no means a panacea for anything that might ail a Windows system (we’re quite sure no such thing exists). But the software is free, and it's a useful diagnostic tool that may very well save you time and trouble of trolling the Web for information about a problem (just don’t accept all the software’s suggestions as dogma). Furthermore, the live support option is worthwhile alternative to getting it from more traditional sources.
Pros: Scans Registry to identify and resolve system problems; live remote technical support available for flat $19.99 fee (with money-back guarantee)
Cons: Utility contains ads; some suggested fixes inadvisable
Joe Moran spent six years as an editor and analyst with Ziff-Davis Publishing and several more as a freelance product reviewer. He's also worked in technology public relations and as a corporate IT manager, and he's currently principal of Neighborhood Techs, a technology service firm in Naples, Fla. He holds several industry certifications, including Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE) and Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA).
This article was first published on SmallBusinessComputing.com.