Windows has plenty of built-in tools to keep your PC running smoothly, but finding out what and where they are isn’t as straightforward as it could be.

WinUtilities Free solves that problem by putting a host of common system maintenance tools in one easy-to-use application - and it costs nothing to download and use.

One word of warning, though. Since WinUtilities Free has the potential, however remote, of deleting important files from your PC, it’s worth having a full backup of your data before using it. Read our guide on how to back up Windows 7 safely to find out more.

Check out the video above to find out more.

 

Step 1: Installation

Install the software

WinUtilities Free works with versions of Windows from XP onwards. Click here for a free download.

When the download has finished, run the installer and ignore any offers to subscribe to the WinUtilities newsletter.

 

Step 2: Don’t subscribe

Don’t subscribe

When the program first runs, you may be offered the opportunity to upgrade to the paid-for WinUtilities Pro application — you can ignore this offer and simply close the upgrade window by clicking the ‘X’ at its top-right.

 

Step 3: Main interface

The main interface

WinUtilities Free’s main features appear on its Modules tab, with a list of sections running down the left of the window, such as Optimize and Improve or Privacy and Security.

Click one of the sections to see the options within, or click Full Mode at the bottom-right of the window to see a more comprehensive view that shows all options at once.

 

Step 4: Key tools

Key tools

The tools under Clean Up & Repair are ones worth running on a regular basis, since they remove wanted files from your PC.

Disk Cleaner works in much the same way as Windows’ own Disk Cleanup, while Registry Cleaner fixes and removes entries in the Registry.

Shortcuts Fixer fixes the broken links between applications and their icons, and Uninstall Manager does the same job as Uninstall a program in the Windows Control Panel.

[Related story: 7 easy ways to clean up your PC]

Step 5: Read the small print

Read the small print

Tools that have the potential to inadvertently delete important files start with an explanation of what they do, and allow you to review the files that will be affected before any changes are made to your system.

Select Disk Cleaner, for example, and you’ll be asked to select the drives you want to clean, before WinUtilities Free scans them and presents a list of ‘junk’ files it thinks are safe to delete.

 

Step 6:  Other features

Other features

The Optimise & Improve tab contains a couple of useful tools. Disk Defrag runs 1-Click Maintenance’s own hard drive defragmenter, while BHO Remover lets you browse and remove Internet Explorer add-ons (BHO stands for Browser Helper Objects).

The other three tools aren’t worth using, though. The performance benefits obtainable with Registry Defrag are negligible at best and it’s best to let Windows manage its own memory rather than to use the Memory Optimiser option. StartUp cleaner is more useful, but unless you know what you’re doing when disabling programs that start automatically with Windows, it’s safer to leave it alone.

 

Step 7: History Cleaner

History Cleaner

Under Privacy & Security are tools to clear the history for any or all installed web browsers, which is easier than doing it one at a time.

You can also permanently delete, or ’shred’, a file and recover a deleted file that’s been emptied form the Recycle Bin — but not one that’s been shredded. The Process Security and EXE Protector tools are best avoided, since they can have unexpected effects on Windows.

[Related story: Give your hard drive a health check]

Step 8: Disk Analysis

Disk Analysis

The other tools are mostly self-explanatory and safe to use. Disk Analysis under Files & Folders is particularly useful. It scans your PC’s hard drive and shows the size of its files and folders, which is a great way to see how hard disk space is being used.

 

Step 9: 1-Click Maintenance

1-Click Maintenance

Rather than click several options in succession to clean up a PC, click the 1-Click Maintenance tab and you can perform all the selected options in one go by clicking the Run 1-Click Maintenance button at the bottom of the window.

The default selection of options is worth sticking with, but deselect Clean Internet auto-complete password data if you want to keep any passwords you've saved in your web browser. You might also want to also enable Show a report after 1-Click Maintenance to see what changes were made to your PC when the clean-up is complete.

 

Step 10: Schedule a clean

Schedule a clean

For even greater convenience, you can run 1-Click Maintenance automatically at a set time. Enable Start 1-Click Maintenance at a scheduled time at the bottom of the 1-Click Maintenance tab, then click the default schedule below to change when and how often the maintenance is performed.

A dialog box will then open — click its Schedule tab to make any changes.

 

Step 11: Other automated tasks

Other automated tasks

You can run other 1-Click Maintenance tasks automatically, too. Click the Scheduled Tasks tab and you’ll see options for running the Disk Cleaner, History Cleaner, Registry Cleaner and Disk Defrag to a schedule — you can edit the schedules for each as explained in Step 10.