OK, before we begin the list of tweaking tools, I'd like to make a few statements.
- I don't consider this list the "Ultimate" list of free XP and Vista tweaking applications as a considerable amount of browsing will turn up lots more; these are the ones that seem to be most popular and most trusted (and that I have downloaded and used to some degree on my own systems).
- Free doesn't always mean good or useful. There are a growing number of free XP and Vista tweaking tools that actually are seeded with malware, or don't work as promised. Be careful! Same goes for non-free utilities. They may be able to do a lot more for a moderate sum. Consider your needs carefully.
- You probably don't really even need to use all these. One or two good and targeted tweaking programs will likely do the job. The majority of tweaks I make on my XP and Vista systems can be accomplished with a few specialized tools or registry changes. That's it. These all just make that process a bit simpler.
- Tweaking doesn't always result in improved system performance; in some cases it can make things worse. I always am a bit jaded and treat "enhanced-performance" tweakers like "snake-oil", fun to look at and entertaining, but may not be the best medicine on the pharmacy shelf. If tweak you must, tweak be on your own head.
- The tweaking tools I think are "best" are those that I can run and use without "installing" into the system. The less core system modification changes that are required to apply and support a tweak state, the better. IMHO.
- As you will soon find once you get into the tweaking-game, many tweaking applications have a lot of overlap when it comes to tweaking features supported.
- I may have included a few "repair" tools in the tweak-list as I have found they are good and can provide a easy way to restore some system settings when a system is damaged by malware or accidental tweaks.
- Many are "portable" and will run off a USB stick, either out of the box or with a few little bits of modifications. This can be handy when you use them to make system changes on a client machine and not your own. Some demand to be fully installed on the system to work properly.
Standard tweaking warning applies: Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!
Use any and all at your own risk of causing system-wide mayhem, destruction, mass hysteria, and calls to your favorite tech-support guy with promises of pizza and beer for repair-work!
The BIG List of Free Windows Tweakers
(Note: List presented in alphabetical order.)
- AutoMz Ultimate Tweaker - (freeware) - Claims to automagically apply the best tweaking values for your system's performance, including scan engines, cpu, hard-drive, memory, graphics card, cd/dvd, modem, network, boot-files and registry optimizations, and other services. (XP)
- Dial-a-fix - (freeware) - File this in the "Damn I wish I knew of this sooner" category. This clever little tool is a collection of scripted fixes for common and frustrating Windows system issues. It may be able to repair Windows Update errors and Automatic Update problems, MSI issues, SSL, HTTPS, and cryptography service issues, COM/ActiveX issues, missing registry entries, and quite a few more problems as well. (Win 98 - XP)
- EasyBCD 1.6 - (freeware) - Hard-core NeoSmart tool that is definitely NOT for "average" Vista users. Allows advanced Vista users/tweakers to set up, configure, and tweak the Windows Vista bootloader. Here are direct links to the EasyBCD Screenshots Gallery and Documentation. (Vista)
- EnhanceMyVista Free - (freeware/$) - Very interesting product. Nice GUI for handling the complex number of options loaded in this utility. Seems to merge several system utilities and tweaking features into a single product. Available in both a free and "pro" version. Lots of good screenshots on the product page. (Vista) See also EnhanceMyVista Pro and EnhanceMyXP Pro . (Vista)
- Fresh UI - (freeware) - From Freshdevices. Allows some interface changes, optimizes some system and hardware settings, customize some Windows application settings. Control user accounts with policies. I've used a few of Freshdevices products and am very pleased. Yes you do have to "register" via an email address to get your "unlock" keys, but while I do get regular emails from them, it's not at a level I would consider "spam or bacon". You can opt-out of the mailings once you get the keys, though I never have. (Win 9x through XP)
- Game XP - (freeware) - Claims to optimize the performance settings for your system for gamers. Works by disabling some "non-critical" services, and changing cache settings and CPU priority. Changes made can be restored to the previous state. Not for everyone. (Win 98 - XP)
- Glary Utilities - (freeware) - While a bit thinner than many other in this list in the "tweaking" department, Glary Utilities does provide a nice user-friendly interface to allow you to Clean Up & Repair elements of your Windows system, Optimize & Improve Windows features, make changes to Privacy & Security, make changes to Files and Folder" settings, and includes a few System Tools. These include a registry cleaner, shortcuts fixer, startup manager, temp-file cleaner, "tracks" eraser, spyware remover, memory optimizer, context-menu manager, secure file shredder, file un-deleter, file encrypter/decrypter, duplicate file finder, empty folder finder, file splitter/joiner, process manager, IE fixer, and quick-link to some Windows tools. Heavy in the utility department. (Win 98 - Vista)
- Microsoft Tweakomatic 1.0 - (freeware) - It is very hard to explain just what Microsoft's "Tweakomatic" is or does, or even who really needs it. Best left to administrators who want to tweak remote systems, it uses WMI scripts to apply to remote systems. I suppose you could run the scripts on the local systems one at a time as well... (2000, XP, Server 2003)
- Mz Ultimate Tweaker - (freeware) - Claims to provide powerful speed tweaks for Windows XP with in-depth help file explaining all the tweaks. Features include: "Performance Tweaks, System Tweaks, Service Tweaks, Visual Tweaks, Internet Booster, Internet Explorer Tweaks, Windows Media Player Tweaks, One-Click Tweaks, Fast Disk Cleaner, Registry Optimizer, StartUp Manager, Services Manager, and Backup - Restore Service". (XP)
- MZ Vista Force - (freeware) - Requires .Net 2.0 installed to run. The GUI for this application seems a bit heavy on eye-candy...but is an improvement over the XP version's interface. It allows you to make performance adjustments, "hidden" OS settings, optimize/tune your Internet connection values, manage your startup items, manage some Windows services, backup/restore your Vista registry and execute the System Restore Service, and (this is the real value) comes with concise documentation for each tweak element to help you decide if that is a change you want to try. (XP)
- Pitaschio - (freeware) - Cute and handy tweaking tool. snap windows, keep windows inside the monitor edges, force a window to remain top-most, minimize windows to system tray, set desktop icons to be very small, disable keys, lock mouse and keyboard for cleaning, take mouse and keyboard statistics, figure the age of the moon, control sound volume using mouse wheel, display sound level on the screen, and a few more. Not sure exactly what's compatible; (Win 9x-XP?)
- Safe XP - (freeware) - Nice all-on-one-page tweaking tool to make changes to services, network items, IE, Media Player, MS Office, Start menu, MSN Messenger, and a few miscellaneous items. Also has a one-click "Recommended Settings" button to get you started. Download, unzip and you are good to start tweaking; portable. (Win 98 - XP)
- Stardock LogonStudio - (freeware) - From the developer's description "Stardock LogonStudio allows Windows XP [or Vista] users to edit, change, and apply new logon screens. LogonStudio comes built with a visual editor to make it easy to create your own logons which can then be uploaded to websites to be used by others users" It's a nice and simple way to update the XP or Vista logon screen. Personalization at the first point! (XP/Vista)
- Stardock TweakVista - (freeware/$) - Stardock is beta releasing TweakVista. This one looks really good! From the developer's beta release description:
TweakVista is a utility that enables users to optimize the performance and behavior of Microsoft Windows Vista. The program has been designed to allow both casual, non-technical users to safely use it as well as contain a host of advanced features for power users to dig into the internals of Windows Vista. The feature-packed utility includes features such as:
- Security Handling. Users can now easily and safely adjust the way Windows handles security prompting including the new UAC (User Account Control)
- Memory Optimization. TweakVista knows which start-up services different types of users will typically use and offers recommendations on what services to disable. Users can easily switch between different profiles (including the default) based on their needs to maximize performance and memory use.
- Resource Control. Tweak Vista has several features for keeping an eye on and flagging programs that use excessive amounts of resources (memory, CPU, or system handles) as well as integrating seamlessly with built in hardware diagnostic reports.
- Start-Up Management. TweakVista not only will display and enable users to control what programs are loading on start-up but will identify in plain English what these programs do. Internet integration in the software allows users to comment on these processes within the program to one another.
- Performance Assessments. TweakVista uses the new Windows Vista assessment features to benchmark nearly every aspect of a user’s PC and allow them to submit their results for comparison with other users of similar or upgraded hardware.
- TweakVista.com integration. TweakVista partners the software development skills of Stardock with the on-going tweak expertise of TweakVista.com to provide an on-going live database of helpful tips and tricks for maximizing the Windows Vista experience.
- Startup Program Unblocker - (freeware) - Another very specialized tweaking application for Vista. Normally Vista will prevent you from running a program in startup with administrative permissions (more details in this post). You can work around this by scheduling an application to launch as a "task" at startup under administrative privileges, or you can use this utility to help automate that process in a nice GUI interface. Not needed by most Vista users, but if you do, it is a godsend! (Vista)
- Tweak VI - Vista - (freeware/$) - This product takes a "layered" approach. You can download and use the application for free, or you can upgrade to a "Premium" or "Ultimate" version of the product. for access to the additional features each provides. The basic (free) version allow you to make changes to the desktop, Start Menu, IE, Firefox, hardware, system information, virtual desktops, system folders, mouse handling, Outlook, and shutdown shortcuts. The Premium version adds on some performance optimization utilities as well as network and software/system backup management. The Ultimate version includes those as well as system optimization, folder stats, folder icon tool and protector, pagefile tweaks, virtual drives, service manager, application restrictions, UAC tweaks and removable drive restrictions. (Vista)
- Tweak N' Tune (TNT) - (freeware) - It is a shame that the Acelogix Software page is so spare. There really isn't anything there to entice someone to try this product. No screen-shots, no in-depth feature description. However, after the download, interested tweakers will find a very robust tweaking application. The two-pane, tree-style format is very similar to X-Setup Pro. You will find three major categories of tweaks; "Windows Tweaks", "Security Tweaks", and (Windows) "Software Tweaks." Inside each are broken down into a number of sub-tweak categories that will cover almost every area of your system tweaking needs. What sets this tweaker apart from many in this list is that a very detailed explanation is given as to what exactly will happen with each tweak option. This is very useful to the noobie tweaker. Really clever little application which I like a lot. Not a lot of eye-candy and very nice layout and embedded documentation! (XP)
- Tweak-XP Pro - (trialware/$) - Very full featured tweaker. This one might have enough options to justify the $ for the full version for power-tweakers. Per the developer description, "Activate hundreds of hidden Windows settings, clean your registry, activate system restrictions, block popups, block banner ads, get detailed system information, create a RAM Disc Drive, protect your privacy by cleaning your hard drive, repair zip files, manage TrueType fonts, improve your Internet connection, optimize your CPU, optimize your RAM, and much more ..." (XP)
- TweakUAC (freeware) - This very simple but powerful utility allows folks running under an Administrator-level profile to easily turn off UAC (User Account Control), turn it back on, or keep it running, but suppress the UAC elevation prompt requests. (Vista)
- TweakUI - Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP - (freeware) - I think this is the original system tweaker. It is old but still a great utility to have. I install it on all my Windows XP systems during the initial setup steps. Microsoft doesn't "officially" support it, but it is stable and very safe and easy to use. (XP or Server 2003)
- TweakXP - (trialware/$) - change hundreds of XP registry setting that control appearance, performance, functionality. Lock down control panel items and indicate which applications can and cannot run for various users. Adjust mouse settings, Internet Explorer, desktop elements, the Star menu and toolbars, the control panel, and system security (to name just a few). (XP)
- Vispa - (freeware) - from the developer of xpy. Follows the same tree-style option selection format which I like. Tweak many of the Vista default services, IE behavior, and other security, privacy and performance settings. Very small and easy to use. (Vista).
- Vista Shortcut Manager - (freeware) - Want to tweak the obnoxious shortcut icon in Vista? This is the app for you; remove it, make it very tiny, or change the arrow to another overlay graphic. It's all possible with this l33t application! (Vista)
- Vista Visual Master - (freeware) - Interesting little application for Vista tweaking. Change system settings like the arrows on the shortcut icons, show Windows version on your desktop, or hide all desktop items, enable/disable the Sidebar, force DWM effect and create separate processes for desktop and explorer. Patch your theme so you can use other themes. Change your system icons. Change the boot and logon screens. (Vista)
- VistaTweaker - (freeware) - Straight-forward application with minimal eye-candy. Seven tabs filled with tweaking options to cover modifications to the System, Windows UI, Internet Explorer, Software, Network, Performance, and Miscellaneous settings. What makes this really nice is that the developer has taken the time to display "tweak-tip" descriptions for every tweak available. This can help you decide if this is what you really want to do or not. No installation required. (Vista)
- Vista4Experts - (freeware) - Nice and simple checklist-style tweaker for Vista. allows you to toggle on/off various settings for the security center, UAC, Windows Defender scanning, auto-updates, changing your default IE search provider, start-menu power-button and many, many more. Small, light, and portable. A must for Vista users who want to tweak core settings. (Vista)
- WinBubble - (freeware) - See also these screenshots from SnapFiles. This is simply an amazing tweaking tool. Yes, you can easily and quickly change settings for the Vista Bubble, Ribbon, Mystify, and Aurora screen-savers, but much more than that as well. These include extensive security-related tweaks, general system tweaks, icon tweaks, optimization tweaks, IE tweaks, Miscellaneous tweaks, and various clever tips and tweaks. In addition a button-list of "tools" you can launch are available as well to create your own "Tweaking Toolbox". Simply amazing, This is a must-add to any Vista-tweaker's toolkit. The product webpage is very busy and makes my head hurt, but to their credit, it is rich with information if you can find it. (Vista)
- Windows Sidebar Styler - (freeware) - Allows some easy fine-tuning of the Windows Sidebar and provides extensions to the Windows Sidebar in Vista. Supports custom styles for resizing and customizing how it integrates with other elements. Still being refined but looks pretty handy. (Vista)
- X-Setup Pro - (trialware/$) - Claims to handle tweaks and settings for over 1,900+ settings in Windows. Uses XML formatted "plug-ins" to manage tweaks. The highest level of tweaks are categorized under "Appearance," "Hardware," "Information," "Internet," "Network," "Program Options," "Startup/Shutdown," "System," and "Virtual Paranoia". I'd sub-list in more detail but I don't have enough room on this blog! You can also tweak a number of popular applications for Windows as well if they are found installed on your system. No other tweaking program I know of does this. Not only this, but you can make a "portable" version of the program to use on a BartPE disk and apply changes "offline" to a target system's registry without needing to install the tool on that system. That is amazing! Uses a hierarchal tree style format for organization. I simply cannot list all of the options available. Take a look at this "overview" page for more details. Screenshots page. Supports a bazillion custom "plugins" for specialized applications as well. See also a free older version 6.3) (Win 98 - Vista)
- XdN Tweaker - (freeware) - It doesn't have tons of tweaking options, but does focus on ones that most users may want to attend to. No installation required (but .NET is for XP/2003). Address areas with Vista UAC, Control Panel, Media Player, Right-Click context options, Files and Folder tweaks, File Associations, Start Menu, IE7, Outlook Express/Windows Mail, Misc. Tools, and System Settings. Pretty handy little utility. (Vista and XP/Server 203).
- xp-AntiSpy - (freeware/donationware) - Site in English/German and it looks like the English side is having issues. You can make changes individually or apply one of several "pre-set" profiles. I really like the simple check-list like interface with easily understood status icons. This format really allows you not only to see the current state of these elements, but also be sure you are making the changes you want. Small, light and portable. Clever tool. (XP)
- XP-Config - (freeware) - Four tabs; "Security" (to control logon/logoff, autorun, network, and misc. items), "Performance" (to address boot functions, memory, drive acceleration, and max downloads for IE), "Misc" (to deal with dialog boxes, appearances, device deactivation, and some misc settings), and "Information" about your system. Nice little portable, no-install tweaker. (XP)
- XP Security Console - (freeware/$) - Great little "niche" tweaker to allow you to make changes in XP Home that would use the Group Policy Editor. This tool allows you to selectively make "Group Policy" changes to security settings in both XP Home and XP Pro that you normally wouldn't be able to make. Really cool and handy. (XP)
- xpy - (freeware) - Very tight and tiny tool to change some "privacy" settings in XP including Windows calls home to Microsoft, disabling of questionable services, tweaking IE, tweaking Windows Media Player, removing Windows Messenger, some security and privacy setting tweaks, and some moderate performance tweaks. Presented in a "tree-style" manner with tick-boxes. Also supports restoring system to previous settings. (XP)
If I have left any of your favorites off and you would like to contribute, please feel free to add them in the comments section.
And no, I don't recommend running them all at the same time as I did to get that full-size screen capture as seen in the top image.