PRODUCT REVIEW

System Mechanic 8.0: Smooth Layout, Rough Start

Putting Iolo Technologies’ System Mechanic 8.0 throughits paces was a long-overdue reunion with an old friend of sorts. Ihad used a much earlier version when it was a different label yearsago. I had forgotten how adept the program’s design was even back thenat rooting out the hundreds of glitches and clutter that fall into thedeep recesses of the Windows operating system.

This latest version has numerous automated features and more extensivediagnostic routines that extend the program’s self-help functionality.For instance, the power tool and individual tool panels give usersoptions to run any of the diagnostic and system tweaking utilities ondemand. Or users can set schedules for regular maintenance, performsome or all tests and take full charge of the operating performance oftheir computers.

The ActiveCare component of the program, which can be turned off,keeps a real-time eye on system performance. It is based on a newtechnology that does not impact system resources. It activates onlywhen the computer’s processor is otherwise idle.

Windows Fixer

Running the Windows architecture for a while is somewhat akin to driving a car. After owning it for a couple of months, you begin to forget that snappy acceleration that you could feel when the car was new. Even the intoxicating smell of a new car’sinterior fades from memory when you sit behind thesteering wheel day after day.

The Windows OS is much like that. The Windows registry gets boggeddown with digital clutter. The hard drive gets sluggish withfragmented clusters from moved and removed data bits and bytes withconstant use. After a while, the bundled Microsoft maintenance tools– Disk Cleanup and Disk Defragmenter — are less effective and arefar too limited in what they can do. So I was pleased to get back thatnew PC peppiness on my workhorse Windows desktop and my go-everywhere-else Windows widescreen laptop.

What makes this latest version of System Mechanic such a good PCtune-up tool is the greater focus it places on optimizing the registryand memory allocation. The Windows registry is the guts of the OS. Itstores critical settings needed by software, hardware and theoperating system itself.

Broken Windows

Therein lies Windows’ Achilles heel. Routine use causesthe registry to fill up with errors and bloat from unused space.Once it gets corrupted or overly large, the computer’s performanceslows down, eventually crashing more often or even locking up with certain programs.

Numerous tune-up solutions I’ve used — both boxed and online services– often fell short of actually fixing problems to such a degree that my computers couldrun like new again. Don’t get me wrong. Remote tune-up services andtechnicians-in-a-box software can be very helpful in maintainingcomputers for users and small businesses with no IT staff. The alternative is spendinghours every few weeks manually running stand-alone programs to cleanthe registry, unclutter the hard drive, and pick the nits out ofobsolete computer settings. Doing this on an office full of computers would constitute a full-time job.

Multi-Purpose Solution

System Mechanic 8.0 offers more options with less guesswork. It issimple enough to use so novices can click Fix All and do other thingswhile the program matches problems to solutions without user responses.More involved users can select from a menu-driven set of responses toignore or fine tune what actions are taken.

With other products, I’m usually I am filled with apprehension as I watch a “please wait”message appear on the screen while the hard drive whirs. Not so as I tested System Mechanic. Being able to select thecorrect measures for each identified problem raised my comfort levelconsiderably.

My experience with testing System Mechanic gave me a level ofconfidence that self-help PC repair and tune-up products rarelyprovide. The result is that I continue to use the product every fewdays to keep Windows from getting out of whack.

First Impression

I installed System Mechanic 8.0 but didn’t run it for several days.When I did run it, a status report screen reported that a system checkdone four hours earlier found 9 problems and 1 warning that wereslowing down system performance on my HP Pavilion laptop. Theprogram’s DriveSense feature provides real-time data about status ofhard drives, including temperature.

The dashboard has a simple, clean look. It shows a round gauge withthree ratings of system overall status, health and security in red,amber and green ranges. Two buttons are displayed: Repair All or ViewProblems. Below this display is a list of each problem with a detailedexplanation and an option to repair all, repair selected or repaireach individual problem.

Included in my laptop’s diagnostic list were reports of hard diskclutter and a warning that the registry was never backed up. SystemMechanic also reported three spyware infections and an unoptimizedInternet connection. Also reported was a need to defrag the systemmemory and five unnecessary startup entries. Each problem had a drop-down menu with specifically targeted choices: ignore,fix, hide or start some other related diagnostic process.

All totaled, the status report found 338 registry problems and 18repairable security problems. It also warned that my Internet SecuritySuite may not have e-mail worm protection enabled. Yet the McAfeeInternet Security suite installed on this computer showed that allprotection levels were engaged when I checked. Clicking the more infobutton brought me to Iolo Technologies’ Web site where a sales pitchwas displayed for the upgraded pro version of System Mechanic thatincluded an Internet Security Suite component. No surprise there!

Initial Faltering

My strong first impressions soon yielded to some unsettlingperformance concerns. I had selected the Fix All option. After 15minutes of the hard drive spinning with no progress showing on theprogress bar, I clicked the cancel option. The program was notresponding. I had to force it to stop and exit.

When I reloaded the program, it reported that the last system scan wasdone five hours earlier, not the four hours first reported. Theprogram was only running for 15 minutes. Since System Mechanic has arollback feature and I had set a Windows System Restore point beforebeginning the test session, I didn’t worry too much about the programdoing any damage. I forged on with the test.

Phase Two

Next, I selected one by one the first three problems displayed andindividually selected the repair option. All seemed to work well. Eachrepair activity showed a swiftly moving progress bar that tookliterally seconds to complete.

When I tried removing the remaining problems with the Fix All option,again the program hung. This time I suspected that the cause of thehangup was the memory defraging process System Mechanic was trying torun. I use a virtual desktop utility that lets me run differentprograms in their own desktop space rather than resizing windows andminimizing displays that get in my way. So I suspected that therunning memory application caused the failed repair. It took sixattempts to kill the System Mechanic’s running status this time.

I exited all virtual desktops and shut down that application when Ire-ran System Mechanic and tried to complete the repairs. The samehang-up occurred. This time I was able to kill the program in one try.

Subsequent reloads of the application continued to reference theprevious system check done five hours earlier. It was only 30 minutesinto the testing process at this point.

Next Step

Even though System Mechanic did not require a system reboot, I didone. Then I ran System Mechanic again, updated the repair listing, andtried again.

With only two of the original repair jobs remaining, the SystemMechanic window disappeared from the desktop display. It showed up asa running application on the Windows XP task bar, but I could notaccess the application’s window on the desktop screen.

Fortunately, 20 minutes later the system sluggishly woke up, and thescreen appeared normally. Meanwhile, I ran the exact same procedures ona desktop PC. There, the diagnosis and repair procedures worked flawlessly.The desktop also had the same virtual desktop configuration. All ofthe repairs completed the first time without incident with the virtualdesktop application running.

System Mechanic loaded on the desktop PC and referenced a system checkoccurring seven hours earlier. I had not yet run the program sinceinstalling it several days prior. The diagnostic scan found similarcombinations of problems found on the laptop minus the e-mail wormsecurity warning. Oddly, both computers had near identicalconfigurations and ran the same Internet security suite.

Different Results

After the required reboot on the desktop PC, the three status dialswere buried in green. But not so on the laptop. There, one problemremained and was lowering the security status. It still showed theInternet Security Suite warning and complained that the registry hadnever been backed up. Yet that process was supposedly done prior tothe system reboot.

When I reloaded System Mechanic on the desktop computer and againattempted to run the registry backup task, the program hung up at 11percent completed. It eventually canceled after I clicked the cancelbutton a few times.

The registry backup issue was no longer listed but was replaced with a49 percent low memory alert. That problem was corrected withoutfurther incident. A rescan showed registry errors which were fixed ona subsequent repair.

Final Results

I have been running System Mechanic on both computers every few dayswithout further incidents. Both computers appear to be performing morevigorously.

Each diagnostic sweep I run every few days produces fewer problemreports. The repair functions have worked fine.

System Mechanic costs US$49.95. Consumers can install the program onthree computers.

It requires Microsoft Windows Vista, XP or 2000.

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