Review: iolo System Mechanic 10
|Best Price:||$32.95 (save 34%)|
|Platforms:||Windows XP (32/ 64-bit), Windows Vista (32/ 64-bit), Windows 7 (32/ 64-bit)|
|Requirements:||30MB free hard drive space|
The Windows world is packed of PC speedup suites, most of which look exactly the same: they’ll clean the Registry, fix your hard drive, control your startup programs, and that’s about it.
iolo System Mechanic has always stood out, though, by offering more. Much more. Just about every PC maintenance and speedup tool you could imagine, in fact. And a few you probably couldn’t.
So the program can clean your hard drive; locate duplicate files, recommend programs that can be safely uninstalled; help you uninstall any application more thoroughly; and find and delete junk files according to the criteria you specify.
Elsewhere you’ll find an entire library of maintenance utilities: an internet connection optimiser, Registry cleaning and compacting tools, security applets, a privacy suite, problem-solving and disaster recovery options, diagnostic tools, a complete Windows tweaking tool, and more.
And if learning each of these sounds too much like hard work, don’t worry, there’s an alternative. In just one click of the Analyze button System Mechanic will locate and report on many problems that may be affecting your PC; one further click is all it takes to fix them all.
Sounds good, but how does the program behave in practice? We installed System Mechanic 10 on a cluttered test PC, clicked Analyze, and waited to find out.
The program had suggested the “deep analysis” we’d requested might take 5-7 minutes. Actually it took 20, even with us skipping the check for hard drive errors, so you may need to be patient here. (But if you’re in a hurry, you can always run the Quick Scan, which really does take just a couple of minutes, or you can also access individual tools directly: more on that later.)
Eventually a gauge icon did appear, though, highlighting the apparently poor status of our system health, and an accompanying report pointed to 7 problems that System Mechanic claimed were “lowering our system health and security”.
The first to catch our eye was 9GB of “system clutter” that the program said could be safely deleted. Not bad, especially as a rival product found only 5.9GB on the same system – but what were the extra files? Unfortunately the report doesn’t say, and there’s no way to verify what might be deleted, or say “no, I’d rather keep this”. We deleted them later and everything continued working perfectly, but we’d still like more information on what the program was doing.
There was better news with the Registry cleaner, though. It uncovered 1,766 problems, more than three times the number found by CCleaner on the system, and this time we could review every key in question. This showed us that the selections were well chosen, and safe to delete (though we could also have protected individual keys from deletion by simply unchecking a box).
The report next explained that we had “1 dangerous and 3 unnecessary startup items”. Really? Well, no.
System Mechanic claims that a file called WMSvc.exe was “a part of the W32/Rbot-UG network work”, for instance. Which was news to us, as we thought it was a part of our IIS server configuration and not dangerous at all. So we verified the file at Virustotal.com, and no other antivirus engine reported it as a threat.
And the three “unnecessary startup items” included tools to keep Java and Adobe Reader updated. It’s vital to install updates as soon as you can, especially when related to something as commonly exploited as PDF files, so we decided to give these tips a miss.
There were better recommendations elsewhere. System Mechanic pointed out that one of our drives was 86% fragmented, for instance; that it hadn’t backed up our Registry, or optimised our internet connection yet.
So while trusting the report’s advice entirely isn’t a good idea, if you take the time (and have the expertise) to evaluate these suggestions then you’ll find plenty of good advice, which should have a positive impact on your PC’s performance.
Or alternatively you can access particular speedup tools directly, and so work on areas where you know your system needs help. We decided to try this next.
Hard drive optimisations
It’s no secret that defragmenting your hard drive can deliver a valuable performance boost. As you use your PC, programs become “misaligned”, with their dependent files scattered all over your hard drive. And so to fix this iolo introduced the new Program Accelerator, which realigns your file system to bring related files back together.
While this sounds fine in principle, we’re not sure how effective it can be. How is System Mechanic going to know what these “related files” are? In some cases they’ll be DLLs or other operating system components that are shared between many apps, and so can’t be relocated.
What’s more, Windows already has a mechanism for coping with these scattered files: prefetching. This allows it to monitor everything an application accesses, and then reads in much of that data in advance, in a more efficient order, to minimise hard drive activity.
Still, it seemed only fair to give the new Program Accelerator a chance, and so we allowed it to “realign” our file system, essentially a custom defrag process that took around 4 hours. But on benchmarking our PC afterwards, we saw very little difference: system boot remained around the same, as did launch times for IE, Microsoft Office, Civilization V and other complex apps that we tested. Only Firefox saw a notable 25% improvement in startup speed, and that may have been in part due to the defrag.
The Program Accelerator didn’t fully deliver for us, then, but fortunately System Mechanic has plenty of other hard drive optimisations available.
The DriveAccelerator defrag tool is fairly basic, but it does offer some useful boot-time options. In a few clicks you can set up the program to defragment system areas like your Registry hives, page file and MFT, something that other tools often forget. And you can even add commonly used files of your own, and have them defragged at every boot, so they’re always delivering the best possible performance.
Drive cleanup tools start with one to handle the basics, cleaning browser caches and temporary file folders. Another locates leftover files according to their extension (*.old, *.tmp, *.bak and so on), which increases the risk of deleting something important, but can also find considerably more junk. And the Duplicate File Inspector does a good job of searching your system for duplicate files that are taking up valuable drive space.
Taken together, these applets located far more redundant file for us than freeware options like CCleaner. Although they’re also more likely to pick on files that you actually need, so you have to pay close attention to the results. Still, they’re a useful way to free up hard drive space, and just one of the ways System Mechanic can help you get more from your system resources.
When you’re looking to speed up your PC then it’s vital to take a close look at the programs you’ve installed, and make there’s none you can do without. And System Mechanic aims to help you out here with the CRUDD Remover, which identifies duplicate programs that can (probably) be safely removed.
We ran this on our test PC, and it pointed out that we had two defrag tools, two browsers (as well as IE), and two PDF readers. We then had the option to either tell System Mechanic that we used all these programs, in which case it wouldn’t highlight them again, or we could uninstall the redundant app and uninstall it at a click. So this is a simple tool, but one that’s genuinely useful, particularly for less experienced users, highlighting programs that are duplicating functionality and making it easy to remove any that you don’t need.
Elsewhere is an Advanced Uninstaller option. You can use this like the Control Panel Uninstall app, simply running the regular uninstall tool for an application. But you can also have System Mechanic try to remove an app, even if it doesn’t have an uninstaller of its own: the program will located related files and folders, shortcuts, Registry keys and more, finally removing them all in a click. This sometimes left data behind in our tests, but it could still be very handy if you’re stuck with programs that you can’t uninstall for whatever reason.
Another plus point here is the Startup Manager, a powerful tool that displays an in-depth list of all the programs and services that are launched when your PC boots.
This fails to reliably identify malicious or unnecessary programs, that’s true. But it’s more useful with Windows services, identifying system-related processes that you really shouldn’t delete.
The applet also lets you search Google for process names in a couple of clicks, helping you figure out what a particular program is doing. And it makes it easy to delete individual startup items, disable them, or just delay their launch for a defined period of time, which helps speed up boot time by reducing demand for your hard drive in the first few startup seconds.
The final notable app-related tool here is the EnergyBooster, which closes unnecessary background programs at a click, to free up system resources when you need them (before playing a demanding game, say). The program made sensible choices on our system, enabling us to free up some 200MB of RAM and reduce CPU utilisation: not spectacular, but enough to be worthwhile, especially if you’ve an underpowered PC.
System Mechanic 10 includes several other performance-related tools.
There’s a full Registry cleaner, for instance. Set this up to run quick, deep or custom scans and it’ll scan your Registry for problems, report on what it finds, and allow you to delete whatever you like of these in just a few clicks.
If you’ve wiped a sizeable amount of data then you may want to run the Registry defragmenter, which compacts the various Registry hives to ensure they require the minimum amount of drive space and RAM.
There are two internet speed optimisers. The first, NetBooster, automatically applies the appropriate settings for your connection, while the second, NetTuner, allows more experienced users to manually tweak MTU, RWIN and various other low-level settings.
And the Memory Mechanic tool performs a few tweaks to defragment and free up memory. We’re not convinced it’s necessary, but the applet is as good as most other memory managers out there. And if you don’t find it useful, then just ignore it – there are plenty of other options here to explore.
We’ve concentrated on the system speeds, but there’s more to System Mechanic than that.
The Security Optimizer, for example, checks your system for security holes – suspect HOSTS file changes, unwise IE settings, potentially dangerous file associations, and more – then offers reasonable advice on how to fix them.
Enable iolo’s System Guard and it’ll prevent programs setting themselves up to run when Windows boots, or making other key system changes, without your knowledge and permission.
And the Process Manager, iolo’s take on Task Manager, also tries to keep yourself safe by highlighting dangerous processes. Only this wasn’t so successful in our case, saying Outlook.exe was dangerous as it was “not the legitimate Microsoft Windows file”. We’re not sure why, and once again, checking VirusTotal.com revealed no-one else saw the file as a threat.
There’s better news in the capable set of privacy tools: the Privacy Cleaner wipes your tracks in Windows, your browsers, and many instant messaging tools; a separate applet securely wipes the files or folders you specify; and you can add Explorer right-click options to delete files, folders, and the contents of the Recycle bin.
Useful system repair tools start with simple items, like fixing broken shortcuts or scanning for and resolving file system problems. And extend right up to allowing the creation of the “Drive Medic Disaster Recovery Console CD”, a simple bootable environment that will fix master boot record and partition problems, getting many broken PCs working again.
And one of favourites utilities, the System Change Tracker, is perhaps the most versatile of all. It can take snapshots of your PC’s state at two moments in time – before and after you’ve installed a program, say – and will then show you exactly which files, folders and Registry keys have changed, essential information whenever you need to know exactly what an application is doing to your PC.
All in one options
There are many ways to access System Mechanic’s tools.
As we’ve explained, you can have the program analyse your PC for problems, then fix them all from the report. Easy, but not necessarily a good idea as its advice isn’t always reliable.
You can also launch tools individually, our preferred option.
The program also comes with some “PowerTools”, though, which combine several actions to save you time.
So the Total Registry Revitalizer, say, will back up the Registry, delete any redundant or invalid keys, then defragment and compact it, all in a simple wizard.
Or you can launch PC TotalCare, and choose a number of cleanup actions that you’d like to perform. In our case we’d avoid “Optimize Windows Startup” or “Fix Security Vulnerabilities”, as some of the advice there was dubious, but we could also run a defrag, repair the Registry, delete temporary Windows files, maybe empty our browser cache, all in a click.
And if you’d rather not have to tell System Mechanic to do anything at all, then you can always turn on its automated ActiveCare system. Simply specify whatever tasks you feel the program can handle on its own – defragging your hard drive, repairing broken shortcuts, cleaning the Registry, whatever it might be – and System Mechanic will work on them in the background, when your PC is idle.
There’s something here for everyone, then. And if there are some optimisations that you’re not keen on – you’re wary of Registry cleaning, say, or don’t think memory managers are worthwhile – then you don’t have to use them, even in the automated tools. System Mechanic can easily be tweaked to work in any way you’d like.
System Mechanic 10 is an excellent tool, with a few problems.
In particular, it twice incorrectly identified legitimate programs as malicious. And it highlighted our Adobe Reader and Java update applets as “unnecessary”, recommending we removed them: not good for our system security.
But on the other hand, the program also warned us about this in advance. And so as long as you pay attention to its recommendation in these areas – not difficult, it only named four potentially unnecessary startup programs in total – and also have the PC knowledge to know that disabling updates is a bad idea, then you won’t be caught out.
And there’s no doubt that System Mechanic has a lot to recommend it.
It does an excellent job of finding hard drive clutter, for instance. There’s a capable Registry cleaner; some worthwhile privacy tools; a small but effective disaster recovery boot CD. And the EnergyBooster module is a simple way to free up RAM right now, by temporarily closing unneeded background programs.
And there’s also real depth here. The startup program manager isn’t just some feeble identikit version of MSCONFIG, like so many of its competitors in other suites, for example: it’s a powerful utility that could be successful even as a stand-alone application. And you could say the same for many of the other individual tools.
Overall, then, as long as you’ve the PC experience to manage this power, System Mechanic 10 comes highly recommended. It’s packed with useful tweaks and optimisations, and just might be the only system speedup and PC management suite that you ever need.