Microsoft

Lock IT Down: Review of Iolo Technologies' System Mechanic

Add Iolo Technologies System Mechanic to your administrative toolkit


When I first read the press kit for Iolo Technologies' System Mechanic, I was skeptical. Over the past 10 years, I've seen countless products that claimed to do it all and to work across multiple platforms seamlessly. System Mechanic is one of those products that promises 15 feature-packed tools that can be run on any system, from your low-end users’ cranky old Windows 95 system to a completely loaded and tweaked out Windows XP performance PC. While many of the tools are applicable only to NT-based operating systems, this in no way detracts from the overall utility afforded to you by System Mechanic. It took roughly forty-five minutes for me to become not only a believer, but also a major fan of System Mechanic. Let's dive in and take a look at what you can do with System Mechanic.

Why System Mechanic?
Why do you need to invest additional money in a product that simply collects standard tasks into one location? Iolo Technologies addresses just this question early on in its User’s Manual excerpt for System Mechanic. If you need to prove to those above or below you that this type of product is worth the (small) investment, Iolo’s explanation is a good place to start.

 

Note
This review was performed and written on a Windows XP Professional computer. When run on an NT-based system, System Mechanic yields the greatest amount of power to the user, as several of its options are only available on these systems.

Getting started with the System Mechanic
Installing System Mechanic was a simple process. Any system that can run one of the supported operating systems can support an installation of System Mechanic. The only restriction you need to be aware of is that on NT-based systems, the installation of and access to System Mechanic will be limited to users with Administrative privileges.

System Mechanic boasts 15 useful tools in its toolbox. The toolbox is divided into three separate areas: Files, System, and Internet.

File tools
The first group of tools I will examine are those in the Files group, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
The Files group is made up of four tools.


The tools in the Files section are:
  • ·        Find And Remove Junk And Obsolete Files: System Mechanic can search out and remove the myriad of temp files and other junk files littering your system. This is comparable to using the Windows Disk Cleanup utility, but more effective. As a test of the two (System Mechanic's file removal utility and the Disk Cleanup utility), I ran both against one of the volumes on my workstation. Disk Cleanup came back with about 5 MB of junk files. System Mechanic came back with a whopping 48.3 MB of junk files. System Mechanic wins hands-down here. Figure B shows the scan progress for removing junk files.

  • Figure B
    Here is System Mechanic’s scan process for locating junk files for removal.

    • ·        Find And Fix Broken Shortcuts: System Mechanic searches your volumes to locate all broken links. Many freeware and shareware utilities have been created since Windows 95 debuted that offered this functionality, and the need for it still holds true today. On my system, for example, I have to manually remove or rebuild about five percent of the shortcuts on my Start Menu every year. System Mechanic accomplishes this task quickly and with little effort on my part.
    • ·        Find And Remove Duplicate Files: System Mechanic will scan your volumes to locate duplicate files and remove them to free space. I'm not personally a big fan of removing files just because they are duplicates, because Windows 2000 and XP systems routinely keep multiple copies of the same file in several different locations. However, I will admit that this feature still has its place in older Windows operating systems. For example, this feature can help you locate a lost and later duplicated file, or track down different versions of a file that may have been saved in other locations on your computer.
    • ·        Securely Delete Files And Folders: This is perhaps one of the most interesting features provided in System Mechanic, especially for those of us who routinely travel with portable computers bearing sensitive information. Clicking this button opens a new, smaller dialog box prompting you to install the Incinerator, as shown in Figure C. The Incinerator is just what it sounds like: a military- and government-strength file disposal mechanism that promises to write over deleted files up to 10 times (seven or more equals military and government strength). It's pretty safe to say that once you have incinerated something, it's gone forever from your hard drive. Use this feature with care.

    Figure C
    The install dialog box for the Incinerator will guide you through the setup process.


    System tools
    The next group of tools I will examine are those in the System group, as shown in Figure D.

    Figure D
    The System group offers five different tools.

    • ·        Clean System Registry: It’s a well-known fact that the Windows Registry collects junk over time, causing your system to gradually slow down and even become instable in some instances. Sadly, most un-installation routines do not remove their traces from the Registry, so you wind up with a history of every application you have ever installed on your computer sitting in your Registry. I have used Microsoft’s RegClean for some time now with satisfactory results—System Mechanic performed even better than RegClean, so it’s a winner in my book.
    • ·        Windows StartUp Manager: Do you hate restarting a user's computer because you know there are about a dozen applications loading at start up that you're going to have to manually close down? How about those pesky applications that auto-start themselves even though they were not selected to do so during their installation? Sadly, application developers have gotten quite good at placing their programs in various locations to automatically start up each time you start Windows. System Mechanic can search out and then disable or completely remove these auto-start references to allow your computer to start up faster. Figure E shows me connected to another computer over the network and removing one of my least favorite auto-starting applications: RealPlayer.

    Figure E
    Here, System Mechanic is removing pesky auto-starting applications.

  • ·        Customize Windows Settings: This is a really neat collection of tools and configuration options listed under the Customize Windows settings button. As you might expect, you can perform some basic customization, such as changing the Owner and Company name stored in the computer’s Registry (useful if you reassign a computer to another employee without wiping the hard drive from it first). What’s really interesting about this section is you can actually perform some deep-level Group Policy modification and configuration, as shown in Figure F. These options are typically only configurable by using the Group Policy Editor. Be careful when working with the options in this section of System Mechanic—you may just lock yourself out of using something!

  • Figure F
    System Mechanic can act as a deep-level Group Policy editor.

    • ·        Remove Invalid Uninstaller Information: Not too many things irk me more than trying to uninstall an application and finding out that the uninstall link in Add/Remove Programs is invalid. Spending 30 minutes manually locating and deleting an application’s files is not exactly my favorite thing to do on a Saturday afternoon. The other side to that coin is those applications that do uninstall properly, but still leave behind their entry in Add/Remove Programs. System Mechanic aims to clean up your computer by removing these invalid uninstaller links. Your Add/Remove Programs menu will thank you.
    • ·        Safe Installer: System Mechanic offers a standard installation monitoring utility in the Safe Installer. This is not anything new to market, but again it's nice to have it as a tool in this toolbox. The fear of many administrators is installing a new application only to find out that it made changes that were unexpected or untraceable. Safe installer puts you in control by tracking all changes made during application installations. This feature is comparable to Windows XP System Restore function.

    Internet tools
    The last group of tools I will examine are those in the Internet group, as shown in Figure G.

    Figure G
    The Internet tools section consists of two tools.

  • ·        Ensure Your Privacy: System Mechanic provides a very thorough and solid cleanup utility that seeks out and removes browser cache files, cookies, and history files, just to name a few. It can also clean out the Recent Documents listing, the recent files listing in Office suite applications, Windows Media Player, and Real Player—which are designed to keep traces of where you have been and what you are doing. This is something I routinely do on my portable computer when traveling and routinely on my desktop clients, just to keep them clean and running smoothly. Figure H shows The Eraser, System Mechanic's privacy and cleanup tool. It works extremely well, and I was impressed both with its ability to locate files to remove and with the speed at which it worked.

  • Figure H
    The Eraser was very effective at its job.

  • ·        Optimize Internet and Network Speed: System Mechanic is not the first application to bring this sort of tweaking capability to the user, but it is the first I've seen that does it this well. You can test your network speed against various-size downloads, then make changes as required. System Mechanic can automatically make the changes for you, or you can manually make them yourself if you want. Either way, it is likely that System Mechanic can and will find a way to squeeze just a little more speed out of your Internet.

  • Tool roundup
    So far I have only covered 11 tools. That leaves these last four items from System Mechanic:
  • ·        Scheduled Maintenance: Set it and forget it. That’s the administrator’s goal in the world of Windows. System Mechanic provides the Scheduled Maintenance utility, shown in Figure I, that allows you to schedule the performance of its tools to keep your system healthy and clean on a routine basis.

  • Figure I
    Scheduled Maintenance is always a good idea.

    • ·        Maintenance Wizard: The Maintenance Wizard walks you through a quick and easy process to configure several important maintenance tasks for automatic completion on your system. Think of this tool as the easier, but less capable, version of the Scheduled Maintenance utility mentioned above.
    • ·        Tool Action Logs And System Statistics: System Mechanic keeps a full set of logs and statistics on its actions and tests. You can look back at this information to keep track of what System Mechanic has done to your computer.
    • ·        Iolo WebUpdate – This works just like Windows Update or Norton LiveUpdate to keep your registered copy of System Mechanic up to date as new versions are released. It works very quickly and is easy to use. After putting System Mechanic through its paces on my workstation, I ran the WebUpdate function and downloaded a point upgrade to the application without any problems.

    In the end
    System Mechanic performed above my expectations. Its low entry point of $59.95 per computer quickly decreases to a very affordable price. For example if you buy 10 licenses, it will set you back only $399.95, a savings of 33 percent. What’s even better than affordable licensing is the fact that Iolo Technologies offers the Mobile Toolkit volume that can be run completely from a CD-ROM to allow for the maintenance on any computer without the need to install the application. In a networked environment, this can be taken one step further, with support personnel running the application from a networked CD-ROM drive.

    I found System Mechanic to be a well-constructed application and one that I will definitely include in my own administrative toolkit. While it is true that many of these tasks can be accomplished in other ways (often natively within Windows), I personally want to work smarter, not harder—and System Mechanic makes that a reality.

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