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Review: System Mechanic performance maintenance

System Mechanic is an easy-to-use, well thought-out tool that combines a variety of performance tweaks and fixes into one automated package.

System Mechanic is an easy-to-use, well thought-out tool that combines a variety of performance tweaks and fixes into one automated package.

Note: This review was performed based on a review copy provided to TechRepublic by the vendor.

Specifications

  • Product: System Mechanic
  • Company: iolo technologies, LLC
  • OS Requirements: Windows XP, Vista, or 7 (32-bit or 64-bit)
  • Hardware Requirements: 25MB drive space, 256MB RAM, 400MHz CPU, IE6+
  • Pricing: $49.95 for application + 1 year service plan, $29.95/year for service plan after that (discounts available for longer subscriptions)
  • Additional Information: Product Web site

Who's it for?

Desktop technicians who are faced with users complaining about system slowness can save a ton of time by using System Mechanic. Power users and enthusiasts will also appreciate it. The typical home user could save money by using System Mechanic before taking it to their local repair shop for performance issues.

What problems does it solve?

Everyone who has had a PC for a while knows that it always seems to slow down over time. Hunting down the causes of these slowdowns can be quite time consuming when done by hand, and not all of the fixes can be performed manually. System Mechanic is a one-stop shop for the routine performance improvements that keep a system running in tip-top shape, and along the way it can handle a number of security items too.

Standout features

  • Comprehensive: System Mechanic combines a wide variety of well-known fixes (clearing temporary files, careful inspection of startup items, etc.) into one consolidated package so you do not overlook anything. It also includes a number of things that require specialized tools (such as registry defragmentation).
  • Automated: You can set System Mechanic to a "set it and forget it" style of operation and let it handle things in the background for you.
  • Centralized Management: The SMB edition provides for centralized deployment and management.

What's wrong?

  • Not 100% accurate: On my test system, it reported that I lacked anti-malware software, even though Microsoft Security Essentials is installed. Likewise, it complained that 49% of my 12GB of RAM were in use, even though it is Windows 7 and Vista's habit to pre-allocate RAM for common tasks, so I feel that the warning was a little premature. It called my trusted sites "security vulnerabilities." It also disliked that .vb files were "executable" as a security risk, when in reality, .vb files do not execute on my system, because they are only opened in Visual Studio.
  • Results without details in dashboard: The initial scan takes 5 - 10 minutes and tells you a brief overview of the problems found. But if you want the details, you need to run the wizard for that performance item and re-perform the scan. Even then, details were hard to come by; a disk scan showed a problem with my drive, but the only time the errors were shown was when the scan showed them as it was being performed, when the scan was done there was no indication of what was wrong or what fix was needed.
  • Some fixes of dubious value: Some of the fixes work backwards; for example, clearing my browser's cache will actually slow down my Web browser, although it will save a bit of drive space. It also wanted to disable Acrobat Reader's automatic updates, even though Acrobat is one of the most exploited applications out there, and disabling its updates would create a massive security hole. Finally, it suggested disabling a variety of "unnecessary" startup items which were actually quite important to the proper or intended operation of my system (Quicken's automatic downloads, parts of IIS that I use for development, MSN Messenger).

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

Before I discuss the issues I had, I want to make something clear: my test PC is a system used to develop software, and as a result its application loadout and configuration is going to be a bit different from the average user's.

My biggest concern with the product was the inaccuracy of its suggestions. If I had allowed System Mechanic to repair the "problems" it found on my system without my hands-on inspection first, parts of my PC would no longer work right (Quicken, some development tools, MSN Messenger), I would have two major security problems (Java and Acrobat Reader no longer being updated), and I would lose my old file archive (I deliberately never empty my Recycle Bin).

Some of these, I was not terribly surprised about (for example, parts of IIS being enabled are indeed a security problem on the typical desktop) but some were surprising (calling MSN Messenger, the Acrobat Reader updater, and Quicken's synchronizer "unnecessary"). For this particular system, I would never let System Mechanic run in an automated mode, and I would be cautious about allowing much of its functionality to run in an automated form on a typical business or consumer machine as well.

That being said, System Mechanic has the potential to save busy people a ton of time, without a doubt. Even though I personally feel that it requires supervision, it still uncovered a few problems that I normally never would have discovered on my own. It also has a set of tools to do things that I simply cannot do on my own, or I would not bother to do without a tool like this. Some examples of these tasks are registry backup (I just backup the entire system), defragmentation of the registry, hard drive scanning, checking for broken shortcuts, and RAM defragmentation. I think that even with System Mechanic's accuracy issues, in the hands of a knowledgeable user who is discerning about what they allow it to do, a ton of time can be saved and new life can be breathed into a PC that would otherwise be headed for the scrapheap.

User rating

Have you encountered or used System Mechanic? If so, what do you think? Rate your experience and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. Give your own personal review in the TechRepublic Community Forums or let us know if you think we left anything out in our review.

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About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

17 comments
danmcco
danmcco

I submitted a trouble ticket and was sent a process to fix (KBA-01963) an earlier version of the software. I tried the fix with no change. I uninstalled--rebooted--reinstalled. After two more weeks of hounding them they told me to install newest version. Still no luck. I responded to the support ticket with this information but haven't received any response in over two weeks. I asked for a refund and still no response from Iolo.

Jerry
Jerry

I had System Mechanic on my PC several ago. I stopped using it for whatever reason. My PC has been having performance issues and I remembered that System Mechanic was very good at solving those type of issues. I received an email with an offer to purchase version 9.5 of System Mechanic and get a free upgrade to version 10 when it comes out. I decided to purchase a license with this offer. While I was trying to install System Mechanic, I got this error dialog that said I couldn't install a trial version of System Mechanic over a valid licensed version of System Mechanic. I did not have System Mechanic installed on my system so I did not understand what was going on with this error. It aborts the install so I did not have System Mechanic on my system. I talked to their support group on the phone. The first call I made, the support agent got on my system remotely and noted how slow it was running and how many errors it had experienced from the logs. I told him that was why I had purchased a license and tried to install System Mechanic. I had had good luck with it in the past. But it won't do me any good unless I can install it. Instead of helping me get System Mechanic, he tried to get me to purchase this extra support program from iolo where they would get on my PC remotely and clean it up and get it running smoothly. That was not the support that I wanted, I wanted to install the application to do some of that automatically. I aborted that call. The support agent gave me another phone number I could call to get help. I called that number the next day and did get a good agent that seemed to know a solution to my problem installing System Mechanic. He emailed a link to a support page on their web site that had instructions for doing the install with some command line switches that should allow the install to continue. I was able to install System Mechanic then. It did go through and do the analysis and "fix" my system. I ran into the same issues as the reviewer here did. I could not see what problems it had found during the scan. Previous versions of System Mechanic that I have used would do this. So I was starting to get a bit worried right off the bat. I let it go ahead and do it's recommended fixes. I also experienced some of the same issues. It removed some of my start up items that I really need. My HP printer has some items that are in the start up and it removed them, also, it apparently removed some registry items that my HP software uses. My system wants to re-install some of my HP printer apps each time I boot the system even though the apps are installed and seem to work fine. I noticed that when I go to the "About" window in System Mechanic, it says that it is "UNREGISTERED" even though I did purchase a license. The install never asked me to enter my license information using the command line switches that I was forced to use in order to install the app. There is no way to enter the license information after the fact. Most applications will provide a menu item under "Help" to enter license info it you haven't already done so. This is good for trial versions where you try an application and decide you like it and purchase a license after you have tried it. Not with System Mechanic. I have been working with their support group for about a month now trying to get System Mechanic installed as a licensed version. I'm about to ask for my money back. It looks like iolo took a good system analysis tool and has removed several of the best features. I am waiting for another response from iolo support on this issue. They have had me disable anti-virus and then install System Mechanic but it still won't work. I have told them that my development experience would indicate that a program telling me I can't install over a licensed version is more likely in the product itself than in third party software. Hopefully will hear back from support early this week and see what the next step is. I told them to go to the software group with the error dialog. A good software guy should be able to nail this with the error message. The saga continues.....

wysetech2000
wysetech2000

I have used System Mechanic before and i got tired of it "Hosing" my operating system. There are several FREE products out there that are far superior and safer to use.

d_g_l_s
d_g_l_s

This thing locks you into one product and the results it will have even into the future which is iffy. Best to review results and use products that work even if they are individual products working on different areas of system cleanup and performance.

jking
jking

I once had System Mechanic and enjoyed several of its features. After a year was up they wanted me to pay for another year for ongoing definitions, etc. I was interested in using something else. I upgraded my laptop and went to install it on the new system. It would not install. I called support and they mentioned I did not pay for the second year. I said there were many features of the product that did not require definition updates, etc. This includes the defrag, clean up, etc. Why should I have to pay every year for these features? The short of it is that they could not help me unless I was willing the pay the full retail price for the next year. Therefore, I replaced its features with products from companies that don't treat their customers this way. I recommend finding a better company to patronize. It is not difficult.

kathouse45
kathouse45

I used it many years ago but stopped after changing computers. I liked it back in the day but had some problems with it. I was not as computer literate back then as I am now and I messed the computer up by taking something out that System Mechanic said was ok to remove. As long as I watched what I was removing or repairing It worked fine and a lot better than many others on the market. I have missed System Mechanics and was thinking of going back to it again so was interested in what you had to say about it now. I didn't like some of what you said, but no program is full proof and as long as I know what the problems are with it I can work around them. I will think on it some more though before installing it. One of my problems is that I have two computers. A Vista laptop and and XP desktop and I don't like the idea of having to pay twoice for it. Kat

bk1
bk1

A major source of system slowdown that I have found on many computers is the problem Windows has of collecting URL's. These are stored in the registry at ...P3P : History & ...P3P : Domains where several thousand (yes) URL's are stored, & kept in memory for future use. A simple find & delete speeds up a computer dramatically

Justin James
Justin James

Just to be clear, turning off the Acrobat update does not 100% stop Acrobat from updating, it will still check for updates when you start the application. I just feel that asking users to update it right before they are opening a (potentially malicious) file is going to be much less likely to update the application than asking a user on a regular basis. Also, on the RAM usage, to be clear, yes, 49% of RAM was "unavailable" (Windows will say its "used"), but the reality is, 6 GB of RAM was not actually in use, probably about 2 GB was in use by applications and the rest was pre-allocated by Windows. While System Mechanic's view of 49% usage is strictly accurate, it is not as useful as reporting the true usage would be, in terms of making decisions. Doubling the RAM would just lead to a doubling of the pre-allocation. The irony is, the more Windows pre-allocates (causing a "RAM shortage"), the faster is runs because apps do not need to allocate the RAM for commonly loaded items. J.Ja

RB1955
RB1955

i've been using System Mechanic (Pro version) since version 3. One feature in the plus column is that the Pro version has built-in firewall and mal-ware (although I also use other products occasionally as a double-check). Another feature I like is that you can load it onto 3 machines for the same price. I use the same program settings on all 3 machines, so I am fairly sure what is/is-not happening with all the systems. The downside I have is that I have a partitioned drive in my notebook that I only use for system backups, and SMPro can't seem to defragment that drive correctly. In SMPro's defense, other defrag programms have the same problem (?). Another feature is in the Options | ActiveCare tab, where you can set scan times and restrict times when it will not scan, ie., during work hours. As I write this, I timed a Quick Scan (manually initiated), and it ran in less than 2 minutes. One long running part of the program is when it decides to clear System Clutter. This app can sometimes run for more than 20 minutes, but you can still run other programs when it is chugging away in the background.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

Are you currently using a tool to monitor and tweak performance of the PCs you support? Which application suite do you use? Do you recommend it? Are you looking for something better?

joseph.r.piazza
joseph.r.piazza

I bet there is a registry entry or entries from your old previous version....and when you install it picks it up.

HAL 9000
HAL 9000

System Mechanic is a powerful tool and if used incorrectly will do a lot of damage, however if you use it as the maker intended it's very useful. ;) You post kind of reminds me of a customer who had to have Ghost supplied with a new computer. They then proceeded to Ghost a Blank External HDD to the NB and complained that I supplied them with Ghost when they couldn't use it. :D Col

adennya
adennya

P3P is a list of sites blocked by such programs as SpyBot etc. It may not be wise to clear them out.

joseph.r.piazza
joseph.r.piazza

I use System Mechanic 5.0 from 2005-2008...it was a good tool but when they had problems with 6 and 6.5, I decided not to upgrade. But, now there are GOOD, free alternatives, Glary Utilities and Advance System One Care, which duplicates System Mechanic 5.0 functionality. But, yes, I concur, you have to watch it and NEVER let any software, perform it's automaticly. Once it deleted something that made it impossible for me to do Windows updates. That was the only problem I had in 4 years of use. As for your machine, I would NOT do Adobe Update automatically or any other update. Adobe sometimes has a large update file that takes time to download and install. Also, I have an opinion that some updates while closing security holes...do break the application or some parts of Windows....so I never auto-update any piece of software...I just have it notify taht an update is ready for download.

wysetech2000
wysetech2000

I don't use anything to monitor my computers performance. I have 4 pieces of software that i use but only use 2 of them regularly. Piriform CCleaner and Iobit Advanced System Care Pro. If i feel i need more i use KoshyJohn DiskMax and Glary Utilities I seldom have any issues with my computers. They run the same as they did when the operating systems were installed 9 months ago. I do pay for Advanced System Care but they do offer a free version. The others are free to use.

wysetech2000
wysetech2000

That's funny Hal,and i do hear ya but most users are not IT oriented and trust their software to clean and optimize their systems without damaging it. I don't work in IT but i'm not a novice either.

bk1
bk1

I appreciate that, BUT. One computer I saw took literally 2 minutes to close Windows Explorer, as it spent time accessing the HD. The memory was probably used up holding all this P3P info. On deleting these listings normal service was resumed. I have seen it on many computers. Strange that sometimes there are several such sets of entries in the Reg. Then its even slower. Better to get rid periodically & let whatever regenerate them. Good exercise

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