Although I’ve tested many Windows cleanup utilities, few have impressed me enough to warrant purchasing them after their trial period expires. So when I first saw System Mechanic from Iolo Technologies at the 2002 Comdex, I was skeptical.

I generally distrust Windows cleanup and maintenance products because I’ve had bad experiences with them in the past. Many such products run constantly in the background, consuming valuable system resources. Others have difficult-to-use interfaces that consist primarily of large popup windows that materialize at the most inopportune moments. Worst of all, a few utilities have actually crashed Windows and gummed it so badly that my only recourse was a complete reformat and reinstall.

System Mechanic, however, has pleasantly surprised me. In the limited amount of testing that I’ve done on System Mechanic, it seems to be stable, nonintrusive, and most importantly, nondestructive. I also found it to be easy to use and effective. This is one package I’ll be keeping.

Loaded with features
I found the System Mechanic console, shown in Figure A, to be well designed and easy to use. The console is divided into three main areas: Files, System, and Internet.

Figure A
This is the main System Mechanic console screen.

Clicking the Files button displays several options dealing with the files on your system. As shown in Figure A, you can find and delete junk and obsolete files, find and fix broken shortcuts, remove duplicate files, and securely delete files and folders.

Clicking the System button displays options that you can use to clean Windows. You can clean the system registry and remove invalid uninstaller information—a very handy feature for those who frequently test software. The System section also contains a Windows Startup Manager and an option for customizing Windows settings.

As you’d probably expect, clicking on the Internet button displays options pertaining to your system’s Internet connection. These options include optimizing Internet and network speed and ensuring your privacy.

Extras make System Mechanic stand out
You probably noticed that I skimmed over System Mechanic’s main features pretty quickly. The reason is that there are dozens of products on the market that do the same things. Where System Mechanic really shines, though, is in the attention to detail that it has placed in all of the other options that aren’t directly related to repairing Windows.

One such feature is the Logs option. By clicking the Logs button shown in Figure A, you can see recent activity logs and find out exactly what System Mechanic has done to your system. I really like this feature because I’ve reviewed similar products that would tell you that they had optimized your system, but wouldn’t give you any proof of what was actually done. Later, when you started having problems, you could only wonder how the product had changed your system.

System Mechanic allows you to perform any of the tasks that I discussed simply by clicking on the appropriate button. However, it also has options for collective maintenance treatments. You can click on the Maintenance Wizard link to perform an interactive maintenance session, or you can use the Scheduled Maintenance button to automate the maintenance process.

System Mechanic’s WebUpdate feature allows you to easily ensure you have the latest patches, fixes, and updates to the software. I like that System Mechanic has a Web update, but what I really like is that if you click the Options link, followed by the Open WebUpdate Options button, there are options that allow you to control WebUpdate.

You can control how often a Web update occurs and whether to connect using a proxy server. Too many products that provide Web update features omit a proxy server option, thus preventing many people from using the Web update feature.

In case you’re wondering about the other options available in the Options section, there aren’t many. The only other options available control how hints and tips are displayed.

How it performed
Since System Mechanic seemed to be a quality product, I got brave and ran the Maintenance Wizard on a Windows XP machine that didn’t have anything wrong with it. As I worked through the wizard, I was impressed with the level of control that System Mechanic gave me over what was cleaned or more importantly, what was left alone. Having such granular control immediately set me at ease.

The machine on which I tested the software was running a dual boot configuration of Windows XP and Windows .NET Server 2003 Beta 2. I feared that System Mechanic would see the Windows .NET files as being unnecessary, and therefore erase them. Luckily, my fears were completely unfounded and System Mechanic left the files alone.

The entire examination and cleanup process took under five minutes. In the end, System Mechanic freed up well over 700 MB of space on my test machine. You can see an excerpt from the comprehensive log file, shown in Figure B.

Figure B
System Mechanic freed up over 700 MB of space on my system.

Get your copy of System Mechanic
System Mechanic is available in two flavors: a retail box version, aimed at consumers, and the System Mechanic Mobile Toolkit, aimed at IT support pros. The System Mechanic Mobile Toolkit does not require installation or an operating system to function. Instead, it runs directly from a CD-ROM and may be used by the licensee on any number of computers.

The retail box version of System Mechanic—designed to run on Windows 9x/Me/NT/2000/XP, with 32 MB of RAM and 5 MB of free hard disk space—costs $59.95. A single license for the System Mechanic Mobile Toolkit is significantly more expensive at $299.95. Iolo does offer a 30-day free trial version of the retail version, and the per unit price decreases with the more copies you buy.