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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
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.
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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Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.