Pros: Foolproof interface; Medley of advanced and set-and-forget options; Thorough scanning; Low performance impact
Cons: Might need to tweak system settings to avoid a crash; Hit-or-miss Repair All function
Verdict: Despite a few hiccups, this PC tune-up software packs a mix of customizable settings and automated options for pros and novices alike.
The last time we reviewed Iolo System Mechanic, it won our Editors' Choice, thanks to its arsenal of thorough tools and its intuitive interface. The newest version, 8.0, is equally robust and easy to use, and now ramps up its set-and-forget features with ActiveCare 2.0. We encountered a few hiccups and had to change some settings, but overall the program improved our notebook's performance.
System Mechanic 8.0 is a geek in newbie's clothing, so to speak. Although it has plenty of customizable settings for advanced users, the interface is simple enough for "set-and-forget" users. The main screen is dominated by a left-hand pane, which includes four major headings: Dashboard, ActiveCare, Tools, and Reports.
From top down, there's a clear progression from basic to advanced tasks. The Dashboard allows for one-click system analysis and displays known problems, ActiveCare contains automated settings for all of the different processes, and Tools allows users to run specific types of scans and repairs (more on that below). Because of this design, a beginner can schedule scans and perform one-click checks and never have to enter the more advanced part of the program.
Customization is generally easy, too. Under the Automated Tasks tab, you'll find a list of all the tasks that can be automated, with descriptions of each and disable/enable toggles. Likewise, when System Mechanic 8.0 delivers a list of problems, you can click Repair All or go one by one, clicking a button to repair them, if you choose. If you close the program after running a scan, the list of problems will conveniently reappear when you relaunch.
Through the ActiveCare tab, you can automate 12 individual tasks with System Mechanic 8.0, which run the gamut from checking for low memory to shortcut repairs and drive fragmentation. Intermediate users can check out the Power Tools section, which divides tasks not into individual processes, but into four major categories: PC Accelerator, PC Repair, PC Cleanup, and PC Security. The Individual Tools tab is more advanced but equally task-oriented. We find this approach intuitive because it allows users to focus on the improvements they want to see in their computer's performance. In the Tools menu, users can choose Increase Performance, Enhance Performance, Free Up Disk Space, Repair Problems, Ensure Personal Privacy, Manage System Configuration, and Perform Diagnostics. Included for each process are a description and a Start button to run it.
Downloading the 25MB System Mechanic 8.0 file took just 54 seconds, and installation took 33 seconds. As for the impact on performance--an old Achilles' heel for security software--other programs on our computer were slower to respond while a scan was running, but only slightly. For example, Skype took 4 seconds to launch on our Acer Aspire 7250 when the scan wasn't running, and 6 to 8 seconds when it was. TurboTax, meanwhile, took 6 seconds to launch without the scan, and 6 to 7 seconds with it active.
As for the results, before we let System Mechanic 8.0 scan and repair our notebook's problems, the system scored 1,737 on PCMark Vantage, a benchmark that measures application performance in Windows Vista. After the scan, it scored 1,946. The notebook took 55 seconds to start up both before and after the scan. One thing's for sure: System Mechanic 8.0 is thorough. While the scan was running, we continued to surf the Web using Firefox 3. After we restarted the computer and searched for problems again, System Mechanic found new ones and told us it was ready to catch any changes we incurred while Web surfing.
Although System Mechanic 8.0 ultimately had a positive impact on our notebook's performance, we initially had some technical issues. The program would search for problems just fine, but every time we clicked Repair All, we got the Blue Screen of Death, meaning the computer had crashed. Iolo suggested that another security program was preventing System Mechanic from running. We don't believe that to be the case, as we had already uninstalled a trial version of Norton Internet Security. It wasn't until we disabled Windows Firewall and Windows Defender that we were able to repair problems without incident.
Later, our scan told us we had hard drive problems, but clicking Repair All (a 5- to 7-minute scan) didn't fix them. We had to go into Tools > Repair Problems > Repair Hard Drive Problems and run a hard drive scan. Then we scheduled a hard drive scan at startup; the scan took at least 30 minutes to complete. Although this was tedious, it did the trick; our hard drive problems were solved.
Iolo System Mechanic 8.0 was on its way to winning another Editors' Choice--until the program started acting up, that is. Out of the box, we were not able to repair all of our system's problems in one fell swoop. We had to tweak our security settings and run a hard drive scan individually, a time-consuming (albeit simple) process. That said, the program is as thorough as the previous version, delivering real performance gains. And the menu system is still easy to get the hang of. Despite some occasional quirks, Iolo System Mechanic 8.0 is a solid choice.
|Software Required OS:||Windows 2000/XP/Vista|
|Required RAM||256MB RAM|