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Good PC Health: iolo System Mechanic 9 (8/2009)
by Douglas Dixon
I'm a big believer in preventive maintenance for PCs. Windows systems just accumulate cruft over time, as the disk fills up with junk files, disk access slows down with files broken into multiple fragments, and more and more applications insert themselves as part of the start-up process to eat up the processor with background tasks. And even when you try to be good and uninstall old applications, they still leave remnants of orphaned files, broken shortcuts, and unneeded entries in the Windows Registry file.
And that's when things are going good ... Even worse, crashes and bugs can cause corrupted files, and malicious attackers can do even more damage through flaws in Windows and applications.
I've been pretty lucky (double-click on a GIF of wood texture), in not having systems get so sick that I needed to wipe the disk and reinstall Windows. My general preventative care has been to periodically run tools like Symantec / Norton WinDoctor (www.symantec.com/norton/systemworks) and CCleaner (freeware, www.ccleaner.com) to clean out the cruft.
More recently, I've been using iolo technologies System Mechanic as an all-in-one approach to keep my PCs under control, with system and security analysis, repair, and optimization (www.iolo.com/system-mechanic/standard).
System Mechanic has been developed over 11 years; iolo reports that it is currently the #1 best selling PC tune-up product in the US, Canada, UK, France, and the Benelux region according to NPD and similar sources, and is used by more than 23 million consumers worldwide on nearly 70 million computers.
System Mechanic version 9, released in July, enhances the tests (especially for Windows 7 and new Internet services), speeds up processing, and adds expanded Tune-up Definitions that are downloaded with product updates to further strengthen the testing. There's also a new EnergyBooster feature to temporarily boost your system performance by shutting down background processes; an integrated Total Registry Revitalizer to clean, compact, repair, and back up the registry; a PC Health Status Gadget for Windows 7 and Vista; and Incinerator features for file and Recycle Bin deletion with DoD security.
Press release 7/09 - System Mechanic Released
New and Improved Features
System Mechanic has some 40 tools to fix, speed-up, and maintain PCs. It organizes these in an integrated console, so you can choose one of the integrated All-in-one Tools to find and fix system issues, or drill down to the Individual Tools to examine specific problems and customize the repairs.
All of these options can be overwhelming, so you can delegate the whole job to System Mechanic, and set up its ActiveCare feature to run periodically in the background to monitor your system status and optionally fix problems. (Unfortunately, there's still no way to turn off ActiveCare, so it insists on scanning my laptop once a day, banging the disk to collect information that I don't need.)
I like to run the full System Analysis from the main Dashboard once a month or so, and then step though the reported problems, especially to fix junk in the registry and to find new pieces of applications installed to run at startup. It also reports possible security vulnerabilities, especially file type associations that could be used by viruses.
I'll also run some of the individual tools after major changes to my system, particularly after uninstalling old applications to clean up before installing new versions. There's a surprising amount of junk left over from old apps, so Repair Registry Problems, Clean PC Clutter, and Repair Broken Shortcuts are particularly useful.
Version 9 also expands System Mechanic for configuring your system, including Windows startup and advanced Windows options, as well as measuring and enhancing your system's performance, including the hard drive, Internet bandwidth, and background programs. It also overlaps with firewall applications with its System Guard option for blocking unwanted programs and Internet pages.
You may never use all the options, but, for example, some of the other interesting tools are Optimize Windows Startup, to suggest removing unnecessary startup programs, Monitor Hard Drive Status, with real-time hardware sensor readings, Measure Internet Download Speed, and Track System Changes, to snapshot system status and compare after changes like installing new applications.
iolo is currently running deals on its website for System Mechanic 9 -- $49.95 list, $39.95 on the website, with annual renewals for $29.95, or $19.95 for a limited time. You don't need multiple copies: one license can be installed on up to three machines. The subscription includes automatic upgrades for all version releases, not only minor upgrades, but also major new versions (like this version 9 for existing users). And iolo provides free, unlimited technical support and customer service.
There's also a System Mechanic Pro 8.5 bundle, for $69.95 list, $49.95 on the website, with $39.95 annual renewal. It includes other iolo tools: iolo AntiVirus, iolo Personal Firewall, DriveScrubber to securely erase data, and Search and Recover to rescue deleted files from hard drives, CD/DVDs, portable devices, and memory cards.
The iolo website has screenshots and videos with more detail, but you can go ahead to download the demo version to try it out -- www.iolo.com/system-mechanic/standard/download.aspx.
The System Mechanic interface is a bit confusing in its desire to serve all types of users -- novice, intermediary, and more advanced.
The main Dashboard provides an overview of your system status, and one-click display and repair of problems. The ActiveCare tab shows options to enable automatic fix-up in the background. And the bottom Reports tab for IntellStatus information on system resources, and the History of recent changes, including the SafetyNet option to undo changes.
So novice users can set up ActiveCare to automatically run and apply fixes, or use the Dashboard to manually review the problems found from the last analysis (or re-run the analysis), and then apply the solutions.
More intermediate users can use the All-in-one Tools tab to perform an entire set of operations on demand. Use the one-click PC TotalCare to run all the tools, or wizards to run each set of tools: PC Accelerator to boost performance, PC Repair to fix problems, PC Cleanup to free up clutter, and PC Security to root out security issues. There's also a new Total Registry Revitalizer to clean and organize the registry.
And advanced users can use the Individual Tools tab to access all the 40-some tools, but organized slightly differently into seven categories (see below).
Most tests provide options to run either Quick or Complete automatic test and repair, or to run a Custom analysis and then manually choose items to repair.
System Mechanic also provides nice visual status reports on system usage and performance, and listings of system elements such as startup programs.