Iolo System Mechanic 8.5is a Windows registry and disk cleanup tool that is designed to "tune up" your system to run at top speed-without modifying your hardware. It's compatible with both 32- and 64-bit Windows systems, including Vista. So does System Mechanic 8.5 make PC tune-ups pretty easy, or just pretty? We offer a verdict below.
System Mechanic 8.5 combines portions of functionality offered by Windows' native utilities, some security programs, and standard diagnostic tools into a "one stop shopping" interface that is intended to make PC clean-up and maintenance as simple as can be. The promise is to get the most speed possible out of your system with a smart, optimized combination of disk defragmentation, registry consolidation, and various other hard drive and memory cleanups. The goal is faster boot times, more responsive applications, fewer crashes, and maybe even improved security-all without tediously wading through multiple utilities. As is always the case with such combined-function applications, the devil is in the details.
We ran System Mechanic 8.5 against two very different test machines-a six-year-old workhorse home PC that barely met the minimum system requirements for the software, and a brand-spanking-new corporate laptop-to test two different tune-up scenarios. For users trying to breathe new life into old PCs, System Mechanic is a fairly solid choice, provided you're willing to live with a few quirks. For those of your running very customized systems-especially those tuned for specific VPN setups-System Mechanic is still quite viable, provided you don't rely on the default options of the application.
The main test system we threw System Mechanic 8.5 at was a Dell Dimension 2350 desktop with a Pentium 4 2 GHz processor, 256 MB of RAM, and a 30 GB Maxtor hard drive, all running Windows XP Home with Service Pack 3 installed. This just barely met Iolo's minimum requirements to run System Mechanic 8.5. The PC was six years old and had never been subjected to a registry tune-up, though weekly Windows Disk Cleanup sweeps and monthly defrags were part of its maintenance regimen. This is exactly the sort of near-obsolete PC that users might hope to keep running with System Mechanic.
The second test system was a fresh off the line Dell Latitude E6400 laptop with an Intel Core Duo P8400 2.25 GHz, 2 GB of RAM, and a Hitachi 80 GB hard drive running Windows XP SP3 Pro. Though the architecture supports 64 bit, this laptop was running in 32-bit mode. The laptop had also been cleanly imaged by a professional IT department with zero crapware and lots of custom tweaks for the benefit of a corporate VPN environment. If System Mechanic could improve the performance of what is essentially a "clean" system, we would be impressed.
System Mechanic 8.5 installed quickly and easily on both systems (provided we had our registry key handy). Once the process was done, we were offered a tutorial on the new features in version 8.5. Unless you're a veteran System Mechanic user curious about the changes, there's no reason to mess with the "here are our new whiz-bangs" tour.
Once past the tutorial, the application then immediately prompted us to download the latest system updates, all of which took less than two minutes, even on the slower desktop test machine.
INTERFACE & EASE OF USE
System Mechanic 8.5 is quite easy to use-almost to a fault. After the system updates are installed, we were taken to the main Overview screen, which informed us of two key data points: The current condition of our system, and how much time is left on our System Mechanic license.
One click of the Analyze Now button and System Mechanic gives your system a once-over. On the six-year-old PC, this took about eight minutes. The faster laptop required about four minutes. The result was a Status Grade for our system-presented as a cheeky dashboard gauge readout-and an option to enumerate all the detected problems.
In the case of the older desktop, the system status was Poor and the list of problems was extensive, as shown below:
This is the point where System Mechanic separates the causal and cautious PC user from the tune-up tweakers. The default option after analysis is to select Repair All and trust that System Mechanic's assumed repair actions will be in the best interests of your machine. In most cases, this is correct. Should you be so inclined (or obsessive, or paranoid), you can select only certain problems for batch repair, and beyond that you can launch individual repair wizards for each problem and hand-tweak every step of the repair and tune-up process.
Most users will simply choose Repair All, which is what we did on the first go-round on the older desktop.
The initial repair required three system restarts-all prompted, but we had to relaunch System Mechanic after each restart.
During each cycle over, Windows booted into a guided safe-mode twice, one which looked alarmingly like a Blue Screen of Death when it first popped up. The entire process required two hours and 27 minutes on the older system, and it pegged CPU usage at 75% for most of the duration. Web surfing during disk cleanup was not an option.
Comparatively, the entire tune-up process took 28 minutes on the "clean" laptop, and required no restarts.
System Mechanic also offered an IntelliStatus screen under which we could individually examine-and remove-individual programs from Windows' Start-up cycle. All programs were listed as either Necessary, invoked by the System, Dangerous (which the default clean-up removes), Optional, and Unknown.
Clicking on an individual program displayed its catalogue listing from System Mechanic, and offered us the option of removing it from Start-up. This could prove a life-saver if you're dealing with a PC that has years of System Tray overcrowding dragging down its boot cycle.
So, was all the hassle on the older desktop worth it? Yes and no. Anecdotally, the desktop system now "feels" more stable, with fewer lockups and system crashes. Empirically, System Mechanic shaved 42 seconds off of the desktop's boot time, dropping it from 111 seconds to 69 seconds, which is pretty stellar improvement. However, based on all the other basic benchmarks provided by PCMark05, active system performance improvement was either negligible or negative.
More specifically, all the desktop's benchmark improvements likely fell within the margin of error of PCMark's test program, which is to say that System Mechanic didn't really make the system objectively faster. While the maintenance may have extended the life of the hard drive by reducing physical wear caused by fragmented files, that's not much of a reward for two and half hours of tune-ups.
Performance gains on the clean laptop were also negligible, and there was no appreciable change in boot-up time. That was to be expected for an essentially new and pre-tuned system. To System Mechanic's credit, it did not consume more than 40 percent of CPU usage during the laptop cleanup and, excepting the (very brief) defrag period on the laptop, Web surfing and word processing were not unduly hindered.
However, there were a few odd side-effects of the registry cleanup that System Mechanic performed on the desktop, most notably erasing the DLLs that handle spelling and grammar checks in Microsoft Word 2002. While we could have rolled back all the registry checks-System Mechanic offers a save point before every tune-up with its SafetyNet feature-we didn't want to undo the marked boot-time improvements. Thus, we had to reload Word from our MS Office disks-an option that some users, quite frankly, don't always have.
This gets to the heart of System Mechanic's basic drawback. Ninety-five percent of the time, its default actions will benefit your system, but in the case of an older MS Word installation, it removed some necessary file components. Similarly, on the newer laptop, System Mechanic wanted to remove a spate of Web pages from Internet Explorer's Trusted Sites list-because System Mechanic considers any Trusted Site a security risk. These pages were part of a corporate intranet and thus should have been allowed Trusted access to the PC for maintenance and file-sharing purposes. If we had run the default clean-up on the laptop, rather than the item-by-item option, we'd have disabled our own VPN.
In other words, don't use System Mechanic on a work PC, unless your own IT department tells you it's okay. Users with their own highly tweaked network environments may also think twice before letting System Mechanic bulldoze their system into a safe zone.
System Mechanic 8.5 is a solid, easy-to-use, effective PC maintenance tool that makes it simple for the less technically savvy to keep their PCs running at top speed. That said, be prepared for the occasional side-effect of its rather conservative safety assumptions. Power users will get even more out of the system--provided they are willing to cherry-pick which repairs to make and which to decline--based on their particular needs. Everyone should be grateful for the SafetyNet feature, which allows rollbacks to pre-tuned registry settings, in case you find a correction has done more harm than good.
Unless you're boot-time-obsessed or simply paranoid about wearing out your hard drive, System Mechanic may not be a necessary tool for your new PC. Users of older systems may find that System Mechanic does put some new pep into an old rig, but don't expect miracles.
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