Iolo System Mechanic 9.5 Review

by Reads (18,926)
  • Pros

    • Extremely easy to use
    • Shortens boot times
    • Easy to undo changes
  • Cons

    • No major performance boost
    • Major side-effects
    • Not for rookie techs

By Jay Garmon

Iolo System Mechanic 9.5 bills itself as the ultimate all-in-one tune-up utility for your PC. Can it really squeeze more performance out of your system, or is it just another glorified defrag app? We check it out in this review.

Product Overview

Iolo System Mechanic 9.5 combines a disk cleanup tool, security auditor, and automated registry editor into a one-stop utility for your PC. You can clear out junk data, repair broken shortcuts, defragment your hard drive, and deflate a bloated registry in just three or four mouse clicks. That sounds great in principle, but your mileage may vary.

System Mechanic 9.5 is cosmetically unchanged from System Mechanic 8.5, which I reviewed last year. Last time around, System Mechanic failed to impress me, largely because — aside from shaving some seconds off my computer’s boot time — I didn’t see any real benefit from running the cleanup app. My PC’s before-and-after benchmarks were virtually identical, and System Mechanic 8.5’s system cleanup actually had some quirky side-effects (my MS Word spell check stopped working due to a security-related DLL deletion).

These issues have been partially addressed with the newer version of System Mechanic, but not overly so.

Interface and Ease of Use

Iolo System Mechanic 9.5 interfaceSystem Mechanic’s basic interface is very simple: The health of your system is rated on an animated gauge of Poor, Fair, or Good. Click a big, glaring Analyze Now button to get one of two assessments: A Quick Scan, which took about two minutes on our test system, or a Deep Scan, which took about seven minutes. The interface and its simplicity are System Mechanic’s strongest points; my mother could reasonably be expected to figure it out without having to call me for help — this is the highest praise I can muster for any interface.

Iolo System Mechanic 9.5 diagnostic resultsOnce a scan is complete, you can select Repair All, repair only select issues, or launch advanced wizards to repair each problem with a hands-on touch. I appreciate that control freaks (who, me?) can stand watch over a registry compression or removal of processes from Windows start-up, but that the “whatever, just fix it crowd” is equally taken care of.

After a repair is complete, you can also roll back changes using the SafetyNet feature. Each reparation is reversible in the order it occurred, which was my only real complaint. If I tweak the registry and then tweak my start-up folder, I’ll have to undo my start-up changes before I can undo my registry tweaks. This functionality is also present and usable in Windows Safe Mode, which was unfortunately necessary due to an unexpected System Mechanic side effect.

Performance

I tested System Mechanic 9.5 on a classic in-need-of-tune-up PC: My mother’s laptop. This was a two-year-old Dell Inspiron 1520 with a Pentium II 1.46 GHz processor and 2GB of RAM running Windows XP SP3. Not so much as a single disk defrag had ever been run on the unit in its entire operational life, and it was exposed to whatever malware that a misinstalled Webroot client and AOL 9.1 (seriously) would let through. This is exactly the kind of PC you’d expect System Mechanic to be called into clean up. So how did it fare?

Benchmark

Before SM

After SM Quick Scan

After SM Deep Scan

HDD – XP Startup

6.1 MB/s

5.9 MB/s

6.0 MB/s

Physics and 3D

103.6 FPS

107.1 FPS

106.5 FPS

3D – Pixel Shader

42.7 FPS

42.2 FPS

42.7 FPS

Web Page Rendering

2.0 Pages/s

2.0 Pages/s

2.0 Pages/s

File Decryption

40.0 MB/s

40.0 MB/s

40.0 MB/s

Graphics Memory – 64 lines

429.4 FPS

428.4 FPS

433.0 FPS

HDD – General Usage

3.9 MB/s

4.0 MB/s

4.0 MB/s

Audio Compression

1413.5 KB/s

1546.4 KB/s

1547.9 KB/s

Video Encoding

275.6 KB/s

261.1 KB/s

253.8 KB/s

Text edit

94.2 Pages/s

95.5 Pages/s

95.3 Pages/s

Image Decompression

20.2 MPixels/s

20.3 MPixels/s

20.3 MPixels/s

File Compression

3.4 MB/s

3.4 MB/s

3.3 MB/s

File Encryption

19.1 MB/s

19.2 MB/s

19.7 MB/s

HDD – Virus Scan

34.9 MB/s

37.5 MB/s

33.8 MB/s

Memory Latency – Random 16 MB

6.1 MAccesses/s

6.1 MAccesses/s

6.3 MAccesses/s

Boot time

76 seconds

61 seconds

59 seconds

Fair is the right word for it. As you can see from the PCMark benchmarks above, other than a drop in boot time from 76 seconds to 59 seconds, System Mechanic barely had any appreciable impact at all. For all its ease of use, I really wanted System Mechanic to be more effective.

Moreover, the weird post-registry-fix side effects that hosed my MS Word spellchecker last time around returned, this time forcing a copy of Roxio Update Manager into an error loop with every system restart. It was looking for DLLs that weren’t present after the System Mechanic tune-up, and I had to shut down the app with Task Manager to clear it away. The only permanent solution was to reinstall the Roxio utility from CD. This wasn’t a problem for me, but I’m certain it would have baffled my mother and anyone at her tech level.

I appreciate that System Mechanic closed some security holes, clawed back some system memory and hard drive space, and pruned my boot process a bit. I don’t appreciate the clumsy collateral damage. If you get past these initial tune-up quirks, System Mechanic’s persistent ActiveCare utility will keep you clean, but this hurdle is a pain that shouldn’t be necessary. On my own PC, which has been running System Mechanic for eight months, an attempted hard drive bad-sector repair locked my PC into a failed boot loop that required a rollback to undo, and I needed my Windows XP install disk to fix the problem. Again, it didn’t cost me but a day of troubleshooting, but it could have panicked a less experienced user.

Conclusion

System Mechanic is extremely easy to use, almost to a fault. You can run so many consecutive and powerful PC utilities that their combined effect might “over-clean” your system and leave applications — or the PC — running improperly. If you can get past the initial cleanup, the ActiveCare maintenance system will keep you out of trouble. But the potential landmines of the initial System Mechanic tune-up mean that only experienced techies (or people with the phone number of a good geek) should use the application.

Pros

  • Extremely easy to use
  • Shortens boot times
  • Easy to undo changes

Cons

  • No major performance boost
  • Major side-effects
  • Not for rookie techs


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