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iolo System Mechanic 7 - Feature-Packed Suite of Power Tools

written by: Paul Pardi•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 5/15/2009
4

iolo System Mechanic 7 is one of the best system utilities for Windows XP I have tested. It's solid, easy to use, and comes packed with features that are both functional and very helpful.

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    Introduction

    The modern automobile would amaze someone like Henry Ford probably to the point of disbelief. The marvels of modern engineering not only transport humans safely and comfortably but they're constantly improving self-diagnostics and in some cases, even repair. Some models of luxury cars will attempt to fill a tire in the event of pressure loss. Many vehicles now offer traction control, which involves various computers detecting wheel slippage and compensating by adjusting which tire spins and at what rate in order to better control traction. The Lexus LS with "Park Assist" takes the pain out of parallel parking by doing it for you.

    Even with all this technology, the auto mechanic is not only still needed but probably more relevant than ever. The problem with all this technology is that the more advanced the car becomes, the more dramatic and costly the repairs that are needed. It reminds me of the old adage, "To err is human. To really foul things up requires a computer."

    PCs tend to be in the same boat. Operating systems have certainly gotten more advanced over the decades but those advances come at a price. There are more nooks and crannies for problems to hide. Some problems are merely annoying such as a slow system. Others can be dramatic and cause work-stoppages, such as with a bad hard disk or a virus. iolo System Mechanic 7 is designed to deal with all types of potential computer problems, be they merely annoying or downright destructive. It comes chock full of utilities that deal with everything from spyware to fragmented disks and it's wrapped in a highly usable interface.

    Are these utilities useful or just flashy? In this review I take a look at many of the tools iolo System Mechanic 7 has to offer and evaluate whether they're worth putting on your computer.

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    Price to Value

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot:

    At just under $50, iolo System Mechanic 7 requires a commitment on the part of the user. Most people won't shell out that kind of money on something they would maybe use. But for the money, it will be hard to find a more useful or solid utility suite. In my opinion, iolo System Mechanic 7 is worth the money mainly because of its large suite of high-performance tools.

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    Installation & Setup

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot:

    The iolo System Mechanic 7 installer seeks and downloads updates upon launching to guarantee you the latest version. The installer asks for the internet connection speed of the PC on which the product is being installed which I found a bit odd. I discovered later why the tool asked for this although I thought it should be able to determine the speed automatically.

    [systemmechanic_install_email_reports.JPG]

    The installer wrote about 17 Mb to the hard disk and created around 54 registry keys. iolo System Mechanic 7 could not be uninstalled by re-running the setup package and required a trip to Add/Remove Programs. Uninstallation also required a reboot. The uninstaller removed all but 2Mb of data from the disk and left all but 12 registry keys.

    [systemmechanic_install_connection_speed.JPG]One feature did catch my attention. Towards the end of the installation, the installer asked me if I wanted regular reports emailed to me. The reports would contain information about my system status and make recommendations about how I can optimize my system (or so the dialog box said). One unfortunate aspect of processes that run in the background is that they run in the background. Unless a user checks the application regularly (or the application produces annoying dialog boxes that you find on your desktop in the morning), the improvements or fixes that the tools performed are hidden. Iolo's clever solution is to send the user email. Therefore, the data is in a place that is both easy to find and manage.

    What's Not:

    Not much to dislike here other than the inordinate number of dialog boxes you have to click through to get to the iolo System Mechanic 7 goodness.

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    User Interface

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot:

    Overall, the iolo System Mechanic 7 user interface is responsive, clear, and friendly. What impressed me the most was the type and amount of data it presents without overwhelming or confusing me. The interface includes "quick glance" items that provides the overall system health and security health using images and clear, colorful text. It does not uses pages or screens to show information or to change settings. It uses a build model where users are expected to click buttons or tabs to expose the information needed.

    The UI also uses a frame for all content that lives within the main dialog box. This means that Iolo was able to put all the content in one dialog box. It also means that the System Mechanic interface is "long" and in order to get at much of the UI, you'll have to use a vertical scrollbar. This isn't really to big of a usability issue though since most users, I expect, do so daily when browsing the web. I actually prefer this approach to the multi-window approach because I know everything I need to see is in front of me.

    While some users may find the constant collapsing and expanding of lists, boxes, and buttons annoying, I found it highly usable and actually rather liked it.

    [systemmechanic_ui_main.JPG]

    What's Not:

    I found only one minor irritation with the UI of iolo System Mechanic 7. The main feature categories (listed under the "I want to . . ." tab), supports eight buttons that, when clicked, expand to show the user the options for that category. When a button is clicked, the previous category that was open closes and the selected category is expanded. In order to signify which category is selected, the button for that category turns blue (on my computer). System Mechanic 7 also changes a title bar at the top of the content area with exactly the same name as the button. The problem is that the title bar looks almost like the button that was just clicked. Therefore, it appears that there are now two buttons for that one category. Until I figured out what was going on, I couldn't understand why I had two buttons for the same option.

    [systemmechanic_ui_buttonconfusion.JPG]

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    Product Features

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot:

    iolo System Mechanic 7 is feature-rich offering important and, in some cases, unique "tweaking" tools and processes. In addition to the quick scan and repair options (see the section "Analyze and Repair" in this review), the tool offers a full suite of applications designed to keep your system running pristinely. There are seven main categories of improvements each containing a varying number of individual tools. The categories are: Complete Optimization, Increase Performance, Enhance Protection, Free Up Drive Space, Repair Problems, Ensure Personal Privacy, Manage System Configuration, and Perform Diagnostics.

    While many of the tools included in iolo System Mechanic 7 are what would call "standard" or typical (by which I mean they are tools that can be found in many tune up or tweaking tools), some are innovative and unique. For example, the suite contains a defragmentation tool, it also includes a boot-time defragmenter (which will defrag specific files on your hard disk each time the system reboots) and a "right-click" defragmenter which will allow the user to defrag any file on demand.

    [systemmechanic_file_relocator.JPG]

    Some tools wrap what appears to be Windows system tools. System Mechanic's "Disk Medic" is an example. The tool will scan your hard disk for file system problems as well as problems with the physical media-both which are available through tools in Windows. System Mechanic wraps these tools in an easy-to-use and mange interface.

    [systemmechanic_dashboard.JPG]

    [systemmechanic_defrag_tools.JPG]Other examples include a tool that will allow users to move installed programs to a different folder or drive and a tool that would find duplicate files. I tried moving an application from one folder to another folder. System Mechanic 7 did a complete search of the registry, shortcuts, and file system looking for any signs of the application in question. This, however took some time (greater than 2 hours for a simple application) but when the process completed the application launched with no problems. The tool gives users the option to move applications like Internet Explorer but this writer recommends against it. [systemmechanic_disk_medic.JPG]iolo System Mechanic 7 also provides as very nice dashboard for monitoring things like antivirus and firewall settings and, more importantly, improvements made by System Mechanic. The dashboard displays things like version information, the amount of space freed by System Mechanic and the number of problems it repaired. It will also break down these latter two categories into sub-categories so users can get a quick glance at these data items.

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    Features: Analyze and Repair Tools

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    On first launch, iolo System Mechanic 7 offers to do a "quick system analysis" of the computer and report any issues back to the user. I opted to have the scan done and it took less than a minute overall.

    [systemmechanic_post_scan.JPG]

    Some of the issues System Mechanic found with my system included:

    - Spyware and malware.

    - Broken uninstalls.

    [systemmechanic_reboot_required.JPG]

    At first I was unable to find a "rollback" or undo feature, a shortcoming if one didn't exist. However I discovered SafetyNet which supports this undoing any change System Mechanic has made. This feature appeared to work as expected. I performed an undo on a repair I previously made and re-ran the system scan. The item that was repaired then showed up again in the items needing repair.

    [systemmechanic_first_launch.JPG]The scan showed my system to be in fair health and in critical security shape (largely because I turned off anti-virus scanners and firewalls for some testing when I review a product). It nicely categorizes the problems into "critical problems" and "warnings." It automatically selects the critical problems for repair and leaves it to you to look over the warnings. The problems can be repaired individually or you can choose to repair all selected items with a single button. System Mechanic 7 also provides a time estimate for each repair so you can estimate how long your computer will be tied up. - Registry problems which included bad entries and the need to be compacted.- Low memory (which it claims it can repair by "defragmenting" the system memory).I chose to run the repairs independently to get a better feel for how they work and to validate the time estimates. I first ran the repair task of removing system "clutter." The task finished in the range specified by the report. However, after the repair was finished, a reboot was required. [systemmechanic_safety_net.JPG]

    What's Not:

    When the system returned from a reboot, iolo System Mechanic 7 did not restart where it left off so I had to relaunch the product to pick up my repair work. Relaunching System Mechanic 7 took me back to the report page which had all the information it contained when I rebooted. As I worked through the repair options, System Mechanic 7 did its work without providing insight into exactly what it was removing or changing. It did tell me how far through the process it was but it didn't inform me exactly what it was touching. Some users may appreciate this but I tend to want to know what exactly a tool is touching in case I need to roll back or modify something the tool changed.

    Some items that System Mechanic wanted to "repair" were so ambiguous that I was unsure whether I should let the tool modify my computer. I found the lack of detailed descriptions for some of these items unfortunate. One example was the warning that my "internet connection was not optimized for maximum speed." The descriptive text claimed that the repair would use "Net Booster" which "optimizes various settings to soot your type of Internet connection. Adapting these settings boosted Web download rates and improves overall Internet speed and stability." While this sounds great, it would be helpful to know what type of settings are being adjusted and whether Net Booster is a process or an application that runs in the background. The help file didn't provide much more information.

    One final annoyance has to do with the way the tool manages reboots. In performing seven repairs (both critical and warnings), I was told to reboot four separate times. The dialog box that told me to reboot stated that the system had to be reboot in order for other repairs to be done. While I expect that I could have rebooted once at the end of all the repairs, the dialog was not clear and given that the tool was touching critical aspects of my compute

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    Help & Support

    Rating AverageWhat's Hot:

    The iolo System Mechanic 7 help system (which is a standard CHM help file) is thorough and well done.

    What's Not:

    The tool lacks context-sensitive help.

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    Images

    Information DashboardDefragmenterDisk MedicProgram relocaterOn first launchInstall connectionEmail system reportsPost scan informationReboot requiredRepair messageSafetyNet undoButton confusionUI Main
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    Suggested Features

    A bandwidth speed checker.

    A network/wifi tool to tweak settings or expose information about the network.

    The ability to perform some of the repairs on computers on small, home networks.

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    Conclusion

    iolo System Mechanic 7 is a both a pleasure to use as well as a powerful suite of tools for your PC. It has a small disk footprint but packs a lot into that small space. I was struck by the level of information thatt iolo System Mechanic 7 provides about the state of my machine and was pleased to see that the tool actually gives itself a grade of sorts by showing the user what it has accomplished. There's little to complain about with iolo System Mechanic 7. I highly recommend it.
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    Related Products

    Tune-up Utilities, CFI ShellToys, Registry First Aid, Systweak Boost XP