System Mechanic v9 Review

Reviewed by: Mark Goldstein, July 2010
Published by: iolo technologies, LLC
Requires: Windows PC running any version of Windows XP, Vista or 7
MSRP: US$49.95

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System Mechanic is a utility program designed to analyze Windows installations in order to determine where problems have occurred that may be slowing down the hardware and operating system. System Mechanic installs and runs as a background process, monitoring the Windows registry and other components, enabling the utility to track changes which occur as you install or uninstall software, as Windows performs its own updates, and as drive fragmentation and inefficient changes made to the operating system by newly installed software creates errors or anomalies which slow down your PC. System Mechanic is basically a Windows PC maintenance utility which automatically monitor your system, report any problems it finds, and provides an integrated set of repair tools to correct things.


System Mechanic cleans, defragments, & repairs the Windows registry, accelerates booting by turning off unnecessary startup programs and background processes, defragments orphaned RAM, adjusts registry and network configurations to help speed up Internet access, and also performs hard drive defragmentation.

Of all its system optimization functions, System Mechanic's background program, background process and startup program analysis might be the most useful. We don't need three or four (or even more) utility update schedulers running in the background. We don't need Windows background processes used by enterprise networks, so there's no reason they should be running on a home, small office or home-office computer. Then again, if you're nervous about missing a Java update or an Acrobat Reader update or a Flash update, leave each background updater running. System Mechanic gives you the option to do things automatically or consult you first. Either way, the functionality is sensible and the whole thing seems to work well.


Use and Testing

We tested and reviewed System Mechanic on half a dozen Windows 7, XP and Vista machines running a variety of Intel and AMD processors. None of the machines were fully up-to-date with Windows patches and updates. During the review period, we were regularly interrupted by update/patch notifications (Windows, Java, AVG Security Suite, Acrobat Reader, Flash, etc.) which we duly downloaded and installed. There were no conflicts with the exception of a Flash Player update which simply refused to install properly until after we rebooted the computer. Flash does that sometimes. So do Sun's Java updates from time to time, but we escaped unscathed this time.

System maintenance utilities of any kind require disciplined, regular use in order for the utilities to be most effective. A daily run with System Mechanic turned up fewer and fewer problems as days went by, to the point where the background monitoring component easily kept up with system changes. It was at that point that we found a use for the desktop widget which System Mechanic installed without asking. The widget provides an up-to-date view of your PC's status and correspondingly direct access to those parts of System Mechanic needed to resolve any system problems which appear. A couple of research associates developed the habit of checking the widget for problems once or twice each day and continue to use System Mechanic even though the review period is over. The initial system analysis and checkup done immediately after installation is the most time consuming—anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour, depending the degree of mess—but once that's done, system maintenance thereafter is usually very quick, requiring a minute or two of your time each day or every few days. Once System Mechanic is installed on your PC, the point is to get into the habit of regularly checking and using the software.

System Mechanic could not get rid of a couple of very stubborn dead entries in the registry of a relatively new Dell Studio XPS Windows 7 system. McAfee Security Suite had been uninstalled, and as is common with McAfee products, it left behind several bits of disconnected junk that remain tenaciously hooked into the operating system. McAfee should be ashamed of itself for this kind of sloppy or arrogant software programming.


System Mechanic at $49.95 and its bigger sibling System Mechanic Professional at $69.95 represent fair value considering the raft of well designed features packed into each version. System Mechanic, though, could use a beefed up set of registry cleaning routines because the existing ones occasionally make extra work for users. Admittedly, errors such as unhooked monitor drivers don't take much time to reinstall, but the problem should not occur in the first place and that reduces the product's value somewhat. Overall, System Mechanic compares quite well with the competition. You can actually find a raft of individual, freeware or inexpensive shareware utilities which together equal System Mechanic's set of maintenance tools. The problem with the freeware/shareware approach is lack of continuity, sketchy support, frequently difficult product user interfaces and the obvious need to jump from utility to utility in order to perform thorough maintenance on your PC and operating system. System Mechanic and System Mechanic Pro put everything in one place, within an intuitively usable interface.

Cons: System Mechanic unexpectedly installed a Windows desktop widget as well as a Windows system tray icon. Frankly, we've got enough clutter on our desktops already and the System Mechanic install program should be asking users if they want another desktop widget. The unrequested widget doesn't really hurt anything, but we think that too many hardware and software companies and web sites make decisions which many users prefer to make for themselves when installing something new. Opt-in/Opt-out choices should be user/customer driven rather than something imposed by product programmers. The first System Mechanic registry clean performed after the first pass on a test system resulted in a lost monitor driver which was unrecoverable — we had to install a new driver downloaded from the Viewsonic support site. Our Microsoft Project license disappeared after a registry repair run—the license key had to be re-entered because System Mechanic apparently thought the Microsoft Project registry entry was either empty or no longer associated with an installed program.

Pros: System Mechanic performs quickly and uses very few system resources. Then again, system resources for this type of utility are freely available in all current systems and in most systems dating back as far as five years ago. Installation is the quick and easy process it should be these days. Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7 systems used quite heavily in our offices all benefited from slight speed increases and 10% faster boot times after tune-ups with System Mechanic. The utility seems to get along quite with other programs—we didn't encounter any conflicts with the notoriously sensitive SystemSuite 9 installed on one of the office PC workstations. So look—you have to do something, right? I mean you can't just sit there while the registry is mistreated by all sorts of programs you install and uninstall and expect your Windows PC to continue running without throwing a few problems at you. You can't just ignore the fragmentation which occurs in memory as browsers load and unload pages, cache information, load and unload plug-ins or add-ons. You can't ignore the mess that many programs leave behind in RAM. Everybody using a Windows PC needs some sort of system maintenance routine and an easy-to-use utility program to do the heavy lifting. We really like the System Mechanic firewall, antivirus and antispam monitoring components which run automatically in the background by default. They provide ample warning when some nasty bug, hacker or malicious program tries to turn off your system security. Upgrading to System Mechanic Professional adds iolo's Antivirus, Antispam, Drive Scrubber and Unerase components to create an even more expansive, all-in-one system utility. We'll give our recommendation to plain old System Mechanic for now though. It does a respectable job of system monitoring and maintenance with a minimum of impact on system resources and, most important, does so with little effort from you. Recommended.

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