Name: System Mechanic 10 (iolo)
Type: PC tune-up software
Minimum Specs: Click here for recommended specs
Price: Free to try, download from CNet
Like a car racking up the miles or a guitar rocking through a tour, a well-loved, well-used computer needs a bit of TLC every now and again. For the experienced PC handy-man, grabbing all the necessary, individual programs needed to keep a machine running at its best is no big deal, with many capable software houses offering suitable applications free of charge. However for the casual user it’s a bit daunting trying to find registry cleaners, defragging apps and program accelerators, let alone understanding the dense terminology surrounding them.
iolo’s System Mechanic packages have been popular all-in-one PC clean up solutions since they first hit the market in 1998, and for the casual PC tinkerer, version 10 is arguably their most useful package yet.
Though it has a free trial period, to continue using System Mechanic 10 and its full list of features beyond the preview installation, you’re going to have to purchase a license, priced at $39.99 (£25). It’s a fair bit more than “free”, as you’d enjoy if you’re prepared to find alternatives offered without charge, but it’s more than reasonable considering the license is good for unlimited installations with the Whole Home offer. In an age where many homes house numerous computers, it’s good to see iolo moving away from the de rigueur three machine limit.
The look of System Mechanic 10 hasn’t changed much from previous versions of the software. It’s still a clean, red, white and blue interface that doesn’t bog the user down with multiple menu levels. Instead you have a left pane that has drop down menus for the program’s Dashboard, ActiveCare systems (which can be set to run independently in the background to optimise performance), internet security features, toolbox list and reports log. These are further broken down into additional tools controlled in the main pane, including Optimize Windows Startup, MemoryMechanic, NetBooster, RegistryCompactor, DriveAccelerator, SecurityOptimizer, Registry Backup, System Guard, PC Cleanup, and the ominous-sounding Incinerator.
Most of these tools are self-explanatory, but System Mechanic rightly assumes no prior knowledge of system maintenance, instead throwing up a little blurb for each function. You’ll never be left in the dark as to why System Mechanic 10 is suggesting certain tune-ups, which is great news for those new to the game.
System Mechanic gets to work immediately after installation, offering a 2-minute quick system analysis, or a roughly-7-minute deep check. Our tired old system got given the works, and was awarded a “Critical Health” status. The program had found a whopping 162,394 misaligned files (250GB worth), 11 repairable security flaws, numerous hard drive errors, 288 registry issues, 1.72 GB of unnecessary system clutter and 5 time-wasting start-up programs. It was a comprehensive check, and System Mechanic happily dealt with all the problems in turn. The defragging element was particularly good; our test Vista desktop machine felt noticeably zippier afterwards, with windows and applications firing up far more responsively.
Special credit should be given to the new Program Accelerator feature which tidies up a previously unknown area of PC slowdown. Most defraggers work based on ageing principles, ordering file fragments spread out across your storage drive so that the mechanical disk doesn’t have to jump around so much to access the information it needs quickly, which was fine back in the 90’s when software was built up of single, large .exe files. However, these days a program is made up of so many multiple components that many defraggers fail to order the fragments efficiently, and over time, slowdown still occurs. System Mechanic 10 on the other hand is able to identify which components are related to each other, and group them together to improve performance. We found programs to be significantly more responsive once pushed through the Program Accelerator.
System Mechanic 10 also features an unobtrusive windows gadget that can be placed on your desktop, looking a little like a car’s accelerometer. It monitors both PC health and security statuses, and opens up to an expanded view when clicked, offering a log of recent actions and quick access to Analyze Now and Repair All functions. Normally I’m not one for Windows gadgets as they tend to be a bit of a system drain, but this optional extra proved useful enough for me to keep it running most of the time.
Only two elements really disappointed in System Mechanic 10, and they were the CRUDD remover and the NetBooster internet speed optimiser. CRUDD (which stands for Commonly Redundant or Unnecessary Decelerators and Destabilizers) should remove bloat-ware and duplicate programs that usually come tucked away with software installations. We found however that it had a tendency to pick up on a few select apps that we chose to install and regularly used (like VLC player) rather than make any useful deletion suggestions. Perhaps that’s because we’ve kept on top of the bloat-ware manually, but that’s still no reason to suggest getting rid of useful programs. The NetBooster on the other hand made only marginal improvements to our connection speed, if at all.
The arguments against grabbing System Mechanic 10 are those faced similarly by the package’s paid-for rivals: why splash the cash on this collection of tools when nearly all its features are available for free elsewhere? The answer is purely and simply convenience. System Mechanic 10 acts as an intuitive, clean hub from which to fine-tune your PC’s performance. Its tools did a good job of tidying up our PC and gave it a noticeable speed boost, and it’s hard to argue with the licensing pricing when you can use it on a virtually unlimited number of machines