Software utilities that claim to make your computer run faster and repair multiple problems aren’t new. They’ve been around since the beginning of the home PC era, when software and hardware were generally cranky and it took a lot of coaxing to make simple things work together.
Operating systems today are way more sophisticated than they were in those days, and as a result, such tools have become largely unnecessary. You still require a decent antivirus program, preferably a strong Internet security suite if you’re worried about identity theft and the range of problems that affect users today.
The opening screen with a system health meter
Iolo System Mechanic Professional seems stuck in an older era and relies on tired tricks like cleaning out your browser cache and cookies to “improve performance”. A few of its functions are genuinely useful, but most of them either duplicate simple existing Windows functionality, simply don’t work, or go so overboard that they’re actually dangerous. There’s no indication of a software version number on the box, but once installed we were determined that it was v10.5.3 that we were seeing.
Installation and features
The CD-ROM autorun gives you the option of running a data recovery program directly, which makes a lot of sense since installing software could overwrite the very file you need to save. Sadly, the program is completely useless and couldn’t detect a single deleted file—except one in the Recycle Bin folder. You can’t check for deleted or damaged partitions either.
Installation is simple, though you’re forced to register for an Iolo account and provide an email address (we used a throwaway). You can choose between just the System Mechanic program or the full “Pro” package which includes antivirus and backup tools as well as the aforementioned data recovery program. You can also choose to install a Windows desktop gadget which will display a PC health dashboard and a pointless list of actions you’ve already performed.
Problems detected upon first run
The program opens with an Overview page open, where you can see Iolo’s assessment of your PC’s current state of security, a countdown of the included 12-month subscription and ads in the form of “handy tips”. The blue column to the left is a menu of included functions, starting with “Problems”. Iolo alerted us to a large number of faults and offered to clean them all automatically: a virus scan had never been run on our test system, automatic updates were disabled, the registry had faulty entries, etc. Windows users should recognise most of this as simple duplication of the built-in Action Center. The registry faults were the result of continual software testing on that particular PC and System Mechanic cleaned them up in under a minute.
Thankfully, we chose to step through the software’s automatic “fixes”, because the “Unnecessary Startup Items” module would have happily disabled essential Windows processes and crippled other software. Iolo wanted to remove autorun entries for Java Updater, QuickTime launcher, TeamViewer, Apple Bonjour and a download manager. System Mechanic also suggested that background processes for Windows’ print spooler, search indexer, WIA image acquisition, plug-n-play hardware detection and media streaming were “optional” and implied that turning them off would improve our PC health. This is completely unforgivable. Users who believe that these are actual problems could wind up with their familiar software unavailable or misbehaving unexpectedly. Luckily, you can choose to step through each process rather than just let the software do what it wants. This saved us from a number of poor decisions, but people who buy such software because they believe it will “fix and speed up” their PC are still at a disadvantage.
Further down the menu, we have Automated Tasks. There is some value in having the registry and system clutter cleaned up regularly, since many users don’t bother doing this themselves. Still, there’s nothing that can’t be done without this software. Scheduled tasks will only run when your PC is idle.
Registry problems due to frequent software installations
The Internet Security section includes tabs for Anti-malware and Firewall, the latter of which is nothing but a shortcut to the built-in Windows firewall. Anti-malware held a little more promise and the program did catch a few contaminated files we planted. Iolo’s software is apparently tested and certified by multiple independent labs, but AVComparatives is not one of them.
At the bottom of the main navigation bar is a section called Toolbox, which contains 45 assorted system tools. If you haven’t been alerted to any problems on the Problems tab, you can still run the relevant tools from here. Nearly all of them have trivial functions, such as cleaning out your browser history and performing registry tweaks. Most of these tools have ™ and ® marks on their names, which seems to indicate they originated in Iolo’s marketing department rather than its labs. One makes the extraordinarily dubious claim that it will “Increase Internet speed and stability by optimizing connection settings”. There’s no report of exactly how it achieves this. Other modules such as Program Accelerator™ and Drive Accelerator™ claim to do the same thing: realign programs on the hard drive so they launch quicker.
An all-in-one tool called PC TotalCare® claims to “Supercharge Windows up to 300%” by defragmenting your RAM and registry (utterly pointless, though it sounds impressive), optimising your hard drive (a defrag no better than what Windows’ built in tool can provide) and optimising Windows startup (exactly the same “Unnecessary Startup Items” routine). Another module called Total Registry Revitalizer offers to back up, clean up (again) and defrag the registry.
Iolo offers to remove essential software
Finally, there’s a SafetyNet module which lets you undo most of the “optimisations” in case you change your mind or, more likely, find that something has gone wrong.
The promised backup feature of System Mechanic Pro comes in the form of a simple link to SugarSync online and a free 5GB account. SugarSync is actually a well regarded service which comes with its own desktop and smartphone clients, so this was an unexpected plus. There’s also the dismal file recovery tool we encountered earlier, and a disk scrubbing tool which actually seems like the most competent of the bunch. Overall, this leaves us with too many individual programs to run. All these tools could have been built into the main program.
Performance and usability
We really couldn’t find much reason to run any of System Mechanic’s modules and found zero perceivable improvement in our test PC’s speed after running several of them. At least the program’s interface is easy enough to navigate and each function is explained in simple, direct language.
The “Privacy cleaner” performs simple common tasks
Conclusion and Price in India
Our retail box had an MRP of Rs 1,299 printed on it alongside several glowing blurbs from reputed publications. The suite is almost completely useless for power users who know how to maintain their own PCs and is potentially dangerous in the hands of inexperienced users. Free tools are available to perform the most useful tasks, such as cleaning detritus from the registry. If you feel that you can get some marginal improvement out of it, then Rs 1,299 isn’t too much to pay. Our recommendation though is to skip it, invest in a superior Internet security suite and just defrag your hard drive once a year.
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