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.
Updated 23 May, 2013, 8:16 pm IST
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