Review: iolo System Mechanic

Review: iolo System Mechanic

Summary: There's always an arms race when it comes to the jack of all trades system tool: registry cleaner, anti-spyware, defragmenter, settings control panel. Some ZDNet readers, including myself, default to a combination of the free but popular CCleaner, Ad-Aware, Spybot Search & Destroy and an antivirus program.

TOPICS: CXO, Hardware, Security

iolo System MechanicThere's always an arms race when it comes to the jack of all trades system tool: registry cleaner, anti-spyware, defragmenter, settings control panel. Some ZDNet readers, including myself, default to a combination of the free but popular CCleaner, Ad-Aware, Spybot Search & Destroy and an antivirus program.

But that's not the only solution.

iolo Technologies' System Mechanic for PCs (XP, Vista) promises all these things in one tool for $35 per year: registry cleaner, hard disk repairer, shortcut reconnecter, defragmenter, PC startup optimizer, application uninstaller, secure file wiper and more. Basically, it will do everything except your laundry...and true virus scans.

But is all that worth $35 a year?

To see if it was worth the money, I installed it on my home PC -- the one away from the reaches of ZDNet security -- to see just how much System Mechanic could do.

First, the stats: I'm running Windows XP SP3 on an Intel Centrino with 80GB HDD and 2GB RAM with Symantec Antivirus installed. I've defragged within the last couple of weeks and I ran full (and up-to-date) scans of Symantec, Ad-Aware 2008, Spybot Search & Destroy and CCleaner prior to installing iolo System Mechanic.

When I installed System Mechanic, updated it and loaded it for the first time, this is the screen I got. Easy to read with clear instructions and a nice "dashboard" giving me a general sense of how my system's doing.

(Small pet peeve: the non-obtrusive up-sell "Hints and Tips" window, which advertised another iolo product. Sure, it's a small company and it's a natural brand extension, but I already paid for this product, so why can't you leave my landing screen alone?)

Like anyone who keeps their machine in relatively good shape, I'm thinking, "Poor, huh?" Time to investigate.

iolo System Mechanic

In my haste, I clicked "Repair All" without checking what the problems were. Here's where System Mechanic first showed its charms. Instead of tearing through my hard drive like the Supernanny does naughty children, System Mechanic prompted me with a clear, concise heads-up as to what it was about to do and how that impacts me. This was System Mechanic's star attribute: it regularly, but not intrusively, made sure I knew what I was getting myself into and what that could mean down the road.

iolo System Mechanic

Similarly, as the program went through the process of cleaning my machine of the aforementioned clutter, it went through the list and told me what it was cleaning (and thankfully, the progress bars were accurate).

iolo System Mechanic

Once I did that, everything was clear and good to go, just like that.

Just kidding.

Since System Mechanic altered some startup settings and myriad other things, it required a restart. So I restarted. Once my PC booted back up, I reloaded System Mechanic (With slight disappointment, it did not load on start automatically so that I could see my progress after the System Mechanic-mandated restart. On the other hand, I appreciate not having any more of a startup traffic jam than I already have).

System Mechanic had all the dials in the green except one. What didn't it fix, and why?

The program said there was one more problem to be fixed -- something with my hard drive (though when I clicked for more information, it said there weren't any problems). In a nice touch, it told me beneath the notice that I had to restart for the changes to take effect, and provided a link.

Since I'm a patient guy (and a Windows user), I restarted for a second time. Why not? Nothing I'm not used to.

This time, my PC restarted, but before Windows XP could fully load, System Mechanic loaded in that blue-screen-DOS/command line-esque format and ran through its scan there. (For the leftover disk problem, it called on the powers of CHKDSK.)

Which brings me to my first problem with System Mechanic. While it avoids using (usually extremely inaccurate) timers on its processes, it provides no warning as to what I'm in for. So while both the quick analysis and in-depth analysis were surprisingly quick on my system (80GB HDD, for what it's worth), the pre-Windows-boot CHKDSK thing took forever.

I'm talking like an hour here. So I turned on the TV, got myself some dinner, and sat back.

When it finally finished (it caught a bad sector deep on the drive), and I continued booting to Windows XP and loaded System Mechanic, all my dials were in the green. Hooray!

Even better, my computer was noticeably faster, and it wasn't that bad to begin with. Startup to an active desktop was a bit faster, applications loaded a little faster, websites came up faster.

Great! So what did System Mechanic actually do?

Well, that's the problem. After System Mechanic fixed the problems, it didn't really go into the specifics of what it fixed. When you click on the "Reports" tab and click on "History," it just shows you a non-clickable list of fixed generalities. For example: "Optimized Internet Speed." How? What settings did it alter? And how about those fixed registry entries? Which did it repair? And that nagging hard drive problem? What the heck was it?

This is my main gripe with System Mechanic. The program is clearly good at the back-end cleaning, and provided an improvement. The UI looks good, works well, and has thoughtful notices throughout. But when it comes to seeing what it actually fixed -- specifically, the meat and potatoes of it -- you're can't find it.

For a guy who occasionally dives into the minutae of a drive's directories, or the system registry, that's disappointing.

Do I recommend System Mechanic? Well yes -- it clearly provided some in-depth improvements that I was too lazy to do, and it did it all at once. Bottom-line, I found that to be a great time-saver. For power users, though, it's another tool in one's toolbelt, and may not be worth $35 a year if you really know your way around a system. On the other hand, it's $35 -- really not much for some seriously useful software.

There is one more group that System Mechanic can be of great service: family and friends. If you're like me, and you return home every year for the holidays only to spend your time cleaning the family computers of spyware, startup clutter, and built-up junk, this is a great tool. Install it on Mom or Dad or Bro or Sis' computers (One copy of System Mechanic can be installed on three computers) and the only LCD glow you'll be basking in as you drink your egg nog is the sweet, sweet glow of a 60-inch HDTV.

The people at iolo have made a fine piece of software. With a little tweaking, it could be a knockout.

The Good

Works as advertised, very easy to use, thoughtful reminders, generally speedy and easy on the eyes.

The Bad

Lack of easily accessible and detailed fix history before, during and after scans; no warning of how long some things might take.

The Recommendation

Perfect for slow-system'ed family and friends; good for power users without a lot of time; unnecessary for those that love wallowing in Windows' intricacies.

Topics: CXO, Hardware, Security

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • A few things...

    There are few reasons why these cleaner software won't
    tells you everything.

    1) Registry cleanner can help speedboost a bit, but
    almost all of them are well known locations. Telling you
    how it's fixed basically it's as same as telling you it's
    doing the same job as all other reg cleaner does.

    2)The pre-boot thing is probably offline defragging the
    page files and registry hive files. Windows has a
    stardard API for it, you can achieve the same result with
    "pagefrg" from Windows Sysinternals.

    3) Memory Optimizer is a Hoax. Period. Don't trust me?
    You shouldn't! But if Mark Russinovich said it then you
    probably should have listen:

    "At best, RAM optimizers have no effect, and at worst,
    they seriously degrade performance."

    4) optimizing the internal? It's just old tweak for the
    MTU and RWIN values. there are tones of free app on the
    internal for it. If you're on Vista you don't even need

    To be honest, softwares like System Mechanic is just
    nothing but aggregation of bunch of run-of-the-mill
    optimization apps. Does it worth $35 per year? For me
    it's not. Even for not tech-savvy I still think it's a
    little bit too expensive.
  • RE: Review: iolo System Mechanic

    Running Japanese Version of WinXP, ran Iolo System Mechanic Professional, after one sweep of the system, Iolo will not start.
    It hung during its Initialization. Waiting on support from Iolo....
  • RE: Review: iolo System Mechanic

    I've been using System Mechanic for several years. It is an excellent tool and does a good job at maintaining my pc. My only gripe is during de-frag, it says 5 munites remaining, but 3 hours later, it's half way through.
  • Broke Java

    After running the application it made some things not
    work, for instance some webpages and applications
    (Limewire). It took me a while until I found out that it was
    java that was corrupt.

    Otherwise I think it's a good app with good GUI and not
    too advanced functions, although a bit too simple for me).
    I think most users will be able to understand what they're
    doing, and not just clicking on some random buttons and
    hoping for the best.
    Waldemar Axdorph
  • RE: Review: iolo System Mechanic

    I have System Mechanic 8 Pro - it doesn't work on Windows XP with the SP3 upgrade. I have repeatedly requested support from system mechanic but until today have not received any specific instructions to solve this apparent incompatibility. I have had to install Uniblue and AVG systems free package whilst waiting for System Mechanic support to reply to me. When it worked with SP2 it seemed to perform well.
    • SM Pro and XP SP3 work OK

      I have used SM Pro Version 8 and updates on my own and friends and families computers since it became available with NO major problems. I keep it on my unit to provide easy support to those that sometimes get lost doing the updates, which I find pretty straight forward, but sometimes they are at a state that requires a reboot to finish the housekeeping when a new update comes in. Then it takes another reboot to install the actual update. I seem to remember the 1st update to 8 had to have an immediate update to play nice with SP3, but have had no issues with that since. I have noticed issues when Spybot Search and Destroy is resident with doing some updates and that needed updating. Now they all play nice together. Friends say their computers have never run so fast until I 'fixed' them with SM Pro. Happy users make me happy with this program.
    • I have no problems

      The program works fine for me wih SP 3. Perhaps you are running other software that could be giving it conflicts? Additional Anti-viral products causes problems with the Authentium anti-virus it uses. The only real way to clear out the others, to use this specifically is to edit the registry manually, a practice not recommended to people who don't know what they are looking for.
  • RE: Review: iolo System Mechanic

    The Dashboard looks exactly the same as Dell PC Tuneup. Are they the same?
  • Added Big Auto-start Resource Hog

    When I installed an earlier version of System Mechanic, it installed a large program that automatically ran in the background and consumed a lot of resources. It took a lot of work to find and remove the program. The application had nothing to allow the user to stop it.

    I have not installed the latest version, but the other writer said she had a problem with SM and XP-SP3. So, I will think twice about trying it.

    Personally, I think CCleaner and SmartFrag (both free) will accomplish many of the same tasks.
    • You're correct about the running program...

      ...but it doesn't take up that much for me -- 14K for ioloServiceManager, and it never comes to the forefront.

      I have all the ActiveCare and automated stuff disabled, though.

      How much RAM do you have?
  • RE: Review: iolo System Mechanic

    i have SYSTEM MECHANIC and i am useing it on the new ie beta 7. so far it is working great. thank for your review.
    Dennis Costello
  • System Mechanic Pro is a 9 out of 10 - Find out why here!

    First things first - I have owned System Mechanic Professional (SMP) for many years. I use it on my network of 2 XP SP3 32bit, 1 Vista and 1 XP 64bit computers.

    With SMP you can install only the portions of the program you need. I use Drive Scrubber and System Mechanic. I would use the SMP firewall and virus programs but I now use a hardware appliance for that.

    Second - SMP can be installed and set up to only run when you want it to run. Meaning it only uses resources when you want it to. And you can't tell me it took you more than a minute of two to unload the SMP service, as System Mechanic can turn on or off any service, including its own, in a few seconds. If fact, unloading and re-loading services, is just one place where SMP shines. Of course, if you know what you are doing you can unload services without 3rd party software like SMP.

    Third - System Mechanic provides very detailed descriptions of what it will fix, if you use the manual mode and fix one problem at a time. If you use the one click method - like the author Andrew did - then the program naturally assumes you have reviewed the proposed changes it is about to make.

    You can review all the changes SMP will make in the one click mode - by going into the manual mode - review the specific problem and the SMP proposed cure - and once you are satisfied - you can then go back to the one click and let SMP rip. I don't trust any software enough to use their AUTO mode.

    But, like the author says, once you start the fix whether manual or one click, SMP doesn't give you a useful history list. So for that and for occasionally using the pathetic CHKDSK, I can only give SMP a 9 out 10.

    Some things I really like about SMP are the memory and hard drive defrags. The internet download speed test. The registration backup and emergency restore. It can also transfer program installs to alternate locations and clean up the registration in the process.

    And one last thing - I have never paid $35 to extend my support for this software. The most I ever paid was $20.
  • RE: Review: iolo System Mechanic

    Wish to know More on how it works
    I have one & feel it slows down my Comp
    Or any suggestions on what all should be set & done
    Not much Video on Youtube from the company saying & showing us what to do :(
    Hope someone will listen here
  • RE: Review: iolo System Mechanic

    Nice report for the common users. The one point I would like to differ with is, that the program does provide all the details of the actions it takes. Probably in the newer version, it just tells the number of, say, system registry problems fixed. In previous versions, it used to give details of each and every entry that were invalid and were corrected by the program. Either they have removed this option or it might have hidden somewhere else since the program creates restore points and backups of the changes made, so that one can revert back to, in the case of some untoward problems.

    The program offers much better de-fragmentation (Deep) utility. Official Microsoft utility could never come any close to the performance enhancement in my personal experience.

    In my view, never try enabling Active System Care... Manual care initiated by the user every week once is best.... otherwise, it would annoy you to the core....

    Albeit, I would like to add something here. I use System Mechanic Professional that has a firewall and antivirus added to the original package. Till version 6, they were offering Kasperesky AV and FW and those were fabulous. Would you believe if I say complete system scan (80 GB) in 8 minutes.... FW was also very good.... I used those when I was using Win 2000 Prof. Now they supply their own Iolo AV and FW. In fact stand alone Kasperesky AV was a bigger pain (in 2007 I tried once and uninstalled it).

    Iolo FW I could not evaluate fully as I have Window FW as well as Iolo FW on my system. It seems to be fine... The only problem I experience is the allowing programs of my choice through two different layers of firewalls. Overall I am OK with the resultant clean PC (supposedly).

    But AV, initially was fine and the system was fast. After Windows security center started recognizing Iolo AV, I have noticed lots of performance problem. Mainly related to speed issue. Now, I have seen last full system scan (160 GB) going up to 1 hour... which is definitely problematic (considering previous results).

    Overall the product is worth as it is all in one....Moreover, after initial subscription (price vary depending upon the buying skills of the person), the company keeps offering rebates, concessions for the customers and in my experience, yearly subscription boils down to $20.


  • Advanced Windowscare

    From IOBit. It's free. Works great. Doesn't mess up your system.
  • Combinations

    Process XP + Autoruns + Ccleaner + JKDefrag (or Auslogic's HD Defrag/Registry Defrag) = Faster Computer

    avast! Pro + Sandbox + Spybot + Spyblaster + USB Firewall = Cleaner Computer

    Antivirus 2009 + unreliable Limewire (or Torrent downloads) = Total Mayhem
  • I Wonder...

    ...if you are too lazy or might not know as much as you have claimed in the article. (No offense intended to you.) The software is great for those who really know nothing about computers because it is a one-piece solution to most problems. I would never use it because I have personally optimized & hardened my system.
    • I must indeed take offense...

      ...that you called me lazy.

      Your opinion is valid, but I'm reviewing a product here for yours and other readers' benefit. No need to use my hypothetical personal computing knowledge as a counterpoint to your opinion; just use my opinion.

  • It does show you the details ...

    Nice review and I have downloaded the software to try it out
    (you can get a fully working 30 day free trial if you visit
    the Iolo site and use the site map to find the link). By the
    way, the software then comes bundled with a 50% off coupon
    which makes the price point $19.95.

    It's working fine on Vista Home and XP Pro (both fully
    patched). It also does allow you to get under the covers and
    see what it's doing - but if you just use the "fix everything"
    button you are basically delegating all decisions about what
    it thinks is a good option to System Mechanic.

    If you're a real tecchie you'll want to know what's going to
    happen BEFORE the clean-up starts and not after. System
    Mechanic fully supports this - after you run a scan, you can
    use the drop-down menu on any of the FIX buttons and run the
    detailed reporting tool which shows you exactly what it is
    going to remove and allows you the option to change what's
    going to happen before you commit to fixing things. On my
    system there are a few start-up items and other settings that
    I would like to keep, but System Mechanic thinks they could go
    to get the perfect performance. Using the detailed steps in
    the drop-down menus I was able to tweak the defaults.
  • iolo System Checkup deleted Win system icons

    I thought iolo to be an experienced (10+y) and knoledgeable in older OSes company.
    As I am running MS Windows 98SE on an old Pentium Pro machine recently I tried iolo System Checkup (from their website). Unfortunately all system (Windows, Office and most of the installed programs) icons: "opened/closed folder", "document", "program", "file" in Start menu, Taskbar, WinExplorer etc. disappeared.
    I managed to clean the PC of the shortcuts and files iolo System Checkup put on the HDD (without asking) - there was no "uninstall" option, but my system icons were lost.
    When I asked via e-mail what could System Checkup brake and how can I repair it, iolo support advised me to read the disclamer as if I had done something not properly.
    You may trust iolo for your PC, but I wouldn't dare again.
    Ivo Kisselov