Once upon a time, you could hire a single guru to take care of all your data processing needs. Today, most agencies and departments need a team of specialists: one person who specializes in Web design, another who specializes in networks, and so on.
Once upon a time, you could hire a single guru to take care of all your
data processing needs. Today, most agencies and departments need a team
of specialists: one person who specializes in Web design, another who specializes
in networks, and so on.
The same has come to be true of utility program suites. Where once all
we needed was the original Norton Utilities, today no one set of utility
programs covers all of our needs.
System Mechanic, a handy collection of 12 software tools that mainly
perform system maintenance and cleanup on your PC, fits that bill. It works
with Windows 95/98, Windows NT and Windows 2000 systems.
I've begun using it in addition to other utility suites — such as Symantec's
Norton Utilities, McAfee's Nuts and Bolts, and my personal favorite, Ontrack
Data International's System Suite 2000 — all of which are useful for problem
diagnostics and disaster recovery.
I tested the version of System Mechanic designed to be installed on
a single PC, but you can also buy a version on CD-ROM that can be used by
a troubleshooter making house calls on any number of PCs.
When System Mechanic took less than one minute to install from its CD-ROM
onto my Windows 98 PC, I first thought something was wrong. In fact, the
installation was so fast because the software installed was just over 1M
in size. Comparable utilities generally require about 50M. Examining the
program code, I found there was no error — the whiz team that put System
Mechanic together had done a masterful job of compressing their software
and streamlining it for speed.
The suite is easily launched from an icon on the desktop, splashing
an easy-to-use menu of its tools onto the screen. A cute picture of a mechanic's
toolbox frames the main menu. Unfortunately there is nowhere to click to
minimize the window, which can become a minor annoyance.
No printed manual came with my software, but I really didn't need it.
As I ran my cursor over the selections there was a window giving an explanation
of each item. As I opened the different features, a tips window would often
pop up, frequently displaying genuinely useful information.
The main menu was divided into the groups: files, system and Internet.
I first selected Internet and then selected a menu item to optimize my Internet
connection speed. I had just installed Silicon Prairie Software's NetTurbo
to optimize all my system settings for downloading files from the Internet,
and I was curious to see how System Mechanic compared. Whereas NetTurbo
offers no proof of increased performance, System Mechanic includes a test
so you can see your results.
In several tests using a fast LAN/T1 connection, NetTurbo and System
Mechanic scored about the same — both increased download speeds by about
9 percent. On a PC connected to the Internet via a 56 kilobits/sec modem,
System Mechanic gave about 12 percent better performance than NetTurbo.
System Mechanic also allows you to tweak the performance settings yourself,
a feature missing from NetTurbo. For my needs, System Mechanic would be
worthwhile just for the improved Internet speed.
Don't expect System Mechanic to save your bacon by rescuing deleted
files, unformatting hard drives or diagnosing your hardware. Use other utility
suites for crisis tasks. But for preventative maintenance and everyday cleanup,
System Mechanic does the job well.
System Mechanic worked well to repair my broken Windows shortcuts and
manage my Windows startup applications. If you haven't recently deleted
your browser's temporary cache files, you may be surprised at how much hard
drive space you recover when System Mechanic cleans them out. I also found
System Mechanic to be a great help in finding and removing other useless
files cluttering up my hard drives.
System Mechanic has a competent feature to detect problems in the registry.
But for this delicate operation, I've never found a better tool than System
Suite 2000, which enables you to edit problem entries in the registry rather
than just delete them.
But don't expect System Suite 2000 to detect invalid uninstall information
in the "Add/Remove Programs" box of the Control Panel. I move and uninstall
programs frequently, and bad information often gets left in this box. I
appreciated System Mechanic's ability to delete incorrect entries here,
but in some instances I wished for a feature allowing me to correct bad
information by editing rather than just erasing.
I particularly liked Safe Install, System Mechanic's feature allowing
you to take a snapshot of your system before installing a new program, so
that if you remove that program later you can be certain of restoring your
system to its original condition.
System Mechanic doesn't do everything, but what it does do it does well.
Earl Greer is a senior network analyst at a large Texas state agency.
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