Norton SystemWorks 2003 review: Norton SystemWorks 2003

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Norton SystemWorks 2003

(Part #: 10025223)
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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Excellent set of hard drive utilities; many user-configurable options; easy-to-navigate interface.

The Bad Difficult to remove previous SystemWorks versions; outrageously expensive phone support; erratically effective in-product help system; only one new, minor feature.

The Bottom Line If you already have SystemWorks, don't bother with this extremely minor upgrade. But if you don't own SystemWorks, buy this version for its high-grade hard drive utilities and the PC protection it provides.

7.0 Overall

Norton SystemWorks 2003 is the heir to a package of Norton utilities that date back to the PC's DOS-based history of the mid-1980s. This suite has always been a classy, do-it-all, Swiss-Army-knife-like program, bundling a powerful disk defragmenter, an automated PC diagnosis and repair utility, and, more recently, Norton AntiVirus. If you rely solely on Windows' own utilities, such as ScanDisk, to accomplish these tasks for you, it's time to invest in your PC's future. No matter what version of Windows you use, you'll find Norton SystemWorks 2003's powerful extra features indispensable, and the suite will soon pay for itself--it costs around $70. But if you already own SystemWorks 2002 or even SystemWorks 2001, don't bother upgrading. The improvements in this version are purely cosmetic. Norton SystemWorks 2003 is the heir to a package of Norton utilities that date back to the PC's DOS-based history of the mid-1980s. This suite has always been a classy, do-it-all, Swiss-Army-knife-like program, bundling a powerful disk defragmenter, an automated PC diagnosis and repair utility, and, more recently, Norton AntiVirus. If you rely solely on Windows' own utilities, such as ScanDisk, to accomplish these tasks for you, it's time to invest in your PC's future. No matter what version of Windows you use, you'll find Norton SystemWorks 2003's powerful extra features indispensable, and the suite will soon pay for itself--it costs around $70. But if you already own SystemWorks 2002 or even SystemWorks 2001, don't bother upgrading. The improvements in this version are purely cosmetic.

Installation and interface
When we installed SystemWorks 2003 afresh, it worked without a hitch. However, we sometimes encountered difficulties when we installed the suite over previous releases. Before SystemWorks 2003 will install, it first attempts to remove earlier product versions--in our tests, the program occasionally failed to do so. When that happened, the program advised us to run SymClean, and we had to find an executable file under the Support > SymClean subdirectory on the SystemWorks disc itself. Norton should automate this process. And for us, SymClean did not always remove the previous SystemWorks versions. In one test, it took three tries and several system reboots (SymClean requires a reboot each time) to finish its work. Each attempt was successful but dealt with only one part of SystemWorks 2002's main modules.

Once installed, SystemWorks 2003 looks exactly like SystemWorks 2002 and is extremely easy to configure. The default configuration installs all modules and activates all of Norton's resident programs: Registry Tracker, System Doctor, and Antivirus Auto-Protect, to name a few. The Custom option, on the other hand, lets you select which modules to install.

Feature set
There is one new feature, Connection Keep Alive, which sends packets across a dial-up Internet connection at a default rate of roughly one per minute or any number of minutes you choose. While not as sophisticated as Stay Connected, Connection Keep Alive does prevent disconnection when you're not actively online and can be configured to connect to any address you choose.

Other than that, there are no significant differences between SystemWorks 2003 and its immediate predecessors. Three of the program's main utilities are still present: Utilities, AntiVirus, and CleanSweep. And the new Web Tools main program module simply regroups several former CleanSweep features.

Despite SystemWorks' lack of real updates, we still find many of its packaged utilities compelling. Disk Doctor is a safe, effective tool for the diagnosis and repair of a variety of file-related problems, such as bad clusters. WinDoctor, in turn, examines and repairs a host of Windows problems that show up in the Registry, including invalid entries and shortcuts. Other SystemWorks modules, however, are much less interesting, and some have long since outlived their usefulness. For example, take Rescue, which boots your system into DOS using data you have previously saved to multiple floppy disks; it doesn't offer you the option to record a CD-ROM. Still, many of these tools help when you want to remove cookies, get system information, or edit your Registry.

Performance
To put this suite to the test, we ran Norton SystemWorks 2003 on a computer with a Pentium 4 1.3 GHz processor and 256MB of RAM, with a dual partition set up to run Windows 98 and XP Professional. We repeatedly rebooted Windows while applications were open, added false Registry entries, misdirected program shortcuts for targeted executables, and installed and uninstalled software to produce a heavily fragmented 40GB hard drive. Throughout our tests, SystemWorks 2003 successfully sensed errors and diligently performed repairs.

Tech support
SystemWorks 2003's help system is fairly comprehensive for basic advice but sparse at higher technical levels. For example, the WinDoctor help page has only general information and nothing to explain the specific scans that the program uses. While this omission is mostly just annoying, it makes you wonder why Symantec allows you to select which tests to run if you don't know their functions.

Symantec's online support site offers help for standard problems with each of the company's products. Phone support is very expensive: either $29.95 per call or $2.95 per minute. There is no weekend phone support, so be sure to "schedule" your problems to occur between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. PT, Monday through Friday.

If you already have SystemWorks 2002, there isn't enough new in version 2003 to make the upgrade worthwhile. But if you don't have this utility suite on your computer or you rely on Windows' native applications to tune and repair your PC, this is must-have software. It remains an excellent collection of well-honed utilities that will keep your computer in optimal condition.

Norton SystemWorks has a new look, but very little has changed inside.

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