Fine-tune your Vista PC's performance

Iolo Technologies' System Mechanic and Stardock's TweakVista make it easy to get a snapshot of your Vista setup and customize your PC's configuration.

Dennis O'Reilly Former CNET contributor
Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.
Dennis O'Reilly
3 min read

PC users don't agree on much, but they're close to unanimous in their low opinion of Vista's performance. There are plenty of manual tweaks you can make to grease Vista's skids--I ran down five of them a couple of weeks ago. You can also use one of the many Vista utilities to optimize the operating system. I described the free Ultimate Windows Tweaker and $29.95 Vista Smoker Pro in a post last week.

Two other commercial Vista system tools are Stardock's $19.95 TweakVista and System Mechanic from Iolo Technologies, which costs $39.95 for the first year as part of a limited-time promotion ($49.95 is the regular price) and $29.95 per year thereafter. Unfortunately, TweakVista does little to automate Vista system-tuning, and while System Mechanic provides a range of Vista tune-up and customization options, casual PC users may find the program's price tough to justify.

Vista tweaker's trial version is pretty worthless
Several years ago, I discovered Stardock's $19.95 WindowBlinds utility that customizes the appearance of Windows XP (there's also a version for Vista). Based on my experience with that program, I had high hopes for the company's TweakVista utility, but using TweakVista was a big letdown.

The first unpleasant surprise was that many--if not most--of the program's features are unavailable in the trial version. My impression of TweakVista didn't improve much once I got the full-function release. The program displays plenty of system information, but it lacks the one-click performance and maintenance tools found in similar utilities.

For example, the Assessment Overview screen shows the same information as Vista's Performance and Information Tools applet in Control Panel. Likewise, the start-up screen's Programs tab merely lists your start-up apps. I expected to see more information about each entry when I clicked its question-mark icon, but instead I saw a pop-up indicating that no information about the program was available.

The Profile tab on TweakVista's Services screen lets you select from a handful of preconfigured user types, including games, media center, or server. However, the various options don't give you any information about the configuration beyond one descriptive phrase.

Stardock TweakVista
TweakVista's Services screen lists options for tweaking system performance but lacks details on what each choice does. Stardock
You get more information when you mouse over the options listed under the Features tab of the Services window, but clicking the question-mark icons for the entries under the Advanced tab generated the same "no information available" pop-up as in the Startup Programs entries.

TweakVista Services Features options
You get more customization options under the Features tab of TweakVista's Services window. Stardock

While TweakVista puts plenty of system information in one place, the shortage of information about the program's options and the lack of clearly defined one-click fixes limit the utility's usefulness. Vista Smoker Pro does a much better job in both areas for just $10 more.

A wealth of system tools at a high price
System Mechanic's lineup of performance and maintenance helpers is impressive, and the program's single-click tuneup options are real time-savers. Even with these useful tools, the program's big price tag makes it difficult to recommend for your average, everyday Vista user. Still, anyone looking for the full complement of system tools in a single package will be pleased with this utility's breadth and depth.

I started by using System Mechanic's one-click repair option, which reported that my Registry had 221 "problems." Since I had recently tuned up my test system, the high number of Registry orphans surprised me. The scan also pointed out 14 security vulnerabilities, multimegabytes of system clutter, and three unnecessary start-up items.

Iolo Technologies System Mechanic
System Mechanic's one-click repair tool identified security, Registry, start-up, and other problems. Iolo Technologies

You get more granular control over the program's cleanup tools by choosing one of the Automated Tasks in the ActiveCare section. These include disk cleanup, Registry scrubbing, start-up optimization, disk defragging, and Internet-connection tweaks. I was particularly impressed with System Mechanic's disk defragger, which completed the defrag in just a few minutes and shows its progress in a multicolored graph.

Iolo Technologies System Mechanic defragger
You get plenty of feedback via the graph used by System Mechanic's disk defragmenter. Iolo Technologies

Browsing the tools and system information offered by System Mechanic made me wish Vista had the same fast and easy-to-use system tools. As helpful and informative as the program can be, its initial license--even with the $10 discount--and the subsequent $30-per-year fee make System Mechanic an extravagance for most PC users.