Iolo's System Mechanic 4.0 Professional (SM4P) provides real competition for Symantec's venerable . Both utilities suites are Swiss Army Knife packages designed to perform a variety of important functions on your Windows-based computer. Each covers a lot of the same territory, but they also offer their own specialties. In general, we found the System Mechanic 4.0 Professional tools to be more useful than those of Norton SystemWorks 2004 Professional. SM4P also offers superior, free product help and excellent online tool tutorials, something Norton does not. In short, Norton SystemWorks had better not rest on its laurels. System Mechanic 4.0 Professional is a worthy challenger and offers advanced PC users a lot more value. System Mechanic 4.0 Professional installs from either a 34MB download or a disc and requires an additional 20-character activation code. If you already have an earlier version of the product, you can get the complete 4.0 product as an upgrade ($39.95), buy it new for $69.95, or try a separate 30-day shareware version. The utility suite requires at least a Pentium 120MHz processor; Windows 95, 98, Me, NT 4.0, 2000, or XP; 128MB of RAM; and 61MB of hard disk space. Norton SystemWorks 2004, on the other hand, no longer supports Windows 95, requires a much faster processor, and takes up more hard drive space.
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The main screen makes access to SM4P's tools simple and supplies basic information about each one.
Once it's installed, you can access System Mechanic 4.0 Professional in one of two ways. The first is through the main interface, which divides the many individual tools into six folders: Clean, Fix, Maintain, Optimize, Protect, and 1-2-3 Options. Highlighting one of these folders brings up a one-sentence explanation about what it contains and hovering over one of the icons inside a folder gives a detailed explanation about the given tool. Unlike Norton SystemWorks 2004 Professional, System Mechanic 4.0 Professional loads very quickly--more than three times as fast--and it is just as easy to navigate, with plenty of labels and hot keys to access folders and programs directly.
Alternatively, you can load many--but not all--of the contents of SM4P by double-clicking one of four separate desktop icons. These icons are labeled DriveScrubber/Floppy Creator, System Shield, Panda Antivirus, and Search And Recover. Note that some of System Mechanic 4.0 Professional's better tools, such as its Registry Cleaner/Optimizer, cannot be accessed through these desktop icons. As a result, we deleted the icons and simply used the main SM4P interface thereafter. We were impressed that System Mechanic 4.0 Professional's tools cover many of the bases hit by Norton SystemWorks 2004--and go somewhat beyond. For example, System Mechanic 4.0 Professional includes antivirus and firewall protection from , but if you already have adequate Internet protection, you can opt not to load Panda at installation.
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NetBooster will automatically configure your network or Internet access for maximum speed or let you set each control manually.
System Mechanic 4.0 Professional excels with its unique tools. The NetBooster module, for instance, lets you optimize network and Internet settings for best speed and viewing, whether you're using a dial-up connection, LAN, cable, or ISDN. Memory Mechanic's real-time graph, on the other hand, displays how much memory and CPU your computer is using at any time. There's even an automatic trigger that attempts to recover RAM when it falls beneath a user-determined point, which will be far more useful for those still using Windows 98 and Me than for those using Windows XP. Popup Stopper does a good job of preventing annoying pop-up ads on your desktop while you're Net surfing. Other tools remove junk files, handle file deletion by overwriting the files multiple times, eliminate spyware, and control apps that load when Windows starts.
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Popup Stopper furnishes in-depth control of pop-up ads. It maintains a customizable list of pop-up words and ad servers and supports IE, Netscape/Mozilla, and Opera.
Although System Mechanic 4.0 Professional has a tool to repair, optimize, and back up your system registry, it doesn't offer anything equivalent to Norton Disk Doctor, which diagnoses and repairs (where possible) disk problems. Of course, Windows supplies ScanDisk, but even the Microsoft app lacks many of Disk Doctor's handy features.
Still, the comprehensive depth of System Mechanic 4.0 Professional's tools remains considerable. For example, Disk Defragmenter doesn't just defrag a given drive: it lets you create and store multiple profiles (any number of files and/or folders you select) for future defragmentation. This allows you to speed up defragmentation by choosing areas of your hard drive that are used frequently. Iolo Search And Recover not only recovers deleted files, it also recovers deleted e-mail from Outlook, Outlook Express, Netscape, and Qualcomm's Eudora. Iolo provides free, live telephone technical support for its System Mechanic 4.0 Professional; however, the call itself is a toll call, and telephone support is available only Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. ET.
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SM4P's online tutorials provide an excellent introduction to most of the tools.
Online support includes a FAQ, a searchable knowledge base, lengthy step-by-step tutorials with full color illustrations for most tools, and tech support via e-mail.
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The well-organized help system offers detailed information about each tool.
Although there's no printed manual for the product, the built-in help system is context-sensitive. Thus, System Mechanic 4.0 Professional's help index is well organized and extremely detailed, with plenty of cross-links to useful subjects. For example, support for TCP Large Windows in NetBooster includes links to several other related definitions. You can also add your own annotated comments to any help screen. These are saved as linked notes, which can be recovered anytime using the Options/Annotate menu.