Norton SystemWorks 2006 Premier is a very good diagnostic and recovery suite, but it shows signs of aging and generally fails to keep up with the competition. None of what we found was singularly damning, but for a system utility suite, we expect more. Instead we recommend Iolo Technologies' System Mechanic 6 Professional, which provides a greater number of useful disk utilities, such as a Web Optimization Wizard to tweak Internet access for better speed, along with better help files and a more logical visual design.
Norton SystemWorks 2006 Premier, which we reviewed here, costs $30 more than Norton SystemWorks 2006 and includes two additional apps, Norton Ghost and CheckIt Diagnostics. But while you can order Norton SystemWorks 2006 as a download, Norton SystemWorks 2006 Premier is available only as a boxed-CD package. Overall, installation, which requires roughly 250MB of hard drive space, is simple but unnecessarily repetitive, as several of the products, such as Performance Test and SystemWorks, must be installed separately. Upon completion, Norton SystemWorks 2006 Premier, which includes Norton AntiVirus 2006, displays a check-box screen recommending you switch to its firewall and turn off all Windows security alerts. We don't have any problem with either of these, but there's no explanation backing up the recommendations.
Navigation for the major utility categories within Norton SystemWorks 2006 Premier appears along the left side of the main menu screen. Subcategories are sometimes listed under a category once you've chosen it (Norton Utilities), and sometimes they're listed on a major portion of the screen, to the right (Extra Features, Norton Cleanup). Context-sensitive help is available from all screens, but it's inconsistent, sometimes labeled as help (with WinDoctor and SpeedDisk) and sometimes offered as a More Info link (in Worm Protection and Custom Cleanup). Older utilities continue to show up as new. For example, System Optimizer continues to show up in the catchall category, Extra Features, when it should be listed instead under a Norton Utilities secondary tab, Optimize Performance. None of these amounts to much, but taken together, they point to a need for Symantec to revisit its interface.
But it's clear that Norton SystemWorks hasn't kept up with its competition. Speed Disk, Norton's venerable disk defragmenter, remains effective with its file placement options, but System Mechanic's Disk Defragmentation tool lets you selectively defragment individual files and store multiple optimization profiles (choosing a defrag method and drives and/or files to defragment) for easy retrieval and use. Norton System Optimizer is a Windows tweaker whose mouse reconfiguration options look puny even when compared to those found within Windows XP. And Norton SystemWorks 2006 no longer supports Windows 98 or Me. System Mechanic still supports older Windows versions.
The Norton SystemWorks 2006 Premier support package includes a digest-size user guide written in a tiny gray font with absolutely nothing on Norton Ghost or CheckIt Diagnostics. Fortunately, the in-program help files for Ghost and CheckIt Diagnostics are adequate. There's a useful searchable online knowledge base at Symantec, with a multiple path tool designed to lead users to solutions for problems. Also available are live online chats, and e-mail tech support that usually replies within one business day. Finally, Symantec offers 24/7 live phone support--but at the wallet-puncturing price of $29.95 per incident.