There's glitz as well as substance in Iolo System Mechanic 6 Professional, a suite of hard drive utility tools. The glitz lies in the "improved" and nonconfigurable main screen. The substance lies in Drive Medic, a new, effective tool to test and repair hard drives, and improvements to older tools, such as the Startup Manager, which makes it easy to see exactly what's running on your computer. While System Mechanic 6 Professional may be superior to venerable competitor Norton SystemWorks 2005 in the number and range of diagnostic tools offered, without documentation, the suite may prove frustrating for the average computer user.
The program launches quickly. Various utilities within System Mechanic 6 Professional are accessed from one of five category buttons on the left: Optimize, Clean, Repair, Protect, and Maintain. However, not all of the interface changes are for the better. It's not that we objected to the surfacing of wizards in the upper-right corner of the window or the way Tips, News, and Updates now take up the bottom third of the screen, but these changes are not configurable; they take up precious screen real estate, even if you don't use the wizards or want to be reminded which tools haven't been run lately. We also didn't care for the Dashboard feature that first analyzes, then displays brief results on the speed, the safety, the fitness, the clutter, the updates, the active care, and the overall health and security of your system. These are usually time-consuming tests to run and are not always accurate; even after we turned them off, the executables for those tests continued to run in the background, slowing down application loading. (We had to turn them off using another of System Mechanic 6 Professional's features, the Advanced Startup Manager.)
Disk defragmentation is much faster in this version, and registry optimization is more detailed. Long overdue, System Mechanic 6 Professional adds a Drive Medic tool that finds hard disk problems and offers to repair them. The Advanced Startup Manager has been expanded to list start-up programs with information on individual file location, registry reference, status, file version, and description and to offer recommendations for start-up programs that are necessary, invalid, or dangerous. This deep analysis can help determine if you have any start-up files that are obsolete or that are spyware or viruses. However, implementation still has its rough edges. Although the More Info link instructed us to click View Details for an itemized list and the reasons to remove them, there was nothing to click. The suite also offers an Advanced Process Manager. Think of it as the WinXP Task Manager on steroids, with all processes labeled with publisher, start-up mode, description, summary, and dependency information.
Elsewhere, System Mechanic 6 Professional continues to furnish a selection of excellent hard drive tools. It optimizes RAM, searches for and eliminates spyware and viruses, displays potential junk files for removal, and tracks software for later removal. We continue to like Program Relocator, which updates all links as you move apps between folders or drives; Netbooster, which gives you both automated and manual controls to let you increase Web access speed; and Inspect and Undo Changes, which offers you multiple, dated undos orderly arranged for each tool.
System Mechanic 6 Professional lacks a printed manual, which we feel is very important in an extensive and complex product such as this. There isn't even a PDF-based manual, although the context-sensitive in-program help system is first-rate. Also good is Iolo Technologies' online support, with its FAQ; step-by-step, diagrammed tutorials for using the new wizards; searchable knowledge base; and e-mail-based technical support. Free live phone support is available, although it is a toll call, Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. We found the support technicians to be courteous and helpful.