System Mechanic 7 Professional runs on Windows 98 through Vista. You can download a full-function 30-day trial from CNET Download.com.
The setup for System Mechanic 7 Professional on our Windows XP machine was unnecessarily challenging. Even with a disc from Iolo, we were asked to enter a long license number, then enter an even longer registration number. That's a lot of numbers to key in, and if you make a mistake it's hard to find which character is out of place or entered wrong. You'd think you were entering the access code for Fort Knox.
Should you want to remove Iolo System Mechanic 7 Professional, there is no uninstall icon. You will need to use the Windows Control Panel, then Add or Remove Programs. After a reboot, we discovered several system registry entries and program folders and files remained for System Mechanic 7 Professional. We do not recommend deleting the system registry entries without technical support; however, deleting the program folder required us first to change its read-only status. Only then could we delete the program entirely from our machine.
For System Mechanic 7 Professional, Iolo redesigned its interface. In addition to the familiar speedometer showing your system status as good, fair, or poor, there are right-hand menus that locate specific tools, although most user interface studies have shown the left-hand side of the screen to be the user's sweet spot, visually. Indeed, several times we had to remember that the navigation was on the right, not the left. The left side is occupied by a combined diagnostics test. In previous versions you had to analyze and run separate tools, which was a pain. This is an improvement, of sorts. Within System Mechanic 7 Professional, you only run one, and quickly, you'll see what needs to be fixed in one listing.
Unlike System Mechanic 6 Professional, which periodically asked us to download the latest updates, System Mechanic 7 Professional makes the update process more automatic. This is a welcome change, but it also highlights our concern that too many of the processes within System Mechanic now occur in the background.
What's truly frustrating about the new interface is that unlike earlier versions where you could check the items you wanted--and uncheck those you did not--you are strongly encouraged to accept Iolo's word that all the changes recommended are the best for your PC. The automatic option makes the changes without much information. Only by selecting Remove Manually did we see exactly what Iolo had flagged. In most cases these were minor shortcuts and cookies and other items that we did not think warranted removal, and ultimately we unchecked them. We also question the hyperbolic terminology. "Warning" implies danger, and we don't see how two broken shortcuts on our test PC rise to that level. If anything, in simplifying its interface, Iolo has weakened System Mechanic Professional's credibility to diagnose truly severe problems.
Rather than license existing antivirus and firewall technology, Iolo created its own in-house security products. While this ensures the security apps will play well with the existing Iolo tools, these are largely unproven applications competing in a mature and competitive field. We ended up disabling the firewall because it was too noisy, and recommend you also disable or not even install the antivirus app (see the Performance section below).
Iolo Search and Recover 4, available as a standalone product, is included within System Mechanic. Search and Recover 4 allows you to search your hard drive for that missing file that you know exists, and, if you happened to have deleted it somehow, Iolo gives you a tool to recover it. This can be very handy. We did, however, experience some system errors while using Search and Recover 4 (see the Performance section below).
DriveScrubber 3 is another good feature. If you ever sell your PC, you'll want to not only delete the data, but overwrite it with ones and zeros several times so that the data will be unrecoverable. System Mechanic 7 Professional includes this tool with options to scrub one file, a specific folder, or an entire drive. Also you can set it to automatically scrub whenever you delete a file.
There's also a pop-up blocker feature within System Mechanic 7 Professional but we found this feature totally useless. We use the Firefox Internet browser exclusively on our CNET machines yet Iolo provides pop-up protection only for Internet Explorer, Netscape, and Opera. Netscape and Opera currently occupy less than 1 percent of the Internet Browser market; Firefox is currently over 10 percent. That said, all of these browsers, even Firefox, now provide their own pop-up protection, so this feature is unnecessary.
Missing from within System Mechanic 7 Professional are tools to block spam and stop phishing attempts.
Overall, our experience with System Mechanic 7 Professional was mixed. Although it's a system utility designed to fix problems, we tripped over a few error messages while using System Mechanic and Search and Recover 4. Future updates should be able to correct these flaws, but the errors (memory faults) were enough to lower System Mechanic 7 Professional's overall rating and undermine our overall confidence in the product.
Iolo Antivirus 1.x is a new, proprietary antivirus product that has been certified by Check Mark Labs. Certification is a less rigid process than formally testing the antivirus product against viruses in the wild. Iolo has informed us that its antivirus product was tested against live viruses by VirusBulletin, but we found that Iolo Antivirus 1.1.9 failed in the June 2007 VirusBulletin test (free registration required for access). We also found the antivirus scans tended to slow our test PC noticeably.
Iolo Firewall is also a proprietary firewall product and has not been tested by CNET Labs. On our informal test machine Iolo Firewall prompted us for permission to allow just about every application we had on our machine. After a week the alerts did slow, but it seems that Iolo does not have many applications in its database, and leaves the decision to grant access to you. We ended up disabling the Iolo Firewall and using Windows Firewall instead.
We found the technical support for System Mechanic 7 Professional to be light, surprising since this utility suite configures and tweaks the internal settings of your PC. The in-program Help feature is adequate, but we'd prefer more detail about the specific tools within the program. Online, the knowledge base is also rather light, available either by asking the right questions or by searching an index. There's no PDF manual, for example. The online step-by-step tutorials are little more than glorified FAQs. There are no live online chats available and no active forums to learn from other users. And while there is a toll-free number to purchase System Mechanic 7 Professional, there is no toll-free telephone support for System Mechanic 7 Professional. If you have technical problem, you'll need to make a long distance call to Los Angeles and during business hours, Monday through Friday.
Based on past performance, we eagerly awaited System Mechanic 7 Professional, only to be disappointed. Instead of a pure system-utility suite, Iolo has played up the security features in this release--and may have taken on too much. Frankly, there are too many tools in this suite and not enough information about what all of them are doing to your computer. Also, the occasional glitch tended to undermine our confidence in System Mechanic 7 Professional's ability to accurately tweak and optimize our PC. Think long and hard before handing your computer over to a product such as this, that can change your system registry files and defragment your hard drive without providing much detail before and after the fact, or much in the way of live technical support should you run into trouble.