To keep your system up-to-date and running at peak performance, you frequently add and remove applications and utilities and move data files to different locations. As you perform this work, old applications leave registry entries behind, program fragments remain on your disk, and you typically end up with duplicate files. Clearing away all this detritus can take a lot of time—which you probably don’t have. Iolo Technologies' System Mechanic 3.5, which works with Windows 2000, Windows NT 4.0, and Windows 9x, is a collection of utilities that can help you and your end users organize your file systems, optimize your OS, and tweak your systems’ Internet and networking performance.

I was eager to discover how clogged my NT 4.0 Service Pack 4 (SP4) workstation had become. I downloaded System Mechanic from Iolo's Web site and followed a typical wizard-directed setup process to install the software. The 1.4MB file expands to a 30-day, fully functional trial copy. (To remove the 30-day timer, you can pay the single-user fee for an activation key.) A thorough electronic user manual accompanies the download, but I would have preferred a hard-copy manual. Online Help files and FAQs are also available. The final step of the installation process is an attention-grabber: Because System Mechanic has the power to delete registry entries and system files, the software strongly encourages you to back up your system before proceeding.

System Mechanic’s interface, which Figure 1 shows, depicts a toolbox with three primary task buttons—Files, System, and Internet. To begin my testing, I clicked Files, then Find and remove junk and obsolete files. After about 2 minutes of searching through 22,000 files spread across four partitions, System Mechanic found 84 files (amounting to about 51MB) that had absolutely no purpose. Of course, I could have used Windows’ Find function to search for and delete files that contained specific extensions, but that process would have taken much longer than 2 minutes.

My next target was the registry. I returned to the main interface and clicked System, then Clean system Registry. One of the options on the resulting screen is to back up registry data before the software begins cleaning. I clicked Perform Complete Registry Backup Now. Following the backup, System Mechanic proceeded to clean the registry; the process, which took just over 1 minute, found and deleted 495 invalid entries.

I returned to System Mechanic’s main interface and clicked Internet. I selected the Optimize Internet and network speed option, which attempts to optimize your system for the best connection. The resulting screen asked whether I wanted to use default values or enter custom values. You can enter custom values for Maximum Transfer Unit, TCP Receive Window Size, Default Time to Live, Enable Blackhole Detection, and Enable Automatic MTU Detection. For information about these values, you can click Help for context-sensitive assistance at any time. I was pleasantly surprised to find not only an explanation of the terms but also some suggested entry values for a variety of connection types.

System Mechanic offers additional file and system options that let you tweak Windows startup parameters and customize settings—all from within the software, so you don’t need to rummage through various Windows utilities. System Mechanic also includes a maintenance scheduler, which routinely performs all the disk and registry scrubbing that you select. I instructed System Mechanic to delete junk files to the Recycle Bin at 7:00 a.m. every 5 days. On the first scheduled day, I found that the software had removed 25 files. (Because I set up the software to place removed files in the Recycle Bin, I could choose to restore any file if necessary.)

Using the product’s Safe Installer feature, you can launch a software installation from within System Mechanic. Safe Installer can then track changes that occur to the system during the installation process. Alternatively, you can take a preliminary snapshot of the system profile and match it against another snapshot later. I found the latter option more helpful on a continuing basis. Installation changes can be many and varied—and not necessarily meaningful. However, keeping a snapshot as a long-term reference lets me monitor how an application interacts with the system. By default, Safe Installer monitors only .ini files (i.e., system.ini and win.ini), but I could have added other extensions to the list of monitored files.

System Mechanic is a fast and effective way to maintain your workstations and servers. If you manage many workstations, you might consider the System Mechanic Mobile Toolkit version, which is available separately on CD-ROM and runs from the disc rather than from within the system. The Mobile Toolkit is priced higher at $300, but it includes an unlimited-use license.

System Mechanic 3.5
Contact: Iolo Technologies * 877-239-4656
Web: http://www.iolo.com
Price: $60 for a single-user license; $400 for a 10-user license; volume discounts available; $300 for the unlimited-license Mobile Toolkit
Decision Summary
Pros: Fast and efficient detection and removal of obsolete files; proactive software-installation feature
Cons: No hard-copy documentation