System Mechanic 8.5 uses a dashboard that offers a high-level view of your overall system health. The test system, with its years of debris, was rated as being in fair condition, a reasonable assessment.
If you prefer fit-and-forget, you can tell System Mechanic 8.5 to take over and clear up the problems it finds. Or, you can control each detail and tell it exactly what you want optimised.
When defragging, in addition to viewing the level of fragmentation in a graphic, you can also choose to see a report that gives you a better view of the graphical representation, and a list of fragmented files and the extent to which they suffer fragmentation. With System Mechanic 8.5 you can choose not to defragment some files if you wish.
System Mechanic 8.5 also gives you control over what the package does automatically. Its ActiveCare function lets you select each function you want done automatically. For most users, this is a valuable choice. And because you can decide how much you want it to do, it's also a real time-saver.
There are some areas in which System Mechanic 8.5 duplicates what's in Windows. The System Details feature gives you the same information you can get from Windows.
Registry Tools performs the same tasks as other products, but not in the same way. We had it perform a registry cleaning, and it found about 850 of the 1,200 or so problems that Norton Utilities had found. We cleaned and ran it again, and it found another 350, making the total number about the same after two tries.
There are functions that only System Mechanic 8.5 could perform, such as memory defragmentation. It also claims to optimise your network connection. While it doesn't explain how this is accomplished, System Mechanic did report that our internet connection was able to deliver about 25Mbit/sec, which isn't bad, since our link delivers only 6Mbit/sec.
However, there is one area where System Mechanic 8.5 shows its limitations. System Mechanic includes a utility called DriveSense that reports on the health of your disk drives, warning of impending failure. But it works only with storage that's not part of a RAID array or virtualised in any way. In this test, it was unable to perform this function on the terabyte RAID 1 array in the test system, although when the original EIDE drive was attached, it worked fine.
The focus on utility and choice makes System Mechanic 8.5 useful, and it presents itself in a way that's as clutter-free as you wish. If you want one-touch optimisation, this is your path to happiness. But if you can't keep yourself from tweaking everything that's tweakable, you'll be a very happy geek. System Mechanic remains the best bang for the buck, even at its full price. Norton Utilities pales by comparison.