New tools protect, preserve PCs

New tools to guard against viruses, system crashes, spyware, and PC performance shortcomings are among the practical product announcements at the TechXNY show in New York this week.

The programs to protect your system and keep it running smoothly come from software vendors Iolo Technologies LLC and Executive Software International Inc., which both announced significant updates to existing lines of their PC utility software. A third firm, Raxco Software, introduced a system recovery utility called FirstDefense.

Mechanic Makeover

The entry from Iolo Technologies updates its System Mechanic suite of system utilities for the first time in three years. This release broadens its scope to not only keep your PC fit but also to protect it.

Along with sporting a major face-lift for the software interface, System Mechanic 4.0 now performs virus scanning and protection. It can also identify and remove spyware, and it includes a heavy-duty pop-up ad-blocking component, says Francis Johnson, Iolo director of business development.

"We used to focus on maintaining and optimizing your PC," Johnson says. "Now for the first time we are protecting your system as well."

System Mechanic 4.0 is available in a standard version for US$50 and a Pro version for $70. The System Mechanic Pro 4.0 release includes virus protection and updates for one year, a deleted-file recovery tool, and a firewall. The Pro version also throws in utilities to delete data and virtual drives so information on discarded equipment can't be retrieved by recovery tools.

Both the Pro and standard versions protect your PC from sypware and pop-up ads. Both programs also block malicious code that can sometimes move from Web sites to your system. Maintenance utilities, such as a hard drive and memory defragmenting program, are included with both versions, along with tools to clean, repair, and optimize your PC.

Turn Back Time

Raxco Software wants to make system recovery as easy as rebooting Windows. That's the approach of a $40 desktop program called FirstDefense for PCs, which is also available in a $349 version for servers. The program is on display at TechXNY and will be available later this year, company representatives say.

FirstDefense works by creating a complete backup copy of your operating system. Then, if your system is attacked by a virus, crashes, won't boot up, or begins to run sluggishly, you can roll back your PC to a time when your system was running more efficiently.

The program differs from other restoration programs, including the Windows XP System Restore utility, by backing up the entire operating system and not just select files, say Raxco representatives. Other system restoration tools, including System Restore, won't help if you can't boot into Windows--nor will recovery programs that back up only Windows Registry information, executable files, and software drivers, they say.

FirstDefense enables a thorough recovery by backing up your system's entire hard drive, says Bob Altieri, president of Leapfrog Software, which codeveloped FirstDefense with Raxco.

In a demonstration that intentionally destroyed Windows XP Pro, FirstDefense recovered a previous version of the OS simply by rebooting the PC. You press a hot-key during the boot sequence to activate a FirstDefense menu and select from several saved Windows states.

"Anyone who gets hit by a computer virus or worm can get rid of the headache as easily as rebooting their system," Altieri says.

For FirstDefense to be most effective, however, you need to make a backup of your system, which can be time-consuming. Altieri estimates it takes 20 minutes to back up each gigabyte of data on your hard disk. The software can restore PCs running Windows 2000 and all versions of Windows XP.

Disk Housekeeping

Video- and photo-editing applications, as well as Windows XP itself, are major culprits behind fragmenting a PC's data, which bogs down system performance, say representatives of Executive Software. Their solution: the updated Diskeeper 8.0.

The new version comes less than one year since Diskeeper 7.0 shipped last fall. Diskeeper 8.0 began shipping this week at TechXNY. It retails at $49.95 for the workstation version and $249.95 for a server version.

File fragmentation occurs when you add or delete files, and is a leading cause of system performance degradation. Diskeeper's defragmentation utility restores some zing to most systems by physically reassembling scattered data on a disk.

In Diskeeper 8.0, Executive Software has spruced up the user interface, making it more intuitive to use. Among the new features is a tool that can estimate performance gains and losses as a result of defragging the system. Also new is a monitor that keeps tabs on your hard disk's reliability. You can set Diskeeper to alert you when you need to defrag your system, or you can let Diskeeper run automatically as needed.

The latest version also takes into account the operating system in use. That helps Diskeeper run more efficiently, reducing defragmentation times, according to a company spokesperson.

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