System toolsWhether you like to tweak your system or are trying to breathe new life into an old PC, you'll find a wide range of utilities on the market to play with. Nowadays, they come in suites with dozens of different tools for optimising your hard disk, tightening up system files, protecting your data against disasters and generally keeping things running smoothly.
McAfee Utilities, now in its fourth incarnation, is a good example of this kind of package. In fact, the last offering was so good, it's difficult to see exactly how the programmers could improve it. They have made some useful additions, though, namely Active Tune and TaskMaster, which stand out.
Two to tango
Active Tune is a system for helping to optimise the performance of your hard drive. In theory, the way Active Tune does this sounds perfectly plausible. As new files are created, the software makes sure they are intelligently stored in the best possible place on the disk itself. This is a little like the standard Windows defragmentation utility, except that Active Tune performs its task automatically and continuously, without needing the user's intervention.
McAfee promises that this will have multiple knock-on effects, which will aid the overall performance of your system. According to McAfee, using Active Tune cuts down on disk fragmentation, making programs run faster and helping to prevent bad sectors and other disk damage. This sounds great but, unfortunately, due to limited testing time, we weren't able to validate these longer-term claims.
The other star of version 4.0 is TaskMaster. This useful utility is a hybrid of the dialogue box that appears when you press
on your keyboard and Microsoft's handy System Configuration Utility.
Windows and its applications tend to run several programs silently every time you start your computer. Sometimes these might be important things like antivirus software, but often they are unnecessary and only serve to slow down your system, and in some cases may even cause it to crash. TaskMaster provides a lot more control over what's running on your PC at any given time than do the standard Windows tools.
TaskMaster's main window shows a list of all the tasks (or programs) that your PC is currently running and allows you to end them, or try to reactivate them should they stop responding. The second tab lets you create different configurations for Windows that you can load on a restart. For instance, you could create a profile that loads a minimal number of programs so that your system's resources are free to work on power-hungry activities, such as digital video-editing or 3D gaming.
McAfee Utilities has all the features that we've come to expect, as well as a useful extra in the form of PGP encryption for data security. The interface is tidy and allows direct access to all the suite's separate features from a no-nonsense menu, where they are grouped according to task.
McAfee has cleverly added the facility to use many of the core features and applications straight from the CD rather than having to install them, which can save valuable disk space. Disk Tune, Disk Minder, McAfee Shredder and Undelete are among the powerful tools that can be run this way. Even better, the disc is bootable, so if you really get into trouble and can't kick Windows into action, you can try to rescue your system using McAfee's specialist tools. Simply start up your computer with the Utilities CD in your machine.
Once again McAfee has improved its utility suite. There are some useful new features and existing ones are easier to use than ever before, making this a wise investment for those who need a helping hand to keep their computer healthy.
McAfee Utilities 4.0
Price: $79; Supplier: Network Associates International; Phone: 1800 644 646; URL: www.mcafee.com