Helix's Nuts & Bolts utilities hit the nail on the head

Each of its four main groups-Repair and Recover, Clean and Optimize, Prevent and
Protect, and Secure and Manage-has four or five utilities.


The software comes on CD-ROM, but 312-inch disks are available on request. Installation
is easy, and you can accept the default directory or specify a destination directory. The
only other choice you make is Express or Custom installation.


The user guide is easy to follow and well-illustrated. Helix Software gives free
technical support by toll call during business hours, over the Internet and on CompuServe.
There's a toll-free, fax-back service, too.


I called technical support many times while testing this package and always got through
promptly. I never heard a busy signal.


Now for the nuts and bolts. Repair and Recover's four utilities are DiskMinder, which
diagnoses and repairs existing or potential problems on your drives; Image/Restore, which
saves an image copy of critical disk information; Rescue, which makes a bootable emergency
disk; and Discover, which displays just about everything you'd ever want to know about
your hardware and software.


DiskMinder is much faster than Microsoft Windows 95's ScanDisk. If you use your PC
while ScanDisk runs, you've probably noticed how frequently the utility restarts.
DiskMinder minimizes restarts and works faster. Helix Software claims DiskMinder can
repair some serious problems that ScanDisk misses, such as lost partitions and damaged
boot sectors.


Image/Restore saves an image of your drive's most critical data, including boot record,
partition tables and File Allocation Table. By running Image/Restore daily, not just when
when you reorganize with DiskTune, you'll be ready to restore files if the drive ever
fails.


Rescue's 720K emergency boot floppy has everything needed to restore your hard drive.
You can make a disk with default settings and files or customize it with files of your own
to recover a malfunctioning drive.


Discover Pro, the system analysis utility, lets you inspect overall information, memory
usage, running software, disk information, and installed and active I/O devices. The
diagnostics tab runs tests on your serial and parallel ports, hard drive, RAM and overall
system.


Clean and Optimize has four utilities for tuning. The Cleanup Wizard finds duplicate,
old, large and orphan files, which you can then delete or compress. DiskTune defragments
your hard drive.


The Registry Wizard helps maintain and clean the Windows Registry database. The
Shortcut Wizard finds orphan shortcuts so you can repair or delete them. DiskTune, which
replaces Windows' Disk Defragmenter, not only defragments your disk, it sorts your files
into five regions-Top, High, Middle, Low and Bottom.


It then groups and writes files into these categories: Windows components, recently
modified files, recently accessed files, any two user-specified categories and all other
files.


The Clean option removes unnecessary Registry items, such as a Recent Documents list.
Repair lists invalid Registry entries, which you can fix manually or have the Wizard fix
automatically. TuneUp sorts and compacts the current Registry, removing empty entries.


In the Prevent and Protect group, the utilities are Bomb Shelter, Win Gauge, Virus Scan
and Trash Guard. Also included is Cheyenne Software Inc.'s AntiVirus for Windows 95.


Bomb Shelter protects your system from crashes by preventing critical regions of system
RAM from being overwritten. In some cases it can regain control of a program long enough
for you to save files.


Win Gauge tracks system memory, resources, drives and real-time performance. Trash
Guard makes sure all deleted files, including those deleted in an MS-DOS session or 16-bit
Windows application, end up in the Recycle Bin.


Bomb Shelter's one problem was that it prevented an MS-DOS program from launching and
then locked up the system. Helix Software's tech support had the answer: Click on the
Advanced Properties tab and disable write protection of all virtual device drivers.


However, Win Gauge caused a problem neither Helix Software nor I could solve. If Win
Gauge was running when I shut down my PC, it would freeze before reaching the "It's
now safe to turn off your computer" message. I spent about two hours on the phone to
tech support without success.


Win Gauge worked properly when Windows was running in Safe Mode, but it never
terminated correctly when the full system was loaded.


The final set of utilities, the Secure and Manage group, includes EZ Setup, Launchpad,
Stronghold and Shredder.


EZ Setup gives access to Windows desktop options that are otherwise hard to find.
Launchpad is an easy way to organize and access programs, documents and folders.
Stronghold is an encryption/decryption utility, and Shredder permanently deletes files and
wipes free disk space.


I doubt you can find a more complete utility set for the price than Nuts & Bolts.
DiskTune and DiskMinder are excellent replacements for Windows 95's ScanDisk and Disk
Defragmenter. And though Win Gauge froze my system, it's not a utility I would use often.


If you're considering Norton Utilities or FirstAid 97, inspect Nuts & Bolts, too.


William M. Frazier, a PC hobbyist, is the postmaster of Ocean Shores, Wash.


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