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Review of:
Extra Strength Realhelp
 
by by Larry Grosskopf, Ph.D.

Have you ever lost important data or files from a crash of your system or hard drive? Many people have and there are a myriad of possible causes for a crash. Some are due to physical components of the computer, a hard drive that is damaged, processor or memory chips that go bad, or a battery that dies. When these occur, there is no choice but to replace the damaged component and go on.. 

However, crashes may be due to application conflicts or conflicts between software and hardware configurations. For these problems, there is now Extra Strength Realhelp, a utility program by Quarterdeck, which is designed to help the individual who is not technologically astute to be able to diagnose and fix application and hardware problems on computers running Windows 95. Their aim is to minimize downtime for personal computer users and to troubleshoot and solve problems in the most efficient way. 

 This is a utility suite program that offers defense against crashes, virus protection, online updating of programs, analysis and detection of problems and conflict resolution, continuous system monitoring and repair of conflicts and problems. You may not have heard of this program yet, as it's recent release date was November 3, 1997, but it seems likely to me that you will soon. The program I am reviewing is the "Extra Strength' version, but it was also released in a "Regular Strength" version. 

This CD-ROM program requires Windows 95, a 256 color (or higher) VGA monitor, an Intel 486 DX-33 or better, (Pentium recommended), 16 MB of RAM, 60 MB of hard drive space and Internet access for updating online. It supports Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3.x and higher or Netscape Navigator 3.x or higher. Also included is a one year subscription to TuneUp services, an Internet service which ensures your hardware drivers and software are up-to-date and running at peak performance and problem-free.. The target audience for this program includes those who influence end-user purchasing decisions, emerging power users and the casual computer user. 

The 198 page User Guide was quite easy to use, well-organized and provided many graphical demonstrations of how to use the utility programs found in Extra Strength Realhelp. It was user friendly, providing common graphical user interfaces such as icons, windows, buttons, color-coding and TuneUp's "speedometer" presentation. 

Technical support was abundant, even though I have found no need for it yet. There is the Quarterdeck website, an automated, toll-free information system, a fax technical bulletin and product information system, the Quarterdeck BBS, FTP site or live technical support specialists. I was surprised by how many tasks this program helps the user accomplish. 

Crash Prevention

Crash Defender with Unfreeze intercepts fatal 16 and 32 bit errors before the system crashes, thus preventing problems before they occur. This allows you to save work in progress and exit the program without losing your data. 

 S.M.A.R.T. Disk keeps a constant vigil on special sensors that are being built into the latest hard drives. This sensor technology is known as S.M.A.R.T. and the program alerts the user of impending problems in plenty of time to backup data in anticipation of the problem. 

Hardware Diagnostics protect against impending hardware failures by testing system hardware to verify it's working condition and performance level. Components checked include the hard drives, CD-ROM, CPU, memory, sound card, speakers, video or graphics card, mouse, keyboard, modem and PCMCIA card. 

Service Manager provides centralized control of all the Realhelp tools that run in the background of your system. 

Disk Fix continuously scans the hard drive for disk problems and tries to repair them automatically. 

Finding and Fixing Problems 

Full System Check is a task that conducts an automated check of your systems software and hardware. You are notified of the results and allowed to choose whether you want to fix the failed components (if possible) automatically or manually. 

Conflict Detector searches your hard drive for incompatibilities between hardware, applications and Windows 95. It scans the system for incomplete software installations, missing files and configuration problems and can automatically fix them. 

Problem Preventer examines the Windows 95 environment for unresolved shortcuts, Registry integrity, and the completeness of System configuration files. 

Preinstall Inspector is the program that sniffs out and then corrects potential conflicts before the application is installed, thus preventing the creation of a conflict. 

ViruSweep Scan integrates the hunt for viruses and the subsequent repair of infected files, even compressed files! It can perform scans in the background at predetermined intervals (daily, weekly, monthly) that you choose. 

Find-A-Fix provides a hierarchy of solution searches starting with a local knowledge database, if unsuccessful, it then moves to support sites on the Internet, and finally sends a general query to common search engines on the Internet. 

System Monitoring

Memory Monitor automatically informs the user when system memory is getting low to avoid low memory affecting performance of the system. 

 Resource Monitor keeps tabs on resources in use by the system (including Windows 95) as well as resources needed on the hard drive. Alerts you if the lack of resources may affect the system performance. 

 CPU Monitor prevents trouble by letting you know when the CPU utilization is getting low or is being overworked. 
 
 

Safety Net

Change Capture and Change Remover automatically records changes and backs up deleted or overwritten files that occur during software and hardware installation/removal or when you are making manual changes with Windows 95's Control Panel. 

 Emergency Recover protects against data loss by creating a bootable recovery disk including necessary data about the current system configuration. This allows you to quickly reboot and then fix the problem. 

 Backup Agent sits in the background, monitoring activity and then notifies you when you need to backup your files, providing another level of protection for your data. 
 
 

Speed and Performance

Performance Optimizer ensures optimal system configuration with the idea in mind to provide maximum performance and maximum productivity for the user. 

 Defragment Monitor periodically analyzes how much fragmentation exists on the computer and when fragmentation exceeds a preset limit (determined by the user) it prompts the user to run Disk Defragmenter. 
 
 

Automatic Updating

Update-It checks the Realhelp knowledge bases and virus definitions to see if they are current and when they are outdated, updates them via the Internet. Problem-fixing solutions, patches, drivers and updates are obtained automatically. 

 TuneUp is more powerful and yet easy to use and provides updates, patches, and drivers for applications and hardware installed on the PC via the Internet. 
 
 

Support Resources

Hardware/Software Inventory displays a comprehensive list of hardware devices found on the computer. 

Vendor List maintains a list of support contact information for most major software and hardware makers. From the list, the vendors can be instantly accessed via hotlinks to their websites. 

TuneUp.com gives the user a 1 year subscription to the basic services provided by TuneUp. There are forums, answers to FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions), articles and tips and tricks. There is good advice and information here for the taking. 

 User Log displays detailed information summarized from tests that Realhelp has performed and shows information on the configuration of the computer. This lets you send accurate reports of results and system information to support personnel if and when it becomes necessary. 

 You may be saying, this is a lot of material but is it practical, and does it work? Let me share my experience. When I ran the program initially, I discovered I had several conflicts and allowed the program to fix them. When I ran it again, they were gone. Most importantly, however, my printer had developed a problem, it would not print. The error message was "install new printer software". Since I've had my Canon BJC-620 working perfectly for over a year, I was at a loss. My plan was to do the usual, which I did, reinstalling the Windows Printing System and the Canon software. No luck. Same error message, even after downloading and installing the latest version of the software from the Internet. I sent an e-mail message to technical support at Canon, receiving an automated response that someone would be contacting me about the query. I then decided to try Realhelp at this point. To make a long story short, Realhelp soon had my printer purring and printing away! Needless to say, I was delighted I still haven't heard back from Canon's technical support. 

 I would recommend this program highly to those who want to avoid hassles, crashes and the inability to fix a PC problem when one rears it's ugly head. While I must admit, I have not utilized all of the programs described, Realhelp did find 4 conflicts and resolved them and fixed 6 shortcut errors on my system. All of these problems were unbeknownst to me and their repair has likely made my system run more efficiently and it is now less likely to crash than it was before I installed this program. Even though I am not sure how this program "fixed" the problems I've mentioned, I'm just glad that it did. In short, my experience was positive and the program seems to do what it purports to do. 

Recommended and estimated street cost of this product is $59.95 for Extra Strength Realhelp and $39.95 for Regular Strength Realhelp. The program may be purchased at CompUSA for $49.99 for the Extra Strength Realhelp version and $39.99 for Regular Strength Realhelp. Quarterdeck Corporation may be contacted by telephone at (310) 309-3767 or if you want to check out their Internet presence, go to http://www.quarterdeck.com

 Larry Grosskopf, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist at the San Antonio State Hospital. He and his wife Marta have three children, ages 16, 4 and 2.