Western Digital's My DVR Expander 500GB external hard drive lets you store as many TV programs you want from your set-top DVR. System Mechanic, from iolo Technologies, includes a bunch of utilities to boost your computer's speed and diagnose and fix problems.
The scoop: My DVR Expander, by Western Digital, about $150.
What it is: This is a 500GB external hard drive that connects to TiVo and Scientific Atlanta-based digital video recorders to provide additional storage space for media content recorded on the DVRs. The device is powered by its own AC power adapter and connects via eSATA cable to the active eSATA port on your DVR.
Why it's cool: Connecting this device to your DVR helps eliminate one of the biggest problems with set-top DVRs like the TiVo -- the regular process of picking and choosing which programs you need to delete in order to save space for future shows that you'd like to record. With higher capacities needed to save recorded high-definition content on the DVR, having a device like the My DVR Expander makes even more sense.
The device was easy to connect -- I just powered it up and connected via the provided eSATA cable. After a false start (see below), I was able to get the DVR to recognize the device and add its 500GB to the built-in storage on the DVR. Before connecting the device, my DVR was 67% full with 59 recordings. After connecting, I was only 15% full with the same number of recordings, giving me much more space for additional recordings.
Some caveats: I tested this with my Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300 HD system, not a TiVo, so your experiences may differ. On the Scientific Atlanta box, unplugging the DVR and then rebooting the system makes it go through a slow refresh period. On my first connection attempt, I was asked to reformat the external device, and after I agreed, the capacity on my DVR remained the same. A second attempt at disconnecting and reconnecting got the device to work correctly.
Grade: 4 stars (out of five).
The scoop: System Mechanic (version 8.5), by iolo Technologies, about $35 (covers one year of service updates).
What it is: This software gives you a bunch of utilities that aim to help boost your computer's speed, diagnose and fix problems, and clean up the clutter that can build up after lots of use. The software can provide a quick analysis of system problems, as well as let you dig deeper into problems and provide individual tools to help clean up your system.
Why it's cool: In my "Cool Tools columnist" role, I'm constantly installing and uninstalling programs, and that tends to drag down my computer. While most programs seem to do a good job when they get uninstalled, sometimes they don't, and you get left with unneeded junk. After installing the System Mechanic on my system, a quick two-minute analysis came up with eight problems which read like the song, "12 Days of Christmas." I had 21 repairable security vulnerabilities, 402 Registry problems, 4.54GB of system clutter, five unnecessary startup items and a registry that wasn't backed up. Luckily, cleaning up the system didn't take long either, and within 45 minutes of my first analysis, I had a cleaner system. The system also includes ActiveCare software, which runs in the background to keep the PC optimized.
Some caveats: Some of the quirky things on my PC still existed after running it, and the system said Windows Firewall wasn't enabled, but couldn't recognize my other firewall and antivirus programs (at least I think those are running).
Grade: 5 stars.