Originally Web posted February 1999.
Content last modified Saturday, 9 July 2016 .
External links last verified Thursday, 5 July 2007.

TechTool Pro: Does It Or Doesn’t It Live Up to Its Claims?

A review of TechTool Pro focusing on older Macs and Mac OS versions, by
Sonic Purity

Disclosure: Starting with version 2.5.4 and concluding with the end of the TTP 3 series (3.0.9), i was an outside (of the company) beta tester of Tech Tool Pro. While this was an unpaid position, i asked for, and received, a CD-ROM copy of a couple of TTP versions from MicroMat at no out-of-pocket cost to me. My dealings with MicroMat personnel were generally highly positive. These experiences may have affected the tone, content, or both, of this review, even though i am unable to detect any significant influence from them. I was dropped as a tester because at the time i was not running Mac OSeX. TTP 4 and later are for OSeX only.

So far, my repair utility of choice for the Mac OS X series is DiskWarrior 3 or 4. While i actually have had a copy of TTP 4 (part of a bundle package) since fall 2007, i have spent no more than about 20 minutes using it so far, mostly poking at it. I therefore so far have no opinion on TTP 4 or later and these newer versions are not discussed in this review. I do not expect to put the sort of effort seen in the reviews below into reviewing TTP 4 or newer unless/until i start using it sufficiently, which so far looks unlikely.

Some of you may still find it useful to read or scan this older review to learn how MicroMat and its products have been marketed and performed historically, as some factors or trends may likely continue onward into newer versions.


Product: Tech Tool Pro 1, 2, and 3
Vendor: MicroMat Computer Systems
Versions tested: 1.0.6 to 3.0.9
Hardware range: Mac Plus (TT Pro 1 only) to CRT iMac DV
Mac OS range: System 7.0 to Mac OS 9.2.2
Review originally written: February 1999
Latest content verification and revision of review: March 2005 with TechTool Pro version 3.0.9

Introduction (directly below)
TechTool Pro 1 review
TechTool Pro 2 review
TechTool Pro 3 review
Recommendations and Conclusions


Oh those repair utilities… gotta love ’em. At least until someone invents the bulletproof personal computer operating system (OSeX seems to be a good move in that direction, though could use improvement).

Actually, computer repair utilities are strange beasts. They are extremely popular and often necessary, precisely because the other software and hardware they purport to fix/troubleshoot are so riddled with errors and mistakes as to make them barely usable under many normal circumstances. Yet, these very repair utility software packages both suffer themselves from their own plentiful supply of programming errors (bugs), as well as suffering at the hands of operating system, hardware, and other software bugs in the Vintage Mac OS (9 and earlier) unprotected memory personal computing environment.

If computer hardware and productivity (non-utility) software had far fewer built-in errors and actually worked the way it is supposed to work, there would be a lot less necessity for repair utilities. Think about it… do you own diagnostic software and/or hardware for your audio system, video system, microwave oven, answering machine, or cell phone? Probably not, unless repairing one or more of those devices is your profession or a serious hobby. Yet, even relatively casual users are expected to BUY the computer equivalent of the automobile technician’s diagnostic equipment, all because the computer hardware and software manufacturers cannot be bothered to supply products which work correctly!

History (and author’s biases)

In the early 1990s, Mac users generally chose from amongst three popular repair utilities when the going got rough, and Disk First Aid was insufficient to correct the problem(s) at hand: Public Utilities, Norton Utilities for Macintosh (NUM), and MacTools Pro. Over the years, Symantec, publisher of the Norton Utilities, bought Public Utilities and MacTools Pro from Fifth Generation Systems and Central Point, respectively. At that point, practically speaking, they had a monopoly on high-power Mac repair and diagnostic utilities. Did they continue to develop and support Public Utilities and MacTools Pro, as promised? No! They took what they wanted from each, and effectively killed both off. Now it was Snortin’ Norton or nuthin’.

As a registered owner of both MacTools and Public Utilities, the idea of shelling out the big $$$ for an “upgrade” to my least favorite of the three did not sit well, so i didn’t. I have hated Symantec from that moment, and continue to loathe them today. My comparisons of TechTool Pro and NUM in this article are therefore definitely not based upon a version of NUM i own or use at home, rather upon extensive experience with NUM at Apple (with their licensed copies) as a software tester, and on the BMUG Helpline with BMUG’s copy. Thus, no head-to-head comparison with any halfway recent version of NUM.

MicroMat to the rescue(?)

Not only do i hate Symantec, i’m rather partial to the folks at MicroMat, having not only had a pleasurable conversation with a couple of them at a Santa Rosa (California) Mac faire in October 1995, but also having made extensive use of their excellent (and free) TechTool Lite utility (originally just named “TechTool”). Definitely get the latest version of TechTool (version 3.0.4 as i type)—you are not likely to regret it![Mac Plus footnote]

TechTool Pro follows a long lineage of diagnostic and repair products from MicroMat, a small company in Windsor, California, who (i believe) may have been or may still be involved with Mac repair themselves. In any event, they know of what they speak.

Seeing a need (and an opportunity), MicroMat rolled up a number of its older diagnostic products, added a bunch of additional features, and created TechTool Pro a few years ago. As dissatisfaction with Norton, Symantec, and Norton’s non-support of HFS+ began to reach fever pitch in the late 1990s, MicroMat decided the time was ripe to take on Snortin’ Norton. Hence, TechTool Pro 2.

Around January 1998, i decided to take up MicroMat’s then-offer to buy the waning TechTool Pro version 1, and get TT Pro 2 for no extra cost when it shipped. The remainder of this review is a summary of all that has happened since then in my computing world regarding repair utility software, with an emphasis on the final versions of TT Pro 3 and what a prospective buyer/competitive upgrader (especially one with an older Mac and/or Mac OS) may wish to consider.

“Yeah, it’ll work on that” (System Requirements)

This section used to be a very long and detailed rant about how the System Requirements listed for TTP 1 and 2 had very little bearing on reality. You may still read the original rant for all the details.

As of TTP 3, MicroMat apparently finally heard folks like me, and started incorporating System Requirements listings that seemed to have some resemblance to reality. Why this took so long and seems to be so difficult for so many software companies (not just MicroMat) i still do not understand. My best understanding of real-world system requirements is listed in the recommendations below.


Specific Version Reviews

Most folks will probably want to read the TechTool Pro 3 Review. Folks who prefer 680x0 Macs may have more interest in the TechTool Pro 2 Review. Hardcore historians, 68000 users, and the generally curious may want to read the TechTool Pro 1 Review.


Bug O-Rama

Or Historically, How Well Has MicroMat Done Fixing Bugs?

Excruciatingly Detailed Table

Bug Overview Table

Arbitrarily chosen list of “most interesting” bugs

TechTool Pro version
BUG 1.0.7 2.5.5 3.0.6 3.0.9
Address Error crash Not fixed Not fixed "Fixed"* "Fixed"*
DiskMaker cannot make 800k disk Not fixed Fixed Not fixed (rebroken) Not fixed
Video test: all results zero Not fixed Not fixed; worse failure "Fixed"* "Fixed"*
L1 & L2 test nonexistent cache Not fixed Not fixed Fixed (sorta) Fixed (sorta)
Nonexistent Bus 1 displayed in Drives test Fixed, but New bug created Not fixed (new) "Fixed"* "Fixed"*
Failed to find IIci startup problem - Not fixed Not fixed N.A.
"Insufficient memory" - Not fixed Not fixed N.A.
CD-ROM won’t boot 030 Macs - Fixed Fixed N.A.
Testing time estimates significantly off - Not fixed "Fixed"* (estimates removed) "Fixed"* (estimates removed)
No Extensions Manager info. for Protection C.P. nor Extension - Fixed Fixed Fixed
Some Advice panels missing - Not fixed Fixed Fixed
Test Passes when it should Fail - Not fixed Unknown Unknown
No Balloon nor Guide Help Not fixed Not fixed Not fixed Not fixed
Video CB and CBQ test problems - Not fixed Fixed N.A.
Simple interface tests unusable on PowerBook 170 - Not fixed N.A. N.A.
Pervasive Type 1 errors using TTP CD-ROM - Not fixed Not fixed N.A.
Fails to find defective System File - Not fixed Not fixed Not fixed
Bus Error crash (Volume Select) - - Fixed Fixed
File Lab crashes Macintosh - - Not fixed Not fixed
Interface not usable at 640 x 480 - - Not fully fixed N.A.
Finder Info test right after Optimization fails - - Not fixed Not fixed
Software Conflict database incomplete - - Not fixed Not fixed
Finder clickout truncates testing - - Fixed Fixed
Modem User Memory test fails incorrectly - - Fixed Fixed
Audio Panning test fails and distorts - - Partially Fixed Partially Fixed
Hidden hyperlinks remain clickable - - Not fixed Not fixed
Uninformative Video Geometry image error message - - Not fixed Not fixed
Command-period fails to Cancel - - Fixed Fixed
*"Fixed"
means that the problem was solved by restrictions on the OS or hardware upon which this version of TechTool Pro runs, rather than an actual root problem fix.
N.A.
means “Not Applicable” - cannot test this TTP version on failing configuration.
-
means bug discovered after this (older) version of TTP was tested, and no retest of the older version performed.

Repair Utility Recommendations

So Sonic, i need a disk repair utility for my pre-OSeX Macintosh. What do you recommend?

Mac series First Choice Second Choice Last Resort
68000 Public Utilities 2.0 TechTool Pro 1.0.7 Snortin’ Norton$ 3.2.4
68020 Public Utilities 2.0 DiskWarrior 2.1.1 Snortin’ Norton 3.5.2 or 3.2.4
68030 DiskWarrior 2.1.1 TechTool Pro 2.5.5 (if you’re patient and have ≥16 MB RAM and 256 colors), TechTool Pro 3.0.6! if you’re extra-patient, or TTPro 1.0.7 for B&W and low RAM Public Utilities 2.0
68040 DiskWarrior 2.1.1 & Plus Optimizer 1.3 TechTool Pro 3.0.6! (or 2.5.5 for low RAM configurations) Public Utilities 2.0 (only if you use HFS standard)
“G1” & “G2” beige Power PCs DiskWarrior 2.1.1 & Plus Optimizer 1.3 TechTool Pro 3.0.9 Public Utilities 2.0 (only if you use HFS standard)
G3 and Newer PPCs DiskWarrior 2.1.1 or newer & Plus Optimizer 1.3 TechTool Pro 3.0.9 some newish Snortin’ Norton
Notes

$“Snortin’ Norton” is my name for the Norton Utilities for Macintosh, by Symantec.
!Check with MicroMat before buying the current TechTool Pro 3 to ensure that it still comes with a disk image for making your own bootable 3.0.6 CD-ROM. Consider asking them if they have fixed the Type 1 crashing problem.


Conclusions

From the late 1990s to the present, i have spent far more time troubleshooting and testing TechTool Pro 1-3 than actually using it. Only once or twice has any version been able to find or fix anything of substance (i.e., more significant than date/bundle bit problems) on any of the 7 or so Macs with which i have used it… at least not anything which wasn’t painfully obvious by simple (and free) observation (such as the flaky hard drive discussed above).


19 June 2000 was an amazing day… TechTool Pro 2 (2.5.4) actually found a real problem (damaged Extents) missed by Disk First Aid 8.2! This was using the Simple interface running System 7.5.5 and TTP 2.5.4 off the TTP 2.5.4 CD-ROM on a recalcitrant and improperly operating Mac IIvx (20MB RAM). I would like to tell you more, but TTP managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with some sort of “unexpected” quit (empty dialog box and no Apple menu) near the end of testing, so i have no further information (and certainly no Report).Slanted straight-line face.

TechTool Pro has totally missed an obvious VRAM problem and the IIci spontaneous startup issue. Not good, considering MicroMat touts hardware testing as one of TechTool Pro’s superior advantages over competing products. All of the TechTool Pro CD-ROMs i have ever seen which include Mac OS 7.6.1 have shipped with a defective (corrupted) version which passes all tests in TechTool Pro itself. It’s bad enough that the CDs escaped with the defective OS (which can be fixed), but if a software utility program whose reason for existence is finding defects of this kind cannot find this problem, what is its excuse? Why should anyone buy it or use it?

This whole situation is an excellent example of the insanity of the computer industry. Basically, as long as one buys software contemporary with one’s hardware, things have half a hope of working (though one must expect all kinds of conflicts, “upgrades”, bug fixes, and lost productivity), and the software companies often feel at least a teeny bit of responsibility to fix problems.

Older software with newer hardware is often problematic (one either is forced to buy an “upgrade”, or, more often, the software that one has spent time learning is no longer supported), as is older hardware with newer software. The latter is even worse, since many companies will claim their software works on older machines (to maximize sales), yet the testing and support really isn’t there, as they are tripping all over themselves to stay current with the latest hardware insanity. This appears to be exactly what has happened with TechTool Pro, notwithstanding valiant efforts by the folks at MicroMat to at least try and support older systems.

I find that it is useful to be a TechTool Pro owner from time to time. I like the memory tests, which seem fairly thorough, though by no means perfect. Once in a great while i use one of the other functions. I used to use the Optimization routine, until i discovered what i consider to be the superior Plus Optimizer from AlSoft.

Usually, when i am having Mac problems that can be dealt with by software, they are related to the data structures on a hard drive. That is what Apple’s Disk First Aid (now part of Disk Utility for OSeX) deals with. That is the one and only thing that AlSoft’s Disk Warrior deals with. If i had to have just one repair utility for Macs made since the mid 1990s, it would be Disk Warrior. Many folks, including myself, have found it to be the most reliable repair utility software out there for disk problems. Even with (because of?) my extensive background using and testing TechTool Pro, i find Disk Warrior faster and easier to use, as well as more reliable at fixing problems.

I continue to predict the personal computer industry will be decimated by anything (Net Appliances, more powerful mobile phone/PDAs, or whatever) which performs the same kinds of tasks RELIABLY, without FAILING. The day can come none too soon when crashes with personal computers and playing with repair utilities—even decent ones—will be just a painful memory.

MicroMat Computer Systems, Inc.
8868 Lakewood Drive
Windsor, CA 95492
(707) 837-0444
<http://www.micromat.com/>

Sonic Purity is really, really tired of (and annoyed by) computer products which do not work as advertised, especially software, and urges us to Not Take It Any More!!!!


[Mac Plus footnote] Unless, of course, you own a Mac Plus running System 7.0, and you’re silly enough to try pressing either the Extensions or the CDEVs button—instant Address Error crash. I reported this 'Pack 0006 0002' +01E2 (MacsBug; or Address Error w/o MacsBug) crash to MicroMat in January 1998. They have released several TechTools since then (1.1.7 to 1.2.1), none of which has addressed the problem (which exists in 1.1.4 to 1.2.1, and in TechTool Pro. More elsewhere). Plus (68000?)/7.0 users must go back somewhere before 1.1.4, or switch to System 7.1 or newer. I know 1.0.9 works with the Plus/7.0.


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