Checkmate review: Learn quickly of impending problems

Keeping your Mac healthy comes down to two aspects: knowing there’s a problem and fixing it. For the latter, Apple’s own Disk Utility does a pretty good job although I tend to rely on two other utilities, namely Alsoft’s Disk Warrior and Micromat’s TechTool Pro. But how do you know there’s a problem in the first place? An ounce of prevention can be worth a ton of cure and the headache that goes with it!

That is the idea behind Checkmate. By running a series of regular tests when your Mac’s inactive, it forewarns you of impending problems. The warning mechanism is a chess knight icon in the menu bar. This is usually black but turns yellow as a warning and red if some part of your Mac has failed a test.

The main window (which looks like an early satnav design but let’s not hold that against the app) shows the four main areas of testing: Hardware, Drives, Files and System.

Hardware checks memory through a proprietary test and while it may warn of a module problem, it doesn’t tell you which one. With some Macs it may be possible to remove a module and retest but not if modules need to be run in pairs or if they are inaccessible. The second check reports on the condition of a laptop’s battery.

Aside from looking like an old-fashioned satnav, Checkmate’s main window clearly shows all tests and their results

Many Mac problems emanate from hard drive issues. Drives examines the startup volume by using Disk Utility in the background. It checks connected disks with a surface scan and polls the SMART status of drives too. If there have been hard drive issues or system crashes, the likelihood of file corruption is pretty high. To this end, Files checks common file types but not proprietary ones from Adobe, Microsoft, Quark or other companies. Finally, System checks your Mac’s I/O (input/output) log for any errors.

Checkmate does a decent enough job but you have to consider that many of the checks can be done with freely-available software. MemTest/Rember handles memory testing, SMARTReporter checks a hard drive’s status, and Disk Utility can verify hard drives (and repair most faults too). Additionally, various utilities can look at your Mac’s logs for RAID status, battery condition, I/O check and power-on self test which is all Checkmate does in these areas. Where Checkmate really scores though is with its surface scanning, something TechTool Pro is renowned for. Going over every block on a drive during periods of inactivity rather than having to leave your Mac unattended for many hours is a huge bonus.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that while Checkmate checks and warns, if it finds issues you’ll need additional software to sort them out. That makes a $50 price tag seem a bit high especially when TechTool Pro is the recommended remedy to various problems, making Checkmate a bit of a marketing tool for the company.

OUR VERDICT

Despite some unease about the price and how Checkmate sits relative to TechTool Pro, there’s a simple choice here. Wait until problems occur and then try to fix them, use a number of different utilities to check your Mac, or invest in Checkmate. It’s unobtrusive and checks for most of the errors that are likely to cause you grief.

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