As a Windows user, you have access to countless free applications. Some apps are essential, and you use them every day. Everyone knows their names: Firefox, VLC, 7-Zip, and so on.Which ones can you trust and which ones are the best?
Consult this list for ideas and discover apps you didn’t know existed. We’re continuously seeking out the best Windows software for all your needs. Most applications recommended here are free and you can quickly find what you need by browsing the listed programs by category.
Antivirus software is a cornerstone in protecting your computer from external attacks. While it shouldn’t be your only protection, it’s important that you install a single antivirus application only! Installing several antivirus tools on the same computer can potentially cause issues, to the point where they lock your computer up.
Maybe you’ve forgotten what kind of RAM you bought, or want a quick glance at your CPU’s temperature. Speccy scans your machine and gives you a complete rundown of everything, from model numbers to temperatures, fan speeds, S.M.A.R.T. status, and…well, pretty much anything else you can think of. It’s also available in portable form, so you don’t have to install anything—just stick it in a folder for when you really need it. For an alternative, check out HWiNFO.
Stress Testing Utilities
Overclockers are probably very familiar with stress testing utilities like Prime95, LinX, and AIDA64. If you’ve overclocked your CPU, you should definitely keep these around, but they can be useful for non-overclockers too. When your processor is having issues, it can be difficult to diagnose. If some of your apps are crashing, a stress test like Prime95 can help you figure out whether your CPU is the problem (or whether it’s something else). Many folks also recommend giving a new computer a stress test to make sure there aren’t any problems. Most of these are also portable, so you can throw them in a folder and start them up when you need them.
A Firewall is a network security system that monitors and controls incoming and outgoing network traffic based on predetermined security rules. A firewall typically establishes a barrier between a trusted internal network and untrusted external network, such as the Internet.
Firewalls are often categorized as either network firewalls or host-based firewalls. Network firewalls filter traffic between two or more networks and run on network hardware. Host-based firewalls run on host computers and control network traffic in and out of those machines.
MalwareBytes, VirusTotal, and AdwCleaner
We put these in the same category since they all protect you from unwanted programs, but they’re each useful in their own right. You probably have a good antivirus program running all the time, but no antivirus program catches everything—so it’s useful to have a secondary program to check once in awhile. MalwareBytes is great because it only works on-demand, which means it won’t conflict with your always-running antivirus tool. The VirusTotal Uploader, on the other hand, lets you scan any individual file with over 50 antivirus tools at once, so it’s great if you’ve downloaded something you think might be fishy. Lastly, if you’ve accidentally installed an annoying toolbar on your system that just won’t go away, AdwCleaner will help you get rid of it.
Magical Jelly Bean KeyFinder
Ever had to reinstall a program, but couldn’t find your product key? Magical Jelly Bean KeyFinder will search your PC for installed programs, and—if they have a product key—show them to you, so you can write it down and use it the next time you reinstall. Note: this one contains some toolbars and such upon installation, so be sure to use the custom installation to avoid the crapware.
Fragmented data can slow your computer down. Defragging restores order on your hard drive. Note that defragging a solid state drive (SSD) can reduce its lifespan.
Most hard drives have spinning platters, with data stored in different places around that platter. When your computer writes data to your drive, it does so in “blocks” that are ordered sequentially from one side of the drive’s platter to the other. Fragmentation happens when those files get split between blocks that are far away from each other. The hard drive then takes longer to read that file because the read head has to “visit” multiple spots on the platter. Defragmentation puts those blocks back in sequential order, so your drive head doesn’t have to run around the entire platter to read a single file. Image by XZise.
The Windows Task Manager can show you a lot of information about what programs are running, and usually it does what you need it to. But on the rare occasions you need more information—like if you’re trying to figure out which program is using your webcam, for example—you need Process Explorer. Process Explorer is one of the many Task Manager alternatives out there, offering information on what files are currently in use, what hardware, and what each program is doing. If the regular Task Manager isn’t giving you the info you need, Process Explorer will.
Ultimate Windows Tweaker
When you first install Windows, you probably get everything set up just the way you like it, including all your favorite little Registry hacks and unsupported tweaks. You might even discover new ones later and try them out. Apps like Ultimate Windows Tweaker make this a lot easier, and they’re useful to keep around later if you start incorporating new things into your workflow. Its list of features is endless, allowing you to tweak the tiniest features in the taskbar, Windows Explorer, the lock screen, and anything else you could imagine. Download it once and keep it forever (and as always, back up before you start tweaking your system).
This open source tool is considered one of the best applications for recovering lost partitions or making non-booting disks bootable again. It’s operated through a command prompt window but comes with thorough documentation, which will allow even novices to compile information for recovery by a professional.