15 free downloads to pep up your old PC

Can't afford a new PC? These free tools for Windows will help breathe new life into your old machine.

Keep your PC running in tip-top shape by cleaning its Windows Registry with Eusing Free Registry Cleaner.

Keep your PC running in tip-top shape by cleaning its Windows Registry with Eusing Free Registry Cleaner.

Clean up your hard disk

As your PC ages, it gets more bloated, full of applications and data you don't really need. This can slow down your PC, and may force you to buy a new hard disk. But with the following free programs, you won't have to do either.

PC Decrapifier

One big cause of software bloat is the trialware, annoying free software, and "craplets" that computer makers put on new PCs, or that you might have inadvertently installed during your Internet travels. Not only does it clog your hard disk, but the software may run in the background without your knowing it, slowing down your PC.

This little program solves the problem neatly. It gets rid of dozens of the most common kinds of junk that PC makers put on your PC, including AOL, Dell URL Assistant, WildTangent Games and trial copies of many common pieces of software. For a full list, go to pcdecrapifier.com/apps.

In addition to removing programs from the list, it will also show you all of the programs on your PC, and ask if you want to remove any.

When you run the program, it asks whether you want to create a Restore Point. It's a good idea to do this before having PC Decrapifier delete programs from your PC, in case you want to revert your system to its previous state. Note, though, that the program's FAQ page says that the Restore Point won't reinstall any software that the program removed; you'll have to do that yourself manually.

Keep in mind that if you've got a very old PC, this software may not work with it. It works only with Windows XP and Vista, not older versions of Windows.

Works with: Windows XP/Vista

CCleaner

Piriform's CCleaner is another excellent tool for unclogging your PC. In fact, it's probably the best piece of software you can find -- whether free or paid -- to unclog your computer's arteries. For a start, it gets rid of cache files and junk files left behind by many applications, including Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat Reader, QuickTime, Windows Media Player, and all the major browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and Opera.

Close your browsers and tell it to scan your PC; it reports on what it will clean up, and then cleans up what you tell it to. Often, you'll be able to get rid of hundreds of megabytes of files you don't need. If you think you need a larger hard disk, first run this program -- it may show you that just cleaning up your existing one is all you need.

CCleaner goes beyond cleaning your hard disk, though. It also has a Registry cleaner that kills unused entries and fixes bad ones; will show you what programs automatically run on start-up when you boot Windows; and will let you disable ones you don't need.

When you install the program, it also installs a Yahoo toolbar by default. If you don't want to have the toolbar installed, uncheck the box next to it before completing your installation.

Works with: Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/Vista

Duplicate Music Files Finder

If you're running out of hard disk space, one of the biggest culprits is often music files. Without realizing it, you probably have plenty of duplicates that hog hard disk space and wreak havoc with your media library. For instance, duplicate files often end up in separate areas in your library under different names, and you end up playing them multiple times by accident.

But finding duplicate music files can be very difficult -- the same piece of music may have different file names and not appear to be a duplicate. This program from LC IBros Solutions finds duplicates by doing much more than looking at file names. It also compares file sizes, performs CRC checks and examines ID3 tags to find duplicates. It then deletes them for you.

Works with: Windows XP/Vista

Easy Duplicate File Finder

It's not just media files that fill up your hard disk, which is most likely clogged with plenty of other duplicates as well. Easy Duplicate File Finder scans your system, shows you in detail exactly what duplicates it finds, then lets you clean them one by one or in bulk.

Although all-in-one programs like Glary Utilities include duplicate file finders, this one has far more capabilities. You can specify minimum and maximum file sizes to search for, for example, and it does a more thorough job of examining files to determine if they're duplicates, including doing a byte-by-byte comparison. It can also protect system files so that you don't accidentally delete any vital ones.

Works with: Windows 95/98/Me/2000/XP/Vista

SkyDrive

Running out of disk space, but don't want to spend the money for a new hard disk? Here's a simple solution -- use this free online storage service from Microsoft. You get 25GB of free online space to do anything you want with.

Using the service is exceedingly simple. Just sign up for a Windows Live account and you're ready to go. It's completely Web-based, so you won't have to download and install software. Once you sign up, you can create folders on the site that you can either keep private or share with others. Then upload files to them, and you can get access to those files from any computer with an Internet connection via Internet Explorer 6 or above, Firefox 2 or above, or Safari 3 or above.

Note that you won't be able to use the service if it's a virtual hard drive; you can't save files to it directly from an application. Instead, you'll need to first create the files on your own PC, then upload the files to the service.

After that, you can delete your local files, so that you have extra room on your hard disk. Whenever you want to access your files, just head to the site and they're there.

Sign up for SkyDrive

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Preston Gralla

Computerworld

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