There are some fantastic tools out there that can be yours for nothing if you know where to look. We show you how to reclaim processor cycles and streamline your PC for free.
There's something in the motto ‘you get what you pay for'. Of the vast range of free online tools available, the majority are free for a reason: they're not good enough to charge a fee for. Fortunately, there are some fantastic tools out there that can be yours for nothing if you know where to look.
Many of the best free online tools and services are quickly championed and their fame and functionality spreads. Two good examples are Google Search and Firefox, and both have enjoyed huge success without charging a bean. We'd include Internet Explorer in this group but, since Microsoft preloads it with Windows PCs, its success wasn't achieved in the same ‘viral' way.
Now that the internet is infinitely mashable and malleable, with plug-ins and customisations, localised hacks and online apps, the average user can't be expected to keep up with each and every newcomer that's worthy of attention. So how do you know what's free and worth having, what's free but will load up your PC with endless pop-ups ads and prompts to install other programs, and which downloads are actively dangerous?
Dealing with the latter concern first, ensuring your antivirus, firewall and other malware trappers are up to date will help keep your PC safe; toolbar indicators in your browser and search listings that warn if a site is suspect can also help. But there's a lot to be said for using recommended downloads and services that have been pre-tested for suitability and scanned for viruses.
That's where PC Advisor comes in. We've got a vested interest in helping you get the best from your PC and enjoy a solid, streamlined web experience. We're also advocates of making the best of what you've got, whether that's a cranky but tweakable copy of XP or a fast system held back by overbloated applications.
Read on for our recommendations of free tools that will optimise your PC, tighten security, improve your browsing experience and help you get more done.
Tweak your system
This download can speed up your system by fixing your Registry, removing spyware and junk files, killing unnecessary programs that run at startup and more. It even provides a one-click option that automatically finds all problems and fixes them.
Power up Windows' anaemic Clipboard with Clipboard Help+Spell, which maintains a list of the text items you copy to it so that you can retrieve them later. As well as checking spelling and grammar, a research capability lets you snag items and organise them into folders.
If you accidentally delete a file from the Recycle Bin and later realise you need it, you can spend hours fruitlessly searching for it. Recuva is what you need to recover the file. It scans your PC for items that you've deleted, lists what it finds and shows you the likelihood that you can recover each file.
If you need to record what happens on your screen, ScreenToaster is ideal. Go to the site, press Alt, S and ScreenToaster records every action you take. Press Alt, S again to end recording. You can edit what you record, upload the video to ScreenToaster or YouTube and download it to your PC.
Defraggler is far better than Windows' defragging utility, scanning your disk faster - useful if you have a large hard drive - and adding the ability to defragment individual files. It's more entertaining to watch, too.
If you have multiple USB drives, media-card readers and optical and network drives on your PC, organising files can be complicated. This download quickly identifies your drives, giving you vital information such as the type of drive and its total and remaining capacity. Drive Manager also lists the temperature and model number for SMART-enabled drives.
For the Linux-curious, Wubi is a dual-boot manager that allows you to keep your options open. It's straightforward to install and doesn't require you to create a separate partition. Since it runs within Windows, you can easily toggle between the two.
Windows 7 will feature a Mac-esque dock, giving quick access to commonly used apps. Add the functionality to Vista and XP with RocketDock. You can pick the items in your dock, customise its look and behaviour and put it at the top, bottom or side of the screen.
StartUpLite streamlines your PC's startup function with just a few mouse clicks. It's possible to achieve the same result within Windows, but StartUpLite helps you get there quicker and with less hassle. The result is a revved-up machine that eliminates unnecessary system overheads.
Feeling the limitations of your PC screen? 360desktop enables you to link up the left and righthand sides of your screen, creating a continuous, scrollable loop. Photo fans will relish the ability to view breathtaking vistas without buying a bigger monitor.
This app provides 150 ways to tweak Vista. Options include adding or removing items from the Start menu, altering notifications about connections and battery life, adjusting User Account Control settings and changing the physical appearance of the interface.
For those less confident in speeding things up by preventing services and processes running in case they are critical to Windows, Vista Services Optimizer can quickly and efficiently give your PC a speed boost.