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GUIDE: Best PC Software, Most FREE!6 min read

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I seem to build or rebuild a Windows hard drive regularly (like again today), so here’s my updated list of what to install.

Last Update: 08.25.2023




1. Install the OS

2. Update your PC

If you have a driver disk for any of the following, install them

  • Driver Booster – this freemium app is great for updating your drivers – and you don’t have to upgrade to actually do the updates.
  • Graphics Card Drivers – don’t use the disks, find out if you have an NVidia or ATI card and download the latest drivers for your machine
  • PatchMyPC – free patches for over 300 common softwares

3. Browsers

4. Media Players

5. MS Apps (MS Office, etc.)

  • Grammarly for Word/Outlook
  • Gsync – sync Outlook w/ Google Calendar
  • PowerPoint Extras
    • Import Photos in Batch, One per slide – Ever need to import a bunch of photos, one per slide, set to “maximum size” like for a wedding or funeral? This VB macro is pretty great, although it is designed for 3:4 slides, not the new narrower 16:9.
  • Visio Stencils
  • Zotero – my favorite free Reference manager for writing papers, has both MS Word and Chrome extensions, plus online archive so you can access from any machine.

7. Cloud File Management

8. Media Editing Apps

  • Audacity – the best free tool for editing mp3 and other sound files (great for podcasters)
  • Open Broadcaster System (OBS) – for recording your gameplay and editing for your YouTube channel. Ask your kids.

9. DVD Ripping

10. Security

  • AdwCleaner  – remove unwanted toolbars, browser hijackers, and other pernicious viruses.
  • Adaware – Not as good as Spybot, but used in tandem, they can catch most stuff.
  • FixMeStick – a cheap thumb drive you can buy at any store to remove viruses on startup.
  • FixIt (Microsoft) – fixes viruses buried in your registry (64bit OS only)
  • Malwarebytes – for those hard to remove items.
  • Spybot Search & Destroy – sounds fishy, works great
  • What’s My Computer Doing? – shows you what programs are accessing your hard drive in real time!

11. Cleanup Utils

  • AllDup – clean, if not oldfashioned, great deduper.
  • CleanMem – frees up system memory from open and closed apps, amazing!
  • CCleaner (cleans up unused DLLs and leftover install files, temp files, has registry repairer etc.).
  • RED (Remove Empty Directories) – got lots of empty folders and don’t want to check each for files. This’ll do ya.

12. Network and Hardware Utilities

  • Bitmeter2 – It’s not going to win any design awards, but BitMeter 2, a program for monitoring your PC’s bandwidth usage, offers a nice set of features.
  • CPUZ – Great for seeing all the data about your CPU. mainboard, Memory, graphics, etc. in real time.
  • Internet Connectivity Monitor – think your internet keeps going down but aren’t sure? Use this free java app from Google to find out.
  • SpeedTestLogger – For a running test of your internet speeds. Not sure how accurate, but nice.

13. Misc. Utilities

There are lots of free apps out there, these are just the ones I need/use.

  • AquaSnap – snap your windows better than the default functionality.
  • HWInfo – hardware info
  • HWMonitor – voltates, cpu temps, fan speeds
  • Pure Text – simple exe that converts whatever you copy to the clipboard to plain text.
  • Notepad++ – the best text editor.
  • Speccy – get a nice view of your hardware specifications. From the makers of ccleaner.
  • Ultimate Boot CD
  • WinDirStat –  great program for visualizing the files on your drives, and how much space they are taking up, and how much free space you have left

14. Some other optional apps that may come in handy

  • 3D Mark – a very cool benchmarking app that tests your graphics card – cool to watch in action.
  • Fraps – display FPS (frames per second) in any app, including your games. Nice.
  • PC Inspector File Recovery – nice app to recover erased files (you can also try GetDataBack
  • TestDisk – OMG, if you’ve ever had Windows mess up your file partition on a data drive, and all of a sudden show all or part of it as “Unallocated,” this simple procedure will save your data.