September 22, 2008, 5:21 PM — Is your PC tired and sluggish? Has its get up and go got up and went? If you want a faster system, you could certainly break the bank and buy a new machine. Or you could read this article instead.
We've found 50 downloads that will make your PC run more quickly and smoothly, help you use the Internet more effectively, and push Windows to work at optimum speed with the interface you want, not what Microsoft gave you.
Most of these downloads are free to use forever; some are free to try, but require that you pay for them after a trial period (we've labeled each download accordingly). You won't have to search high and low on the Internet to find them; they're all available from the PC World Downloads library.
What are you waiting for? Get downloading; you're minutes away from a spiffier, faster system.
General Tune-Up Tools
Sometimes the best way to optimize your PC is to use all-in-one tune-up tools that offer a slew of utilities, ranging from file cleanup to Registry cleaners and beyond. Here are some of our favorites.
Advanced WindowsCare V2 Personal
This great free all-in one tool straightens out your Registry, handles Windows startup programs, erases your surfing history, removes spyware and protects you from future infections, and gives your system an all-around optimization.
Be sure to tell the program to create a restore point before it goes to work. And examine, closely, what it will do in its overall system optimization. Apart from that, just direct the program to scan your system, see what it wants to do, and let it do its business.
Download Advanced WindowsCare V2 Personal | Price: Free
This all-around degunker and system cleaner will sweep away unneeded files, control which programs run on startup, undelete, and even completely destroy unwanted files to protect your privacy.
Download TuneUp Utilities | Price: US$50 (Trial)
With this tool you can kill junk files, duplicate files, and Internet tracks. It also includes a good cookie cleaner that displays all your cookies, lists their contents, and then lets you eliminate ones you don't want. Features beyond system cleaning include Registry tools that claim to speed up Internet access. And how about a screen-capture program and wallpaper randomizer on top of that?
Download WinSettings Pro | Price: $50 (Shareware)
Given that Super Utilities has 27 tools for cleaning and optimizing your PC, you're sure to find a module that you want. Included are a startup organizer, a Registry cleaner, defragmentation tools, antispyware features, and much more.
Download Super Utilities | Price: $60 (Trial)
This excellent no-cost tool promises one-click cleanup and optimization, and it delivers. It scans your system for problems with the Registry, shortcuts, startup programs, and spyware, and then gives you the option of which to clean up. It also deletes traces of your Internet surfing and erases temporary files. Optimization doesn't get simpler than this.
Download Glary Utilities | Price: Free
Application and Startup Optimization
System sluggishness is often the result of problems with the applications you run. Are they outdated and in need of patching? Do too many run in the background? Use the following utilities to solve those problems and others.
If you make sure that all of your applications are patched and up-to-date, they'll run faster and be more secure--and so will your PC on the whole. Unfortunately, visiting the Web site for each of your applications can be so time-consuming that you'll never get around to doing it. Grab this freebie instead. It scans your system, lists all of your applications, and then regularly checks for security patches. When it finds a new patch, it applies the fix.
Download Secunia PSI | Price: Free
One likely reason your system is sluggish is that it's bedeviled by "craplets"--software that your PC maker installed because it was paid to. Craplets slow down startup and general operation.
This free software removes dozens of unwanted items automatically. It zaps only a specific set of craplets and trialware programs: Those that are specifically put on new PCs, such as QuickBooks Trial, Wild Tangent Games, Dell URL Assistant, and others. (For a full list, go to the PC Decrapifier site.) Before you use this utility, create a restore point in case it kills something you wanted to keep.
Download PC Decrapifier | Price: Free
Unnecessary services and applications that run whenever you start your PC or log in to it are a big cause of system slowdowns. Unfortunately, it's tough to identify every item that starts up, because nothing in Windows gives you such information. That's why you need this free tool. It displays every program and service running and offers a great deal of detail about each, such as associated .dll files, the program or service name, and its location on your PC. With that knowledge, you can decide what you don't want to run on startup.
Download Autoruns | Price: Free
Security Task Manager
Similar to Autoruns, this excellent tool shows you every running program and process. The utility also indicates whether the program is likely malicious, its type, how it launched (for example, upon startup or from within Windows Explorer), and the file name. It lets you delete any program and process with a single click. It also rates files according to how harmless or dangerous they may be. To stop a program, highlight it, click Remove, and you're done.
Download Security Task Manager | Price: $29 (Trial)
This very good all-around system optimizer frees your PC of unnecessary programs that run on startup and keeps it clean of spyware and other malware. Whenever a program tries to start automatically, WinPatrol sends you an alert so you can block it. In addition, it shows details about the program, including the creator, when the program was added, the file name, and so on. The Delayed Start feature allows you to put off the launch of certain programs for up to an hour. That way, you'll still have access to the program when you need it.
Download WinPatrol | Price: Free
Strictly speaking, this isn't an optimization tool because it doesn't clean your system or tune it up. But it does eliminate a cause of system slowdowns and instability for many people: buggy, bloated Adobe Reader software for reading PDF files.
The free Foxit Reader is smaller, loads quickly, doesn't take up unnecessary memory, and has no instability issues. So if Adobe Reader slows your system down, this is a great alternative.
Download Foxit Reader | Price: Free
Norton Removal Tool
Some Norton products, especially the security suites, are notorious for taking up far too many system resources and too much RAM. Removing them completely can be tough, but this free tool from Norton does the trick. Copy down your product key before removing them in case you want to reinstall.
Download Norton Removal Tool | Price: Free
McAfee Consumer Products Removal Tool
Like Norton products, some McAfee utilities can consume serious amounts of system resources. To remove them from your system, use this free tool.
Download McAfee Consumer Products Removal Tool | Price: Free
Hard-Disk Cleaning and Backup
Your hard disk is clogged with files you no longer need. They occupy precious space and could possibly slow your system. Get rid of them with these optimization tools, which include a very good backup program.
This is probably the best tool you can find for cleaning your system and thereby optimizing your PC. It scrubs temporary Internet files, the history list, cookies, autocomplete entries, the thumbnail cache, unneeded file fragments, temporary files--the list goes on. It also includes a Registry optimizer and uninstall tools, and eliminates traces that applications leave behind
Download CCleaner | Price: Free
Duplicate Music Files
If you have a big MP3 or media files collection, you likely have many duplicates and don't realize it. The excess files hog hard-disk space and junk up your media library. Finding duplicates can be difficult, though, because the same piece of music or media may have different file names. This freebie searches for more than file names, as it compares file sizes, does error checks, and even examines ID3 tags to track down duplicates and delete them.
Download Duplicate Music Files | Price: Free
Easy Duplicate File Finder
Looking to clean all sorts of duplicate files? This tool does the job for you. It scans your system, gives you a full report, and lets you clean either in bulk or just selected files. It also allows you to protect system files so that you don't accidentally delete any important ones that your PC needs to run.
Download Easy Duplicate File Finder | Price: Free
Backup software may be the most overlooked optimization tool of all. When something goes wrong with your system, you'll want a way to recover files and restore your machine to a working state. This software does a great job, and can restore individual files, folders, or a whole disk.
Download NovaBackup Professional | Price: $50 (Trial)
Internet and Network Tune-Up
Want to get more out of the Internet and your network? These tools will speed up downloads, help you find fast Wi-Fi, peer into your home network, and more.
Spiceworks IT Desktop
If you're like many people and have more than one PC connected to a network, you may be looking for a tool to help get the most out of your network. This free software scans your network, identifies every device on it, and displays detailed information about each. In addition, it lists all applications and operating systems, and sends you a variety of warnings, such as when antivirus definitions are out-of-date or new software is installed. Though this software is free, it displays ads. To get rid of the promos, you'll have to pay $20 per month.
Download Spiceworks IT Desktop | Price: Free
Xirrus Wi-Fi Monitor
Want to optimize your use of Wi-Fi hotspots? Give this free Vista gadget a try. It runs in the sidebar and displays information about your current Wi-Fi connection, as well as nearby hotspots. You'll be able to see how strong or weak your connection is compared with others, and find information such as your IP address, MAC address, and signal strength.
Download Xirrus Wi-Fi Monitor | Price: Free
Expired Cookies Cleaner
Your PC has dozens and dozens of cookies that Web sites use for things such as automatically logging you in or remembering how you've customized the way they work. Cookies typically have time-out dates, after which they won't work, but even then they stay on your PC, clogging it up. This free little utility finds expired cookies and deletes them. No fuss, no muss--they're gone.
Download Expired Cookies Cleaner | Price: Free
This excellent freebie cleans many different types of Internet junk, including cookies, temporary files, and Browser Helper Objects. The program also includes a security feature that will block Browser Helper Objects from being installed on your PC.
Download HackCleaner | Price: Free
Download Accelerator Plus
People who live to download will want this free program, which optimizes every aspect of the downloading process. It splits individual downloads into pieces and downloads them all simultaneously from the fastest servers it can find. It's extremely easy to use and integrates with your browser, so when you initiate a file download, it automatically launches. You can also manually add downloads to the program.
The utility restarts interrupted downloads, and pauses and resumes downloads. Its history manager shows all the files you've ever downloaded, plus their size and where they downloaded on your hard disk. It has a lot more features, as well--and you can't beat the free price.
Download Download Accelerator Plus | Price: Free
Yet another excellent optimization tool for downloaders, FlashGet speeds up downloads and helps organize them while keeping you safe. The program searches for downloads via numerous protocols, including HTTP, FTP, and eMule. It's good for managing downloads, too, allowing you to delete files from within the program.
Download FlashGet | Price: Free
Want to make your browser run better and give it new capabilities, including optimizing the way you browse the Web? Check out these browser utilities.
Here's a great way to optimize your use of Internet Explorer. (Be aware that this tool works only with IE.) It blocks ads of all kinds, including banner, Flash-based, and embedded. You have plenty of configuration options, too, such as the ability to have it display ads only from specific domains or pages. If you turn on the Flash blocker, you won't be able to view YouTube videos, so you may want to instruct the program to display Flash only from specific domains.
Download Adblock Pro | Price: $20 (Shareware)
If you're a Firefox user looking to rid your browsing sessions of ads, this add-in is worth a whirl. It claims to block 99 percent of ads on the Web, and based on our experience with it, that may well be true. You can selectively block ads or choose a filter that blocks them all. With a bit of work, you can even allow certain ads through while blocking the rest.
Download Adblock Plus | Price: Free
Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer
Do you use Firefox on more than one PC? If so, you know how maddening it is to keep bookmarks in sync. This free tool automatically syncs all Firefox bookmarks on multiple PCs, and backs up your bookmarks to a server so they'll never be lost. And if you're on a PC that isn't yours, you can pull up your bookmarks from the server.
Download Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer | Price: Free
Download Greasemonkey | Price: Free
Optimize Internet Explorer with the help of this no-cost utility. It juices up the browser's tab handling, restores all tabs in the event of a crash, lets you use "mouse gestures" for controlling IE, blocks ads, checks spelling, and much more. It also has a scripting feature similar to Greasemonkey for Firefox.
Download IE7 Pro | Price: Free
The older your PC is, the more junked-up its Registry becomes. Badly written programs (and plenty of those are around) don't bother to clean the Registry when you uninstall them, and some applications add unnecessary junk. The messier the Registry is, the more likely it is to crash your PC or slow down its operations. Though the benefits of using a Registry cleaner are often debated, these utilities might be worth a try.
Wise Registry Cleaner
This freebie scans the Registry, flags orphaned or bad entries, and identifies entries that are either dangerous or safe to delete. Like most Registry cleaners, the utility will back up your Registry so that you can restore it if need be.
Download Wise Registry Cleaner | Price: Free
Glary Registry Repair
Here's another very good, free Registry cleaner. It lets you choose which changes to accept and to ignore, and creates an Undo file so that you can revert to the previous version of the Registry if problems occur.
Download Glary Registry Repair | Price: Free
Registry First Aid
If you're willing to pay for a Registry cleaner, this is a great choice. Longtime PC World contributor Steve Bass rates it as the best Registry cleaner, with good reason: It does an excellent, thorough job. It also searches the Internet for details about Registry keys, so you can have background information before deciding whether to delete or change them.
Download Registry First Aid | Price: $28 (Trial)
Auslogics Registry Defrag
Cleaning your Registry may help keep your system in tip-top shape, but you can do something else for it as well: Defragment it. This program shows how fragmented your Registry is, defragments it, and restarts your PC. The program also creates a restore point so you can restore the Registry if necessary.
Download Auslogics Registry Defrag | Price: Free
If your PC is infected with malware, it runs at less than its peak. So if you have a sluggish system that seems to go on the fritz regularly, an infection may be the cause. Use these programs to kill infections and stop them from attacking your machine in the first place.
Comodo Firewall Pro
This excellent free firewall has been rated as one of the top firewalls by the independent testing site Matousec, which found that it has the highest level of "anti-leak" protection (in essence, a measurement of a firewall's effectiveness). It offers two-way protection, and a great view into your system and your Internet connection as well.
Download Comodo Firewall Pro | Price: Free
A lightweight freebie, Avast won't weigh down your system by consuming too many resources or RAM--yet it does a great job of killing viruses and live-scanning for them. It also scans e-mail (including Web-based e-mail) for viruses, and offers protection against instant-messaging viruses, peer-to-peer dangers, and other threats.
Download Avast | Price: Free
AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
AVG's excellent free antivirus software is similarly prudent with your system resources and RAM. It's simple to use and easily configurable, and it protects your machine. What else could you want?
Download AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition | Price: Free
Keep your system in top running form by stopping the installation of ActiveX-based malware and other types of spyware. A particularly useful feature is the System Snapshot, which will take a snapshot of your PC so that if it gets infected, you can revert to a clean version.
Download SpywareBlaster | Price: Free
Spybot Search & Destroy
A longtime favorite free program, Spybot offers live protection from spyware installation, and scans your system for preexisting spyware and kills it. The software has a restore function, as well.
Download Spybot Search & Destroy | Price: Free
Using more than one antispyware scanner is a good idea. So even if you have another, this free one, which has been around for years, is worth trying. It does a great job of scanning, and it lets you put potentially damaging software in a quarantine area, where you can later restore the item if it isn't dangerous.
Download Ad-Aware 2008 | Price: Free
Trend Micro HijackThis
If you think your PC is infected with spyware, but your spyware killer can't track it down, try this freebie. After HijackThis analyzes your Registry and file settings, it creates a log file, which you can upload to a HijackThis Web forum for the community to analyze. Unless you're an expert, you should not try to use this tool to fix problems.
Download Trend Micro HijackThis | Price: Free
Another effective way to optimize your PC is to tweak Windows' interface and behavior to your liking. All of these programs will get the job done.
If you run Vista, this utility is an excellent way to tweak the OS. Through its simple interface you can customize many Vista features. Turn off the dreaded User Account Control, customize the power button, disable or enable the Aero environment, change the behavior of Windows Updates, and more.
Download Vista4Experts | Price: Free
This program offers countless options for tweaking Windows. It can change the icons for various system features, create a custom desktop-shortcut arrow, change how Windows Explorer looks and works, tweak your network connection, hide menus, customize the Start menu, and adjust Windows security, just for starters.
Download MagicTweak | Price: $40 (Shareware)
Give your PC a Mac OS X-like dock, a customized bar of icons that puts frequently used programs at your fingertips. Place it at the top, bottom, or side of your screen, and you get instant access to your favorite programs and features.
Download RocketDock | Price: Free
Vista users who want to juice up the OS's performance or its looks should give this tool a spin. You can optimize numerous aspects of your system, including its RAM, cache, and hard disk. The utility also manages startup and shutdown, cleans your system, improves your security, and customizes how your network functions.
Download Vista Manager | Price: $40 (Shareware)
Auslogics Visual Styler
Through this simple-to-use program, you can make Windows work the way you want and gain instant access to deeply hidden Windows customization features. For example, you can change icon resolution, size, spacing, and shortcut arrows. And a wallpaper changer rotates the scenery displayed every time your PC starts.
Download Auslogics Visual Styler | Price: $25 (Trial)
Miscellaneous Optimization Tools
You have plenty of other ways to optimize your PC. Following are some great all-around optimizers that give details on your system configuration, keep your drivers up-to-date, and manage your PC's power use.
Before you start optimizing your PC, you need to know your system's exact configuration. That's where the free Belarc Advisor comes in. It tells you everything you need to know--and far more. Of course, in this program you'll find the computer manufacturer, installed RAM, hard-disk size, processor type and speed, and so on, but that's only the beginning. You'll also see the motherboard maker, hard-disk manufacturer, chassis serial number, PC service tag, bus type and speed, multimedia devices, and plenty of other details. The program goes beyond a hardware inventory, too, giving information about your Windows installation, including user accounts, security hotfixes that are installed or missing, and a list of all the software on your machine.
Download Belarc Advisor | Price: Free
Keeping drivers up-to-date helps your system stay in top shape, but if you don't correctly remove old versions, you can experience system instability, slowdowns, and crashes. Driver Sweeper finds old drivers and deletes them. It also backs them up if you need to restore them.
Download Driver Sweeper | Price: Free
A monitoring tool--software that can show you overall system use--is essential for optimizing a PC. This nifty little freebie tracks RAM, CPU, Internet, and hard-disk use, and shows everything on your desktop in four small colored boxes. (Reading the information in the boxes is tough, so hover your mouse over them.) You'll see statistics such as the percentage of your CPU currently being used, and even the usage of individual cores on multicore PCs.
Download Performance Monitor | Price: Free
Consider this: If you don't use the power settings on your PC, you're spewing hundreds of pounds of unnecessary carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year, a result of the electricity you waste.
But Windows' power-setting controls are as confusing to use as the tax code, you object. We agree--but we also have a solution for you. The free, simple-to-use Edison helps you change and manage your power settings. No need to fiddle around with Windows: Just move a slider or two, click a few buttons, and you're ready to go. You could just stay with the defaults, too.
How much might you save? When we used its default power settings on our laptop, Edison claimed we would save 359.63 kilowatt hours of electricity in a year (which adds up to $32) and 490.17 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Download Edison | Price: Free
This freebie, like Edison, helps you cut your PC's electricity use. You can easily edit settings such as when your PC automatically turns off or goes into hibernation, and when your hard disks spin down. The program also displays the amount of energy, trees, gallons of oil, or kilowatt hours you've saved.
Download LocalCooling | Price: Free
Windows Memory Diagnostic
If you find your PC crashing frequently, the culprit may be bad RAM. This free software from Microsoft performs a comprehensive test and tells you whether the RAM or the memory system on your motherboard is faulty. It's built into Vista, too: Click Start, type memory in the search field, and then click Memory Diagnostics Tool.
Download Windows Memory Diagnostic | Price: Free