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

In these hard economic times, no doubt you'll be reluctant to spend on a new PC. But what do you do if your ageing PC is sluggish, with a hard disk that's almost full to bursting?

Well fear not, The good news is you can completely overhaul your system without spending a penny with these 15 free downloads.They'll get you more hard disk space, give your PC an overall tune-up, monitor your hardware for potential problems and more.

Do a quick-and-dirty system tune-up

An easy way to get your PC in better shape is by giving it a one-step system tune-up. The following two programs do everything from stopping unnecessary programs from running at start-up, to fixing Windows Registry problems, to cleaning up the hard disk and more.

Advanced SystemCare Free

This excellent all-around system cleaner from IObit.com will help keep your PC humming. It takes an 'everything plus the kitchen sink' approach, scanning your system for spyware, Registry problems, privacy dangers, and junk files that were once needed by your system but are no longer necessary.

You can then tell the program to clean up everything it finds or pick and choose what you want it to fix.

Note that the software will install the Yahoo Toolbar by default, so if you don't want it installed, make sure to uncheck the box during installation.

Works with: Windows 2000/XP/Vista

Glary Utilities

Glarysoft's do-it-all utility offers plenty of ways to help make sure your old PC keeps running despite the ravages of time. To start, there's a good Registry cleaner, hard disk cleaner, and a shortcut fixer that will correct any shortcut error it finds on your desktop or Start menu.

In addition, there's a nice start-up manager that shows every process or program that launches when you log into Windows, and provides details about each, including whether any might be dangerous.

There's more as well, including a lot of tools that won't necessarily extend the life of your PC, but will make it easier to use, or offer you useful features. For example, there's a file shredder, a duplicate file finder and a context menu manager for editing the right-click context menu that appears when you click a file. You'll also find encryption tools, ways to clean up your Internet traces and a lot more.

Works with: Windows 2000/XP/Vista

  1. Breathe life into your machine
  2. Rein in applications
  3. Autoruns and Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI)
  4. Clean your Registry
  5. Clean your hard disk
  6. Duplicate Music Files Finder and Easy Duplicate File Finder
  7. Troubleshoot hardware
  8. Get a new operating system

Rein in applications

WinPatrol

  1. Breathe life into your machine
  2. Rein in applications
  3. Autoruns and Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI)
  4. Clean your Registry
  5. Clean your hard disk
  6. Duplicate Music Files Finder and Easy Duplicate File Finder
  7. Troubleshoot hardware
  8. Get a new operating system

Autoruns

Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI)

You already know that to keep your system running well and for a long time, you need to keep it free from viruses, spyware and infections. So you're certainly running security software.

But anti-malware software alone can't always keep your system running in tip-top shape. Sometimes the problem is that you're running an application without the latest security patches, and bad guys and bad software can sneak through the holes.

Secunia PSI shuts down those holes. It scans your PC for all the software you have installed, then checks to see if any applications are missing the latest patches. Whenever it finds any, it reports the results. It will also download and install the patches if you ask it to.

It doesn't stop after the initial scan - it constantly runs in the background, checking when there are new patches available, then tells you when it's time to get them. In downloading the patches, it does more than just keep your PC secure: it also helps it run faster, because patched applications usually run faster than unpatched ones.

Works with: Windows 2000 SP4/XP SP2 or later/Vista

NEXT PAGE: Clean your Registry

  1. Breathe life into your machine
  2. Rein in applications
  3. Autoruns and Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI)
  4. Clean your Registry
  5. Clean your hard disk
  6. Duplicate Music Files Finder and Easy Duplicate File Finder
  7. Troubleshoot hardware
  8. Get a new operating system

Clean your Registry

Think of the Windows Registry as if it were your loft - there are plenty of useful things up there that your house needs, such water tanks and central heating pipes, but there's probably plenty of useless junk as well.

In the case of your home, the junk is harmless. Not so with your PC. A junked-up Registry can slow down your system and cause conflicts and freeze-ups. The following free Registry utilities will clean it out and help your PC live longer.

Eusing Free Registry Cleaner

One of the main reasons your PC gets more sluggish with time is that the Registry gets clogged up with old entries left behind by badly behaving software, and with outright bad Registry entries. The problem: it's not humanly possible to find these bad entries and fix them.

This excellent free program does the job for you. Run it, and it looks through your Registry for many different kinds of problems, then shows you what it finds. Select the bad entries you want the program to fix, and it fixes them all.

Don't worry that the program will make a mistake and do damage - it automatically backs up your Registry and lets you restore your old Registry entries if changing them causes problems.

Works with: Windows 9x/Me/NT/2000/XP/2003/Vista

Free Registry Defrag

Your Registry, just like your hard disk, can become fragmented over time when you install and uninstall programs, change system settings and manually edit your Registry. When you uninstall programs or make changes that delete or alter Registry keys, the Registry's size doesn't shrink because it keeps the space for the keys. So over time, the Registry tends to grow, which can potentially slow down your PC.

This program can potentially make your PC run faster by doing a full Registry defragmentation. It first tells you how fragmented your Registry is and how much more quickly your PC can access your Registry if you defragment it. When you do a defrag, the program restarts your PC. It also creates a Restore Point, so that you can restore your Registry if you run into problems.

By the way, not everyone believes that shrinking the size of the Registry will make a significant performance difference, but it can't hurt to try.

Works with: Windows 98/ME/2000/XP/2003/Vista

NEXT PAGE: Clean your hard disk

  1. Breathe life into your machine
  2. Rein in applications
  3. Autoruns and Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI)
  4. Clean your Registry
  5. Clean your hard disk
  6. Duplicate Music Files Finder and Easy Duplicate File Finder
  7. Troubleshoot hardware
  8. Get a new operating system

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. 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.

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

NEXT PAGE: Duplicate Music Files Finder and Easy Duplicate File Finder

  1. Breathe life into your machine
  2. Rein in applications
  3. Autoruns and Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI)
  4. Clean your Registry
  5. Clean your hard disk
  6. Duplicate Music Files Finder and Easy Duplicate File Finder
  7. Troubleshoot hardware
  8. Get a new operating system

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

Duplicate Music Files Finder

If you're running out of hard disk space, one of the biggest culprits is often music files. Without realising 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 don'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.

NEXT PAGE: Troubleshoot hardware

  1. Breathe life into your machine
  2. Rein in applications
  3. Autoruns and Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI)
  4. Clean your Registry
  5. Clean your hard disk
  6. Duplicate Music Files Finder and Easy Duplicate File Finder
  7. Troubleshoot hardware
  8. Get a new operating system

Troubleshoot hardware

Got hardware troubles? We've got help. These two freebies will catalogue your hardware so that you can more easily troubleshoot it, and monitor your PC's temperature so you can see whether it may overheat.

Belarc Advisor

If you've got an aging PC, you run a chance of running into hardware trouble - so be prepared to get friendly with tech support, or be ready to do some hands-on work. The first step in any kind of hardware troubleshooting is to know exactly what kind of hardware you've got, and this free program is the best for getting an exceedingly detailed audit of every part of your PC.

It details computer manufacturer, installed RAM, hard disk size, processor type and speed, for a start. But it goes well beyond that. You'll see the maker of your PC's motherboard, hard disk manufacturer, chassis serial number, your PC's service tag, bus type and speed, multimedia devices, whether you've got free memory module slots... and plenty more as well.

In addition, it provides similar details about your software and Windows installation, including which security hot fixes you've got, which ones you're missing, a list of all user accounts on your PC, the name of your antivirus software and whether it uses real-time scanning, and lots more.

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

SpeedFan

One reason that PCs fail is that the system temperature gets too high. Overheated PCs can lead to system hangs and crashes, and ultimately to failures as well. This is particularly true for people who overclock their PCs - that is, force them to run at faster than their rated CPU speed.

SpeedFan by Alfredo Milani Comparetti, who warns that the program is meant for advanced users only, monitors your PC's system temperature so that you can find out whether you're running into trouble. On some systems, it will also monitor your fan speed and let you adjust the fan speed to better cool your PC. It will also monitor some hard disks to see if they show any signs of impending failure.

Note that SpeedFan can't monitor all hard disks and fans. If your hard disk uses SMART technology, the software will be able to find a great deal of information about it. However, even if your hard disk doesn't use SMART, the software may still be able to get fan speed information as well as some hard disk information. The only sure way to find out is to give it a try. But it's free - what have you got to lose?

Works with: Windows 9x/Me/2000/XP/Vista

NEXT PAGE: Get a new operating system

  1. Breathe life into your machine
  2. Rein in applications
  3. Autoruns and Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI)
  4. Clean your Registry
  5. Clean your hard disk
  6. Duplicate Music Files Finder and Easy Duplicate File Finder
  7. Troubleshoot hardware
  8. Get a new operating system

Get a new operating system

Frustrated with your old operating system but don't want to spend the money to get a new one? No problem. The following file installs Linux as a dual-boot option on your PC for free.

Wubi Ubuntu Installer

Sometimes you want a new PC because you'd like a new operating system, but your PC's processor and RAM can't handle a new one. Here's a way to get the best of both worlds: Use this free program to install a dual-boot version of Ubuntu Linux on your PC.

With it, whenever you reboot, you'll be able to boot either your existing version of Windows, or instead boot Linux. And you won't have to muck around with bootloaders, partitions, special drivers or other kinds of assorted nastiness usually required to get two different operating systems on your PC. Instead, it installs just like a piece of Windows software.

If you haven't installed Linux before, you'll be quite surprised at how peppy it is. It requires much less hardware overhead than Windows, and so is quite fast, even on an older PC. There's also plenty of free software to try out, and it ships with a good deal of free software as well, including the office suite OpenOffice.org.

Works with: Windows 98/2000/XP/Vista

  1. Breathe life into your machine
  2. Rein in applications
  3. Autoruns and Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI)
  4. Clean your Registry
  5. Clean your hard disk
  6. Duplicate Music Files Finder and Easy Duplicate File Finder
  7. Troubleshoot hardware
  8. Get a new operating system