Best Free Software

Maximum PC Staff

65 best free software

Best free software: Let’s face it, there’s nothing cheap about being a PC lover. Putting together a badass rig and keeping it up to date takes cabbage, even when we do our best to make value-driven purchases. Luckily, we can offset our hardware indulgences by saving big on software. So many of our daily computing activities—be it work or entertainment—can be accomplished with a totally free program. And we’re not talking about second-rate, poor-man’s versions of paid-for programs, but perfectly capable, top-notch solutions that stand on their own while costing nothing. There are even some free software that we honestly couldn’t live without. Intrigued? Read on to hear about the best free software.

System Information

Keep close tabs on your PC


CPU-Z and GPU-Z: If you get trapped on Benchmark Island with just one 4GB USB key of utilities, we hope that CPU-Z and GPU-Z are on it! These two utilities are invaluable for seeking info about your components, and they are so up-to-date we swear that Intel, AMD, and Nvidia are supplying inside info before their parts come out. ,

System Temps

HWMonitor: From the same folks who bring you the indispensable CPU-Z comes HWMonitor. This tool gives you an easy-to-use way to monitor most of your system’s temperatures, voltages, and fan speeds. It’s not the prettiest utility out there but we’ve found it to be spot-on when we’re testing out an overclock and need to monitor the temps.

Data De-hoarding

WinDirStat: The Real Data Hoarders of Orange County actually use WinDirStat as part of a 7-step program that helps convince data hoarders it’s time to clean up that drive. Upon launch, WinDirStat does a survey of the drive’s contents and displays it in a colored graph, so you know your massive video collection is that big blue swath on your 2TB hard drive. You can even poke through the different colored squares to see what each file is so you can finally slate it for erasure.

Turbo Indicator

Intel Turbo Widget: Let’s not kid ourselves: Intel’s Turbo Boost is built-in overclocking. Sometimes, though, it’s difficult to discern by how much. Even worse, many of the clock-speed widgets and tools we’ve tried aren’t always correct. We’ve compared Intel’s own Turbo Widget (Turbo Boost Technology Monitor) to the company’s internal tools and found it to be one of the more accurate indicators around.

System Inventory

Speccy: Of the many, many system-info tools available on the PC, we find Speccy to be one of the prettier ones. Brought to you by the same folks who make CCleaner, this simple tool organizes available system info into a very presentable and easy-to-read util and isn’t bloated by excess crap that most of us never use.

Disk Info

GKrellM: Ported from Linux, this decidedly old-school utility may not impress you at first, but it’s one of the more effective tools we’ve found that lets you monitor the read and write performance of a disk. We’ve actually compared it to both real-world and synthetic benchmarks for disk I/O and found it to be spot-on, so you know your shiny, new SSD is running at speed.

File Management

Your data where, when, and how you like it

File Archiver

7-Zip: Why should you pay for a program like WinZip when 7-Zip will expertly manage all your compression needs? The open-source software is completely free and doesn't inundate you with ads. Add to that 7-Zip’s support for a wide array of formats (ZIP, ISO, and more) and its compatibility with Windows 8 all the way down to Windows 98, and you’ll see why we tell everyone to "Zip it!"

Torrent Downloader

uTorrent: In the event you want to download torrents (the legal ones, of course), we highly suggest using uTorrent. The program is super light at 800KB, easy to use, and isn't a resource hog. uTorrent actually adjusts Internet bandwidth depending on usage. Playing an online game? uTorrent will intelligently throttle its upload/download speeds so you can both enjoy your gaming and download your files. U should try it.

Cloud Storage

Dropbox: Not only does Dropbox offer free storage, but because it's a cloud-based system, you'll be able to access your saved data from any online device. It also works great if you want to back up important documents (in case your local storage drops out on you). While you only get 2GB free when you sign up, you can get up to 18GB by referring Dropbox to your friends.

File Management

WinMerge: Got multiple versions of what you hope are the same file? Do you want to check a download for errors? Want to merge changes from one version of a document to another? Or do you want to check two entire folders to make sure their contents are exactly the same? WinMerge does it all. It’s incredibly useful for bit-level change detection, or just making sure local and remote folders (and their contents) are synced correctly.

Copy & Move

TeraCopy: TeraCopy is a robust replacement for Windows’ file transfer system. It’s not just faster than Windows’ file copy system, it’s better—it shows exactly which files have transferred and which are queued, as well as transfer speed. It lets you pause and resume transfers and can even do a before-and-after file hash comparison to make sure everything copied correctly.

FTP Solution

FileZilla: Transferring large files? Let open-source file-transfer-protocol (FTP) program FileZilla help you. FileZilla can act as both an FTP client and server. You can transfer up to 4GB files, and because you can drag-and-drop folders, it's really easy to use. FileZilla also runs on a variety of operating systems including Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X.

Click the next page for Maintenance programs, benchmarking software, and more of our best free software.


An orderly system is a productive system

System Cleanup

CCleaner: Imagine the Disk Cleanup feature in recent versions of Windows, then crank it up to 11. CCleaner doesn't restrict itself to removing cruft that's generated by the OS. No, sir. It can also reach out and touch Chrome, Firefox, Adobe Flash, McAfee, and GIMP, among others. It also contains one of the few reliable and legitimate registry cleaners on the market (though you should always make a backup of that before modifying it), it will scrub your Master File Table, and it can act as a replacement for Add/Remove Programs (aka Programs and Features in Windows 8) and MSConfig. CCleaner is basically a Swiss Army Knife of desktop management, in an easy-to-understand package. The free version does not provide customer support from the developer. But considering what it's capable of, we can't complain.

Program Removal

Revo Uninstaller: If you're looking for something more specialized, Revo is another genuine article in a sea of potentially sketchy competitors like PC "optimizers" and RAM defragmenters. It has some overlap with CCleaner, but since both programs can be had for free (legitimately), it never hurts to run the same commands on both, in case one notices things that the other does not. At least, it doesn't hurt when the operations are fast, and they are. With a speed that borders on sorcery, Revo will scan your whole system for things that it can wipe from the face of the earth. In terms of specialization, Revo can look up a website associated with an installed program, identify its registry key, find its program folder, and even set up a Google search for the program name.

Driver Updates

SlimDrivers Free: Windows usually lets us fly solo in the quest for updated hardware drivers. If you prefer a guided process, SlimDrivers Free will scan your system and ask the Internet if your stuff has updates. To minimize shenanigans, it will offer to create a restore point, create backups of your old drivers, schedule the scanning process, and even look out for potential conflicts. The dev is also certified by Microsoft.

Backup and Sync

SyncBackFree: The venerable SyncBackFree is on the verge of marking its tenth year on the market. Possible reasons: Every command is explained in plain English. Options are nested in subfolders to keep the user from being overwhelmed. The backup/sync process can be highly automated, with email notifications, FTP, and network integration, and specific programs triggered before and after a sync or backup. It'll make you feel like a wizard.

Software Updater

FileHippo: Let’s admit it, keeping on top of application updates for your smartphone, whether for security or bug fixes, is easy, the way they all show up in one place. Wouldn’t it be nice if the PC had that? Oh yeah, there’s an app for that. Just run FileHippo’s Update Checker, which quietly checks your installed apps for any available update, including beta updates.


Measure your system’s performance

Tessellation Testing

Unigine Heaven: Unigine Heaven 4.0 has quickly grown into one of the most popular tools for testing a GPU’s DirectX 11 prowess, particularly in tessellation. There are paid versions of the tool, including a professional version for commercial use, but for most enthusiasts the free one will give you all the info to know if your GPU is up to snuff.

GPU Benchmark

Catzilla: Our own Senior Editor Josh Norem is a major league cat-lover, so it’s no surprise that AllBenchmark’s Catzilla makes the cut as one of the purrfect benchmarks to stress the bejesus out of your GPU. The tool lets you test your GPU in Kitty, Cat, Tiger, or Catzilla mode. If there’s a cat metaphor we haven’t scratched yet, just let us know.

GPU Stress Testing

FurMark: FurMark used to be a popular performance benchmark but once AMD and Nvidia started to optimize for it, it fell out of favor. It is, however, still a damned-good tool for torture testing a GPU. So, if you’re validating your GPU overclock or looking to stress-out the thermals in your case, FurMark is effective and free.

CPU Stress Testing

Prime95: To test an overclocked CPU, we turn to Prime95. It’s one of the top tools for quickly validating a fresh overclock. Some would argue that it’s too hard on a CPU, but we feel that if your overclock will withstand Prime95 for a few hours, it’s probably pretty damned stable. You may want to go overnight or even 24 hours if you are truly into torturing your system, though.

SSD Benching

CrystalDiskMark: Storage devices can be the most difficult to measure without the use of synthetic benchmarks. CrystalDiskMark, however, has proven to be fairly accurate for pure sequential-read and -write performance. We recently kicked up our real-world video disk write test and the results closely matched CDM’s.

RAM Testing

Sandra 2013: Memory benchmarks get no love because memory bandwidth doesn’t move the meter much in the vast majority of games and applications (except when using integrated graphics). Still, it’s nice to know that your DDR3/1866 sticks are actually performing where they should be. Plus, a quick test will tell you whether your RAM is configured correctly.

Real-world gaming

FRAPS: 3DMark, Heaven 4.0, and Catzilla are meaningless if you don’t know how fast your games are actually running. FRAPS is the world-wide accepted standard for measuring in-game, real-world performance—even in games that don’t support benchmark modes. Just fire up FRAPS, pick your game settings, and play. FRAPS will display the current frame rate of the game as you frag away.

Click the next page to read about the best free PC games.


A desire to save money doesn’t have to get in the way of your good time

Team Fortress 2

The team-based, class-based TF2 redefined fashion for a legion of hatless heads, and it's an entertaining game in its own right, with balanced weapons and multiple game types (CTF, deathmatch, and a few unique ideas). You'll also get momentum from the occasional random unlock, many of which you can trade or even sell for Steam wallet funds.

Tribes: Ascend

Similar to TF2, this game distinguishes itself in one of the best ways possible: jetpacks! Everybody gets one. You'll also navigate across the map on skis, sometimes at ridiculously entertaining speeds. Projectiles are actual physical objects, though, so there's some nuance to the shooting and exploding. You can unlock gear over time, or with real money.

Quake Live

Back in the ’90s, id Software was king of the first-person shooters, and Quake was a cornerstone franchise. Quake Live, based on Quake 3 Arena, is an online-only multiplayer extravaganza of over 40 maps and five game modes. It won't compete on visuals, but veterans of the genre regard the balance of weapons, maps, and movement as some of the best ever created.

League of Legends

League of Legends is the most popular PC game today for good reason: It's insanely fun and addictive. The cooperative strategy game pits two teams of five against each other and has you working with your allies to destroy the enemy base.

Blacklight Retribution

Shooting games on the PC are a dime a dozen; good, free-to-play shooters, however? Not so much. Luckily, there's Blacklight Retribution, a gorgeous-looking, futuristic shooter that will make you feel at home if you're a fan of the Call of Duty series. The game offers great shooting mechanics and a ton of awesome weapons.

Dota 2

If you already tried League of Legends but are looking for something a little more complex and challenging, check out Dota 2. The game is a sequel to the original multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA), Defense of the Ancients, with the biggest difference being that it got a huge graphical overhaul thanks to Valve and its source engine.

PlanetSide 2

PlanetSide 2 really emphasizes the "massive" in massively multiplayer online shooter. The game makes the battlegrounds in Battlefield 3 look tiny by comparison. PlanetSide 2 features three different factions with a plethora of classes and has you vying for territorial control (à la RISK). A variety of awesome vehicles help you traverse the vast terrains.


If you're looking for a MOBA with a refreshing twist, check out Smite. It's a lot like Dota 2 and LoL, only in third person. Gameplay still includes same minion, tower defense, and base-destroying mechanics, but Smite feels much more action-oriented because all of your attacks are now skill-based shots.

DC Universe Online

With the scads of subscription-MMOs-turned-free-to-play options around, how do you choose which one to play? Easy—you pick the one with Batman. And if Batman isn’t enough (as if that were possible), DC Universe Online also features action-packed arcade gameplay and a ton of content to play through without paying a thing.


If you find Skyrim just a little too high-fidelity, maybe you should try getting in touch with your roots. No, not Oblivion or Morrowind—we’re talking about Daggerfall. The second in the Elder Scrolls series, Daggerfall remains its most expansive entry, with 188,000 square miles of virtual terrain and thousands of towns and dungeons to explore.

Middle Manager of Justice

If we tell you that Middle Manager of Justice is a business management game, with microtransactions and timer-based gameplay, you might think it sounds like every other F2P game. But when you hear that this F2P game was released by Tim Schafer’s Double Fine, and puts you in charge of a superhero company, maybe you’ll agree that it’s worth a try.

Click the next page to read about the best free audio editing equipment, best free video editing program, and more!

Content Creation

Make cool stuff with your PC

Photo Editor

GIMP: This photo-editing software might be called GIMP, but it is anything but hobbled. The powerful, in-depth program allows you to retouch photos with a variety of color correction options (hue, saturation, color balance), do free-form drawing, and resize/crop images. It's certainly a step above Microsoft Paint and even gives Adobe Photoshop a run for its money.

Image Creation

AndreaMosaic: You’ve got gigabytes of freeloading images on your HDD, why not put them to work? That’s what AndreaMosaic can do for you. The app lets you take your wads of pics and assemble them into an impressive photo mosaic. The free version lets you make mosaics of up to 200 megapixels with up to 30,000 tiles using 100,000 images.

Audio Editor

Audacity: Whether you're a hardcore musician or just someone who wants to record a podcast, Audacity is a great all-around audio-editing program. In addition to being easy to use, it includes a wide array of editing options and filter effects such as reverb, delay, and more. And if you are the type who likes to keep things simple, you won't find a free program that makes cutting, pasting, and phasing-out audio easier than Audacity. It would be audacious not to download it.

Video Transcoding

HandBrake: HandBrake is an amazingly powerful and flexible transcoder. Even better, it’s highly optimized for multiple cores and we even use it to benchmark CPUs on occasion. It doesn’t include any ripping ability to convert DVD or Blu-ray discs that you own to flexible, portable formats, but—cough—combined with the not-free AnyDVD, HandBrake produces amazingly high-quality files for free.

Poster Printing

Rasterbator: It’s not true, Rasterbation doesn’t cause blindness, but it will use all of your toner when you turn your images into gigantic, tiled, rasterized images capable of covering a wall or your house even. The latest version of Rasterbator spits out the images into a convenient PDF so you can even take them to school or work to print out instead.

3D Modeler

Blender: Whether you want to render 3D models for games or CG movies, the powerful, open-source 3D computer graphics software Blender has you covered. However, with great power comes great responsibility, and in this case your responsibility will be to spend the time to learn how to master the incredibly complex program. However, once you do get past the steep learning curve, you'll be able to apply texturing, rigging, and compositing to your intricate 3D models like a pro.

Video Capture

CamStudio: Ctrl + Print Screen is good for capturing screens of your desktop, but what if you wanted a program to capture video? The open-source program CamStudio not only captures video, but audio as well. It converts this format into AVI files and has a built-in Streaming Flash video converter in case you want to quickly upload your videos to YouTube.

Video Editor

VideoPad: If you're looking to step up from Windows Movie Maker, VideoPad is a great solution. This fully featured video-editing program has over 50 effects and transitions that will give your videos an extra layer of polish. VideoPad Video Editor is also easy to use and allows you to drag-and-drop videos to the editor's timeline.

Vector Graphics

Inkscape: GIMP, like Photoshop, is great for image manipulation and design, but sometimes raster artwork just isn't right for your needs. If you're making a logo, or anything else that you want to look good at any size, you want vector art. The standard tool for making vector art is Adobe Illustrator. However, if you're on a budget, try Inkscape—the open-source alternative. The interface is plainer and it's missing a couple of advanced features, but Inkscape has everything you need for 99 percent of vector tasks, for 0 percent of the cost.

Screencasting Utility

Open Broadcaster Software: One of the biggest trends in gaming over the last few years has been screencasting—broadcasting your screen online in real-time as you play. Whether you're a pro or just getting started, it's a great way to get feedback. To get started with screencasting, try Open Broadcaster Software. It's got all the tools you'll need to stream anything, including full-screen games, windowed games, and even your desktop.

Click the next page to read about the best free antivirus software and Microsoft Office alternatives.


Keep your data safe


Avast Free Version 7: Getting on the Internet without AV is like jumping into shark-infested waters smothered in steak sauce—not pretty. Not even misers have an excuse for taking this kind of risk. As we learned in last month’s antivirus roundup and again in this month’s Head to Head , Avast trumps other free AV solutions with a high level of fine-grained control and extreme competence at thwarting infections.

On-Demand Scanner

Malwarebytes Anti-Malware: With the bad guys working round the clock to find system vulnerabilities, even the best AV scanners can fall down on the job from time to time. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is there to give them a hand. This on-demand AV scanner is an effectivesecond line of defense against any unwanted intruders your primary AV might have missed.


TrueCrypt: You can never be too careful with your personal data, lest you discover that someone posing as you is trotting the globe on your nestegg and soiling your good name in the process. When it comes to highly sensitive files, we put our trust in TrueCrypt. With it, you can easily create encrypted volumes and/or partitions—using your choice of first-rate encryption—in which to hide your private files.

Password Management

KeePass Password Safe: Raise your hand if you use the same couple of passwords for everything. That’s nothing to be proud of, buddy. Do the right thing and download KeePass Password Safe. This easy-to-use database lets you store and manage numerous passwords and other account-relevant notes—all of which are kept safe behind a single master password and Twofish and AES encryption. Hint: Keep your KeePass database on Dropbox, so you can access it from any computer.


You don’t need no stinkin’ Office

PDF Reader

Sumatra PDF: But wait, you say. Adobe Reader is already free! Why do we need a free alternative? Well, for starters, SumatraPDF is incredibly speedy and lightweight, it doesn’t require frequent security updates, and it won’t try to install AskJeeves. Add in the fact that it reads not just PDFs but mobi and ePub ebooks, as well as CBR and CBZ archives, and you’ve got a winner.

Plaintext Editor

Notepad++ Though the sheer mass of features in modern word processors can be intoxicating, sometimes a plaintext editor is the right tool for the job. But just because you're using plaintext doesn't mean you should suffer ’90s-era Notepad.exe. Instead, get Notepad++, which offers tabbed editing and a powerful, flexible suite of features for editing and displaying plaintext. Programmers will like Notepad++’s support for syntax highlight, formatting, and auto-completion.

Lightweight Word Processor

AbiWord: If you're just looking for a word processor that's fast, lightweight, and feature-rich, you should check out AbiWord. It doesn't have the full-suite integration of LibreOffice, but it does have everything you need to edit any Word document, and includes a set of excellent online-collaboration tools. In addition, the install is much smaller than LibreOffice, and uses a lot less of your CPU when it's running.

Office Suite

LibreOffice: The cream of the free-office-suite crop, LibreOffice even gives MS Office a run for its money. Besides being free, it’s open source, interoperable with all the major formats (including the latest Office .docx stuff), and did we mention it’s free? Version 4.0 just came out. If you don’t mind the more classic interface (no Ribbon here) and like the fact that it’s FOSS, you’ll love it. Beats shelling out for Office any day.

Free Mobile Apps that Interact with Your PC

PC Monitor: This app lets you monitor up to five PCs on a network, for things like CPU usage, available RAM, and running processes. You can also send commands like shut down, restart, or force a program to close. Plus, there’s a variety of real-time notifications for things like low battery levels, computers turning on or off, case fans spinning slowly, and high temperature warnings. Skynet-approved!

AirDroid: This ditty of an app uses Wi-Fi to turn your desktop into a phone interface. You can drag-and-drop files to your phone, share a clipboard, send URLs straight to your phone browser, stream media from your phone to your desktop, send SMS messages from your PC, manage apps, and a few other things. As a bonus, no desktop client is required. It works in your browser.

Unified Remote: As its name implies, this app can turn your Android or Windows phone into a kind of wireless mouse for your PC, via Wi-Fi or 3G. It also has application-specific controls (Spotify, Chrome), a file browser to open media and documents on the target desktop, and a general-purpose media player. It's handy for presentations (or using your PC as a stereo—since it's Wi-Fi, line-of-sight doesn't matter).

ES File Explorer: By default, your Android phone doesn't show you all the folders and files under the hood. Unlike Unified Remote, ESFE will play remote media on your phone and also connect to FTP and Samba servers and a number of cloud storage services. It works over Wi-Fi, 3G, 4G, EDGE, and even Bluetooth. If your phone is rooted, you can also see every system file and folder.

Tonido: Tonido is a cloud storage service that syncs a remote PC to your iPhone, Android phone, or recent versions of Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. You can access this remote PC directly and upload up to 2GB of its data to your Tonido account (you can get more space for a nominal fee). Like AirDroid, it works in your desktop browser instead of using an external client.

Click the next page to read about the best free media handling software.

Media Handling

Master your music, videos, and pics

Image Resizer

Image Resizer: Nowadays, even the pics from our phones are too big to email and/or post to Facebook and Twitter, and don’t even get us started on a DSLR’s files. We find ourselves resizing pics quite often to enable faster uploads, and for that we use Image Resizer. This free plugin offers three resize options, integrates into the Windows Shell, and is easy to use.

Do-It-All Media Player

VLC Media Player: VLC is software that needs no introduction—in case you’ve never heard of it, stop reading and get to downloadin’ STAT. This do-it-all media player will open almost any file you throw at it including obscure file types found in the nether regions of the Internet. If VLC is too “commercial” for your hipster tastes, go with Media Player Classic for extra online cred.

Music Player

AIMP: Since WinAmp hasn’t seen any major developments in years, you may be looking for something fresh that isn’t iTunes. AIMP is lightweight, can record audio streamed through a browser, and sports LastFM and other Internet radio integration, an 18-band equalizer with preamp and custom presets, tabbed playlists, a tag editor, and an audio converter. However, it does not do RSS feeds or CD ripping (yet).

Movie Server/Player

Plex: Plex is our favorite free software that includes both a media player for wireless clients and server software for our HTPC. It’s a fork of the excellent XBMC and improves upon it with better device support and the ability to dish data to any and all clients in the home. Install the PleXMBC add-on for the best of both worlds.

Image Organizer/Editor

Picasa 3: Picasa rocks because it’s free, easy-to-use, and offers powerful editing and cataloging options, as well as easy-to-use tools to create content from your photos. It can handle massive picture collections and functions as a slick image viewer, too, even letting you do side-by-side image comparison. It also integrates with Google+, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Look and Feel

Optimize your desktop’s appearance

Start Menu

Classic Shell: If the move to Windows 8’s Start screen left you confused and missing the old Start button, fear not. Use Classic Shell to put that Start Menu back in the lower-left corner of your desktop where it belongs. It comes in many flavors, including Classic, XP, and Vista/Win 7, and is skinnable, to boot. The best part is that it disables the Start screen while still letting you use Metro apps, unlike some of its peers. But seriously, the Start screen isn’t that bad. You babies.

Save Your Eyes

F.lux: Looking at a bright screen all day can strain your eyes, and if you’re looking at it after dark, the bluish light can even screw with your sleep schedule, making you stay up later. F.lux lets you give your eyes a break by adjusting the color temperature of the screen based on the time of day. After sunset, the screen gets warmer and softer, so your eyes don’t have to work as hard. You can disable it for color-sensitive work. Once you try it, you’ll never go back.

Monitor Management

DisplayFusion: Windows 8 is much better at multi-monitor management than its predecessors, but there’s still room for improvement. Display-Fusion lets you set desktops independently, gives you much more control over which programs open on which monitor, creates a much better taskbar, and includes compatibility for Classic Shell and other Start screen replacements. It’s the king of the multi-monitor management world.

The Sucky Side of Free Software

We all love free software, but it's becoming increasingly a pain in the tuchus to just download the software, use it, and never encounter any issues. The first issue is just trying to download the damned software, since most pages put up "fake" download buttons that cause you to download a totally different program than the one you want, so be vigilant downloaders. Once you navigate the download-button minefield and actually get the software, it will then prompt you 10 ways from Sunday to install all kinds of crapware that will hijack your browser's search engine and home page, and color your hair without your permission. Again, be vigilant, as they'll often use trick questions to get you to install the extra software, like, "Do you want to meet single women and install this software?" It's gotten so bad that there is a version of Chrome in the works that will alert you when installing software if any changes are being made to your browser, because even the best of us have let down our guard momentarily and suddenly been confronted with Coupon Buddy.

If you make it past these hurdles, you might then be confronted with guiltware asking you to upgrade to the full version, or for freeware reminding you that you need to pay for it at some point (WinRAR, anyone?) Sadly, this is the true cost of "free" software these days.

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