If you use any operating system that doesn't start with a "Microsoft" and end with a "Windows" (and some kind of short letter or number designation), then you have utterly failed in your attempt to keep heathen software elements from besmirching the good name and reputation of your precious PC. And woe unto any who utter the forbidden name of a common Silicon Valley manufacturer of said "different" operating systems around these parts--you can trust me on this one. I learned the hard way.
But let it not be said that I wouldn't rise up to the challenge, see the error of my ways, and accept my restatement into PC-only territory with a bit of grace and/or slice of humble pie. I have even made a great sacrifice to prove my noble intentions:
I have come back to you now, as the great Gandalf would say, and I am ready to repeal anything positive I had ever erroneously suggested about non-Windows operating systems. Let this column be the Smoke Monster that forever keeps unwanted products off of my island PC.
As far as I'm concerned, Steve Jobs is the Man in Black; Apple and OSX are lost causes. Based on the platform alone, I can think of five excellent reasons why you should never, ever, ever consider letting any bit of the Apple experience ruin the software sanctity of your Windows system.
Type "screensaver" into a Web search box - go ahead, I dare you. What you'll come across is a number of scamming, ad-filled, useless sites that care more about lining their own pockets with revenue than actually delivering you the goodies you want for sprucing up the look of your system's display. I can't help you much there. The appeal of a particular screensaver is, after all, in the eyes of its beholder. You might like flying toasters; I might like ports of OSX screensavers. There's little point in me trying to push my tastes on you via some freeware roundup.
That said, there are a number of interesting applications that can help you better manage your display. Regardless of whichever screensaver you choose to use--including none--the freeware tools listed below will let you best manipulate your screen to your liking. Enhance your daily computer use with increased energy-savings or prevent annoying interruptions to your media-watching, amongst other tricks. And, yes, you'll even be able to turn your screensaver on and off at a whim...
What's on your PC? It's a fairly innocuous question, one that even the most tired of geeks should be answer without a moment's hesitation. But let's face it -- you sometimes spend a decent amount of time between upgrades. So much so, that you might have very well lost track of the exact names of the parts and pieces inside your system. Do I personally remember the exact model name of my motherboard? Nope! I won't tell you the manufacturer, but I've definitely had to pop off the side of the case and scan around, flashlight in hand, just to find my motherboard's actual model number for a firmware update search.
Don't let that be you. Furthermore, now's as good a time as any to get a solid inventory of not only the parts and pieces attached to your rig, but a full list of your installed software (and running services) as well. Why's that? Suppose your rig crashes tomorrow--I'm talking about the big one. No hard drive. All your data's wiped out. Can you honestly tell me that you'll remember each little freeware app or utility you installed on your system when you go to rebuild your machine? Wouldn't it be nice to have a little checklist to help you along?
And thus enters this week's download of the week--an application that goes above-and-beyond the call of duty to give you a full load-out of every little thing, hardware or software, that's in any way connected to your system. But that's not all...
Security rivals thermal paste as the most important thing you have to keep in mind when building or using a system. Every bit of software on your PC should be updated; every external access point into your digital life, closed. There's no reason why you should be handing over the keys to the castle to random Internet strangers. Powerful virus protection, a strong firewall, and a bit of common sense -- among other tricks -- will go far to preserve your fortress of a system.
Now that's all well and good for the desktop in your living room, but what about third-party machines? We've all had to jump on a system over which we've had no control--no observance or administrative rights to ensure that every bit of the operating system checked out to ideal security standards. You can always head over the falls in a barrel and type your passwords and login credentials blindly, with no foresight or worries that you're inputting valuable information on a potentially infected machine. That, or you can do what I'd do: Make sure that your every keystroke and action is somehow safeguarded through the use of portable applications that you can carry on a storage device of your choice (cough USB key cough).
And that's exactly what I'll be exploring in this week's Freeware Files: Five awesome portable apps that you can carry with you to increase your security presence on a PC that isn't yours. These aren't panaceas--you'll still want to be as critical and as cautious as you would previously. However, they're a step in the right direction toward (hopefully) a data-leak-free lifestyle.
It's always a curious enterprise when a company elects to deliver a fully-functional, nag-free version of a piece of software alongside a paid-for, "professional" or "super-bonus" edition of the same program. And it's not always easy to separate the freeware from an app's costly "real" version. Companies tend to do all they can to promote the latter-and with good reason-instead of delivering as much face-time and promotional effort for the freeware versions of their products. You might find an errant link to the inexpensive app on a download page... and that's it.
Such is the case with VS Revo Group's popular Revo Uninstaller application. I had been meaning to check out the professional version of this wicked uninstallation application for some time now, as curiosity was killing me. What's the big difference between the $40 edition and the freeware version?
Who crashed? Who. I'm asking you, who crashed? Yes, Who, that guy over there on first base...
Only the best downloads get their own warm-up comics. And WhoCrashed is one of the best downloads you'll want to have on your system if you want to figure out the source behind your occasional Blue Screens of Fatal Windows Unhappiness. Install this app on your PC and you'll be treated to a little more information than the gobbilty-gook permeating your average BSOD.
WhoCrashed isn't a panacea--it's not going to give you a little button that says "Fix Me," which will automatically heal your system's upset-whatever like a glass of digital Maalox. Consider this app the Sherlock Holmes of freeware (the book, not the Iron Man version). It'll give you clues and suggest a potential culprit for your woes, but it just can't make everything better without a little deduction and sleuthing on your part.
So why, then, would you download WhoCrashed? Click the jump to find out!
There are a lot of weird little applications and utilities out there. They aren't programs that will win a spot on anyone's top-ten list of yearly freeware or anything like that, but that doesn't mean that they are any less deserving than their peers for a spot on your desktop or laptop computer. They're just, well, small. Small and simple-minded. A number of them aspire to solve individual problems or issues with your system, and some even attempt to bolster your interactions with your computer in some newfound way. These aren't huge applications--no Firefoxes of the freeware world--but they're every bit as interesting and important to know about as the next greatest Web browser.
That said, I've taken a grand look through all instances of my Freeware Files weekly roundup over the past year, and I've pulled out some tidbits that might have flown under your radar for whatever reason. They cover a hodgepodge of scenarios, but that doesn't mean that I've just reached into the freeware sack and pulled out a random pile of apps. No, these little programs represent the best of the forgotten--apps that might not be as well-spoken in your freeware vocabulary as the more popular entities on the Internet, but ones that are nevertheless important for whatever services they provide.
Get your downloading finger ready and click the jump, for 10 of last year's most underappreciated apps await!
Happy New Year! Well, almost. Before I can raise my glass and tip my columnist's hat to the one-year birthday of the Freeware Files (and Murphy's Law), it's time we get down to the time-honored tech tradition at this time of year: the awards list.
Unlike my brethren at Maximum PC, who have put together a fine list of general freeware applications that you should check out regardless of the time, I've sat down and gone through the hundreds of apps and utilities that I've covered throughout this year. Some, you might know. Some, you might have forgotten about. And some apps and utilities that I've used, but not covered, still deserve special mention in this general roundup of the year's best freeware.
So put on your party hat and get your downloading finger ready. For each winner, I'll give a little mention of why said app is worth its salt, why it differs from what you'll natively find in Windows, and whether it's a must-download or a maybe-consider. After all, it would be crazy to download 20 apps in any given setting, no? You just want the best. This list, friends, represents the best... and in some places, the unknown!
Say it with me now for one last time in 2009: Click the jump!
Power users routinely punch into the BIOS in order to fine tune their system, but it can be an intimidating place to go exploring if you've never before burrowed beneath the surface. And just like in real life, poking around in unknown places can be a dangerous affair if you don't know what you're doing or where you're going. On the other hand, once you understand the inner workings of your PC's control center, a whole world of overclocking and troubleshooting suddenly opens up. But what exactly is the BIOS?
Every modern motherboard comes with an embedded Flash EEPROM module, otherwise known as the BIOS chip. Short for Basic Input Out System, this is the first bit of code executed when you boot your PC. The BIOS stores all kinds of essential information about your system, such as your CPU's clockspeed, the size and type of RAM you're running, the boot order of your media, what onboard devices are present, and much, much more. An improperly configured BIOS can prevent Windows (or Linux) from loading, while a finely tuned BIOS has the potential to significantly improve performance over that of a similarly spec'd machine.
Whatever your goal is, this is your go-to guide for everything you've ever wanted to know about the BIOS. We cover every setting -- even the obscure ones -- so you'll never feel lost or out of your element, no matter what motherboard you're rocking under the hood.
CyberPower this week announced a new line of high-end gaming PCs under its also new Fang series nomenclature, which it says has been co-developed with Intel and "other leading manufacturers." The company kicks off the new line with the flagship Black Mamba Venom and Cobra Venom, both of which come overclocked and sport a customized BIOS, as designated by the Venom tag.
"The Fang series with Venom incorporates a special BIOS to allow for higher overclocking," CyberPower stated in a press release. "The BIOS supports real-time readings of CPU speed and additional options for QPI signal and CPU Clock Skew features, all of which improve overclocking capability."
On the higher end, the configurable Black Mamba Venom comes standard with Intel's just-released Core i7 975 Extreme Edition processor factory overclocked to 4GHz, and EVGA X58 Classified or Gigabyte X58 Extreme motherboard, 6GB of tri-channel DDR3 memory, a pair of 300GB Velociraptors in a RAID 0 array with a 1TB hard drive for storage duties, two Nvidia GTX 285 videocards in SLI, and a 6X Blu-ray writer all housed in Cooler Master's Storm Sniper chassis.
The slightly lower end Cobra Venom sports the same processor along with X58 motherboard options, while dropping down to a single 1TB hard drive, a single GTX 285 videocard, and a combo Blu-ray/HD-DVD player housed in Azza's Solano 1000 case.
The Black Mamba and Cobra Venom will start at $4,000 and $2,400 respectively. No word yet on availability.