You have to admit, Windows is a pretty barebones operating system, feature-wise. After a fresh install of XP or Vista (perhaps following a Clean Start), you're faced with a barren Start Menu and an empty desktop that's beaming with limitless potential. The problem is that it's up to you to hunt and download those applications that you really need in your day-to-day computing experience. And chances are, it's often difficult to find good software that's also free. That's where this guide comes in.
We've put together a list of what we think are the most essential PC apps for every Maximum PC reader. These are all free programs (except one) that should be immediately installed after a fresh build or reformat; 32 indispensable programs and utilities that we couldn't imagine computing without. From the best IM client to FTP browser and Notepad replacement, these essentials truly enhance the Windows experience (much more so than Microsoft's own Windows LIVE Essentials). We're not saying you'd use all 32 entries in our list on a daily basis, but if you are at all serious about utilizing your PC, we promise our picks will not go unused.
And at the end of the feature, we'll even show you how to install these apps in one fell swoop with a special configuration file we've created. Because if it were up to us, this is software that should be bundled with every copy of Windows.
It might seem like an oxymoron to the average geek: getting healthy with your PC. Sure, you can lift your turbo-charged, water-cooled desktop as if you were doing a common bench press. And you could probably tie the ends of the two front speakers in your 5.1 surround sound system together, creating a crude jump rope for exercising right out of your home office / basement dwelling / dorm room. But while these fitness techniques might improve your personal health, they're not very beneficial for the longevity of your beloved computer system.
Let's fix that.
We're taking a look at fitness-themed applications in this week's freeware roundup. And while you might roll your eyes as you head back to your local meat locker for a punching session, don't brush off the notion of computer-assisted fitness just yet. From applications that help you map your heart rate, to nutrition guides, to a comprehensive guidebook of exercises that you can do right at (or near) your desk, this batch of freeware apps will help you transform your PC into your very own personal trainer.
Slap on some sweatbands and click the link, for it's time to pump you up.
Listen to the mind-numbingly repetitive radio programming on the FM dial long enough, no matter which genre you prefer, and you might conclude that only a handful of recording artists are worth listening to.
Fire up your PC and tune in to Internet radio, on the other hand, and you’ll discover an embarrassment of riches, nearly all of which you can enjoy for free and without—or at least with very little—commercial interruption. In fact, there’s so much music that you might find yourself overwhelmed. That’s where the music discovery services Last.fm, Pandora, and Slacker come in. All three services help you discover new music based on the songs and artists you express a preference for. As interesting as that concept is, what’s even more remarkable is that each service takes a completely different approach to the mission. Let’s take a look at all three.
Upgrading is an obligation of any self-respecting PC geek. It’s an affirmation of your thirst for power, a healthy rejection of the status quo. Upgrading is an acknowledgement of the fact that there’s always a way to improve your rig. You may have the funds for premium parts—lucky you. We’ll tell you exactly what those parts are. But even if your means are more modest, there are affordable parts in every major component category that can breathe new life into an aged PC.
Regardless of your financial situation, you must address some important questions before embarking on an upgrade. First, you need to honestly assess your rig’s merits. You shouldn’t waste money upgrading your PC if it still sports an AGP slot or a pre-AM2 Athlon 64 motherboard. The question you should ask yourself is whether it’s more cost effective to gut the machine and replace its primary components—motherboard, CPU, memory, and videocard—than it is to do a piecemeal retrofit. If you look at your rig and decide to build new, check out our full build-a-pc guide, but if you’re ready to proceed with an upgrade, click to find out how!
Clean start. OS reset. Nuke and pave. Whatever you call it, no matter how good a personal system administrator you are, there’s a time to take your OS install out behind the shed and put two in its head.
When would you need to take such extreme measures? If the networking stack is splayed out on the floor and no amount of patching, registry editing, or Winsock repair tools can fix it. If you can’t get hibernate or standby to work anymore. Or if you’ve had a horrible malware or rootkit breakout. Sure, you may have reclaimed control of your PC after an epic five-day battle with the beast, but can you really trust your OS anymore? You don’t want to reenact the final sequence from The Thing, you and your PC eyeing one another wondering if the other is not what he seems to be.
A clean start is the only way to relieve your paranoia. Read on to find out how to do it properly.
Maker’s Mark is of course the name of a fine Kentucky bourbon whiskey, but the phrase also applies to the stamp that skilled artisans apply to their creations. When you’ve finished building your custom PC, we’d encourage you to stamp it with your own maker’s mark; after all, the one-of-a-kind creation you’ll have wrought will have nothing in common with the mass-produced rigs that mainstream manufacturers churn out by the millions.
That’s one of the most exciting aspects of our hobby. Automobile buffs can tune and customize their factory-built cars and trucks, but computer geeks like us get to build something new and unique almost entirely from whole cloth. And it’s so easy that you have to wonder why anyone would buy a preassembled PC in the first place.
Thanks to the relatively open architecture that IBM stumbled into oh so many years ago (and has likely regretted ever since), we can rebuild and retune our creations again and again, boosting their performance and postponing their obsolescence. We do hit a wall every now and again. Intel’s new Core i7 CPU is a good example. Because the new processor features an onboard memory controller—a first for Intel, although AMD’s procs have had the technology for years—the company had to design a new socket architecture to accommodate the additional pins. That blocks the upgrade path for anyone using an LGA775 motherboard.
Intel has AMD on the run in the CPU front, but AMD is poking Nvidia in the behind in the graphics processor market. The result: ever more powerful, ever less expensive videocards. The two companies have shipped so many new parts that we expect things will stabilize over the next quarter or so, so now’s the time to find a great deal whether you’re building a new rig or retrofitting an old one. And if you’ve never experienced the joy and pride of building your own PC, click through to read our in-depth, hands-on guide.
I fought the law and the law won. Moore’s Law that is. As proof, Intel on Tuesday demonstrated both desktop and mobile CPUs running an OS using a new 32nm process some of which are due as early as this year. Intel’s updated roadmap for performance desktop, mainstream desktop and mobile features a few new twists and turns from the company’s accelerated 32nm process.
Intel updated its public roadmap of the 32nm “Westmere” family. Like the switch from Conroe to Penryn, Westmere is a smaller “tick” that offers some upgrades from the current 45nm Nehalem CPUs.
Find out how this affects power users and Intel's desktop mainstream lineup. Plus, a first look at LGA 1156 details!
So your computer is taking too long to boot, after being bogged down by dozens of startup applications you’ve downloaded over the years. You might want to just format, but that’s the coward’s way out. If you spend a little time tuning up your boot applications you may avoid the time it takes to wipe and restore your system altogether. Don’t give in to clutterware -- follow our guide to the essential methods of troubleshooting your PC’s start up sequence and freeing Windows of unnecessary resource hogs.
Two things are certain in every life: Death and taxes. While we have yet to find any good freeware tools to help with the former, we've been on a kick to find alternatives to pricy software like Quicken or Microsoft Money. The good news? We were able to find five separate programs that can help you track the money coming in and flowing out. The bad news? It's slim pickings beyond this. We came across plenty of paid-for applications and a proverbial bucket full of online applications that help you track your finances. But when it comes to freeware financing applications, there just isn't a huge market for this kind of stuff.
But while we're blabbering, your fortune is surely ticking away! So what are you waiting for? Stop reading! Start downloading! Put on your accounting hat!
Who says AMD moves too slowly? Just a month after releasing its well regarded Phenom II mid-range CPUs, the company is back with no fewer than five new P-II chips and its new AM3 socket that support DDR3.
War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Well, except when it’s a CPU war. In that case, it’s good for consumers. Really good for us. With the unveiling of five new AMD’s latest Phenom II CPUs supporting DDR3, it’s pretty clear that the CPU war that started with the unveiling of the Phenom II in January is escalating.
AMD’s new lineup includes the 2.6GHz Phenom II X4 for $175, the 2.8GHz Phenom II X3 720 Black Edition at $145, and the 2.6GHz Phenom II X3 710 for $125. AMD’s two other new chips: the 2.6GHz Phenom II X4 910 and the 2.5GHz Phenom II X4 805. The 910 and 805 are OEM only CPUs and pricing was not released but you can expect that gray-markets will carry them and that the prices will follow the numbers. The 805, for example, should be slightly cheaper than the $175 810 and the 910 should be cheaper than the $195 Phenom II X4 920.
Lost in the numbers? So where we. AMD’s lineup is so bewildering to us today that we had build a spread sheet just to sort it out! We give you the skinny on AMD’s latest quad and tri-cores and help you sort through AMD’s bewildering array of CPU choices.