The Computer Toolbox

After spending the last few days, on and off, installing Windows 7 on a couple of laptops, and after seeing some press releases over the last couple of days for Win7-ready versions of several utilities, I thought I would compile a quick list of utilities that I have found helpful for either optimizing systems or just saving my bacon…

  • Google Pack. There’s some really handy stuff here to make this a great getting-started software bundle, but it gets mentioned here for including the newest version of Spyware Doctor Starter Edition that also includes antivirus (and is much better-behaved than the Norton scanner that it replaced.) It’s free, but you can upgrade to the full version for more real-time options and other niceties.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials. Remember Microsoft AntiSpyware? This is the newest version, that also includes antivirus capabilities. It’s svelte compared to a number of other antivirus tools out there–if you have a small amount of memory (1GB or smaller) this is one to look at closely. And the price is right (it’s free, provided you have a geniune copy of Windows.)
  • Avast! A serious antivirus utility, it’s one of the few that actually offers boot-time scans of your system, so it can detect a number of viruses before they can hide themselves into the OS. Scans are relatively fast and as an added benefit, it doesn’t step on file last-access times, so any accounting of that information that you might do to figure out programs you use, for instance, isn’t affected. The freebie version works great, you just have to register within 60 days.
  • Paragon Software has a bunch of handy freebies, including a partition manager and filesystem drivers that will allow you to read NTFS volumes from operating systems that can’t otherwise handle them.
  • I always keep an Ubuntu Live CD close at hand. I used the included partition manager (gparted) to prepare for installing Win7, and it worked fantastically.
  • Ultimate Boot CD is extremely useful (and free), but hasn’t been updated in a while. No worries, though; there’s little that doesn’t still work. There are many handy tools here–I often start here when I’m stumped on a system that is behaving badly.
  • TuneUp Utilities will perform a number of optimizations on your system, prominently on your system’s Registry and network configuration. If you are bad at remembering to performmaintenanceoperations, consider licensing this one; it’s worth it.
  • CCleaner does a great job cleaning up extra files, and also handles the registry. If you can’t afford, or don’t want to shell out for TuneUp Utilities, this is as close as you can get for free.
  • DriverAgent gives you a quick look at the age of your drivers; if there’s anything that’s out of date or has a security hole, it’ll flag it for you. The free version just does the flagging; but it can do the entire job for you if you license it.
  • Update Notifier keeps your non-Microsoft apps pretty much up-to-date. Also free.
  • PerfectDisk is probably the best defragger out there–it’s very thorough, and can be set to work automatically. Worth the cost of the license.
  • MyDefrag works almost as good as PerfectDisk, but not quite. But it’s free. Pair it withPageDefrag to take care of your page file, hibernation file, etc.
  • Process Explorer helps you track down badly-behaving applications. Thankfully, we don’t have to use this one too often, but it’s one of the most useful troubleshooting tools for the really tough jobs.
  • 7-Zip is my favorite archive utility. Free, no nags, unlike pretty much every other archive utility out there.
  • ImgBurn will burn an ISO image onto a CD or DVD. Free.
  • Nero offers a free version that burns basic data discs, and also copies discs that can be copied.
  • CPU-Z shows you anything that you need to know about your CPU and memory. Free.
  • Belarc Advisor shows you pretty much you need to know about your system, period–down to the serial numbers of most installed applications. Free for non-commercial use.
  • HD Tune tells you how quick your disk subsystem is… this is the one that will help tell you whether it’s time to start looking for that quicker hard drive.
  • In the same vein, AJA System Test will tell you exactly the frame per second speed that your disk subsystem can handle for all kinds of video formats. Very handy.
  • Drive Snapshot is great for backing up your computer’s hidden partition, if applicable (probably is if you bought the system at retail.) You can image your disk and burn it to DVD or Blu-ray Disc, and if something horrible happens to your hard drive, you’re not dead in the water.

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