Some downloadable software is so good that you just have to grab it. Unfortunately, often you have to pay for it after you try it out. But every once in a while, a must-have program is totally free. Such indispensable, no-cost programs are the hardest kind to find.

We've saved you the time it takes to dig up such gems. Read on to learn about ten must-have programs that can keep your PC fast, fun to use, and safe. Some of the creators ask for a small donation if you like the application, and some of these downloads are older, 'lite' versions of more full-featured software- - ut all are free to download, and free to use.

See also: The PC Advisor Downloads directory

System cleanup and maintenance

System maintenance and cleanup utilities are always useful, and we know of some excellent tools that anyone should have. Start with CCleaner, the best free/donationware program you can find for cleaning a system and keeping it in tip-top shape. It deletes temporary and unneeded files, erases your browsing tracks, kills unwanted cookies, and zaps unnecessary files associated with various programs, including all the popular browsers. It even provides a Registry cleaner.

Want to make CCleaner even better? Download CCEnhancer (free/donationware), which powers up CCleaner by increasing the long list of cleanable programs. It tidies up the traces of more applications than CCleaner can do alone, adding favourites such as Ashampoo Burning Studio, LogMeIn, Microsoft Works, and many others. It integrates directly into CCleaner, so you have nothing new to learn.

Part of keeping your system in ideal condition is knowing what's inside it, and that's where LookInMyPC can help. It peers into your computer and gives you an exceptionally detailed report, including the PC's manufacturer, its serial number, the amount of RAM, the hard-disk space, and similar hardware info. Overall it offers far more than most users want to know, though the amount of detail is perfect for geeks; if you dig into it, you can see the part number of your RAM chips, all your installed printer drivers, the name and address of your ISP, lists of installed updates and patches, and plenty more.

Making sure that your machine has the latest software is important as well. The free Secunia PSI scans your PC, finds all the installed software, alerts you about which programs need updates, and then helps you do the updating. It also warns you about which of your out-of-date programs represent a security risk, and it can even automatically update your programs after a little configuration.

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