15 free downloads to pep up your old PC

Can't afford a new PC? These free tools for Windows will help breathe new life into your old machine.

Keep your PC running in tip-top shape by cleaning its Windows Registry with Eusing Free Registry Cleaner.

Keep your PC running in tip-top shape by cleaning its Windows Registry with Eusing Free Registry Cleaner.

Rein in applications

A big cause of PC slowdowns is software that runs in the background or at start-up, often without your knowledge. Unpatched software can also cause problems. Two of the following downloads help you get a handle on sneaky apps, and a third keeps the rest of them properly patched.

WinPatrol

This freebie from BillP Studios helps you stop unnecessary programs from running on start-up, and in doing so, speeds up your PC. Run it, and it displays a detailed list of all the programs that start when you boot your PC, including the developer, the file name and much more. Select each program you don't want to run at start-up and click the Disable button.

You'll get a PC that's zippier starting up -- and potentially zippier running as well, because if the programs aren't running in the background, you should have more memory and CPU power available.

The Delayed Start feature is especially nifty. It lets you tell some programs not to launch when Windows boots, and instead delay their launch for up to an hour. Why do that? Because you might not need those programs right away, and by delaying their start, Windows will start up more quickly. Later on, when you need the programs, they'll already be running in the background for you.

There's a lot more to this program, including showing all the services that are running on your PC, displaying all of your ActiveX controls and Internet Explorer helper programs, and showing your scheduled tasks. Examine them all, decide which are unnecessary and disable any you don't need. Again, the result is a smoother-running PC.

Works with: Windows 9x/Me/XP/Vista

Autoruns

One reason that your aging system gets sluggish is that as you install programs and use your PC over time, more and more services and programs end up running in the background without your knowing it. A surprising number of programs invisibly run system updaters, which constantly look for updates to software you're running, without telling you. And there are plenty of other services and programs you run that you don't really need.

Only for the technically inclined, Microsoft's Autoruns is the best way to ferret them all out so you can decide which you want to allow to run and which to stop. It breaks out the list of services into categories -- those that run when you log on, those that are scheduled tasks, those that are Vista gadgets, those associated with Internet Explorer and so on.

You'll see a brief description of each program, its publisher and the program path. To find out more details about any program or service, right-click it and select Search Online; Autoruns does a Google search for the executable so you can find more information.

To stop a service from running, uncheck its checkbox. (This doesn't delete anything; it just stops the service from running.) This is a powerful tool, so before you make any changes with it, do your research so you know you don't need the program or service to be running.

There's also some information here that most people won't need, such as details about dynamic-link libraries. Still, this is a very useful program for advanced users who want to clean out their PCs -- older or not -- and keep them running as fast as possible.

Works with: Windows XP/Vista

Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI)

You already know that to keep your system running well and for a long time, you need to keep it free from viruses, spyware and infections. So you're certainly running security software. But anti-malware software alone can't always keep your system running in tip-top shape. Sometimes the problem is that you're running an application without the latest security patches, and bad guys and bad software can sneak through the holes.

Secunia PSI shuts down those holes. It scans your PC for all the software you have installed, then checks to see if any applications are missing the latest patches. Whenever it finds any, it reports the results. It will also download and install the patches if you ask it to.

It doesn't stop after the initial scan -- it constantly runs in the background, checking when there are new patches available, then tells you when it's time to get them. In downloading the patches, it does more than just keep your PC secure: It also helps it run faster, because patched applications usually run faster than unpatched ones.

Works with: Windows 2000 SP4/XP SP2 or later/Vista

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