When it comes to computing, our general philosophy at Maximum PC is that bigger is better. More, speed, more memory, more power – as far as hardware goes, there’s no such things as excess. Software, though… software’s a little different. Big, feature-packed utilities and applications are great, but we prefer apps that show a little restraint.
That’s why we’ve put together a list of 30 apps that kick arse without taking up a lot of space. Every program in this list can be downloaded for free, and takes up less than 2MB of space. Read on for more!
What the heck is taking up all that space on your computer? Find out with SpaceSniffer. Like WinDirStat and a few similar programs, SpaceSniffer scans your drive and creates a visual representation of all the stuff that’s on it, so you can see at a glance what’s cluttering your boot drive. From there you can right-click to interact directly with files and folders-anything you can do from the right-click context menu, like delete, cut, copy and paste, you can do in SpaceSniffer.
Ever notice it’s hard to sleep at night after staring at your computer screen all evening? It could be the colour temperature of your monitor. F.lux is a simple app that matches the colour temperature of your screen with the lights in your room, and with natural light in the morning. Go easier on your eyes; you only get one pair. Presumably.
CPU-Z has grown to be one of the most valuable tools an enthusiast can access. It gives you the nitty gritty on what clock speed your CPU is running at, what it idles at as well as what stepping and revision it is. CPU-Z also gives you quick info on your motherboard, RAM and GPU too. On a rigs, we often use CPU-Z to verify that our CPU is running at its rated speed. Believe it or not, but sometimes a motherboard will incorrectly set the multiplier for a CPU and unintentionally under clock the chip. We put a load on the CPU with Prime95, and then use CPU-Z to verify that all is what it should be.
Windows’ file copying and moving can be a little arcane, and the interface lacks much useful information. TeraCopy is designed to copy and move files as fast as possible, with plenty of options not available in Windows Explorer, like pausing and resuming, error correction and test copying. It can also integrate seamlessly with Windows to replace the default file movement system, unlike similar programs like FastCopy.
Think Windows 7’s built-in indexed search is fast enough? Think again. Everything, from Void Tools, is a ultra-light-weight indexed search app, that makes looking for files jaw-droppingly fast. Like, instantaneous.
If you don’t believe us, try it out for yourself – we guarantee you’ll be impressed. Indexing is remarkably fast (a minute or so per hundred gigabytes indexed) and Everything’s system footprint is minimal. You can only search in filenames, but regular expressions are supported and the speed is phenomenal.
Core i3/5/7 chips are great at handling thermal and power loads. Instead of simply crashing or locking up your box, most Core iX chips just throttle the clock speeds down until the heat is manageable. That’s great, except you don’t really know if you’re giving up performance because your heat sink or case air flow is underperforming. Since the chip throttling doesn’t appear as an error in the OS, you’ll have to rely on the wonderful TMonitor. This utility monitors the clock speed of each core in real time and even shows you what the Turbo Boost level of the chip is. Fire up TMonitor, and load up your CPU with a good work multi-threaded load such as Prime95. TMonitor should show all of the cores running at maximum clock speed and without any sags. Let it run for at least 15 minutes to an hour. If the TMonitor shows large sags on some of the cores, you have a thermal issue with your system.
Pretend that you’re an editor at a web site that just came across a prototype phone from a fascist-like computer company. Great ! Well, that is until the company’s illegal security contractors start kicking in your front door. What are you go do? You should have Darik’s Boot and Nuke handy. Simply download the pre-built ISO, burn it to disc, and when needed, reboot to the disc. DBAN will begin nuking your PC’s storage subsystem and any hard drive it can detect. For many of us who don’t live the Hollywood, high-adventure lifestyle of a web editor, DBAN’s probably more handy for wiping old machines before you sell them or give them away.
At 28K in size, Delayer is truly tiny. But it’s actually one of the most useful apps we have on our rig. We use Delayer to create some automation around our basic applications. It does what the name suggests, and allows you to create delays in launching Windows applications. It’s handy for running sequences of programs, setting up your taskbar icons in a preferred sequence, and even creating pop-up reminder messages.
Because we are constantly swapping out systems, drives and components, this one’s a no-brainer. Eraser is a highly secure data removal tool. It’s effective because it doesn’t just delete your data, it completely nukes it all by overwriting it with patterns of data generated specifically to prevent future recovery. Best of all, it’s free.
We like uTorrent because it’s a lightweight (400K), fast, simple, and easy-to-use BitTorrent client that boasts many of the features in bigger clients such as BitComet. It supports UPnP, it automatically adjusts your bandwidth usage based on network activity, and you can customise the client via the uTorrent’s App Studio. And did we mention that it’s fast. Like many of the apps on this list, it’s also free.
We all know that we should be using multiple passwords for multiple accounts. But do you do it? No. Why not? Because it’s impossible to remember all the passwords. KeePass is great because it handles this for you. A 256-bit encrypted database keeps all of your passwords locked down and accessible via Windows or even mobile devices.
We’ll keep this short and simple. The Gmail Notifier displays an icon in your system tray whenever you receive new messages, displaying subject, sender, and a snippet of the message.
We’ve been a big fan of CCleaner (formerly Crap Cleaner) for many years to help decrappify Windows. This donation-ware (but still available for free) application’s main appeal is dumping out unused file areas to save space, but it also features a registry cleaner and can securely delete free space on your hard drives if need be. It’s well worth the install and it doesn’t oversell itself as being able to rejuvenate your system like some clutter-clearing applications do.
This is our default file archive package, partially because it’s free, but mostly because it’s power, flexible, and effective. The 1.09MB 7-Zip unpacks all manner of archive formats, including ZIP, TAR, GZ, and the application even has its own file format-7z-which is remarkably efficient at compressing files. It also supports 256-bit AES encryption, and can be configured to utilise multiple CPU cores.
Color Cop is a multi-purpose colour picker that allows users to determine the colour (and coding) of any colour on any given screen. If you’re trying to find the colour of something particularly detailed, you can also use the magnifying tool to select individual pixels, ensuring that you find the colour that you’re looking for. Awesome software for graphic designers and Photoshop enthusiasts.
IrfanView is a photo and video viewer that allows you to perform basic editing and colour corrections. You can organize images or movies into slideshows, access the paint tool to draw over your image, and change the skins on your toolbar. You are also given access to a series of effects and filters to further alter your image. The real kicker, though, is that IrfanView supports a huge range of file formats. All free, in an app less than 2MB. Impressive.
Easy Thumbnails has a pretty self explanatory name, and that’s a good thing. Basically, opening Easy Thumbnails puts you into your computers directory, where you can select any image that you’d like to resize. For batch jobs, it’s a real time saver, as you can simply choose a series of images, choose a new size for them, and have a series of thumbnails ready to post wherever you’d like. Easy Thumbnails also saves original copies of your images, incase you’re not happy with your resize. A handy little program.
Resize Enable is interesting in that there isn’t even an interface to the program – you simply install the small file, then you are able to resize nearly all windows on your desktop-including the ones that you couldn’t prior. This helps consolidate all of your open windows without the need minimise so much. Very handy.
Nail it 1.10 installs to your taskbar, and basically allows you to ‘nail’ any given window in your OS. What does this mean? Well, if you a nail a window, that window will stay on the top, no matter how many other windows you choose to open. If you’re tired of your nailed window, you can un nail it, and assign the nail to a different window. There are a ton of practical things you can achieve with this app-we found that nailing an analogue clock to our desktop kept things a bit more classy.
Internet Traffic Report is a nifty app that loads into your toolbar. The icon represented in the toolbar is the performance rating for which designated internet path you choose to monitor; using the configure tab, you can choose which region of internet you’d like to monitor, or switch monitoring between servers altogether. Basically, ITR is a GUI that allows you to find and diagnose bandwidth issues, wherever you are.
LogMeIn Hamachi2 is an easy-to-configure utility that sets up a Virtual Private Network to let you securely access remote networks. Simple, secure, and free for noncommercial use, it’s perfect for creating mock-LANs for LAN gaming at a distance, or for creating a virtual office network. Use in conjunction with UltraVPN to securely control your PC from anywhere.
Strange things happening to your PC? HijackThis, from Trend Micro, generates a full report of everything that’s running on your computer. Helpful forum denizens (yes, such things exist!) can then help you parse your HijackThis log for anomalies, like spyware and malware. If you’re feeling especially brave, you can use HijackThis to remove unwanted files yourself, but the software itself will helpfully remove anything you ask it to-including important things. So be careful.
If you’re in the habit of buying new laptops (or off-the-shelf desktops), you’re familiar with the stupendous array of bloatware that can ship with new computers. PC Decrapifier should be your first download on a new computer. Run it once and get rid of all the crap. And dream of a future in which software companies don’t pay hardware companies to include crapware on new PCs. Not bloody likely.
Not everyone can put out the cash for Ultra-X’s RST Pro (RAM Stress Test Pro) tools but Memtest86+ is likely more than enough for the average enthusiast trying to trouble shoot an ailing system. An offshoot of the original Memtest86, the utility is constantly updated to support new processors and chipsets and will even work with Sandy Bridge CPUs and AMD’s new Fusion chips. Simply download the pre-built ISO from the web site, burn it to a disc or create a bootable USB stick, plop it in the ailing PC and boot to it. Memtest Plus will immediately being running test patterns across the memory. Any errors or problems will be flagged.
If you think running your favourite game is a good stress test of your CPU, you’re wrong. While games are good at testing a GPU, they don’t do squat to a CPU. If you really want to squeeze your CPU hard, use Prime95. Download it, unzip the file and click on the Prime95 executable. It’ll ask if you want to search for Primes or just do some stress testing. Select stress testing. You should then get a menu of different stress tests and what subsystems they stress the most. Your system should be able to finish any of the tests without any errors or crashing. If something blue screens, you likely have a thermal, power or RAM issue with your box.
If you take screenshots with any sort of frequency, you know that the standard screenshot functionality in Windows just doesn’t cut it. There are a lot screenshot tools floating around, but our favourite is Greenshot, which is tiny, efficient, and has all the features we need.
Greenshot gives you a lot of flexibility in how shots are saved – whether they go to a folder, the clipboard, or straight to Photoshop. It also lets you choose exactly how you want to take shots. You can assign different hotkeys to take full-screen shots, custom-area shots, single-window shots and more.
Now, we’re not going to claim that every person needs a hash calculator. If you only download software from trusted location, and don’t compile anything yourself, you’re probably safe without one. But when you DO need a hash calculator – if you want to make absolutely sure that the file you download is bit-for-bit identical to the file you wanted – you should get a good hash calculator. Thus, HashCalc.
HashCalc is small, fast, free, and it shows you hashes in pretty much any format you can think of. What more could you want?
Alright, technically this is two apps, but they work together to serve a single purpose.
That purpose? Taking back control of your context menu. Whether a full on shell extention, or a regular context menu item, these two programs from NirSoft have you covered, allowing you to disable any item in your context menu that you no longer want. For full instructions for using ShellMenuView and ShellExView, see our how-to article right here.
Multiple desktops are a classic form of desktop organisation, but have never had native support in Windows. Fortunately, there have always been third-party solutions that inject desktop-switching functionality back into the OS.
There are a lot of options available, but there’s several good reasons to choose VirtuaWin: it’s Open Source, tiny, doesn’t use many system resources, and it gives you all the functionality you need to manage programs across four virtual desktops.
If you’re the kind of PC power-user for whom even hotkeys aren’t fast enough, you might want to think about mouse gestures. Without even having to reach for the keyboard, you can bind pretty much any action you can think of to customisable mouse gestures using StrokeIt. Adolescent pun-name aside, StrokeIt’s an absolute necessity for anyone looking to use their mouse for more than just pointing and clicking.