We all know the signs that something is wrong with our PC. It starts slowing down. Error messages that make no sense start popping up. Or, worse, it’s obvious that you have a virus because your computer has suddenly taken on a mind of its own. Having a PC First Aid Kit will help.
Even better? You can pull together a full security and backup solution for your computer without spending a dime.
The First Aid Kit
What needs to be in your first aid kit? You’re not limited to the programs I list here, so I thought it only right to offer up the types of software that you really need to have or consider getting to keep your computer secure, running smoothly, and backed up in case of an emergency.
1. Antivirus – This is the most essential thing you can have in your first aid kit as a preventative measure. It won’t do everything, but it will keep you from pulling your hair out.
2. Registry Cleaner & Defragmenter – A registry cleaner works like a defrag program specifically for your PC registry, cleaning up databases and removing old files that are no longer needed.
3. Privacy/Activity Sweeper – The best of these will erase all of your old Internet data, clean up files on your computer that you’ve accessed but don’t need to store ‘copies’ of, and generally go through and erase your activity and surfing traces both from the Internet and your computer itself. This is a major hacker prevention technique, allowing them to access nothing of personal value on your computer – they can’t root around and dig up credit card numbers from Internet history, for example.
4. Uninstaller – An uninstaller, I say? Yes. The one that comes built in with your operating system doesn’t do what a dedicated uninstaller will – things like erase the data to military standards, find related files that you won’t need and remove them, and clean up a bunch of computer space by doing so.
5. Defragmenter – Yup, I know. Again, this is something built into your operating system. But dedicated defrag software offers options that you’ll love, displays friendly interfaces, and just plain work better.
6. Security Holes Scanner – Technically, if you run Microsoft Windows, you should be secure where patches go … but you’re not. I promise. A security holes scanner will look for patches and updates that don’t just automatically appear in your updates, and apply them.
7. Malware Fighter – Malware ranges from everything to regular viruses to trojan horses to cookies that store sensitive information. So a malware fighter combats these things. Most run in the background so that nothing gets stored in the first place, and all will also give you the option to go into the program and let it run its maintenance.
8. Password Keeper/Locker – The best of these will remember your passwords and store them inside a ‘locker’ which can only be accessed via a master password. Once you type in the master password, all the other passwords will automatically be remembered for you. This is a much safer way to go than allowing your passwords to be remembered by your browser and software, which can be found by hackers.
9. Browser Spyware Protection – Clicking any link, be it in an email or at the top of a Google page, can lead you unknowingly into a malware infestation. Browser spyware/malware protection software runs in the background and will prevent this in a variety of ways depending on the software you choose.
10. Backup & Restore – Yes, Windows has a backup and restore option. However, it only protects your registry and system files. What about your precious programs, files, and folders? A good backup & restore program will take care of those, too so that you’re good to go in the event of total disaster.
Free PC First Aid Kit Software
Believe me, I’m all about free – as long as it’s quality. I absolutely refuse to clutter my computer with a bunch of mediocre programs that only do part of what I need them to do. My computer space and my time is valuable, and I’m not wasting it on a freebie that won’t do me any good.
So, the software listed here is the best – in my own humble opinion – at meeting those needs. Please feel free to experiment, look around, and even test drive the demo versions of full-fledged software (there are some that have most, if not all, of these tools bundled into one program).
1. Antivirus – There is always debate over which free antivirus is the ‘best’ one to use. There always will be. In my own experience, though, one program consistently wins hands-down. And believe me, I change out just often enough to know.
Sunbelt’s Vipre Antivirus software has a both a free and pay version – and if you’re currently using CounterSpy, you can upgrade to Vipre Antivirus for free.
Unlike the ‘old’ antivirus software, Vipre won’t slow your computer down. Its updates are seamless and run in the background – often without you even realizing it. And when you do encounter a virus, Vipre immediately quarantines it and notifies you so that you can deal with the little sucker right away. Check out the full details here.
2. Registry Cleaner & Defragmenter – As you use your computer, install programs, uninstall programs, create and delete files and documents, your registry stores and deletes information in a database. Over time, all this storing and deleting means that there are gaps, holes, and overlaps in information that seriously wastes system performance.
Very simple, with one click to analyze your registry and one click to defrag, compact, clean and optimize the registry, the very aptly named Registry Clean Expert software is freeware – you are never asked to pay a penny, ever, for any version of it. And it’s simple. And it works. Need I say more? Go download it.
3. Privacy/Activity Sweeper – Hackers can quickly access your Internet activities because of the cache your browser stores to help ‘speed up’ the loading of pages and information. The problem with this is that sensitive data can be stored in these files, too, and a hacker can grab them easily.
Beyond the dreaded hacker, there are some simple maintenance reasons to clean your activity. Your computer, especially if it’s a PC running Windows or other 3rd party software, often stores information that can also compromise your privacy. And there is a ton of garbage files that you pick up every time you surf the web, which slows down your computer and allows anyone who looks to see exactly where you’ve been surfing (which just isn’t cool, regardless of what you’re looking at).
So let’s introduce another very easy program. Free Privacy Eraser is just that – it will completely erase tracks of your activities on your recent documents, start menu, recycle bin, temp files, clip board, memory dumps, chkdsk file fragments, Windows logs, menu order cache, open/save dialog history, tray notifications, user assist, media and real player history, paint history, Microsoft Office history, IM history – and that’s not even getting into all the things it does for your Internet browser (IE, Netscape, Firefox, and Opera are all currently supported). There are also over 100 plugins for this software so that you can totally customize it to your specific needs.
Need more of a push? Not only is it free, but it’s so free that all the creator asks for is a donation if you find the program as useful as I do. You will.
4. Uninstaller – A dedicated uninstaller will remove all traces of the program you’re uninstalling, leaving no tracks behind that just clog up computer space. It’s really as simple as that. But it’s something your PC can’t do with its built-in uninstaller.
Ashampoo Uninstaller is an entire suite that works by creating two ‘snapshots’ of your system. One is taken before you install a program or application, and one is created directly afterwards. These snapshots then record the entire status of your computer system – from registry files to configuration files and installation logs. So if you run into a snag after installing something, you can use Ashampoo to clean your computer of the unwanted software and restore everything on your computer to the way it was before you ever installed the program. Very cool, and free.
5. Defragmenter – Like the uninstaller, a dedicated defragmenter works better than the one on your computer already because it has been built from the ground up to do nothing but defragment your PC very well.
There are a ton of free defragmenters, some better than others, but the one I recommend every time is IOBit’s Smart Defrag. This little thing is awesome. Part of their entire IOBit Advanced System Care bundle, this is 100% free and will quickly analyze your drive(s) before committing to a scan. A sleek interface shows you blocks representing different file types and a key below tells you which color means fragmented, frequently used, etc. files.
The defragmentation itself is so in-depth that you’ll want to run this baby when you know you have a little bit of time. You can choose from three levels of defragmentation (straight, smart, or deep) – and each level costs more time but performs the work even better.
Extras? Yup – and cool ones. Like the scheduler so you don’t have to wait on defragmenting if you set it up for when you have downtime, or the ability to run scans on bootup. Yeah, I love this program.
6. Security Holes Scanner – Another amazing little IOBit freebie, the Security Holes Scanner they created is superfast and both detects and removes malware and finds security holes in your system so they can’t be exploited because the analysis will connect directly to the Windows security patches you need. ‘Nuff said.
7. Malware Fighter – Malware is comprised of all the things that aren’t quite viruses but are definitely annoying, irritating, and PC-slowing.
By far, the best and most popular malware fighter is Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, a completely free tool that quickly scans and removes potential dangers. Not only does it let you scan multiple drives, but you can scan your network’s drives as well. A simple interface leads you through everything so it’s easy to use.
Please note that this is the free version, so real-time protection isn’t available. With this exception, though, there aren’t many malware fighters that are better.
8. Password Keeper/Locker – Anymore, there are passwords for everything. And for security, we’re always reminded to use different passwords everywhere we go. It can get not only overwhelming, but just plain impossible for some of us who have way too many things requiring way too many passwords.
Let’s keep hackers out of that information though, ok? Take a look at KeePass. It helps you organize all your web passwords, auto-filling forms for you once you have used the master password to unlock KeePass. It doesn’t stop there though. Any set of numbers you need to remember can be locked away in here – atm codes, social security numbers, and emergency phone numbers. All you have to do is remember the master password, and KeePass does the rest.
9. Browser Spyware Protection – Spyware, malware, and viruses – oh my! Yeah, seriously, you can pick them up just by clicking an innocent looking link.
Quick, short, and simple: Check out Web of Trust. It’s a free browser plugin that turns your links into two colors: red and green. Green means good, red means bad. Simple.
10. Backup & Restore – When Windows rolled out the rollback System Restore function, we were all jumping for joy. No more total losses! What a lot of us didn’t realize, to our own dismay, is that the Windows System Restore only protects the registry and system files. It fails to protect the things we’ve added that mean so much to us.
So head over to the Comodo Time Machine page which can also roll your PC back to an earlier state. More than just your registry and system files, though, your files, folders, and programs are also protected and rolled back to. Windows won’t load? Press the Home key while booting to access all of Comodo Time Machine’s roll-back features.