New Year is when many of us head for the gym to work off all those mince pies, but a January boot camp doesn't just benefit humans – it can be good for your PC, too. A regular cleanup can do wonders for your PC and make it the lean, mean machine it was when you bought it – and making your PC better can make you more productive too. Here are some of the apps that can help get your PC back in peak condition.
1. SiSoftware Sandra
Sandra is the electronic equivalent of getting a full medical check: it analyses your PC and lets you know how well each part of it is performing, producing benchmarks that you can then compare against similar systems.
It can tell you the state of your hard disk, analyse the speed of your network, let you know if any part of your system is delivering less than stellar performance or identify conflicts between bits of your system, and while it's probably a little over the top for casual computer users, it's a great tool for PC power users and the insatiably curious.
Running CCleaner on your PC is like sweeping it with a brush: it gets rid of the dust and cruft that can accumulate over time and that can make your PC work harder and/or use up more disk space than it really needs to.
The app makes it simple to get rid of temporary internet files, system files and unwanted installers, clear log files and remove redundant Registry entries, clear applications' temporary files and prevent unwanted apps from running when Windows starts. It's simple, user-friendly and very quick, and there's a portable version if you want to run it from a flash drive or CD.
Want to know what state your hard disk or solid state drive is in? Then you need to get S.M.A.R.T. It's short for Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology, and it's a system that essentially means your hard disk can tell you whether it's feeling poorly.
CrystalDiskInfo lets you see the S.M.A.R.T. information for your drive(s), enabling you to see whether a drive is running too hot, if it's starting to report more and more disk errors or if it's about to go boom and take all your important data with it. It's a useful tool to have.
If you're using Windows 7 or later you can skip this one, as Windows Update does a great job of keeping your system drivers up to date. On older systems, though, staying on top of driver updates can be a pain – albeit a necessary one, as driver updates often eradicate bugs and security flaws.
DriverEasy promises to make the whole process painless by analysing your system and comparing what you've got to its driver database to let you know whether anything needs updated, and while it doesn't install the new drivers automatically - that's in the paid version - downloading manually isn't too much hassle.
5. Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+
Ad-Aware is designed to remove unwanted programs and to prevent them from getting onto your PC in the first place from malicious websites and infected emails. It scans for viruses and other dangerous software, and it also looks for adware and spyware.
The first of these is software that blasts you with unwanted ads, and the latter tracks what you're doing and uploads that information to third parties. A full scan of a typical PC can take ages, but it's worth doing – and once you've done it then the real-time protection should help keep your PC free of net nasties.
If like us you've got gigabytes of digital music on your PC, you've probably got a problem with it: the meta tags, the information that says what song is what and who did it, is often very messy.
MP3tag can solve that. From imposing consistency – no more will you have some songs marked REM and others R.E.M. – to correcting errors, standardising file names and downloading the correct album art for each record, MP3tag does a great job of taming even the largest, messiest MP3 collections. It works with non-MP3 music files too, with support for FLAC, AAC and more.
Video formats fall in and out of fashion, and that means it's easy to end up with a hard disk full of clips in varying formats and in various resolutions, or a library of discs just dying to be digitised.
Handbrake can sort it all out for you. It can convert video clips from almost any format to any other format, which is great for getting files from dying or obsolete formats into more modern ones, and it can backup DVDs and Blu-rays too. Its filters also do a pretty good job of correcting common quality problems with home movies.
Deleting files doesn't actually delete them: your computer just marks them as "safe to overwrite" and pretends they're not there. That's not a problem unless you're dealing with information you don't want to share – for example if you're selling a computer or giving it away you might not want someone to recover your personal banking information or other personal or business data.
Say hello to Eraser, which ensures that deleted files can't be recovered by overwriting them with carefully selected patterns. It's programmable, too, so you can schedule it to run at regular intervals such as the weekend or in the wee small hours.
As you may have guessed from the name, Recuva does the opposite of Eraser: its job is file recovery, not file deletion. It's our go-to app for retrieving image files from corrupted camera memory cards, enabling us to recover our precious holiday snaps, but it's just as happy recovering accidentally deleted music from iPods or business documents that got trashed during a computer crash.
It can rebuild corrupted Word documents from temporary files, recover accidentally deleted emails and get files back even after hard disks have been reformatted. When things go wrong, Recuva can usually make them right again.
10. Revo Uninstaller Free
Revo Uninstaller reaches the parts the default Windows uninstaller can't reach, scanning your PC for the various bits and pieces that are often left over once an app has been uninstalled, such as temporary files, user documents and redundant Registry entries.
That's particularly handy if you're tight for hard disk space or tend to install lots of apps. If you need more powerful uninstallation, for example to automatically remove multiple programs at the same time or to force-uninstall a program that's refusing to go nicely, the 30-day trial of the Professional version is fully functional and gives you access to all its advanced features.