Gaming on the PC is still a thriving business, despite the success of consoles such as the Playstation 4 and Xbox One. However, the 3D graphics used in the latest games can put a real strain on your PC.
Fortunately, we've got some great free apps that can help you fine-tune your PC's gaming performance. We've also found some useful apps that can help you find the best games on sale, and even record and upload your own gaming videos onto sites like YouTube or Twitch.
It isn't the only online store for buying and downloading PC games, but Steam is far and away the biggest. It offers a vast library of games, both old and new, and is now responsible for more than 60% of global sales of PC games. As well as selling new games, the Steam app lets you download free demos and runs special offers on older games too.
There's also a Community section where you can join discussions with other gamers, or check out the workshop where fans develop their own 'mods' – modifications – that add new content or features to your favourite games.
2) Game Booster
Even when your PC looks as though it's sitting idle, it's actually running many different processes – programs or other Windows features that run in the background and take up processor power and memory. Game Booster allows you to turn off these processes in order to devote maximum power and memory to your games.
It also includes a Tweaking option that lets you fine-tune other Windows settings, plus a diagnostic tool that can help you analyse crashes or other problems on your PC. It's not a tool for beginners, though, as you'll need a bit of technical know-how to understand some of the techno-jargon that it throws at you.
3) MSI Afterburner
Afterburner was originally designed for MSI's own range of graphics cards, but it will work with most graphics cards that use Nvidia's GeForce processors or Radeon processors from AMD.
The app allows you to adjust a variety of settings in order to improve the performance of your graphics card. The two key options are for increasing the clock speed of your main graphics processor, and the video memory attached to it (hence the term 'overclocking'). Fiddling with these settings can cause your PC to overheat if you're not careful, so the app also monitors the temperature of your graphics card and even allows you to speed up the internal fan to help keep things cool.
4) Nvidia GeForce Experience
You should always keep up to date with the latest drivers for your graphics card, but Nvidia's GeForce Experience does a lot more than just check for driver updates. Now installed on more than 35 million desktop and laptop PCs that use nVidia graphics cards, GeForce Experience can analyse your PC system and then automatically adjust the graphics and other settings on your games in order to achieve the best performance.
It also includes a feature called ShadowPlay that allows you to make video recordings of your games sessions so that you can upload them to sites such as YouTube or Twitch and become an online gaming superstar.
Speed is crucial in action games, and a few extra frames per second can make the difference between winning or being blown to smithereens. Fraps can help you fine-tune the performance of your PC by displaying the frame rate up in one corner of the screen while you are running any of your favourite games.
This allows you to experiment with different graphics settings so that you can get the right balance between speed and eye-popping graphics effects. There are a number of different options available, including the ability to record minimum, maximum and average frame rates, so you can analyse the performance of your PC in great detail.
6) Voice-chat apps
Whether you're playing a co-op game with just three or four people, or taking part in a World Of Warcraft raid with hundreds of your guildmates, you'll need a good voice-chat app to let you communicate effectively in the heat of battle.
There are three main voice-chat apps that dominate the gaming scene – Teamspeak, Mumble and Ventrilo – and each one has its own strengths. Mumble is technically very slick, but Ventrilo is widely used on massively multiplayer games like World Of Warcraft, while Teamspeak also runs on Macs, Android and iOS devices too. Ultimately, though, your choice will probably depend on which one your guild or team is already using.
HWiNFO is a bit like a souped-up version of the Device Manager that is included as part of Windows. However, it provides much more detailed technical info than Device Manager so that you can keep your PC running smoothly for games and other tasks.
If you want to experiment with overclocking, HWiNFO can monitor the temperature of each individual core within a dual- or quad-core processor. It can display a graph of memory usage so that you can see if there are any programs taking up memory that you need for your games. You can also monitor the performance of your network so that you get good upload and download speeds for online gaming.
If you want to show your gaming videos to the world then you'll need some software to help you stream your videos online. There are a number of broadcasting programs available, including XSplit and WireCast, but one of the most popular on gaming sites like Twitch is OBS – Open Broadcaster Software.
Although it's completely free, OBS provides lots of useful features, including support for both H.264 video compression and Intel's rival Quick Sync format. As well as simply broadcasting video footage from your games, OBS also allows you to create 'scenes' that combine video with other types of files, such as a voiceover recording or a webcam insert that shows you talking alongside your game footage.