When you first have a new PC everything is fast and responsive because Windows has not yet had a chance to get bogged down. Inevitably, this will happen over time and so to maintain that level of performance you need a good maintenance regime. Here are a few suggested programs to help you do that.
A program designed to be a one-stop shop to regularly clear the crud out of your Windows installation. CCleaner is free but has a paid upgrade. It can keep all of your Windows temporary files (etc) at bay by regularly deleting them. It also acts as a registry cleaner even though the need for that these days is questionable. It also has a start-up program manager, and a mass uninstaller tool.
A nice alternative to Windows's built-in defragmentation tool. Available for free by the makers of CCleaner, Defraggler gives a friendly user interface and even installs an option in your right-click menu so that you can defragment individual files or folders. For a gaming PC, you could just concentrate on defragmenting the game data to make levels load up faster, etc.
PC Decrapifier is the perfect tool if you've just bought a PC from a manufacturer who loves to fill their products full of bloatware. Simply run the program, and it will check all of your installed applications and compare them against a list of known junk apps. Then it will ask you if it's okay to go ahead and remove them.
We all know far too well that Windows is not free of bugs. Therefore, to get the best performance (not to mention security) it is wise to regularly run Windows update or set it to automatically update so that your operating system is always up-to-date.
While all modern hardware will simply work with Windows out-of-the-box, you will gain significant advantages by installing specific software from the manufacturers of your components to gain access to advanced features and specialised maintenance options.
Graphics card managers
Whether you have a graphics card from Nvidia or AMD, you can get the most from your graphics card by installing the official control centre software. In the case of Nvidia this is the GeForce Experience, for AMD you will need its Catalyst Control Centre software. In either case you will gain access to functions that are beyond the standard Windows screen resolution controls.
You rarely need to make any modifications to the operation of your motherboard. However there are certain things for which purpose made software will come in very handy. Such cases include flashing the BIOS and overclocking. If the system you bought was prebuilt and you are not sure what motherboard you have, check out some of the apps further down this page.
This program is made by Piriform software (the makers of Defraggler and CCleaner). Its sole purpose is to give you detailed information your system. You can't change any settings with it. However, it can be an invaluable resource when trying to identify the hardware in your PC.
HWInfo is very similar to Speccy, does not give you the ability to change anything but gives you in-depth information about your system. The difference with this app, though, is that while its user interface is far less inviting it delivers what more information. Most importantly, it delivers real-time information from your system sensors.
If you are only interested in what's happening with your CPU then CPU-Z will tell you everything you need to know in a very compact window.
As you might expect from the name, GPUz does exactly the same job as CPU Z except for your graphics card. Both give you read real-time information about clock speed and voltage levels as well as manufacturer and chip number.
DiskCheckup. As you probably know, hard drives come with a self-diagnostic system called SMART. This program provides a fairly easy to understand user interface to view all that information and to perform checks on all of your drives. As I recently experienced, this can provide an invaluable early warning of imminent drive failure.
SpeedFan. As you might guess from the name, this app allows you to monitor and control the speed of the fans in your PC. However, it does far more. You can view real-time data from your CPU, GPU, and hard drives, even going so far as to use SMART data from your drives for diagnostic purposes too.
Recording and streaming
If you intend to share your gaming experiences you will need some way of recording them. Here are apps that will help you live stream, record off-line, or just take screenshots.
FRAPS is a well-known and much loved program for capturing real-time video from PC games. Actually, FRAPS can do it all: it can take screenshots, it can record crazy high-resolution video, and can overlay your frame rate on screen which makes it a handy benchmarking tool.
You don't normally see VLC in the list of software for gaming PCs. However, one of the things that VLC is adept at doing is capturing and streaming video. VLC can be set up to stream any video coming through the DirectShow software layer in Windows.
This free and open source application is a great screenshot manager stop it can take either fullscreen or selected regions, screenshots can be annotated and uploaded to cloud services like Flickr or Picasa.
Part of the online gaming experience is communicating with other players. Sometimes the built-in communication tools of the game aren't that great and you need to turn to third-party solutions.
Everybody knows Skype, and most of the time it works well enough. Free users can even do conference calls, and so Skype could be a solution for in game communication, even though it isn't tailored for gaming.
TeamSpeak is an old favourite of the gaming world. It supports separate conference call rooms and push to talk voice activation methods for initiating audio. It's free to download and a lot of fun, but you do need to rent or run a TeamSpeak server.
While we all know Steam is a successful online game market it also provides a built-in chat service. This can be a great way of seeing when your gaming contacts are online and interested in playing something.