The best free software for your new PC

Save your cash for January's credit card bill

The best free software for your new PC

If you’ve been lucky enough to unbox a new Windows PC for Christmas, the initial delight might be replaced by nagging anxiety as you mentally tot up the cost of equipping it with all the necessary software.

January is inevitably a rather lean month as you re-feed your exhausted credit card and await a bank statement that runs to five extra pages, but don’t worry – we’ve curated a list of essential software that will fulfil your every need completely free.

Antivirus: Avira Free Antivirus

Windows 10 comes with its own security software in the form of Windows Defender. It’s a capable program, but not without a few limitations. Perhaps the most important of these is its sheer popularity; if nobody opts for a third-party program and Defender gains a monopoly on the antivirus market, it will become the number one target for criminals, putting millions of people at increased risk. It’s also lighter on features than many other free antivirus suites, including our preferred option – Avira Free Antivirus.

Avira Free Antivirus achieves superb results in independent tests, is unobtrusive, makes modest use of your new PC’s RAM and processor time, and comes with optional extras like a secure browser if you want them.

Download here: Avira Free Antivirus

Backup: EaseUS ToDo Backup

Hopefully your new PC won’t fall victim to an accident or hard drive crash any time soon, but it only takes one carelessly placed cup of mulled wine to cause irreparable damage. Viruses and malware can also destroy your files, or render them irretrievable unless you open your wallet in the case of ransomware.

The only defence against such misfortune is a good backup routine, and EaseUS Todo Backup Free is a brilliant free program that makes a potentially dreary chore incredibly straightforward.

It lets you back up your entire system or a selection of your most important files, and its clever scheduling makes sure backups happen at times that won’t inconvenience you.

EaseUS ToDo Backup Free even includes compensatory measures if a backup is missed for any reason (if your PC is switched off, for example), and can shut it down automatically once it’s finished.

Download here: EaseUS ToDo Backup Free

General web browser: Chrome

New Windows PCs come with Microsoft Edge installed as the default browser. It’s fast, integrates fully with Windows 10 (including Cortana), and is pleasant to use. It also supports extensions, but if flexibility is your main priority then you’ll want to consider an alternative.

Google Chrome supports hundreds of plug-ins, and is the natural choice if you’re already invested in the Google ecosystem through its web apps or an Android smartphone. If you’ve been using Chrome on your old PC, all your bookmarks, cached logins, extensions and browser history will be synced automatically when you log in.

It’s incredibly convenient if you don’t mind the search giant having so much control over your online life.

Download here: Google Chrome

Secure web browser: Tor Browser

If security is the name of the game, consider installing Tor Browser. This is a modified version of Firefox that protects your identity and personal information by redirecting web traffic through a series of encrypted notes scattered throughout the world. This prevents your activity being monitored, prevents information like bank details being intercepted, and conceals your location.

Download here: Tor Browser

Office suite: WPS Office Free

If your new Windows PC comes with Microsoft Office (or an Office 360 subscription) then you’re off to a flying start, but don’t worry if not – there are lots of free alternatives.

WPS Office Free has overtaken LibreOffice in our affections thanks to a recent change in its revenue model (it no longer comes packaged with potentially unwanted extra software) and an interface that bears a comforting similarity to the latest versions of Office.

It includes superb tools for creating and editing text documents, presentations and spreadsheets, and is compatible with all the common file formats – including Microsoft’s.

Download here: WPS Office Free

Photo editor: GIMP

Whether it’s something as simple as resizing a picture ready to share on social media, or a complex task like restoring a creased and faded photo, GIMP is our number one choice.

GIMP's slightly unusual interface takes a little getting used to, but it’s easily as powerful as many paid-for photo editors. It includes advanced tools for editing curves, white balance and color temperature, a healing brush, various filters that enhance pictures with a single click, and an array of user-created plugins.

Download here: GIMP

Media player: VLC Media Player

Windows 10’s built-in media software is perfectly serviceable, but why settle for serviceable when you can have superb?

VLC Media Player has a well-earned reputation as the most powerful and flexible free program of its type. It can handle media from just about any source, and any format without additional codecs, and can convert between different formats with a few clicks.

VLC Media Player also gives you granular control over video and audio playback, with customizable settings and filters. There’s support for plugins too, and it integrates flawlessly with your web browser and operating system. Once you’ve tried it, you’ll never go back. 

Download here: VLC Media Player

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cat is TechRadar's downloads editor. She's been a tech journalist for six years on magazines including PC Plus, Official Windows, PC Format and Windows: Help & Advice (with a brief stint in PR for the nuclear industry in between). If you have a question about software, drop her a line!