Buying or building a new PC is never cheap. Hardware is the main expense, but you also have to budget for an operating system and essential software like an office suite (Windows 10 doesn't come with a full version of Office as standard), security tools, photo editing software, and more.
It doesn't have to be that way though. Today, you can kit your new PC out with a full suite of essential software without paying a penny. You don't have to sacrifice quality, either – these programs are all comparable with their paid-for counterparts, and most are open source projects developed by teams of enthusiastic, community-spirited coders who want to make great software accessible to everyone.
We've also picked the best web browsers – one for everyday internet use, and one for secure surfing – plus a backup tool to protect your data in case an unfortunate accident befalls your new machine.
Antivirus: BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition
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 – BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition.
This excellent free security suite gives all-round protection from online threats, including viruses, ransomware, and spyware. Its detection rates are excellent (as verfied in independent tests), and its hands-off approach means you can simply install it, then leave it to get on with protecting your PC without any further input. It's a superb security package, and our choice for protecting our own machines.
Review and where to download: BitDefender Antivirus Free Edition
Backup: EaseUS ToDo Backup Free
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. Get into good habits and install this superb free backup software on your new PC immediately.
Review and where to download: EaseUS ToDo Backup Free
General web browser: Google 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, and a great browser for your new PC if you don’t mind the search giant having so much control over your online life.
Review and where to download: Google Chrome
Secure web browser: Tor Browser
If security is the name of the game, consider installing Tor Browser on your new PC. 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.
Review and where to download: 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 as our pick for the best free office software 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.
Review and where to download: 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 the best free image-editing software for your new PC.
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.
Review and where to download: 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.
Review and where to download: VLC Media Player