TV shows, movies, and games are often distributed online, and a great download manager will slash the amount of time you spend waiting for them to appear on your hard drive.
The best managers can speed up downloads by breaking files into manageable blocks, let you pause and resume whenever you want, and even compensate for flaky internet connections by picking up where they left off after it breaks unexpectedly.
Some download managers will even convert media file formats automatically, saving you the hassle of re-encoding them yourself, and others will let you begin playing an audio or video file before it's finished downloading.
Here's our pick of the very best free download managers for Windows. Once you've tried one, you'll wonder how you ever managed without it.
1. Ninja Download Manager
Powerful and well designed - the best download manager for media files
Ninja Download Manager is a relative newcomer to the downloading party, and it looks considerably more contemporary than its, er, contemporaries.
Its interface is simple and modern (if a little dark), and its accelerator can help you get your files 10 times faster. It does this by splitting each file into chunks, then downloading each one using a different server connection, making downloads not only faster, but also more reliable. If you're into music and movies you'll be delighted by its sequential setting, which lets you begin playing a file while it's still downloading.
There's also a built-in video downloader with support for YouTube and Vimeo, and a video converter that changes the file format automatically once it's finished downloading.
There are lots of fantastic options around, but if you love music, films and TV then Ninja Download Manager is the best free download manager.
Review and where to download: Ninja Download Manager
2. Free Download Manager
An open source download manager full of tools for music and movie lovers
Free Download Manager aims to be all things to all people – and succeeds. It's a download accelerator, a BitTorrent client, an audio and video previewer and a traffic management tool, and because it's open source, it's completely free and receives regular updates from its community of developers.
It includes powerful scheduling features and a very handy remote control that means you can leave your downloads running and check on their progress from any internet-connected device.
It can spider sites to download specific kinds of files, and you can choose to download only the bits of a ZIP file you actually want. It's an exceptional program, and it was tough to choose between this and Ninja Internet Download Manager for the top spot.
Review and where to download: Free Download Manager
3. Download Accelerator Plus
A stripped-down, but still excellent version of a premium download manager
The free version of Download Accelerator Plus is a pared-back version of the premium edition, but it's much more than just a demo and contains all the essential features you need for quick, reliable downloads.
The free version lacks the DAP Premium's privacy protection, but it does include a link checker, video previewing, file conversion, safe downloading and multiple connections to boost the speed of your downloads.
Download Accelerator Plus is clearly designed for media fans, and can help you avoid irritations such as slow servers and internet congestion.
Download here: Download Accelerator Plus
An advanced download manager, JDownloader is ideal for power users
JDownloader is a free, open source download manager with a massive developer community, and it's available for Windows, Linux and Mac.
It's really one for power users, with support for over 300 decryption plugins, automatic RAR extraction, password list searching and OCR to complete some of the captcha 'I'm not a robot' checks you encounter on download sites.
You'll need the Java Runtime Environment to run it, and you'll have to be careful when installing it: the installer contains adware, which will be bundled in with the download manager if you don't specifically deselect it.
Review and where to download: JDownloader
iGetter makes it easy to find and grab files, whether you use a Mac or a PC
Most download managers are for Windows, but iGetter also comes in a Mac OS X version. You can schedule downloads for specific times – handy if the servers you want to use get hammered during peak hours – and find server mirrors.
As with most download managers worth their salt, you can resume broken downloads and benefit from accelerated downloading.
iGetter also includes a site explorer that you can use to find content on web and FTP sites. It integrates with Safari, iCab and Firefox on Mac and Firefox and Internet Explorer on Windows.
Download here: iGetter