So you've installed Windows 7, downloaded all the updates and available drivers, and reinstalled your core apps. It's far quicker than Vista ever was, so what's left to do?
Plenty – we've dug out 12 free tools that will help push the next generation of Windows to new heights.
Whether you're looking for even better performance, the ability to tweak hidden settings or just customise any aspect of the new OS, we've got a tool just for you. And what's more, they won't cost you a penny.
1. EnhanceMySe7en Free
This tool tries – and nearly succeeds – in bringing together all the tweaks and system tools you could possibly need. It's split into five sections, each of which is divided into further sub-sections offering performance tweaks, system health tools and just about everything in-between.
2. Standalone Stack
This tool enables you to create a desktop shortcut that – when double-clicked – displays a rather attractive tiled stack of the items inside the folder in question. Standalone Stack can even pin the shortcut to the Taskbar and use it from there, helping keep your pristine desktop as clear and uncluttered as possible.
3. LogonStudio Vista
Fancy changing the screen that appears when you log on to Windows? The Vista version of LogonStudio works in Windows 7, but you'll need to apply compatibility settings for Windows Server 2003 (Service Pack 1) before it'll function properly. Once done, you can download designs from the web or use your own photos.
4. SysInternals Suite
This massive collection of free troubleshooting tools is an essential download. Look out for three particular tools: Process Explorer enables you to examine running processes in minute detail, while AutoRuns is the best tool out there for managing and optimising your startup. Finally, TCPView is useful for seeing what network and internet connections have been established by the running processes on your computer.
Notepad is as rubbish as ever in Windows 7, so you'll want to replace it sharpish. Notepad++ has all the features you'd expect in a fully functional text editor, but if you find yourself working with code, you'll find its syntax highlighting and folding support for a vast array of programming languages gives it the edge over other free editors.
Copying files might be quicker in Windows 7 than it was in Vista, but you're still not making maximum use of your PC's resources. FastCopy isn't practical for day-to-day use, but it's perfect for those occasional file transfers that measure in gigabytes rather than megabytes.
7. Smart Defrag
We all know how much of a bottleneck a fragmented hard drive is, and frankly Windows' own tool isn't up to scratch. Smart Defrag won't just defrag your drive and optimise the placement of files for a one-off performance gain, it'll sit unobtrusively in the background preventing fragmentation and helping to keep your hard drive running quickly.
8. Revo Uninstaller
Uninstaller utilities are hit-and-miss at the best of times. If you're testing a lot of software in Windows 7, you should install Revo Uninstaller and let it take control of the uninstall process – it'll find files, folders and Registry entries missed by the uninstaller, giving your hard drive a more thorough clean.
Can't play a particular video or audio file? Don't faff about looking for the codec – quickly convert it into a compatible format with Mediacoder, an open-source conversion tool that handles both music and video with ease.
10. Macrium Reflect Free
The RC of Windows 7 may have all the back-up tools you need, but when you come to purchase the Home version in October you'll find a lot of features disappear, and image-based backup is one of them. Macrium Reflect Free fills the gap neatly, and offers extra features you won't find in Windows' own tool, such as the ability to browse an image's contents in Explorer.
11. HD Sentinel
Although there's a drive monitoring tool bundled with EnhanceMySe7en, it's not the most accurate. HD Sentinel provides a more detailed way of monitoring your drive's physical health, throws in an early warning system and can also monitor externally attached drives. The Standard version is free for evaluation only.
12. Process Assassin
While experimenting with Windows 7 you're bound to come across some programs or processes that fail – if any refuse to go quietly you can "assassinate" them quickly and easily by running this tool.
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