10 lightweight apps to make older PCs fly

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory can give your old system an injection of 3D thrills

Your desktop PC might have been slim and speedy five years ago, but keeping up with application upgrades and filling your hard drive with feature-bloated commercial tools can soon make your machine sluggish.

If your computer feels underpowered, there's no need to ditch it and reach for the credit card to buy a new model.

Instead, try our pick of free, lightweight tools and it'll soon be back to its sprightly self.

1. Word Processing - AbiWord 2.6
Boasting most of the same functionality as Microsoft Word 2003, AbiWord is free and light on its feet. Needing only a paltry 16MB of RAM, it runs on Windows 2000 upwards. You can grab an earlier version for Windows 98 if your machine is really wrinkly.

2. Graphics - IrFanView 4.23
Forget about Photoshop and even its open source rival The GIMP - IrfanView's the photo editor to choose on underpowered platforms. With support stretching back to Windows 95 it opens and saves dozens of image formats, with batch editing, cropping resizing and other basic photo manipulation tools built in.

3. Coding - NoteTab Light
Looking for a seriously lightweight coding tool? NoteTab Light does the job. A text editor that's optimised for working with HTML and CSS, it has features like code snippets, HTML tidying and auto-correction. It'll run happily on Windows 98 upwards - Windows 95 too if you use the help file patch.

4. Email - Popcorn 1.87
With even online mail providers becoming bloated and AJAX heavy, Popcorn connects direct to your POP email account - reading mail direct from the server. You can use it with your ISP's service - or online mail providers that use POP3. Popcorn's no longer under active development, but new features are moot when the basics are in place.

5. Web Browsing - K-Meleon 1.5.2
Built around the same browser engine as Firefox, K-Meleon dispenses with all extraneous frills to compete convincingly for the title of "world's fastest web browser". Standards compliant and compatible with your Mozilla Bookmarks, it'll run on a 486 PC with 32MB of RAM and, as long as you have Microsoft's Visual C++ components installed, Windows 95.

6. Video - VLC Media Player
Judging media players is difficult as they're only ever as fast and reliable as the data you try to squeeze through them. VLC Media Player is portable. though, has a small footprint and - though it will struggle to play full HD video on older systems - it's perfect for DVDs and MP3s on Pentium class computers.

7. System Maintenance - CCleaner
Even computer maintenance tools can suffer from bloat - nagging you to update or upgrade components. CCleaner does none of the above. You run it, it finds files you can delete, you delete them - job done!

8. PDF Reader - Sumatra PDF
PDFs have become the industry alternative to printed documentation - but Acrobat Reader, Adobe's free tool for opening PDFs, is something of a resource hog. Enter Sumatra PDF - nimble on its feet and stripped of bells and whistles, it's a fast loading alternative to Adobe's offering.

9. Instant Messaging - Pidgin
Multiple messaging clients scoff your system resources, so switching to a single, universal IM tool makes sense. Pidgin does the job well, with support for AIM, Google Talk, Yahoo!, MSN and more.

10. Gaming - Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory
Got a fiver to spare? Half Life, the original Quake and even Doom are still available to buy through Steam - offering gaming thrills well into their dotage. Cheapskates can choose Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory a completely free, Quake III Arena based multiplayer frag-a-thon.


Now read 10 cheap and easy upgrades for your old PC

Sign up for the free weekly TechRadar newsletter
Get tech news delivered straight to your inbox. Register for the free TechRadar newsletter and stay on top of the week's biggest stories and product releases. Sign up at http://www.techradar.com/register

Follow TechRadar on Twitter

By Mike Williams