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PC World - Free doesn't have to mean cheesy, especially when it comes to freeware. A developer's passion project can become something you can't imagine being without, and the fact that you don't have to lay out any cash to acquire it is a major bonus. Some developers accept donations to further development, so consider giving what you can if you find value in their efforts.
[MORE FREE: 25 free open source projects IT pros will love]
Here are some of our favorite freebies. Please tell us about yours in the comments section.
It's imperative to secure your PC against the nasty stuff it will encounter on the open seas of the Web. Fortunately, it's easy to assemble a bullet-proof security suite for nothing.
The free version of Malwarebytes is excellent. Upgrading to the pay-for edition delivers additional features, including protection from zero-day malware (which is new enough to confound traditional AV programs).
Microsoft Security Essentials or AVG AntiVirus Free EditionA are other good, no-cost options. Choose only one, though, because it's usually not a good idea to install two AV programs on the same PC (they'll suck up system resources and might conflict with each other).
Passwords are a hassle to remember, so many people memorize just one and use it for everything. That's a huge security risk! LastPass will log you in to all your password-walled sites with a single click, and it will store your information locally to keep it out of the hands of anyone but you. You can use LastPass on your smartphone or tablet, too (Android, BlackBerry, iOS, and other mobile operating systems), but you'll need to purchase the retail version to get that feature.
File-archiving utilities make big files smaller and easier to manage, and there's code for creating those archives--and opening existing ones--right inside Windows. But third-party alternatives are faster and more efficient (meaning they create smaller archives). WinZip and WinRAR are two popular examples, but they're trialware (meaning you can use them for free for a limited time, but you'll eventually need to purchase a license). 7-Zip is just as good, if not better, and it's absolutely free (although the developer does accept donations). It can even secure the contents of a zip file using 256-bit AES encryption.
USB thumb drives are handy for carrying documents and other files with you, but storing files in the cloud saves you some schlepping--as well as the risk of loss or failure.A Dropbox is one such service, but we found SugarSync to be even better when we compared cloud-storage services last year.
CCleaner is the Murphy's Oil Soap of disk-cleanup tools. Instead of just dusting out old log files and junk you threw in the Recycling Bin, CCleaner digs deep into your PC's cracks and crevices to give everything from your browsers to your Windows Registry a good scrubbing.
The folks at CPUID make great hardware-monitoring tools. Two of the company's utilities, CPU-Z and PC-Wizard, deserve a permanent place on your desktop. CPU-Z presents detailed information on your system's central processor: Its make and model, manufacturing process, clock rate, cache size, and more. It can also tell you which company manufactured the motherboard, its model and revision numbers, which core-logic chipset it uses, and the date of its BIOS. Finally, it will specify the type of memory inside your system and its clockspeed. It's a great way to make sure you got exactly what you paid for. PC-Wizard does all that, plus it benchmarks your system as well as audit its components.
Originally published on www.pcworld.com. Click here to read the original story.