Resource Monitor provides access to a host of information about what is using your precious system resources. Resource usage information is available for the CPU(s), memory, disk and network. The level of detail that can be viewed means Resource Monitor is more closely related to the Process Explorer/Process Monitor tools from SysInternals than it is Task Manager. Unlike Process Explorer/Process Monitor, you don't have to be overwhelmed by detail, since you can view information in a way that suits you.
To try out Resource Monitor, click on Start, type resource monitor into the search box, and then click on the Resource Monitor entry that appears under Programs.
For an in depth look at Resource Monitor refer to our article Windows 7 Resource Monitor: New & Improved
Problem Steps Recorder
Problem Steps Recorder (PSR) allows the steps needed to reproduce a problem, or to implement a fix, to be recorded and saved to a file. If you've ever tried to help a friend or family member over the phone, or via email, with a PC problem I'm sure you know how difficult and frustrating it can be. PSR helps a lot.
To start PSR, click on Start, type psr.exe into the search box, and then either click on the psr.exe entry that appears under Programs, or right click and choose Run as a administrator. Note you need to choose Run as administrator if any of the screens you wish to capture are running with administrator privilege.
Once loaded you simply click on the red circular Start Record button to start capturing user activity. Comments can be added during the capture and to finish the session you simply click on the Stop Record button. Once recording has stopped you will be prompted to enter a filename and the whole session will be saved to a ZIP file. The maximum number of screen shots that can be recorded by default is 25. To change this, click on the downward arrow at the right hand end of the PSR dialog box and choose Settings.
The ZIP contains a MHT, mime encoded HTML, format document that includes the screen shots, any comments that were added, and a text based description of the actions that were carried out. This can be opened and edited in any version of Word from 2002 upwards. Alternatively, the file can be viewed using the free Word Viewer, Internet Explorer version 5 or higher, Firefox with the UnMHTextension installed and Opera version 9.0 or higher.
PSR is not a ground breaking application, but it will help me to assist others much more quickly and efficiently.
PowerShell is Microsoft's solution for automating system tasks. Version 1 was released with Windows Vista and version 2 with WIndows 7. It has two main parts, a command-line shell and a scripting language. PowerShell is the equivalent of the DOS commands and batch files used in early PCs. Naturally it is much more powerful because we now have GUI interfaces and other new features. It is fully integrated with the .NET framework so all PowerShell objects are .NET objects. This provides a powerful ability to interact with your system through: 'cmdlets', .NET programs compiled into a dynamic-link library and loaded by a PowerShell script; PowerShell scripts (.ps1), PowerShell functions; and executable programs.
To try out PowerShell, click on Start, All Programs, Accessories, Windows PowerShell, and select Windows PowerShell which will bring up the PowerShell command line interface. If you want to create scripts then see How to open Windows 7 PowerShell Integrated Scripting Environment (ISE).
If you want to see how useful it is then run the script from Auditing 32-Bit and 64-Bit Applications with PowerShellwhich lists all installed applications and whether they are 32- or 64-bit.
Be aware that, by default, Powershell restricts execution of unsigned scripts. You can check if this is "restricted" with the command:
and you can change it with the command:
Piriform Recuva is very easy to use, has a simple user interface, and works quickly. "However, it only works great on straight forward recovery. I found that after formatting the disk deep scan could only locate and recover 19 files out of 106." (Free Data Recovery and File Un-delete Utility)
CCleaner is "a product that started off as pretty basic but has continued to improve to the point where it is now very close to the best in its class regardless of price. It's very effective in freeing up disk space by removing unused and temporary files, cookies, Recycle bin entries, Windows hot-fix files, history and cache files in many applications such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, Safari and hundreds of others." (Best Free File Cleaner Utility)
CCleaner is the main tool I recommend to Windows users. Cleaning your disk or system can be scary if you don't know what you're doing. CCleaner helps because it is simple to use, has many options, is relatively conservative in its cleaning, is updated many times each year, and allows you to do much more than cleaning unnecessary files. It also cleans registry entries, wipe disks, manages startup applications, and uninstalls software.
The applications recommended in this category use the Windows API (Application Programming Interface) for defragmentation. This means that even if the program crashes Windows should be able to repair or recover from any problems.
If you utilize Windows built-in ReadyBoost and install a third-party defragmenter then don't be tempted to disable the disk defragmenter built into Windows Vista and 7. If you do, you will greatly reduce the effectiveness of ReadyBoost, the mechanism that monitors files accessed during the last 5 boots and creates a boot plan to reduce startup time. This boot plan is passed to the Windows disk defragmenter to allow the placement of files used during the boot process to be optimized.
Piriform's Defraggler, like all Piriform products, has a nice clean interface with easy-to-understand features. It "performs a very fast “quick defragmentation” with decent file reorganization but if you perform a complete defrag process, which takes longer, you obtain results that are worthwhile" although not highly optimized like MyDefrag (see below). "Defraggler also supports scheduling, low priority and boot defrag" but does not have a flexible scripting language. (Best Free Disk De-fragmenter)
MyDefrag is the advanced power option and is the top pick in Best Free Disk De-fragmenter. It is novel in two ways: it uses a defragmentation and file placement engine, JKDefrag; and all activities are carried out by scripts. MyDefrag is effectively the graphical user interface through which you run the scripts.
MyDefrag comes with standard scripts so select the option (including "fast defrag" and "optimize daily") that best suits you. The output from the scripts themselves is unimpressive as it is largely unchanged from JKDefrag. Compared with other products, it uses a more advanced algorithm to optimize the placement of files on the disk. It also has a simple scheduler and scripts can also be run from Windows or other programs,
Note that MyDefrag requires administrator privilege and, if running from the Task Scheduler under Windows Vista or 7 then it is recommended that the SYSTEM account is used.
I've listed these in order of ease of use if you are moving from Windows Explorer.
Q-Dir is simple and easy to use because it follows Windows Explorer conventions but with up to four panes, each of which can have multiple tabs and tree views. Full drag-and-drop is implemented making it more productive than Explorer. It supports a wide variety of functions and customisations although you really need to refer to the on-line FAQsto get the most out of it. It has a small footprint, and is not resource intensive but "lacks some of the more advanced features available in other offerings in this category. The configuration is mostly limited to window arrangement. The toolbars are appropriately compact, but cannot be customized." (Best Free File Manager)
MultiCommander by Mathias Svensson is a powerful dual-pane file manager with tree views but without tabs. MultiCommander has many features and supports plug-ins to provide even more. But it also tries to simplify the transition from Windows Explorer by providing "Quick Look'N'Feel Setup" where you can choose to retain Explorer's shortcuts and mousekeys. Just be aware that it doesn't work 100% so one of my favoured techniques didn't work.
Double Commander is a long-standing beta project based on the shareware Total Commander which means it also supports Total Commander plug-insto provide a bewildering array of additional functionality. Out of the box it is a powerful dual-pane file manager with tabs and many other built-in functions and options. The interface was is not very attractive but it is, of course, customizable. I had no significant problem with it even though it is called a beta version.
"7-Zip supports 7z, ZIP, CAB, RAR, ARJ, GZIP, BZIP2, Z, TAR, CPIO, RPM, and DEB. Even though it handles fewer archive types than some other programs, it is a fantastic program that will fulfill 99% of all your file archiving needs." (Best Free File Archiver/Zip Utility))
PeaZip is an open-source product "which is easy to use and very versatile. It is capable of extracting from archive types including ACE, ARJ, CAB, DMG, ISO, LHA, RAR, and UDF." (Best Free File Archiver/Zip Utility)
FreeFileSync has a "very clear and informative interface. The preview is very easy to understand, and file collisions and deletions are more readily recognizable than many other sync programs If you require a sync program that can copy files that are in use or locked, FreeFileSync has you covered there too! Unfortunately it only has very basic filters, no auto sync feature, and no direct support for FTP. My final complaint would be that its help file is a little sparse. Those few flaws aside, I found it to be well designed and easy to use." (Best Free Folder Synchronization Utility.) Caution! Installer is bundled with OpenCandy.
Microsoft SyncToy is a versatile utility that will satisfy all but the most demanding of users. It also runs very quickly despite being based on the .NET framework. The only major things it lacks are the ability to select files from a folder via a standard tree view, direct support for ftp, and a portable version.
Operations are carried out on local and/or remote pre-defined folder pairs. Remote folders can be specified by drive letter or UNC name. You define and name these pairs, files can be included or excluded based on wildcards and/or file attributes, and then when you want to perform a task, you recall one of these pairs and carry out the operation. Syncing can be in either direction and covers all options from complete sync to updating newer files only. SyncToy can also keep track of files you rename and rename those in the sync destination. Overwritten files in the destination can be saved in the recycle bin, in case you need the older version. SyncToy also allows you to preview a sync, that is, view what would happen if the sync operation was executed. This ensures the operation will do exactly what you want before you use it. In addition to the easy to use GUI, SyncToy can also be run from the command line to sync a chosen folder pair or, all folder pairs.
There are several types of products that you can use to tune-up and tweak your Windows 64-bit PC. Many tools in this category are covered in Best Free Vista Tweakswhich includes details of compatibility with Vista 64. With the exception of Vista Logon Studio all the applications that work under Vista 64 will also work under Windows 7. An alternative to Vista Logon Studio for Windows 7 users is given below.
SysInternals is now part of Microsoft and the tools remain free and are regularly updated. Most work correctly under Windows 7 and Vista 64. In particular, the three most widely used tools extract and run 64-bit code: Process Explorer, Process Monitor and Autoruns.
At present, Autologon doesn't work, but a suitable alternative can be found here.
Some sixteen different utilities are included, covering virtually every aspect of PC maintenance. Although none of the individual utilities can compare to standalone competition, you do have the advantage of having everything in one place.
As this is a 32-bit program, you will notice that one or two of the modules are not fully working, the Uninstall Manager, for example, doesn't recognise 64-bit applications, and therefore cannot uninstall them.
This is one of the categories where a 32-bit application that is 64-bit compatible is unlikely to be satisfactory. Unless you change your registry settings, a 32-bit application cannot see the 64-bit registry. For this reason I'm only reviewing 64-bit applications. Unfortunately, although the paid version of Best Free Program UninstallerRevo Uninstaller is a native 64-bit application the 64-bit features are not available in the free version.
Comodo Programs Manager (CPM) is a simple to use uninstaller which is largely a replacement for Windows Uninstaller. You can uninstall either programs, drivers and services, Windows features, or Windows updates. Even incomplete installs or uninstalls can be removed as CPM accesses a database of products to determine the settings for programs that need to be uninstalled.
If you choose to opt into their Application Contribute Programme then CPM will send Comodo information about programs you install. If you don't opt into the programme then you will not be provided with access to Comodo's database information and you won't see the files and registry keys installed. If you work with the programme then you might be annoyed by the background process to update CPM's database Comodo - it runs far too often in the background and cannot be scheduled.
The Best-Free Registry Cleaner category is to be updated soon so I expect more products to be recommended.
The previous editor explains why you need to be careful with Registry Tools:
"It's absolutely essential that you backup your registry before using a registry cleaner. For most users the easiest way to do this is to create a system checkpoint. An even better way is to use a drive-imaging program to create a snapshot of Windows, which you can use for system recovery if needed. As an added layer of protection, that may actually be more effective than System Restore, consider using the excellent ERUNT utility.
This ever-present risk of problems is why the "best" registry cleaner is the one that causes the fewest problems, rather than the one that finds the greatest number of registry errors.
Thus it is evident, a registry cleaner is - if at all - a tool reserved for the experienced user. The inexperienced may be assured that since the introduction of Windows XP, registry cleaning is no longer a crucial issue for the stability, security and performance of your system. Don't mess around with it!"
I add the following:
You are almost always better off using a disk cleaner to improve the performance of your system.
Another reason why registry cleaning is best reserved for proficient users, the documentation for these programs does not provide enough information about the specific issues they find or the impacts of 'fixing' them.
I will not recommend a registry cleaner that doesn't backup and restore either the entire registry or the changed entries.
32-bit applications are unlikely to be completely satisfactory for 64-bit Windows because they do not have access to the 64-bit portions of the registry.
CCleaner provides a quick and simple registry cleaner that is very conservative but accesses the 64-bit sections of the registry.
Wises Registry Cleaner is very comprehensive but, as expected, did not find the 64-bit application issues that CCleaner did. It is easy to scan and remove issues. Firstly, it allows you to backup the Registry before you start and there is also a restore option. Secondly, by default, it doesn't check Class Security Identifiers (CLSIDs) or other areas where most Registry tricks are played, although these can be included if required. Finally it divides redundant/invalid entries into two groups: 1) a green tick for those you can remove safely; and 2) an orange exclamation mark for the rest which require closer examination before removing.
Adding and removing entries from the Registry means that the registry files can become fragmented and the databases they contain become less efficient to use. You can run a registry defragmenter to remove these problems.
The previous editor recommended this product but it does not include a registry backup option so exercise caution and before using it either use another registry tool to backup or create a system restore point. "Free Registry Defrag is a fast, reliable and free tool which is capable of compacting and defragmenting the registry and from version 2.4 onwards includes both 32 and 64-bit versions."
Windows has a registry editor called Regedit but you will be much better off with a product from this category. Again, I advise that you need to know what you are doing which includes creating a Restore Point before you start.
"To start with, it works reliably - a great feature for any registry editor. The user interface is simple, the functionality is excellent, and it has a really fast search." (Best Free Registry Editor)
"If you ever need to use a registry editor this is definitely the tool to use." "It includes a host of advanced features such as registry backup, multi-level undo, a lightning fast search, plus lots of information about what particular registry entries actually mean." (previous editor)
"Eraser allows you to easily add tasks to securely erase selected files and folders, unused disk space (aka free space), cluster tips (aka slack space), and the recycling bin. Eraser can overwrite the data area with your choice of a variety of random data patterns (14 default patterns and a custom pattern creator). It comes with a very detailed built-in help file. And the forum seems quite responsive to questions and problems. It works with any drive (including IDE, SCSI, and RAID), and with FAT16, FAT32, and NTFS partitions. … In the negative, it was fairly heavy in memory use." (Best Free Secure Erase Utility)
"CCleaner is a unique and useful file shredder because it cleans a number of places where data can secretly lurk. It will help you scrub data left behind by web browsers and other applications (windows explorer, system temporary files, and excess files created by applications/utilities/windows). These are difficult to find and erase on your own, so CCleaner has advantages over other file shredders." I suggest that you read further in Best Free Secure Erase Utilityif you want to know how to get CCleaner to wipe various objects.
Personally, I prefer PC Wizard for hardware configuration and SIW for software configuration..
Gabriel Topala's SIW is portable software that "displays detailed specs for motherboard, BIOS, CPU, devices, memory, video, disk drives, ports, printers, operating system, installed programs, processes, services, serial numbers (CD keys), users, open files, system uptime, network, network shares, as well as real-time monitors for CPU, memory, page file usage and network traffic. It also displays currently active network connections, passwords hidden behind asterisks, installed codecs, and more." (Best Free System Information Utility)
ADVISORY: SIW installs with OpenCandy, a controversial advertising program.
CPUID's PC WIzard "is a system information utility that is strong in workstation description and benchmarking. It's a well implemented program with a nice multi-panel display with different analysis functions easily selectable using sidebar buttons. Overall it provides a little less system information that SIW but the benchmarking feature makes up for it. Benchmarks can be run on individual parameters such as processor performance, memory and cache speed, video performance and hard drive speed or can be run be for all functions with the single press of a button. In the latter case an overall numeric system performance index is also calculated. Overall PC Wizard is an impressive system utility well suited to those who want to get a better understanding of their PC's configuration and performance. "(Best Free System Information Utility)