Maximum PC

THE BEST FREE SOFTWARE OF 2020

WE KNOW WHAT you’re thinking: Nobody actually wants a PC full to the brim with software. A guide to free software is one of those PC magazine tropes, and here’s Maximum PC reaching into the well again. But wait, reader. Cool your jets and think about it. If you’re looking at this guide and presuming that we’re saying you have to install every little thing we’ve mentioned, you’re doing it wrong.

This isn’t about what you should have, it’s about what you could have—software that could change the way you create, the way you work, and the way you manage your PC. It’s about doing things better without breaking the bank. It’s about software that actually deserves a place on your SSD, stuff that’s so useful and well constructed that it’s transcended the stigma that comes with the word “free.”

The world of free software has changed significantly, because what we expect from software has changed. We have phones to thank for a lot of this—app stores have made free the default. The ever-increasing power and prominence of the web browser is another gift, because perfectly capable tools can be cooked up from JavaScript and HTML5. And the opensource community goes from strength to strength, with publishing, programming, and collaborative tools improving daily.

That said, there are some things we’ve sidestepped. Some software should be paid for, or it’s made irrelevant by core Windows features. Antivirus is a strong example—either you rely on Windows’ own tool, which is (or at least, has become) very credible indeed, or you stump up for a full version of a proper package, with the up-to-the-minute updates that come with it. A free VPN is a great idea until you realize that if you’re routing your traffic through someone’s servers and not paying them a single cent, they might have something else to gain from the whole thing. That’s right, we’re as cynical as you. But, darn it, we just love free software.

PC TESTING AND PERFORMANCE

01 CPU-Z

Something everyone who’s even tangentially interested in their PC’s internals should have, CPU-Z pulls in the tiny details about your CPU, chipset, memory, and mainboard that Windows doesn’t feel like sharing with you, and puts them all in one handy place. It can make a precise reading of your current clock speed for both CPU and RAM, too—great for overclockers. www.cpuid.com

02 GPU-Z

Despite the name, appearance, and incredibly similar functionality, GPU-Z has nothing to do with CPU-Z—but it does have permission from the CPU-Z author to use its title, which is nice. It’s a GPU monitor, which can offer insights into both what you’re running and just how well it’s running, with access

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