The digital and physical tools you need.
You may have the tools you need to put a PC together, but there are some others you should think about getting your hands on if you want to keep your PC running smoothly. The essential tools fall into two distinct categories: software and actual physical tools. While the software may require updating or re-downloading every now and then, after you buy them they’re yours forever.
SOFTWARE AUTORUNS Free
Autoruns is a free Microsoft software package that shows you every program that autoruns at Windows startup letting you know what is stealing cycles from your gaming and giving you different options for how to deal with them. The layout is a little busy, and you can’t be too cavalier about what processes you kill, but when it comes to freeing up some memory it works a treat.
Almost everyone knows the pain and frustration of losing a word document to a crash, or accidentally deleting a file. Recuva is free software that undeletes files, recovers data from corrupted or damaged disks, restores unsaved word docs and so on. It also does the opposite, so if you’re security conscious, you can use Recuva to permanently and securely delete files.
AUSLOGICS DUPLICATE FILE FINDER Free
Duplicate File Finder does what it says on the tin, scanning your drives by file name, creation/modification date and content and give you a list of all the files that have been duplicated allowing you to free up some valuable storage space. If you’re running your OS drive on a smaller capacity SSD the software is especially useful as you need all the space you can get on your OS drive.
AVG TUNEUP Free/$59.99 annual subscription
Tuneup is an all-in-one suite of PC maintenance software that can free up disk space, boost boot speeds, automatically update all outdated drivers, fix crashes and more. While none of the individual parts are quite as good as standalone products performing the same tasks, there’s an ease of use that is fantastic. Unless you plan on using the software on all your devices (including tablets and phones) the free version is good enough for home PC use.
CLEAN MASTER Free
Clean Master searches your PC for any junk, giving you the opportunity to get rid of unwanted files with ease. It can also scan for potential programs or apps that may be privacy risks.
CPU-Z is the easiest and most comprehensive way to get system information fast. The software displays your processor name, number, processes and cache levels, shows the memory type, size and timing, gives real-time feedback on each core’s internal frequency, load and the like, as well as giving a rundown of the other hardware in the system. CPU-Z can also be used to stress test CPUs. A must for overclockers.
MSI AFTERBURNER Free
An extremely easy to use GPU overclocking and monitoring tool, Afterburner is your goto if you want to squeeze all the performance possible out of your graphics card.
DRIVER EASY $29.95
There are free driver updaters out there (and Driver Easy has a free version), but this is a piece of software worth paying for. Driver Easy keeps your PC up to date by scanning for new drivers for all your components and peripherals and either automatically installing them or allowing users to instal them with one click. The software also makes automatic restore points in case of bad drivers or instability, and can be used as an uninstaller if needs be.
A powerful and up to date malware scanner and remover is invaluable. Malwarebytes is constantly updating with new threats and does an excellent job of hunting down and getting rid of any nasties that may be on your system. A paid version is also available with more functionality, but if you browse sensibly, the free package should be enough to keep you safe.
CCleaner is the ultimate PC cleaning tool. Many things in one, CCleaner can act as a registry cleaner, deleted files cleaner, uninstaller (this should always be used before installing a new video card driver), tracking files and cookie cleaner, defragger, file recovery, and more. CCleaner is a one stop shop for getting rid of clutter.
HARDWARE 1 X EACH: SMALL, MEDIUM AND LARGE PHILLIPS HEAD SCREWDRIVERS WITH MAGNETISED HEAD Approx $30
While modular screwdrivers are hands, a proper set of Phillips head screwdrivers is worth its weight in gold when it comes to putting together or maintaining a PC due to the simple fact that they are solid and can’t fall apart. The various lengths mean that you can comfortably screw in components no matter how awkwardly they are placed, or use a longer screwdriver to get some extra torque to release stubborn screws. Magnetic heads are also invaluable, not only for holding screws, but also for retrieving the inevitable screw that falls under the CPU cooler.
NEEDLE NOSE PLIERS Approx $10
A good pair of needle nose pliers can make building or maintaining a PC a breeze. The long jaws of the pliers allow for fine control for holding components in place, attaching finicky cables or reaching into tight spaces, and the wire cutters built into most versions are invaluable for cleaning up unneeded cables, shortening cable ties and the like.
ALCOHOL-BASED CLEANER AND MICROFIBRE CLOTH (OR MONITOR WIPES) Approx $25
While using straight isopropyl alcohol as a cleaner is definitely a no-no as it can make plastic brittle or catch fire, most brands of monitor cleaner contain alcohol in some form to prevent streaking. We’ve found that best practice for cleaning a monitor is to turn it off and unplug it, give it a gentle wipe down with a dry microfibre cloth, then give the cloth a spritz of cleaner before wiping it down again. There’s no real need to clean your monitor too often if you take care, but a yearly checkup is always advised.
HEAD MOUNTED LIGHT Approx $35
Unless your computer room has extremely bright lights and you cast no shadow, the best way to see everything inside your case is with a head mounted lamp. Sure, they’re not what you would call cool, but they are a huge help when it comes to any job that has you crawling under a desk or peering into an open case.
THERMAL PASTE Approx $5
Extra thermal paste always comes in handy if you’re looking to upgrade your cooling, or need to remove your cooler to clean it. The paste that comes with a new cooler is usually sufficient, but having extra never hurts.
ZIP TIES (OR CABLE STRAPS) Approx $5
There is no better way to maximise airflow while making your PC tidy on the inside than with some cable ties. You can keep all your cables neat, organised and out of the way with just a few. They’re not just for the inside of your PC either. Pro Tip: if you have a wheeled chair and you don’t want to scratch up a polished wooden floor, put socks over each of the rollers and cable tie them in place. No more scratches. As an added bonus, the chair will star in place on carpet and not roll around.
CANNED AIR Approx $20
Canned air is exactly what it says on the tin. Depressing the trigger releases a stream of gas, great for cleaning keyboards, blowing dust out of fans and generally dusting surfaces. Be careful to only use canner air upright. If used upside down it could spray liquid (gasses are compressed into liquid inside the cans) and damage your PC or components.
BLOWER BRUSH Approx $7
A blower brush is a brush with a built in puffer/bladder so you can gently brush and blow dust from fragile or delicate components. They’re mostly used for cleaning camera lenses, but they’re great for dusting parts of your PC you don’t feel comfortable wiping down with a cloth or blasting with some canned air.
if you have a wheeled chair, put socks over each of the rollers and cable tie them in place