- Anti-Virus & anti-spyware
|Note: most anti-virus tools do not play well together.
So if you install AVG or Avast, be sure to first uninstall McAfee,
Norton/Symantec, or whatever other antivirus tool you you used to have.
However, all the anti-spyware tools we've tested seem to work
well together. So we recommend that you install just one
anti-virus product, but there's no problem with having additional
|Note: Most anti-virus products come in two or more versions.
The plain anti-virus product, and a more expensive "security suite"
product, and perhaps other versions. I recommend that you get the plain
(cheapest) version (typically just called "basic anti-virus" or similar).
I have yet to find a "security suite" which I think is worth buying for
Windows XP or later. (If you have an older version of Windows,
such as Windows 2000, which doesn't have a built-in firewall, and you
connect to the internet through a direct modem connection rather than
through a router, then a product which includes a firewall might be
worth getting.) -DB|
- Microsoft Security Essentials
- A free alternative to AVG, Avast, McAfee, Norton/Symantec, etc., which is free both for home
use and for small business use (up to 10 computers).
- For Windows XP or later.
- Here are step-by-step instructions for replacing Norton/Symantec/etc. with Microsoft Security Essentials:
- I'm surprised it took Microsoft so long to do this. They've got to be getting tired of losing market
- share to Apple because PCs get so many more infections than Macs.
- Avast 4 anti-virus
- Another alternative to McAfee, Norton/Symantec, etc.
- Free for non-commercial home use, otherwise $49 for 1 year, $58 for 2 years.
- Avast's biggest advantage over AVG is that Avast will install in Safe Mode, and AVG won't.
Its disadvantages are a funky user interface and requirement for annual re-registration (free but bothersome).|
For Windows 2000 or later.
- Avira AntiVir (a/k/a free-av.com)
- Another alternative to McAfee, Norton/Symantec, etc., which is free for personal, non-business use.
- They also have a paid product for business use, for $26.
- For Windows 2000 or later.
- Grisoft/AVG Antivirus
- competes with McAfee, Norton/Symantec, etc.
- Free (or here,
or here) for personal home use,
otherwise $39 for 2 years
- For Windows XP and later.
|Note: When the AVG Free installation asks you to choose between "Standard"
and "Custom," it is best to choose "Custom" and then uncheck "Link Scanner." (Due to the increasing prevalance of infected web pages, often found in high-ranking Google results, I no longer recommend disabling "Link Scanner" in AVG. -DB)
Note: Grisoft is making it increasingly hard to find the free version of AVG.
For instance, users of AVG 8.0 Free Edition saw a big message
box instructing them that they must upgrade to version 8.5 by the end
of April, 2009, and when they clicked the obvious link it took them to
a page which was selling a $60 "security suite" product. To find the
link to the free anti-virus update, you must read to the very end of
the page, and click on the most obscure link in the smallest print.|
A very affordable anti-virus product with a good reputation. A 2-year subscription for 3 computers costs just $50.
- ClamAV is also free, but the last time I checked it was not suitable for novices.
- It is mainly used on Linux computers, but there is also a Windows version.
free online virus scanners.
Note: These "online" scanners are not a substitute for
having an anti-virus product installed on your computer, and they
require an internet connection to work. They are mainly useful for getting
a "second opinion" about whether your computer is infested with malware.
Panda was the first of these. It works well (though it is slow), but it only works with
Internet Explorer, not with Mozilla Firefox or Netscape, and it no longer removes
the malware which it detects. ESET, BitDefender & Trend HouseCall work with
both Internet Explorer and FireFox, and they do try to remove the malware.
The best thing about these scanners is that they are exceptions
to the general rule that antivirus products don't play well together.
You can use "online" virus scanners to "get a second opinion"
about whether your computer has a virus infection, regardless of what other
anti-virus product you use.|
- Anti-Spyware/Adware and anti-rootkit tools:
- Spyware/adware detection & removal tool.
- Installs in Safe Mode, which is a significant advantage.
- Free, and excellent, though they'll try to sell you an upgrade.
- Kaspersky's TDSSKILLER rootkit scanner/fixer.
- Fixes rootkit infections that conventional anti-virus tools may miss entirely, such as Google
- search redirectors. Runs very fast. (More info here.)
- Spyware/adware removal & prevention tool.
- Installs in Safe Mode, which is a significant advantage.
- Free for everyone, but rarely updated, and seems to be becoming less effective.
- Note: Spybot is useful, but we recommend that you uncheck the "Tea Timer" feature.
- Microsoft Windows Defender (previously called Microsoft Antispyware)
Free for everyone, but doesn't work on any version of Windows earlier than XP+SP2, and won't install in Safe Mode.
Seems to be becoming less effective.
- LavaSoft Ad-Aware (or here, or here)
- Spyware/adware removal tool. (Definitions files here: for aaw-2007, or for aaw-se)
- Pretty good, but not as good as Spybot and MalwareBytes.
- Free for non-commercial use, otherwise $27 for 1 year or $37 for 2 years.
Ad-Aware 2007 unfortunately won't install in safe mode (and sometimes not in normal mode, either).
So you might prefer the older Ad-Aware SE.
- Trend Micro free on-line spyware scanner
- Free, but requires an internet connection to work.
- Other resources:
- Instructions for how to remove most search-redirect infections
- AIM Fix zaps AOL Instant Messenger viruses
- Terrific free tool, by Jay Loden
- Vundo & TR/Spy.Agent.132660 removal advice
- on the GeeksToGo forums
- HiJackThis infection analysis tool
- and other anti-malware links and tools
- FreeByte.com has links to even more anti-virus tools
and www.benedelman.org are two good web sites for more info about fighting spyware
- What about heavily-advertised web sites like www.MyCleanPC.com and
www.DoubleMySpeed.com, which promise to clean and disinfect and tune up your computer
for $90 and a few clicks? I don't recommend them. They're actually the same
company, perpetrating the same scam
under two different names.
- And what about "free scan" tools from major companies like Norton/Symantec,
Corel, and AVG? Surely such well-known companies can be trusted, right? Wrong!
I don't recommend these products. Here's a good review of those three, by Fred Langa
Test-driving 'free scan' tune-up suites
All three products produced dishonest scary reports designed
to dupe unsuspecting marks into purchasing services they don't need. "Scare tactics and hard
sells should be a red flag... [they clearly seem to be] aimed at inexperienced users who are more
likely to purchase repairs when confronted with frightening reports of critical and numerous
- Warning: Don't get tricked into installing one of these many fake anti-spyware products!
- Spyware databases (look up that free program before you try it!)
- Hard disk data recovery services (but call us first)
- Gillware LLC ($400-1200)
- DTI Data Recovery
- DTI Data Recover ($745-1200)
- a/k/a SalvageData.com ($500-2800)
- Vantage Data Recovery ($500-2000, incl. $250 evaluation fee)
- Seagate data recovery services
- A major hard disk drive manufacturer's own data recovery service
- ("Free quotes... Costs for this service range from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars.")
- Western Digital's list of recommended data recovery companies
- Eight reputable companies trusted by a major hard disk drive manufacturer
except that I would not recommend ActionFront, because their web site contains misinformation (FUD)
Note: ActionFront has been puchased by Seagate)
- Google directory of data recovery services
- Lots of other companies also do this kind of work!
- You won't have to worry about data recovery if you do regular backups. Several good backup tools are free, or
- free for home use. The products I hear good things about most often are AOMEI, EaseUS, and Macrium Reflect.
- Here are a few articles about free backup utilities:
on raymond.cc (2014)
on techradar.com (2013)
on bnet.com (2010)
- Also, for "full-image" backups (backups of your entire computer), the free editions of Acronis TrueImage are excellent:
- for Western Digital
- for Seagate/Maxtor ("DiscWizard")
- Warning: I suggest that you "rotate" between two or more backup drives, or at least unplug your backup drive from
- your computer when not in use. Otherwise there's a danger that a "crypto-ransomware" infection could destroy
- your backed-up files, along with the originals.
- You can also back-up (& optionally share) files online for free with cloud services like www.Dropbox.com.
- Dropbox normally gives you 2 GB of space for free, but they'll give you 2.5 GB if you use this "referral link".
- Most online software "reviews" are fakes: advertising ploys created by whichever company's product "won" the review.
- However, it appears to me that BackupReview.com is legit. They have lots of apparently impartial, unbiased
- reviews of both backup software and online "cloud" backup services, like CrashPlan, Carbonite & Mozy.
- Registry cleaners
- Note: I generally recommand against using "registry cleaners." The problem is just that registry cleaners try to figure out what is obsolete and can be deleted from the registry, but the registry contains such a huge variety of information that there is always the potential that the registry cleaners will make a mistake and delete the wrong thing, and break something, with delayed and obscure consequences. In general, IMO it is safer to leave the obsolete junk in the registry alone. However, ERUNT and its companion program, NTREGOPT, are safe.
- ERUNT Free registry backup tool
- Use this before using a registry cleaner, to back up your registry in case the registry cleaner breaks something
- Langa Letter: Testing 10 Windows 'Registry Cleaning' Software Packs, Oct. 10, 2005
- Fred Langa tries to make sense of wildly disparate claims, and rates the best free and commercial products.
- Easy Cleaner
- Freeware, by Toni Helenius
- Free if for personal use
- Freeware, but please consider making a donation
- Last freeware versions of jv16 Powertools and RegCleaner
- Old, but not obsolete!
- JV16 PowerTools 2005
- 30 day trial
- A "startup manager" (to control which programs run when Windows starts)
is very, very useful for Windows:
- Startup Control Panel -
terrific free tool by Mike Lin (use the Standalone EXE version).
This is the startup manager
which I recommend most often (except for Windows 10, in which you can just use Task Manager)
a fancier free tool, which can reorder and "space out" the startup programs with configurable delays
- Startup Delayer -
apparently similar to StartRight (but I've not tried it)
Startup Cop - the original startup manager is no longer free
- In Windows 10, Task Manager has this capability, built-in. (Click on the "More details" button at the bottom.)
- Or you can just use Windows' built-in msconfig tool (Start -> Run -> "msconfig" -> [OK])
- Process Explorer
- Wonderful free tool from SysInternals.com (now part of Microsoft), like Task Manager but much better
- Belarc Advisor
- Display an amazingly comprehensive inventory of the hardware and software on your PC
- VLC Media Player
- A nice free DVD player for Windows, Linux, Mac OS X, and other operating systems
- ClearType Tuner
- For Windows XP only (not Vista nor Win7!), Microsoft's ClearType Tuner can make a noticable improvement in your LCD screen readability
- Free up some disk space
- What you can safely delete after a Microsoft Windows update
- What computer should you buy?
- Dave's advice - worth what you paid for it, anyhow
- Hitachi/IBM Drive Fitness Test (or here)
- Determine whether your hard disk drive is failing
|Or you may prefer to download a mfg-specific diagnostic tool from
or Samsung. (Toshiba doesn't have one.)
Note: beware of returning hard disk drives with sensitive data for warranty replacement,
without first "wiping" or "zeroing" the drive. Most of the manufacturers' diagnostic programs (above)
can wipe a drive, or you can use an MS-DOS tool like CopyWipe, or a standalone tool like DBaN.
Why does it matter? Read this horror story (or here).
- Test your computer's RAM memory with MemTest86+, or Optcomp's version, or OCZ's version:
|All three are variants of MemTest86
(a/k/a MemTst86), the canonical test tool for verifying that an Intel or AMD-based computer's
RAM memory works reliably. Malfunctioning RAM memory is a common cause of computer instability,
so if your computer is crashing frequently, you should test the memory with MemTest86.
(It is also a good idea to test after upgrading the RAM memory in your computer.)
Like Drive Fitness Test, MemTest86 runs as a standalone program which is booted from diskette
or CD-ROM, so you can run it even if Windows won't run. Just insert the diskette or CD and
reboot the computer. MemTest86 will run continuously until you stop it. Generally you should let
it run for several "passes," or at least overnight. If it reports no errors then your RAM memory
is probably good.|
- These two tiny Windows setting-adjustment tools from Steve Gibson help make Windows less insecure:
- DCOMbobulator, and
UnPlug n' Pray.
- Test your web browser
- QuickTime without iTunes for XP/Vista (or for Win2K)
- If you don't have an iPod, iPad or iPhone, you probably don't need iTunes.
- Adobe Acrobat Reader
- You probably just want the the PDF reader, not the album starter.
- Be sure to uncheck the "optional offer," if any!
- is a device driver repository which doesn't swamp you in ads or charge fees (rare).
- Select "English" on the main page.
- is the PCI ID Repository (for looking up Windows Device Manager hardware IDs).
to move Microsoft Outlook 2010 to a new computer (or a freshly reinstalled Windows).
- (From slipstick.com; they also have instructions for older versions.)
to set up Microsoft Outlook 2010 for use with Yahoo / AT&T / BellSouth email
- is a little tool created by Dave Burton to check that your hard disk drive (HDD) or solid state drive
- (SSD) is properly aligned. (Needed for good SSD or "advanced format" [4K sector] HDD performance.)
- www.ninite.com and www.pcdecrapifier.com
- are two complementary time-saving sites for setting up new PCs. PCdecrapifier
deletes the crudware & demoware that clutters up most new PCs, and Ninite
makes it easy to install the good stuff. I use Ninite a lot, and highly recommend it!
- Remote access tool (based on UltraVNC SC)
- Used by Geeks Alive! Computer Rescue, to support our customers remotely. (Use only as instructed.)
- Dave's Home page
- Lots of handy links: searches, dictionaries, maps, Cary weather, etc.