It’s a been a while since we last posted our best of freeware selections. That’s largely down to the fact that freeware offerings haven’t changed that much and new/innovative freeware has become somewhat of a rarity. So, there’s not much point in re-iterating categories which haven’t really changed (such as ‘image viewers’, for example, where FastStone, IrfanView, and XnView still pretty much rule the roost).
The criteria for selections includes ease of use, feature set, plus overall efficacy. You will also notice that I have a particular leaning toward portable freeware. The availability of a portable version, where viable, is always a big plus in my book:
Best Free Antivirus
- Sophos Home: Lightweight, unobtrusive, and effective, Uses the same commercial grade engine as Sophos Endpoint. Check out the review for more details.
- Panda Free Antivirus: Consistently excellent detection rates, also lightweight and unobtrusive. Just beware of the bundled extras when installing.
I’m not including any of the big 3 – Avast, AVG, and Avira – for various reasons. There’s nothing really wrong with any of them and all will do a good job, I just believe that Sophos and Panda are a cut above right now. I’ve long been a fan of Avira free but it doesn’t seem to work without issues in Windows 10. I am currently running with Sophos Home.
Best Free Image Backup
- Aomei Backupper Standard: Fast, feature rich, reliable, and very easy to use. Check out our original review.
- Macrium Reflect: A close second. Good feature set and reliable. A bit more of a learning curve than with Aomei.
Best Free Archive Tools
- Bandizip: Terrific archive tool. Handles all popular compression formats. Easy to use with intuitive interface. Portable version available. Check out our review.
- 7-Zip: Always popular and still an excellent archive tool. User interface is a tad minimalistic.
- PeaZip: Used to be my archive tool of choice, until it flirted with bundling (Open Candy), but I believe it’s clean again now. Portable version available.
- Zipware: Newer than most but an excellent archive tool nonetheless. Worth checking out.
Best Free Drive Cleaners
- PrivaZer: Comprehensive, top notch cleaner which also focuses on privacy. Portable version available. Check out our original review.
- CCleaner: Old favorite still marching on. Not as comprehensive but as safe as houses. Portable version available.
I would be selective with my recommendations here and suggest that PrivaZer is probably better suited for experienced users while CCleaner would generally be more suitable for less experienced users.
Best Free Partition Manager
It’s very difficult to separate these three – they’re all comprehensive and very similar in terms of ease of use and functionality. I have a slight leaning toward MiniTool Partition Wizard primarily because there is also a free bootable CD version available, which, not only provides portability but is also independent of a bootable operating system.
Best Free Uninstaller
- Geek Uninstaller: Portable and lightweight with excellent feature set. Automatically scans for leftovers. Supports both 32-bit and 64-bit applications.
- Revo Uninstaller Free: Very good free uninstaller. Scans for leftovers. Latest version supports both 32-bit and 64-bit applications. Portable version available.
In all honesty, I wouldn’t have rated Revo Uninstaller a mention until recently when they upgraded the free version to support 64-bit applications as well as 32-bit. Now, there is not much to pick between the two.
Best Free Media Players
- Light Alloy: This is now my media player of choice. Superb quality playback, abundant features including simple volume adjustment (slider) up to 200%. Excellent range of codes built-in… and a portable version is available. Check out our review.
- VLC Media Player: Long time popular free and open source media player. Features galore. Excellent codec/format support. Portable version available.
This is a very crowded category and, quite frankly, choices here are largely subjective – that is, often dictated by specific requirements. I do not require much from my media player; just good codec support, quality playback, and basic controls.
Best Free PDF Readers
- PDF-XChange Editor: Previously known as PDF-XChange Viewer. PDF reader which also includes basic editing functions. Excellent quality rendering. Portable version available.
- Sumatra PDF: Lightweight and portable. An excellent choice for basic PDF viewing. Rendering quality is good but not on par with PDF-XChange.
Best Free Second Layer Protection
- Sandboxie: Without a doubt the gold award winner. Whether surfing or trying out software, Sandboxie isolates everything in a sandbox separated from the system, empty the sandbox and everything is gone, including any nasties picked up along the way. Check out our original review.
- Malewarebytes Anti-Exploit: The free version shields browsers and Java only but these are generally the primary attack vectors anyway. MBAE is one of those security programs whose overall efficacy is difficult to gauge but, it is so lightweight and unobtrusive, it certainly can’t hurt.
Best Free System Information & Monitoring
- HWiNFO: Includes in-depth hardware information plus real-time monitoring. Native 64-bit version and portable versions available too.
- MooO System Monitor: Terrific real-time system monitor. Highly customizable, both in terms of system monitoring (43 different components to choose from) and size/screen positioning. Portable version available. If you like to keep an eye on core temps, this is the tool for you.
- SIV (System Information Viewer): Extensive system information tool more suited to experienced users. Loads of information, portable.
- Speccy: Lightweight basic system information tool from the makers of CCleaner. Portable version available.
For more details, check out this article: Peeking Under the Hood: System Information & Monitoring Tools
Best Free CD/DVD Burning
- Ashampoo Burning Studio Free: Provides all common burning functions, including a couple of handy extras. Very easy to use with intuitive interface. Even better if you can get your hands on Ashampoo Burning Studio 2016 for free, which is often the case.
- CDBurner XP Portable: Lightweight and easy to use. Includes all common burning functions. Make sure to get the portable version available on the downloads page (click “More download options“).
For some reason, burning software tends to come with more than its fair share of bundling. Most have flirted with Open Candy at some time or another, and many installer versions still come bundled with something or the other. Ashampoo Burning Studio Free is one of very few which has remained unadulterated. If you’d prefer one of the alternatives, I suggest you always look for a portable version where possible.
- Unchecky: suggested by Norbert Gostischa. Helps prevent installation of unwanted bundled extras, such as toolbars, etc. Check out our previous review: Avoid Unwanted Crapware with Unchecky
- GOM Player: suggested by Mindblower. Media player which includes very good codec support and feature set. Will automatically identify and download any missing codec for you. Another good choice.
- PotPlayer: suggested by Mike. Full featured media player with excellent codec support. Utilizes graphics card for playback. Native 64-bit version available but no native portable version. No help files.
Is there a relatively new freeware which you believe deserves to make the list? Let us know in the comments.