Articles about Know Your PC

UltraDefrag promises faster performance, FAT optimisation support

hard drive

Open-source Windows defrag tool UltraDefrag 6.0 FINAL has been released along with a 64-bit build and portable editions. The new build promises optimized disk processing algorithms for speed and efficiency, support for optimizing FAT disks and the ability to minimize the main window to the Taskbar Notification area.

Ultra Defrag comes with a graphical interface for less experienced users as well as options for defragging individual files, folders and drives from the Explorer context menu, but power users can also control it via a console, with options for batch processing and setting up scheduled tasks available. It also comes with boot-time options for defragging system files and Registry hives.

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VirtualBox update fixes problems, makes the virtualization tool more stable


Oracle has released VirtualBox 4.2.8, a maintenance update for its open-source, cross-platform virtualisation tool that should improve stability and fix various regressions. Notable changes include a fix that caused guests to crash when using a huge amount of guest RAM on machines with Intel Virtualisation (VT-x) technology.

Aside from bug fixes, there is one minor performance tweak of note, which sees the time for merging snapshots reduced under certain conditions. Users can now also change VRDE settings for saved VMs under Settings.

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VirtualDVD lets you mount any disc image as a virtual drive

DVD stack

Download an ISO disc image onto a brand new PC and you probably won’t need any third-party software to handle it. Windows 8 makes it easy to mount the image as a virtual drive, so you can access the contents without needing to burn them to a physical disc.

This option isn’t exactly configurable, though. It offers no support for the many other disc image formats out there. And it’s not much help if you don’t have Windows 8, either -- which is why you might prefer to install VirtualDVD.

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Stardock DeskScapes 8 now supports Windows 8

DeskScapes 8

Plymouth, MI-based Stardock Software has released Stardock DeskScapes 8.0, a brand new version of its Windows desktop and screensaver animation tool. Version 8.0, which costs $9.99 after the intial 30-day trial expires, adds full Windows 8 compatibility to the tool’s roster, plus debuts a brand new user interface that’s designed to be easier to use.

DeskScapes 8.0 allows users to customize existing desktop wallpapers with animations and over 40 special effects. Users can also apply, and create, specially animated desktops created using Stardock’s own proprietary Dream format. A number of examples are provided with the program, but dozens more are available to download via Stardock, which specialises in desktop customisation tools, is celebrating its 20th year.

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Is your hard drive in shape? BenchMe

park bench runner

If your PC has multiple drives – or even just several USB keys -- then you’ve probably already decided exactly how each drive is going to be used. But are you sure that decision is correct? Do you know which drive is the fastest, for instance? If that might make a difference, then BenchMe is a simple and free device benchmarking tool which may be able to help.

The program comes in a very small download (703KB), which unfortunately then requires installation. We’re not quite sure why -- it looks like the kind of tool which could very easily be portable -- but at least there’s no adware or other dangers to worry about.

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EssentialPIM 5.5 adds support for Dropbox and iCloud

PIM contact calendar

Astonsoft Ltd has released EssentialPIM Free 5.5 and EssentialPIM Pro 5.5, major new versions of its Windows personal information manager. Highlights in this new release include support for iCloud synchronization, native Dropbox support and improved CardDAV tools.

Also updated are EssentialPIM for iOS 2.6 and EssentialPIM for Android 1.8.2, mobile apps designed to give users access to their EssentialPIM data while on the move. While iOS users only see minor bug fixes in this update, Android users will enjoy major improvements to the Calendar and Contacts modules.

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Piriform pushes out minor update for CCleaner, version 4 coming soon

Clean hard disk

Piriform Software has released CCleaner 3.28 and CCleaner Portable 3.28, updated versions of its popular freeware Windows cleaning tool. Version 3.28 is a minor release, promising better performance and compatibility, plus support for cleaning up behind two new programs.

Piriform has also announced that the release of CCleaner 3.28 will be the last of the 3.x branch, with CCleaner 4.0 the next release slated. It also hints that this is the first of a number of major updates to its product line planned over the coming months.

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avast! Browser Cleanup disables unwanted browser addons


If your browser has been taken over by an aggressive addon then you can try the standard routes to remove it (the "Manage Addons" dialog in IE, for instance). These can be confusing for beginners, though, and may not always work, so avast! has developed a custom Browser Cleanup tool as a simpler alternative.

The program is portable, a compact 1.75 MB download which runs on Windows XP, 7 and 8, so it’s generally convenient to use. It supports IE, Firefox and Chrome, and on launch checks each of these to evaluate your browser addons.

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MiniTool Partition Recovery does what it says

Hard Drive

Accidentally deleting a partition seems like a major disaster when it first happens. Not only have all of its files disappeared, but you can’t even see that drive any more.

The situation may not be as bad as it seems, though. Your data is unlikely to be erased, just yet (other programs will generally write only to their own partition). And missing partitions are relatively easy to recover, as long as you have access to something like the free (for personal use) MiniTool Partition Recovery.

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Livecam Wallpaper decorates desktops with webcam images


If you’re bored with the regular Windows wallpaper then there’s no shortage of software which can help. But much of it will just download fairly random images from a variety of online sources. And even if you can select a theme which appeals to you – “landscapes”, “animals” or whatever – there’s no guarantee that you’ll like everything the program selects.

Livecam Wallpaper, though, is different. As you might guess from the name, the program allows you to set images from your choice of internet webcams as wallpaper, so you can be sure the picture will be something you like. But it can then update the images as often as every 10 seconds, a very interesting way to bring your desktop to life.

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Remove Java from your PC with JavaRA


If the latest Java security scares have persuaded you to ditch the technology forever, then removing it from your PC is normally straightforward. Java’s regular uninstaller should do the job in just a few seconds.

If this doesn’t work, though -- or you just want to remove and reinstall Java, because of problems with your system -- then it might be worth trying JavaRA, a compact tool that can help you to update or cleanly uninstall the Java Runtime Environment.

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Make sense of your drive's data with Active@ Disk Editor

hard drive

If you’re confident enough with hard drives to have tried editing them before at the sector level, then you’ll know that most disk editing software is, well, less than helpful. Open a drive and you’ll generally be presented with a basic hex view of your data, then left on your own to figure out what it all means. And okay, it’s true, sector editors are only for the most knowledgeable of PC users, but even experts could benefit from a little help, occasionally.

You don’t have to put up with this, though. Some editors do make a real effort to help you interpret what you’re seeing while browsing a drive. And you don’t always have to pay big money for them, either: Active@ Disk Editor can be yours for free.

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Save big bucks and protect your PC! Hurry! Deals end Feb. 28

laptop cash money

We’re now well in to the new year, with the February software offers live through the Downloadcrew Software Store.

You may have picked up a brand new Windows 8 computer during the festive season. If so, the first thing you’ll want to do is pick up a security suite to keep your system secure. The Downloadcrew Software Store is packed full of security offers from Bitdefender, AVG, Kaspersky, Avira and other brands.

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When all other Windows troubleshooting fails, try WMI Diagnostic Utility

PC tool utility

Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) is an important Windows framework that is used by many system components, as well as plenty of third-party applications, so if it’s ever damaged then you could experience all kinds of odd system problems. There’s no single place that you can check to see whether WMI is working, either, as it’s just too complex, and so Microsoft has developed a script called the WMI Diagnostic Utility to provide some in-depth troubleshooting information.

The tool is aimed at system administrators and other IT professionals, so if you’re a Windows novice then it’s probably best to stay away. If you’ve even just a moderate level of PC experience, though -- you’ve no problems running the occasional tool at the command line, say – then it could be worth a look.

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HFS simplifies the process of sharing files across your network or the web

File Sharing

When you need to share files with others, setting up a web server probably won’t be the first idea that comes to mind. It just seems like too bulky a solution, too complex, and so you’d probably opt for something more conventional: setting up a network, using a file sharing service, whatever it might be.

With the right software, though, setting up a web server can be much more straightforward than you think. And the open source HFS (Http File Server) is a particularly good example of this, because even if you’re a networking novice, it could have you sharing your files locally within minutes.

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