One reason that PCs fail is that the system temperature gets too high. Overheated PCs can lead to system hangs and crashes, and ultimately to failures as well. This is particularly true for people who overclock their PCs -- that is, force them to run at faster than their rated CPU speed.
SpeedFan by Alfredo Milani Comparetti, who warns that the program is meant for advanced users only, monitors your PC's system temperature so that you can find out whether you're running into trouble. On some systems, it will also monitor your fan speed and let you adjust the fan speed to better cool your PC. It will also monitor some hard disks to see if they show any signs of impending failure.
Note that SpeedFan can't monitor all hard disks and fans. If your hard disk uses SMART technology, the software will be able to find a great deal of information about it. However, even if your hard disk doesn't use SMART, the software may still be able to get fan speed information as well as some hard disk information. The only sure way to find out is to give it a try. But it's free -- what have you got to lose?
Works with: Windows 9x/Me/2000/XP/Vista
Get a New Operating system
Frustrated with your old operating system but don't want to spend the money to get a new one? No problem. The following file installs Linux as a dual-boot option on your PC for free.
Wubi Ubuntu Installer
Sometimes you want a new PC because you'd like a new operating system, but your PC's processor and RAM can't handle a new one. Here's a way to get the best of both worlds: Use this free program to install a dual-boot version of Ubuntu Linux on your PC.
With it, whenever you reboot, you'll be able to boot either your existing version of Windows, or instead boot Linux. And you won't have to muck around with bootloaders, partitions, special drivers or other kinds of assorted nastiness usually required to get two different operating systems on your PC. Instead, it installs just like a piece of Windows software.
If you haven't installed Linux before, you'll be quite surprised at how peppy it is. It requires much less hardware overhead than Windows, and so is quite fast, even on an older PC. There's also plenty of free software to try out, and it ships with a good deal of free software as well, including the office suite OpenOffice.org.
For more details about how to install and use Linux for Windows users, see my article, " Living free with Linux: 2 weeks without Windows."
Works with: Windows 98/2000/XP/Vista
Preston Gralla is a Computerworld contributing editor.
This story, "Jazz Up Your Old PC with 15 Free Downloads" was originally published by Computerworld.