10 Free, Must-Have Windows Tools for IT Pros

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To be sure, there are other hardware identification utilities. CPU-z, Everest, and SiSoftware Sandra all come to mind. However, none of them can match HWiNFO32's breadth of reporting and rock-bottom pricing (it's freeware). Next time you're in the field and need to know what's inside that flaky PC, don't just guess at the specs. Run HWINFO32 and know exactly what you're dealing with before you ever crack that case.

3. Crap Cleaner

Windows is an untidy beast. From orphaned registry entries to long-abandoned temporary files and folders, the process of running Windows makes a mess out of your PC's file system and software configuration parameters. In fact, Windows' tendency toward sloth has spawned an entire industry of tools designed specifically for cleaning up the detritus of daily life in a Microsoft world. And by far the best of the best is the appropriately named Crap Cleaner, aka CCleaner.

A combination registry and file system cleanup tool, Crap Cleaner makes quick work of those insidious configuration inconsistencies and accumulated temporary files and folders that can bog down system performance. It includes a variety of program-specific cleaning functions for common applications and directly supports cache maintenance functions for all major Web browsers. And for the truly paranoid among us, Crap Cleaner even offers a secure erase function to ensure that those deleted temporary files are gone for good.

Another must-have freebie, Crap Cleaner can breathe new life into what may have seemed like a terminally ill Windows patient. Before you reach for the Windows installation media to conduct a clean install, give Crap Cleaner a try.

4. Recuva

It's the support call we all dread most. That guy in accounting, the one who always misplaces his data files, has accidentally deleted another critical workbook. Now he's on the phone, screaming for help and expecting you to save the day.

Fortunately, there's a red cape and tights lurking in your toolkit. With Recuva, you can recover deleted files from almost any Windows-compatible storage media, including removable disks and thumb drives. It works by scanning the disk for orphaned file data and giving you the option of recovering what it finds.

Recuva can operate in "quick" mode, where it checks for deleted files in the higher-level disk structures, or in deep "scan" mode where it searches your media block by block. If you later decide that the file in question was really better off dead, Recuva can perform a secure delete operation to make sure that nobody else can recover the data anytime soon.

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