A Disk Checker, a Finance Planner, and a Puzzle

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Health, wealth, and happiness top everybody's wish list-and likewise we want health for our PCs, wealth and happiness from them. Here's software to help keep your hard drive healthy, improve your finances, and have fun.

SMARTen up Your PC's Hard Drive

Most people don't know their hard drive feels bad until it crashes. But LSoft Technologies' free Active@ Hard Disk Monitor might provide some warning. It uses SMART (for Self-Monitoring, Analysis, and Reporting Technology), which is built into most hard drives to keep tabs on such key attributes as disk errors and suspect patterns.

Active@ Hard Disk Monitor shows SMART's findings in an easy-to-read interface, with simple interpretations. A clean report doesn't guarantee that your hard drive is healthy, but a warning might alert you to trouble in time to make backups or repairs.

The free version of the monitor will suffice for most of us, but business users may find that the $20 Pro version's ability to monitor drives over networks is worth the price.

Active@ Hard Disk Monitor, free.

Don't Leave Your Finances to Fate

Is your current financial path leading you into a darkling wood? Financial Fate digests massive amounts of data to determine what your estate (or debt) would be if you died at a given date. Sold by Financial Modeling Solutions for $70 until recently, it's now free.

Unlike the typical five-question online calculator, Financial Fate tracks data in ten categories (such as Housing & Debt, Income, and Pension Plans) and their subcategories.

Data entry can be time-consuming: There's no support for electronic data downloads. But once you do provide the numbers, Financial Fate can project your tactfully named "ending net worth" in future and current dollars. You can run what-if scenarios to see the effect of actions as big as diversifying your portfolio or as small as changing your cell phone plan.

It won't replace a professional financial planner or tax advisor, but Financial Fate can be enlightening. Best of all, you can review the data at your own pace, in your own home-without spending a dime.

Financial Fate, free.

This Game's Got You Pegged

On humdrum days, escape into Peggle Nights. This sequel to the popular casual game Peggle is even more fun than its predecessor.

To play, you shoot a ball at a board that's loaded with pegs of various colors; the pegs struck by the ball disappear, changing possible paths for the next ball. To advance, you must clear the orange pegs. Tricky layouts and obstacles heighten the challenge, but Peggle Master characters help by lending special powers (explosions, flippers, and so forth).

In Adventure Mode, Peggle Nights walks you through the dreams of the Peggle Masters. There's a special something in the absurdity of teaching an alien to bowl or helping a cartoony unicorn become a caped crimefighter.

The innovation likeliest to please hardcore Peggleheads is still in development: After completing Peggle Nights, you'll be able to visit vendor PopCap Games's site for new playable levels, free of charge. Sweet dreams to all.

Peggle Nights, free 1-hour demo, $20 to keep playing.

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