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15 Great Free Utilities You've Never Heard Of

Looking at the price of software today is enough to send you into sticker shock. Sometimes it feels as if you need to mortgage your house if you want to get a full suite of tools.

Luckily, that's not the case. There are plenty of very good free programs that do everything from protecting you against spyware, to giving you a comprehensive look inside your PC, and cleaning your Registry, to managing your media, and plenty more.

We've scoured the Web and come up with 15 of our favorite free utilities that most people have never heard of. We've focused on three popular categories: security software, system tools, and graphics and multimedia. But we've also thrown in some personal favorites that defy categorization.

Among the security utilities, we've chosen two spyware killers--SpyCatcher Express and a-Squared HiJackFree--because no single piece of antispyware can do the job by itself. We've also found a very good firewall, VistaFirewallControl, to improve on Windows Vista's built-in protection. And we've included Tor, which will maintain your privacy whenever you're online.

We found plenty of system tools, as well. What's Running shows you all the programs and processes running on your PC, while System Information for Windows takes a deep dive into your machine's innards and shows you an amazing amount of detail about your hardware and software setup. Eusing Free Registry Cleaner does exactly what it says--it keeps your Registry in tip-top shape and helps your PC run better. Advanced WindowsCare offers a multitude of tune-up tools. And Undelete Plus lets you undelete files in ways you might not have thought possible--for example, those that you've already removed from the Recycle Bin.

As for graphics and multimedia software, you'll be surprised at the sophistication and power of the freebies we found. MediaMonkey does a great job of handling and playing music files, while Photozig Albums Express offers ways not just to manage your photos, but to edit and share them as well. And Google SketchUp is a remarkable 3D graphics program for building three-dimensional objects such as houses, decks, and desks.

Finally, we've rounded up some intriguing miscellanies. RSS Bandit lets you subscribe to and read RSS feeds so that you can keep up with your favorite blogs and news sites. Azureus is a very good peer-to-peer file-sharing program based on the popular BitTorrent protocol. And ImgBurn will let you copy CDs and DVDs with ease.

So what are you waiting for? Start downloading. There's great software to be had, and it won't cost you a red cent.