Having a stable of diagnostic software can mean the difference between a long reformat/reinstall and a quick scan and deletion. Some of the software will cost you, but there is a wide range of freeware that will help with detection and repair. Some programs like Memtest (a memory tool) and Spinrite (hard drive diagnostics) boot from a CD or flash drive and perform tests on hardware outside of the patient’s operating system. Others like GetDataBack (data recovery) work within Windows to recover data.
Other great pieces of diagnostic/repair software include BitDefender (antivirus), RegCleaner (Windows Registry diagnostic), Malwarebytes (malware remover), CPU-Z (CPU monitoring), coretemp (temperature monitoring), and Prime95 (general system stress tests).
There are plenty of other great (and free) software titles out there that have less to do with diagnostics and more to do with “ease of use.” WinRAR is a great tool for packing and unpacking .rar and .zip files, and the CCCP, or Combined Community Codec Pack, makes watching HD content on your PC a breeze (it also includes Media Player Classic). For other great free software, check out the new Downloads section of Tom’s Guide, which is chock full of games, freeware/shareware and iPhone/iPad applications.