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The first programs you should install on your new PC

Three gaming PCs facing forwards

(Image credit: Future)
Setting up a new PC

Get a new desktop or gaming laptop? That brand new installation of Windows is lean and mean and lighting fast, but it's lacking some of the must-have apps we use all the time as PC gamers. Some of these programs are pretty obvious, like Steam and Google Chrome, but there are plenty of other everyday apps that deserve to be on your system, and plenty others that are handy every so often. Thanks to a bundling service called Ninite, you can download and install most of these in one go.

First, we're going to give a brief overview of the programs we suggest installing with Ninite. Then we're going to list a few more of our go-to apps. Don't let your new system live long without them and, if you need it, here's our guide to the best antivirus for gaming PCs.

Ninite: Brilliant for the basics

Ninite builds a custom installer for you of the applications you want, then installs all of them in one go. It's mercifully free of the annoying toolbars and free offers and other adware most installers try to sneak onto your PC. It's simple, and it works perfectly. It also offers a lot of software you probably don't need, so we picked out what we'd recommend for a new gaming rig.

Here's what we suggest.

Web browsers

Google Chrome - The obvious choice, but you can choose Opera or Firefox.

Security

Avira - Windows' built-in tools do the job well these days, but if you want added security, this is what we consider the best free antivirus available.

Messaging

Discord - The de facto gaming messaging client, and one we use every day. It also has a great mobile app. Join the PC Gamer Club and come chat with us!

Zoom - You're probably going to get roped into a Zoom call sooner or later. Might as well be prepared.

Compression

7-Zip - Zip or unzip anything you throw at it. Free and lightweight and it'll never bug you to pay for it.

Media

VLC - VLC can play anything and is a reliable all-around media player, with no need for outside codecs. We have another media player recommendation below, too.

iTunes - (Optional) iTunes on Windows is an endless pain, but if you plan to manage your iPhone with your PC, it's sadly your best choice.

Spotify - (Optional) If you're a subscriber, might as well grab the desktop app now.

Audacity - (Optional) If you do any sort of audio recording or editing, Audacity is a great, free, powerful tool. 

Runtimes

Java, .Net - Sooner or later you'll probably need these. Might as well load them up now, or you'll end up groaning when some program asks for one.

Online storage

Maybe none? OneDrive likely came installed on your PC, but maybe you use Google Drive or Dropbox.

Developer tools

Notepad++ - (Optional) If you tend to dig through HTML files, game inis, and so on, Notepad++ is great for making that text readable and easy to edit.

Imaging

GIMP - An eternal runner-up to Photoshop. We prefer Adobe's software, but the GIMP is still a great freebie tool once you get used to its UI.

IrfanView - (Optional) You probably already know how to take screenshots on your PC or otherwise deal with images in bulk, but IrfanView can run automatically in the background taking shots at different intervals. It is also our favorite tool for mass resizing, cropping, conversion, and so on. Powerful automation tools, and good for just viewing images, too.

Utilities

Windirstat - Right now your new PC is whistle-clean, but it won't always be that way. Windirstat gives you a nice visual breakdown of how all your storage is allocated, making it easy to locate some big chunky files you might want to toss in the recyle bin.

TeamViewer - A very handy tool for accessing your PC remotely. A free, easy-to-use remote desktop program. Also a good way to help parents troubleshoot their computers, if you can walk them through installing it.

Documents

Foxit Reader - (Optional) If you only read PDFs and never have to muck with editing them, Foxit Reader is a good pick. Otherwise, grab the more bloated but more powerful Adobe Acrobat.

Other

Steam - Obviously.

If you're assembling your own installer, give each of the above programs a checkmark, then click "Get Your Ninite" to create an installer that bundles all of these programs together. Then run it, sit back, and watch your PC fill up with the utilities you'll be using all the time.

Then it's time to grab a few more important programs.

Other game launchers

You probably know exactly which launchers you need, but depending on what games you play, or where you like to hunt for deals, you should consider installing the following:

MSI Afterburner

Evga Precisionx

Afterburner is an awesome free combo package for overclocking your GPU and making your games run better. The graphics overclocking part of the program will let you tweak the settings of your GPU, getting even more performance out of a card with higher memory and processor clocks. The built-in hardware monitoring will help you tune in performance. But plenty of overclocking utilities can do all that. 

What sets MSI Afterburner apart is its incorporation of RivaTuner Statistics Server, a powerful tool that lets you enforce framerates on your games. Some games deliver frames at an uneven pace, making performance choppy, and their own framerate controls aren't up to par. With RTSS, you can dial in that smoothness, as Durante explained in this Witcher 3 guide.

Oh yeah: it can capture screenshots, too.

f.lux

Yes, it makes your screen look orange and weird. But stick with f.lux for a few days, and you'll wonder how you ever stared at an eye-searing LCD at night without it. The tagline "software to make your life better" may sound trite, but when you're preventing headaches and improving your quality of sleep, it really is true. f.lux automatically color tints your monitor as the sun sets to mimic natural lighting. It kicks in towards the end of the work day, warming the typical LCD white-blue to something much easier on the eyes. If you use iOS's "Night Shift" mode, you've already experienced what f.lux does—Apple copied it wholesale.

Free image editor Glimpse

This offshoot of famous freeware GIMP modernizes the interface to be a bit more like Adobe Photoshop. Glimpse is a bit easier to use but can do all the same stuff as GIMP. It's probably the best free tool around for editing images if you need to do anything more complicated than cropping.

Media Player Classic Homecinema

Mpc Hc.original.3432798d

VLC and MPC-HC can both play just about any media file under the sun, thanks to a ton of built-in codecs. In the rare instance that one of them doesn't work, the other almost certainly will. We prefer MPC by a hair, mostly due to its menu layout and how quickly (instantly, really) it starts up. You can't go wrong with VLC, but MPC is our media player of choice for all of our ancient AVIs and newer Blu-ray rips. Plus, if you ever want to play two big video files side-by-side, why not have both?

SoundSwitch

Another very handy free tool. SoundSwitch lets you set basic keyboard shortcuts to swap between audio inputs and outputs. If you tend to swap between speakers and headphones, for example, you can make a shortcut for that, instead of having to open the Windows sound settings. I also love that it lets you set a pop-up to show which device you've switched to—so if you can't hear anything, you can easily tell which device your PC is trying to output sound to. It's a small utility and a cinch to install. I wrote more about it in a full article here.

Mouse driver software

Whatever gaming mouse you use, it's got software to go with it that will let you bind your keys, adjust the DPI, and more. Download it to configure your mouse to your liking.

Gifcam

Our favorite gifmaking tool. Gifcam is a free, very small program that lets you record an area of your screen, edit the gif frame-by-frame, add effects, and export at a nice compressed size. Or you can go high framerate and upload to a site like Gfycat for a nice smooth webm.

OBS Studio

Interested in doing any streaming, or just recording your desktop or games on occasion? OBS is the free, open source software of choice. It's highly customizable recording/streaming software that you can configure to suit your system. You can choose how it encodes video and at what quality level and framerate, so you won't overtax your PC while gaming. OBS is as simple or powerful as you want it to be. You can set up loads of different "scenes" to swap between what you're capturing, but you can also just set it to capture your desktop and click a button if that's all you need.

Motherboard utilities

Gigabyte Gaming 5 - Bios

If you bought one of the best gaming laptops, or prebuilt desktop, it probably already came with all the basic drivers you need for it to work--network adapter, sound, etc. But your motherboard probably has some utilities you could download that come in handy. They often make it easy to upgrade the BIOS from Windows, or overclock from your desktop without restarting and booting into the UEFI. And upgrading your BIOS will ensure that your system is running in tip-top shape. Whether you do that upgrade from Windows or the UEFI, having these tools at the ready will make your new system just a bit nicer and easier to use.

When he's not 50 hours into a JRPG or an opaque ASCII roguelike, Wes is probably playing the hottest games of three years ago. He oversees features, seeking out personal stories from PC gaming's niche communities. 50% pizza by volume.