Setting up a new PC
Looking for more help with that new rig? We've got you covered.
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 applications we use all the time as PC gamers. Some of these are pretty obvious, like Steam and Google Chrome.
But there are plenty of other everyday programs 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, and Ninite was nice enough to put them all together in a convenient package for us. You can find that at ninite.com/pcgamer.
Here's what we picked.
Google Chrome - The obvious choice, but you can choose Opera or Firefox.
Avira - Currently what we consider the best free antivirus available.
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!
Skype - As much as we hate it when Skype Improves Our Experience, you should probably have it to chat with your parents or kids or significant other.
7-Zip - Zip or unzip anything you throw at it. Free and lightweight and it'll never bug you to pay for it.
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.
foobar2000 - (Optional) A heavily customizable music player that's also very lightweight. Good for playing FLACs or other lossless files if you have a library of them.
Spotify - (Optional) If you're a subscriber, might as well grab the desktop app now.
All of them (Java 8, .Net, Silverlight, Air, Shockwave) - Sooner or later you'll probably need all of these for something. Might as well load them up now, or you'll end up groaning when some program asks for one.
Dropbox - You most likely have a Dropbox account for quickly moving files between systems. Grab it!
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.
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) If you take lots of game screenshots or otherwise deal with images in bulk, IrfanView is our favorite tool for mass resizing, cropping, conversion, and so on. Powerful automation tools, and good for just viewing images, too.
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.
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.
Steam - Get your game on.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.