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The first programs you should install on your new PC

The Pip Boy from the Fallout series being the benevolent hacker he is
(Image credit: Bethesda)
Setting up a new PC

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Closing out the year with a brand new PC? Whether you bought it or built it (where the heck did you get a graphics card?), your new PC is essentially an empty canvas. That means it's time for us to slap a whole bunch of paint (er, software) on it. But we're gonna do that with style, not just willy-nilly, so that your new PC remains lean. Only the software you want and need, with none of the bloat.

Setting up a new PC can be fun, but it can also mean going to one website after another installing the same basic software, which is kinda boring. So we're going to speed up that process with a bundling service called Ninite, which will help us download and install most of what we want in one go.

From there, I have recommendations for a few more go-to apps and the other essentials you'll need to game.

Install the basics with Ninite

Ninite: Bundle up the basics

Ninite builds a custom installer for you that groups up all 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, and it saves you loads of time going to each individual website to grab the basic software you'll want on your PC. It's simple, and it works perfectly.

Ninite also offers a lot of software you probably don't need, but none of it's forced on you. I picked out the software I'd tell most people to install on a new PC, but you can add or remove whatever suits you.

Here's the quick version of where to start. Give each of the below programs a checkmark ✅, then click "Get Your Ninite" to create an installer that bundles all of these programs together.

  • Google Chrome
  • GIMP
  • ShareX
  • Steam
  • Zoom
  • Discord
  • Notepad++
  • VLC
  • Audacity
  • Spotify
  • TeamViewer
  • WinDirStat
  • Java x64
  • .NET
  • 7-Zip

Once you download your custom installer, you're almost done. Run it, sit back, and watch your PC fill up with the utilities you'll be using all the time.

Not sure what all of the above are for? Keep reading for a breakdown. (If you don't need the explainer, jump down to what to install next.)

💻 Web browser: Google Chrome - The obvious choice, but go with Firefox or Opera if you want to free yourself from Google's control.

⌨ Messaging:
Discord - The de facto gaming messaging client, and one we use every day. It also has a great mobile app. Enjoy it before bloat or business decisions make us sad.
Zoom - This is our new reality: We all have to have Zoom for those work calls or family calls or D&D sessions. Might as well get it now.

📁 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. In the .01% of cases where VLC gives you problems, I have another media player recommendation below.
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.

📒 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. I prefer Photoshop, but GIMP is still a great freebie tool once you get used to its UI.
ShareX - A powerful screen capture, recording, and sharing tool, ShareX can do all kinds of things. You can auto-capture a region of your screen and upload the images to the cloud automatically, set up convenient hotkeys, even use a color picker on any window on your PC.

💾 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.

🎮 Other: Steam - For games, obviously!

The most important software to install next

OBS

(Image credit: OBS)

6 more programs to install

Ninite makes for a great start, but it doesn't include everything I consider essential for a new PC. Here's a few more programs you should grab.

f.lux

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. f.lux automatically color tints your monitor as the sun sets to mimic natural lighting and make the screen easier on the eyes.

MSI Afterburner

MSI Afterburner
An awesome free combo package for making games run better. It includes GPU overclocking and 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. With RTSS you can dial in the smoothness.

OBS Studio

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. Among many other options you can choose how it encodes video and at what quality level and framerate, so you won't overtax your PC while gaming.

Media Player Classic Homecinema

Media Player Classic Homecinema
In the rare event VLC misbehaves, Media Player Classic has your back. I prefer MPC by a hair, mostly due to its menu layout. And sometimes you just need two video players running at once, you know?

Image

SoundSwitch
SoundSwitch lets you set basic keyboard shortcuts to swap between audio inputs and outputs. If you tend to swap between speakers and headphones, you can make a shortcut for that, instead of having to open the Windows sound settings. It's a small utility and a cinch to install. Read more about it here.

Nvidia GeForce Experience

Nvidia GeForce Experience or AMD Adrenalin
While not strictly necessary, these graphics card utilities are worth installing. They make it easier to keep your drivers up-to-date and provide built-in game capture tools. Nvidia's Ansel is especially cool for taking high-res screenshots.

All the game launchers

GOG Galaxy

(Image credit: GOG)

Game launchers other than Steam

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:

  • Epic Games - Worth it for the free games every week, if nothing else.
  • GOG Galaxy - Especially handy today, as GOG can pull in all your games into one handy interface.

The publisher launchers

Windows 11-specific software

Customizing Windows 11

If you're spinning up a brand new PC, it's most likely running Windows 11. And Windows 11 is not bad! But if you're allergic to the new Start menu or some of its other changes, you might want a few tools to tweak the experience to your liking.

Windows 11 Classic Context Menu

Windows 11 Classic Context Menu
The new Windows 11 context menu hides some functionality behind an extra click. It's a cleaner look in some cases, but you might be missing some of your favorite menu entries. This will bring them back.

Start11

Start11 ($6)
The new Start menu is controversial, and if the new layout just doesn't work for you, this will bring you back to a classic Windows design.

Wes has been covering games and hardware for more than 10 years, first at tech sites like The Wirecutter and Tested before joining the PC Gamer team in 2014. Wes plays a little bit of everything, but he'll always jump at the chance to cover emulation and Japanese games. When he's not obsessively optimizing and re-optimizing a tangle of conveyor belts in Satisfactory (it's really becoming a problem), he's probably playing a 20-year-old RPG or some opaque ASCII roguelike. With a focus on writing and editing features, he seeks out personal stories and in-depth histories from the corners of PC gaming and its niche communities. 50% pizza by volume (deep dish, to be specific).