Last Updated: November 19, 2020
After you have finally booted your new PC for the first time and you've also installed your operating system software (ie Windows) and finished whatever BIOS setup you need to do (such as checking and setting your RAM speed; a must for anyone who bought DDR4 RAM that is faster than 2133MHz), you might wonder what other software you should install on your fresh new gaming desktop.
Of course, you absolutely do NOT want to immediately bloat your new custom PC with every application under the sun; after all, avoiding a "bloatware" (average or low-quality software) filled PC and having a nice fresh clean system is one of the reasons to build your own PC in the first place.
So while you definitely don't want to immediately cram or straight-up nearly fill that new SSD with a ton of applications from week one, there are certain types of "must-have" software programs that you really do want to consider installing on a new gaming PC build to improve your system, security, or workflow in various ways.
Which software you install on a new custom PC is obviously ultimately up to you, but if you want help pinpointing some of the current best, most valuable applications that won't let you down and that are well-regarded within tech enthusiast circles, in this guide I'll list my personal top recommendations to potentially help save you a little time within endless research land of doom, so that you can get a quick overview of some of the current best Windows 10 software programs and utilities as a gamer and hardware enthusiast (at least in my opinion).
Choosing software can be just as confusing as picking hardware components, as there's not only a ton of options out there in the online wilderness, but a whole heap of over-hyped marketing baloney (software is big business as profits are sky-high due to their low overheads) and overpriced programs preying on the uninformed (ie
many most security programs). All that is to say - tread carefully.
The recommended software I include below ultimately reflects on me, so you can rest assured I've done my due diligence as best I could to only list the highest-quality, most trustworthy, useful applications out there right now that I either have/do use myself or that I would use if I had a need for a certain type of app.
I don't cut corners with our carefully selected PC build recommendations, and I'm not about to slack off now at the finishing line of the PC building process with our software selections. Enough small talk and let's get into the recommendations, kicking off with what's most important in the digital age we now all find ourselves entrenched in - cybersecurity - and how to protect your new Windows gaming PC from viruses, malware, adware, etc.
We'll then get to everything else that can morph your fresh new gaming computer into a fully-featured workstation for winners, including recommendations for VPNs, performance apps, benchmarking tools, general Windows 10 utilities, and where to buy PC games if you've perhaps just transitioned to team PC from console land (if so, welcome; you've made the right choice).
Note: For operating system recommendations, we cover that here (spoiler: Windows 10 Home for 95% of people).
Affiliate Disclosure: Many of the recommended programs below are free, but any links to those that aren't may be affiliate links, meaning I may earn a small commission on any purchases made through these links. This doesn't cost you anything extra (any small cut I get comes out on their end) and also has absolutely no affect on the recommendations I make which are 100% independently decided (I do not accept monetary incentives from any company to recommend a particular product over another).
The great news is, if you just built a PC with Windows 10 like most gamers these days, it actually has a decent pre-installed anti-virus tool called Microsoft Defender (previously called Windows Defender). To find it simply search for "Windows Security" in the search bar on the bottom left of your desktop, and from there you can run basic virus scans of your computer among other things (such as changing firewall settings).
Unless you want to fully maximize security for your new gaming PC by investing into a premium, full-featured anti-virus program like Webroot or Avast - two of the best right now in my opinion after doing my research - the built-in Windows 10 security (ie Microsoft Defender) may be enough for you. Especially if you're somewhat tech-savvy and you know how to apply common sense when online such as always avoiding the basic bad stuff such as spam emails/URLs, avoiding unsecure/dodgy sites, and so on.
But that's assuming you combine it with a good anti-malware program too (see below), as anti-malware protection and anti-virus are different things and you ideally want both in this day and age for the best security and peace of mind (though the best anti virus programs on the market will include malware protection too). Ask anyone who knows what they're talking about when it comes to cybersecurity and securing an important workstation PC and they'll agree you really want to have both anti virus and anti malware software installed.
Good news is though, if you're on a budget, you can use the free Windows security/anti-virus combined with the free edition of Malwarebytes (see below) and it could be all you need (again, if you apply common sense and don't visit dark dodgy corners of the internet). But if you really value your PC, data, privacy, and so on, I would try and get premium software if you can, and you might be able to even write off the expense at tax time if you use your PC for work (but check with your accountant).
MalwareBytes (Free or Premium Version)
At the very least, get an anti-virus program, but if you want the absolute best protection and peace of mind, combining anti-virus software with a good anti-malware program is the way to go recommended by security professionals (because anti-virus doesn't cover all threats). Malwarebytes is hands-down the best option right now and they have a great reputation of completely removing any form of malware, Trojans, spyware, adware and rootkits. Either the free or full-featured premium version is worth getting depending on your budget, but if you get the free version make sure you remember to run the scan every few weeks or so (as you have to do it manually with the free version).
When you choose to download the free version, you're automatically given a free 14-day trial of the full-featured premium version. But if you don't want to upgrade once the 14 days are up, you can keep using the free version, but you must do the following steps:
A VPN helps to bolster your privacy when online, and it can sometimes help lower ping in certain circumstances too. NordVPN and VyprVPN are two of the best, highest-rated VPNs for gamers, with Tunnelbear being the simplest, most user-friendly VPN to use overall and good for non-techies. Whether you use a VPN for gaming is up to you, as there are pros and cons. Personally, these days I occasionally use Tunnel Bear for general use as it's very quick and easy to use, and you can use it for free up to a certain amount of data per month. I don't use a VPN for gaming myself, but plenty of people do.
Best Internet Browsers: Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome
Microsoft Edge comes pre-installed on Windows 10, and is way better than the old Internet Explorer (Microsoft's previous browser). Firefox and Chrome are the 2 best, most popular alternatives to Microsoft Edge. Choosing a browser comes down to personal preference, so if you're perhaps new to Windows I suggest trying them all out. And it probably goes without saying but don't forget to uninstall the one/s you decide against; a good habit to get into to keep your storage drives lean and mean.
Best Gaming Chat App: Discord
A widely used instant messaging app for gamers to communicate by text, audio, or video (privately 1-on-1 or within communities).
Best Free Compression Software: 7-Zip
A free alternative to premium programs like WinZip or WinRAR that allows you to either compress or unzip/extract files. These days there's little need to pay for WinZip/WinRAR unless you need to extract RAR files or do some other specific, more advanced task that 7-Zip doesn't do.
Best Free Office Software: Apache OpenOffice
If you don't want to pay for Microsoft Office, this is the next best thing and contains all the key programs you would need including a good word processor (just like Microsoft Word), spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, and databases.
Best Premium Office Software: Microsoft 365 (Office Suite)
With this subscription you get all of the premium Office apps on multiple devices, plus 1TB of cloud storage and enhanced security for all your devices.
Best Free Note Taking Software: Notepad++
A better, more feature-rich version of Notepad. Evernote is another good one that many use. Personally, I still just use basic Notepad for its simplicity.
Best FPS Benchmarking Program: MSI Afterburner
AfterBurner is a hugely popular program that is not only clearly one of the best overclocking software for beginners and enthusiasts alike to overclock a graphics card but also useful to display on-screen FPS and other performance data like CPU/GPU usage, frame times, temperatures, memory allocation, and so on.
Best GPU Stress Test Program: Heaven Benchmark
Heaven is one of the best GPU stress-testing programs out there to really push your graphics card to its limit either when testing a GPU overclock or to simply see how your GPU is running in general (ie to check if its temperature remains in the normal range when under serious load).
Best VR FPS Benchmarking Program: FPSVR (Premium)
If you're a fellow VR gamer, besides the legendary game of the
year decade Half-Life: Alyx, this is as close to "must have" software as you can get. This nifty app conveniently shows your FPS and other performance data just like MSI AfterBurner does in regular games - but within VR. The data cleverly shows up under the palm of your VR hand whenever you twist your wrist, so it doesn't get in the way of the game and only shows when you need it. It's compatible to use within any SteamVR game, and despite not being mentioned on the Steam listing as a compatible headset, it is compatible with the Oculus Rift S for anyone wondering (can personally confirm this).
Best PC Game Store: Steam
If you don't know what Steam is, do let me know what the weather's like over on Mars. Most games can be bought and downloaded on Steam, but keep in mind certain games are not and are instead only available to buy and download using that particular game's publisher-specific store (eg Battlenet store for Activision/Blizzard titles, Origin store for EA games, Epic Games store for Fortnite, and so on).
Best Store for Cheap Game Keys: Green Man Gaming
Instead of buying games on big-daddy Steam (or publisher-specific stores as mentioned above), you can sometimes find good deals on legit Steam keys on Green Man Gaming for cheaper than what you'd pay if you were to directly buy it on Steam. You can also find good deals on game keys on Amazon, as well as boxed copies of games if that's your thing.
Hope this guide helped in your research, and good luck with your new setup. Need further help?
For Simple Questions
If you need further help choosing the optimal bang-for-buck parts-list for your specific requirements, feel free to post a question in our main comments section (on our Latest Gaming PC Builds page). We'll respond to you ASAP and do our best to help steer you in the right direction.
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