Security

10 free tools for admins on a tight budget

From diagnostic tools to antivirus to backup utilities, this list of freebies will help you do more with less.

If you're trying to stretch a thin IT budget, you probably can't afford a lot of pricey tools. Luckily, a number of highly useful tools are available for free. Some of them even work better and are more efficient than their costlier alternatives.

Note: This list is based on an entry in our TR Dojo blog.

1: ComboFix

When the standard antivirus/malware software can't seem to find the problem, ComboFix almost always does. It also looks for and removes most rootkits and Trojans. To use this tool, you must completely disable all antivirus solutions (and you should completely remove AVG). Caution: If ComboFix is not used properly, it can wreak havoc on the machine you're trying to fix.

2: ProduKey

ProduKey will help you get product keys from installed applications so that when you need to migrate to a new machine, you can continue using those costly licenses. ProduKey will recover keys from more than 1,000 software titles, including Microsoft Office, Adobe, and Symantec. When you use this tool, you will have both the product ID and the product key; the ID is important because it will tell you which version of the software is installed.

3: Hiren's BootCD

Hiren's BootCD is a one-stop-shop Linux boot disk that can help you pull off a number of small miracles. Its tools include Antivir, ClamWin, ComboFix, Clonedisk, Image for Windows, BIOS Cracker, 7-Zip, Bulk Rename, Mini Windows XP, CCleaner, and Notepad++, among others. This single bootable disk could easily be the only tool you need.

4: Microsoft Security Essentials

Microsoft Security Essentials is one of the better free antivirus tools available. Its tagline, "The anti-annoying, anti-expensive, anti-virus program," is true. When the firm I work with was looking for a new free solution, we tested Microsoft Security Essentials against AVG Free and Avast Free and found Microsoft Security Essentials to be superior, less intrusive, and less resource intensive.

Note: Microsoft Security Essentials can be used for free for up to 10 PCs. Beyond that, you can purchase the business version, System Center Endpoint Protection.

5: WinDirStat

WinDirStat is the program you need when you must know what is taking up the space on a hard drive. When C drives begin to fill up, performance degrades rapidly. It's essential to have a tool to help you discern what is gobbling up the precious space on a machine, and WinDirStat is the foremost app for getting this information quickly.

6: CCleaner

CCleaner gets rid of temporary files and Windows Registry problems faster than any other tool. When a machine is having problems, this is almost always the tool I use first. CCleaner also helps ensure privacy by getting rid of traces left behind (such as cookies) by Web browsers.

Note: It is legal to use CCleaner Free for business use. However, CCleaner Business Edition comes with a few more features (including one-click cleaning) than the free version.

7: Defraggler

Defraggler blows away the defragmenting application in all Windows operating systems. It's faster, more reliable, and more flexible than the built-in tools. With Defraggler, you can defrag a single file or an entire drive. Defraggler supports NTFS and FAT32 systems.

8: 7-Zip

7-Zip is the best file archiver/compression tool (outside of Linux command-line tools). It's open source and works on multiple platforms. Once you install it, you will find 7-Zip has Explorer support and a simple GUI tool that any level of user can manage.

9: SyncBack

SyncBack is a reliable, easy-to-use backup utility. No, you won't be recovering from bare metal, but you can save your precious data. SyncBack can synchronize data to the same drive, a different drive or medium (CDRW, CompactFlash, etc.), an FTP server, a network, or a zip archive.

10: FileZilla

FileZilla reminds you that the cloud has not made FTP useless. There are plenty of reasons you might need FTP, so why not use one of the best and most cost effective FTP clients? And if you need an easy-to-use FTP server to slap up on your Windows machines, FileZilla has one.

Other favorites?

Have you used and liked the tools on this list? What other free go-to apps would you recommend?

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

65 comments
BDTPrez
BDTPrez

#1 Combofix = best free tool ever

#2  Produkey - always used RockXP but it gets detected as a virus so il try this out

#3 Hirens = Use this and UBCD4WIN regularly also falcon4UBCD - all similar

#4 MSE = use AVG normally but this is first alternative over avast or avira

#5 WinDirStat = Use regularly. Slow but works great, haven't seen anything comparable. Should be something similar built into windows.

#6 CCleaner = great tool. Goes on every system.

#7 Defraggler = use iobit.com smart defrag, never had problems. May try this.

#8 7Zip = always used Winrar rarlabs.com but may switch to 7zip

#9 SyncBack = Always used to use this, a lot of functionality but prefer free "fbackup" for simple backups with a nice easy interface.

#10 FileZilla = Server and client used weekly 

Walthy
Walthy

I just have to say that I think Spiceworks is a tremendous resource. If you don't use it for anything else the user forums are awesome. I've never seen a site with more helpful people and as an admin tool, free is a very good price. More and more corporations are sponsoring Spiceworks so you can often get help there that isn't available for free on the corporate site, either from an employee or someone who is using that product or tool.

faizan.fateh
faizan.fateh

CC Cleaner is undoubtedly a great way of cleaning registry but their free version is not up to mark. So instead of adding it to your list, i would suggest you to add other freeware like registry recycler or safe reigstry cleaner.

patrick.oosterling
patrick.oosterling

I also liked the Unstoppable Copyier that gives you a possibility to just copy and no overhead of counters etc.

patrick.geronimo
patrick.geronimo

Would appreciate also if TR could provide the list for Mac users, see, we have both environments to manage. Cheers!

thefixerofthings
thefixerofthings

I did not see any good tools to read server logs on multiple servers. Any suggestions? some business have more than one server and having the ability to pull logs from both machine and compare would be nice.

tom_housden2k8
tom_housden2k8

Another good remote control software that is free for personal use is TeamViewer.

jpier427
jpier427

Treesize free also works well for scanning hard drives when they start to get full. We use it on all of our servers. Also synctoy for moving files around. Makes migrating data very easy and you can stop and start anytime. Two great tools that should be mentioned!!

yscigala
yscigala

Produkey, a good tool from the Nirsoft collection, is limited to a bunch of MS Products (Windows, Office, SQL, Exchange). The product able to collect IDs and keys for +1000 products is not free. The Produkey page shows a link at its top pointing to Recover Key, which is a product NOT free of charge.

timgesner
timgesner

I recently read that #4 MS Security Essentials, didn't pass some recent "certification" tests, and that it was more effective keeping a clean system clean, than anything else and miserable at cleaning an already corrupt system. Anyone else hear something similar?

zamajama
zamajama

Crimson Editor - for when you need to repeat a command about 100x in your batch file, SQL script, etc.

register2@optonline.
register2@optonline.

PrimoPDF is great for creating .pdf files. You can fill in and sign forms easily.

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

DriveXML GParted LupoPen suite (I like lite and customize it) SeaMonkey Miranda Pidgin etoolz Angry Port scanner wireless netview netwatcher Netscan NetMeter ProcessMonitor Current process Vispa 7Plus Quick config RegScanner Bart's tools Linux live disk Mac Bootcamp Wine Dariks wipe disk A humungous USB drive not only with these tools (and more), but that will boot to Linux as well.

q46ward
q46ward

I cannot survive without: Q-dir--multiple Windows Explorer app Pathtoclipboard from 12noon--copies the paths of a file or folder Open With args or File Menu Tools--provides the abilities open and provide the commands for an exe directly from a GUI USSF--extracts the silent command swtiches PDQ Deploy and PDQ Inventory--Deploy allows you to deploy various file formats for updates, installs and other stuff. Inventory--reports applications and other data for clients.MakeMSI-msi editor and installer WICU-Windows Installer Cleanup utility--removes programs that hard to remove or have broken uninstallers IOBit Uninstaller-Removes hard to remove applications and cleans old registry junk Registry Jumper or RegJump-jumps directly to registry selected from input text Specops GPUpdate-allows GP updating remotely for several clients simultaneously plus other admin features.

james.vandamme
james.vandamme

...is handy, and a small download. Not nearly as many utilities as Hiren's, though.

debastosj
debastosj

Hi I use some of these tools and more: Windows Repair (good and portable), (Sysinternals Suite and Nirsoft Tools with the WSCC interface to manage all in one place), Iobit Toolbox and many others I also use often "Parted Magic", a linux based rescue cd with a lot of great tools, to clean machines infected with viruses or malware and backup/recover files without permission restrictions.

ShakeZulaZero
ShakeZulaZero

I stumbled upon this company called unitrends while on spiceworks a few months ago, and they actually have some of their enterprise backup software for free. Granted, it can only backup VM's, but I have a total virtual datacenter here, so as a proactive measure this is perfect. =P On the reactive side of things Hiren Boot CD has been my fav since high school and it still is now, especially when I get lazy with finding passwords lol. And in terms of general security, for personal and work use, MS Security Essentials has been FANTASTIC in terms of AV/Firewall protection. These three make my life soooo much easier.

drsw
drsw

I use Unitrends Enterprise Backup Free Edition - gives me 4 VMware vSphere and Microsoft Hyper-V VMs (I use this in my lab at home) and *automated* backup and archiving - the automated is key - it lets me set and forget. I plan on getting a VMware VSP certification just so I can get the NFR one mentioned above that will let me do unlimited VMs and protect a terabyte of data.

elektronen
elektronen

One of the better threads I've seen anywhere for a while. Thanks for all the contributions. I'll add a few of my own Windows favorites. I'm heavier on the Linux side, but the funny thing about Linux is you have to add a lot less to a standard CentOS or Ubuntu installation in the way of tools - many of the good ones are already there... Anyways: Revo Uninstaller (Freeware version) - this is great for digging out stuff that tends to leave a lot of junk behind, stuff that often fouls up reinstalling the same software later. All the SysInternals tools - while I liked them more before they adopted by Microsoft, these tools are still huge. PageDefrag and Process Explorer are the biggies, but many of the others can be very useful in more defined circumstances. Back|Track - hacker Linux tools collection on a bootable ISO. Like money, it's not what it is, but what you do with it, that defines it. I hope you will go the 'white hat' route. WireShark - amazing network monitoring tool, and very useful when you're trying to figure out where your connection from client to server is hanging / freaking out / freezing / what-have-you. There are others, but these are the ones I've got off the top of my head. best regards - Mike

joels
joels

I have to agree with Putty being an excellent tool. For finding unknown DHCP servers, Microsoft's RogueChecker works great. And I use Famtech's Advanced IP scanner to find unknown computers, or to identify what IP addresses are being used.

TNT
TNT

I use their System Utilities on my PC and a few others. Its free and will delete more temp files than CCleaner, dig deeper into the registry than CCleaner and also includes a "privacy cleaner" to remove personal information from vulnerable files. Their anti-virus is also very good, and they have a couple browsers - one based on Chrome the other Firefox - that are locked down and secured far better than any other browser's I've used. And that's just scratching the surface of their free offerings. They also have a firewall, and a whole lot more (even an antivirus for Linux!)

banny33
banny33

Im a big fan of Ninite (ninite.com, there are paid options also), an all in one updater/installer, for the 'usuals'

BackupGal
BackupGal

Awesome thread! One more to add to the mix... Unitrends is now in Virtual Appliance form, and two free editions are available: Free Edition Protect 4 VMs (VMware or Hyper-V) Instant recovery of virtual machines. File-level recovery of files and folders. Rotational archiving to disk, tape, NAS and SAN. Automated backup scheduling with flexible strategies. Download Free Edition: http://www.unitrends.com/unitrends-enterprise-backup/download?src=TechRepublic NFR Edition Eligibility: VCPs, VCIs, vExperts, MVPs, MCPs Protect 2 sockets and 2 physical servers Phone, email and online support 1 year expiration (renewable along with certification) Download NFR: http://www.unitrends.com/unitrends-enterprise-backup/download?src=TechRepublic

Shmuel
Shmuel

It is a bit unfortunate that the writer of the article tags the topics as "free Utilities"... The app cited above is ONLY useful for a few of MS items. The more inclusive application version is for SALE and the demo/free will recover a partial segment of the IDs and product licenses, rendering this version as rather useless. It is a bit concerning that the practice of stating that something is free while it is really not is so rampant and smacks as a 'front' for selling products rather than being helpful as far as 'free apps for the IT guy"... You should CHECK your postings and verify that what you declare them to be is really so...

lpullen
lpullen

Spiceworks has become a MUST have for Admins on a budget large or small!

ccypher645
ccypher645

Another tool that I didn't see mentioned was Slysoft's Virtual Clonedrive. It's a basic Iso mounter just like daemon tools or magic iso, having tried the others I seem to like it the best, it will mount just about everything and its free. Another good place for some cool tools is Nirsoft.net, I know produkey was mentioned in the article, but there are so many other great tools there.

keremg
keremg

The tools are great. Some of them i even know in code and internals and they are pretty stable and amazing. Regards and respect to the developers from here! I personally would also recommend Device Remover. I am the developer and please this shouldnt sound like self-advertisement here. Jack Wallen wrote a great article on it a few years ago (thanks again Jack!). Since then, the application evolved and grew in features big time. I always cary it on a usb stick with other tools mentioned here. Its main purpose is to gain access to all areas of the hardware running on the system. It will close the gap on the very basic device management features of the operating system by giving the user a powerful unique tool. Give it a try, its fully freeware, commercial and noncommercial! My additonal recommendation to these wise selection of great tolls by Mr. Jack Wallen.

obeiro
obeiro

Notepad++ is great, but I deploy in every system I get my hands on a copy of metapad http://liquidninja.com/metapad/ Single file, tiny size, unix text file support, deals with big text files... and more.

rbotha
rbotha

Instead of 7 zip I use Pea Zip - Its based on 7 zip but has a couple of use full features built in. (haven't used 7 zip in a while so it might be the same) Big must for me is Notepad++ - Opens big log files much much faster than notepad and search and text tools are better.

Gisabun
Gisabun

I wonder how often the staff TR staff run out of blog ideas and come out with therse 5 or 10 tools/backups/anti-virus/..... blogs are recycled. Just take a blog from a few years ago, change a few words, remove a few tools, look in to see what people suggested then and add a few to the new list.

GeoffKeller
GeoffKeller

Another great tool is iobit's Advanced System Care. There is a freeware and paid version. The newer paid version includes an anti-virus. This is a great tool for cleaning up your computer, from temporary internet files to privacy issues to defragging your hard drive this is a solid all in one tool

keith.scott
keith.scott

I tried the Burn an ISO selection and all I got was a Download Manager with add-ins but no clue for how to get to BootCD.

dbielaski
dbielaski

Agree with: Hiren's BootCD, 7-Zip, FileZilla. Diagree with: Microsoft Security Essentials (found it to not be "less resource intensive" on Windows 7), ComboFix (as was infered, this is more a last-resort tool, when you want to take one last stab at cleaning before giving in and re-imaging). Other recommendations: VNC for remote console management, Cobian backup for a Windows-based backup solution, LibreOffice or OpenOffice for an MS Office substitute.

lbim
lbim

Looks great but I hope it is not a joke or something. On their website (link form TR http://www.hiren.info/pages/bootcd) there is no download link or any info if this thing is free or have to be paid.

Texas T
Texas T

Pretty interesting... I may have to check out the remaining four.

parul009
parul009

I have to point out, I made a new remark regarding Hiren's earlier and also I seemed to be blasted for everybody seemed to be indicating it is most unlicensed computer software, well, i did not indicating next. Because you claimed, along with hiren's it has virtually any instrument you may want and also I've been deploying it a couple of many years currently and also it is sometimes most I ever ought to clear up nearly all of our difficulties. Concerning that becoming most unlicensed, that will has been true a couple of years before, but you will look on Yahoo and google and locate (I think), nearly all in any other case the many programs upon Hiren's, you will find these individuals totally free on the web. Regardless, simply just considered We would discover what individuals are indicating nowadays regarding Hiren's. I get it that you have talked about that in this article, things are typical trendy currently with it? .........free antivirus download

Archivedbyte
Archivedbyte

At least two of these utilities are in a bit of a gray area for free software. Piriform CCleaner and Defraggler are free for individual use, but should be paid for when you start to use them in an office environment. These also have a business counterpart which includes support and many more features. Just because you don't think you need support doesn't mean you are not in a licensing violation if you use them on 20, 100, or 1000 computers.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

CCleaner does temp files, MRU lists, cookies, off-line web data, start-up lists, and almost everything else. Is it the best at all of the functions it performs? Probably not. Is it the best at any of the functions it performs? Quite possibly. Is it the best "all-in-one" system cleaning tool? Absolutely.

yscigala
yscigala

Shift right click on folder/folders => Copy as Path. Thanks MS !

kmthom
kmthom

Trend Micro has their site flagged as being malicious. When I went around it, the program downloaded was also flagged as being malicious... No thanks.

yscigala
yscigala

Hey ! I often have to deal with big Citrix log files (tens or hundreds of megs). I did not find yet a tool able to deal with this kind of size. They use to load the whole file in memory and that generates CPU spikes if not a memory saturation. Any recommendation ?

Jeff_D_Programmer
Jeff_D_Programmer

There's enough turnover and change in IT that a blog from 2-3 years ago, properly updated, could be a valuable insite to someone now. And yes, I expect that keeping the blog relevent will cause it to "repeat" from time to time.

kmthom
kmthom

Its free, and I found it works just as good as reg VNC.