I'm starting out in graphic design. What is the best free software available? Also, are there any recommendations for PC equipment and tips for getting the best outcome?
Try Gimp as an alternative to Photoshop, and Blender as one to Maya or 3ds Max. Both are full featured, have a large community, and are commonly used together.
I use a laptop with a 4 core 2.5 GHz CPU with 8 Gigs of ram, and both run fine, except complex Blender scenes may take time to render.