It’s been ten years since I took my first IT job, and in that time I’ve collected a bunch of tools that have proved invaluable to me in resolving issues with computers, hard disk drives, printers and other corporate hardware. While I work purely freelance these days, I still maintain a collection of devices and gadgets that can be used to assist with quickly resolving problems that might arise.
By bringing you this list of must-have hardware, I hope to be able to demonstrate that not only is the role of the successful desktop support technician 50% knowledge, 30% personality and 20% efficiency, but that these tools are affordable. You shouldn’t need more than $30 to build your tech support toolbox, enabling you to resolve the majority of issues on the spot.
What do you keep in your toolbox? Screwdrivers, no doubt, as well as some pliers and wire cutters. These items can form the basics of your IT support toolkit, to which you can add the following:
- USB stick, 4GB or higher capacity.
- USB SD card adaptor (can be bought very cheaply).
- Ethernet Cable Crimping Tool.
- Torx screwdrivers.
On top of this lot, you should also regularly carry a spare Ethernet cable, a spare crossover cable and a USB cable with various suitable adaptors for the different connections that are available.
Hard Disk Recovery
Recovering a hard disk can be tricky enough without having to waste time connecting the device up to a working PC or one that is more suitable for data recovery.
Fortunately there are many useful and low-cost tools on offer that will enable you to connect an older device with an IDE ribbon connection or a more recent SATA hard disk direct to a USB 2.0 socket on your PC or laptop.
For flexibility, you might also consider getting your hands on an adaptor for the smaller IDE connectors found on old laptop hard disk drives.
Laptop Motherboard Testing
Staying with laptops, they’re tricky beasts to diagnose issues with. While hard disk failures and motherboard/CPU overheats can be recognised with a bit of detective work, you would be wrong to ignore the various diagnostic tools that can be picked up for just a few dollars.
These useful devices can be purchased to either connect to a parallel port or USB, as well as directly into the motherboard through an empty memory slot (such as the device above).
Using the guidelines provided with the device, you should be able to diagnose the problem via a code displayed on the small LED.
Fixing Printer Problems and Paper Jams
One of the main problems encountered by desktop support technicians is the dreaded printer jam, usually caused by a combination of issues all manifesting at the same time.
While the device can end up back with the manufacturer or even in the bin, there are various simple fixes. A can of air, for instance, will prevent future paper jams (assuming all dust is dislodged) while explaining that label sheets shouldn’t be left in an always-on printer is worth trying (although it will typically fall on deaf ears). It is worth knowing that the heat from a switched on printer loosens the gum on the labels, causing them to unpeel as they are printed on.
Something that might work better, especially if you appeal to the end user’s green sensibilities, is to explain that printers should be switched off overnight, just like computers. Over 50% of printer issues can be resolved with a cold start, something that should never be overlooked.
Don’t Forget the Software!
In addition to these amazing gadgets, you should also keep a collection of useful software, ranging from Linux Live CDs for data recovery purposes to virtual machines (VirtualBox being the most flexible), hard disk capacity checking tools such as WinDirStat. You would be wise not to miss out on recovery software such as Piriform Recuva.
Furthermore, you should have an account with a popular remote access service such as PCAnywhere, GotoMyPC or LogMeIn, as well as a collection of portable applications installed on your USB stick.
Now You Just Need a Toolbox!
While you might have a jacket with plentiful pockets or a car with a spacious glove compartment, I wouldn’t recommend storing any of these devices in anything but a suitable case. Indeed, this single item might cost more than the tools suggested elsewhere in this article.
The best case or box would be one that comfortably stores optical discs, cables and all your various tools safely, securely and protected from static, so make your choice carefully. With the right case to hand, you’ll have easy access to everything that you need for fixing PC related problems.
Do you have any favourite tools that we’ve missed? Leave your suggestions in the comments.