[ The PC Guide | Troubleshooting
and Repair Guide | Diagnostic, Troubleshooting and Repair Tools
The PC Tool Kit
If you are a very casual PC user you can probably get by hacking around with an old
screwdriver and a pocket knife when you need to work on your PC. However, if you plan to
do any reasonable amount of work upgrading, building, troubleshooting or repairing PCs, a
proper tool kit is a good investment. There are many different types of tool kits
available for the computer enthusiast, with tools selected specifically to make the lives
of those who work with PCs easier. The right tools can save you a lot of time and help you
avoid damage to your equipment (and your hands!)
As with most things, tool kits range widely in size, quality and price. At the low end
are $5 kits that are barely any better than the screwdriver and pocket knife. At the high
end are kits costing over $100 that include everything but the kitchen sink; these are
overkill for most people (including me). Most people can do just fine with a toolkit
costing between $15 and $50. These are often available pre-assembled into "genuine
artificial leather" carrying cases, sold at most general computer stores.
Here are the items that I would recommend you definitely have in your toolkit; note
that some of these don't generally come in pre-assembled toolkits so you will want to add
them yourself to the carrying case. Every item in this list is one that I use personally
on a regular basis:
- A Good Screwdriver: You want a good screwdriver with magnetic, interchangeable
bits and a comfortable handle. At a minimum you should have two different sizes each of
Phillips and flat bits. If you've never used a magnetic screwdriver before, you'll wonder
how you ever did without one once you do; the magnetic tip will prevent screws falling
into the PC, and will let you get access to drives mounted deep in your system case.
- Additional Screwdrivers: An additional Philips screwdriver and an additional flat
blade screwdriver, for when you misplace the good one. :^) Actually, it's sometimes useful
to have two screwdrivers anyway.
- Needle-Nose Pliers: These are useful for grasping small items and for removing
and replacing jumpers on circuit boards.
- Wire Snips: A pair of wire snips for cutting wire and stripping insulation. Some
kits include wire strippers for the latter purpose.
- A Small Flashlight: Very useful; the insides of PC boxes are quite dark
and there are lots of very small things you will need to see, such as the "pin
1" marking on a connector for example.
- Tweezers: Or even better, a part retriever. A retriever is like a tiny set of
retractable claws with a spring-loaded handle. Useful stuff.
- A Large Crowbar: For making adjustments to stubborn hardware. (Just kidding. :^)
- A Roll of Black Electrical Tape: They never include this in the kits but they
should. Used for wrapping wire ends and insulating components.
- A Can of Compressed Air: Very handy for cleaning things hands-free and without
using any hazardous liquids.
- A Soft, Lint-Free Cloth: For cleaning the monitor and other components.
The following items I categorize as "optional, but useful". They are tools
that are used less frequently, or perhaps only in certain circumstances. They are more for
someone who does a fair bit of tinkering or who maintains a number of machines:
- A 3/16" Nut Driver: In fact, tool kits often come with several different
sizes of nut drivers (using exchangeable bits), but 3/16" is the really important
one, because this is the size of nut most commonly used on PCs. These hexagonal nuts are
used as mounting hardware for motherboards and serial and parallel ports. A necessity for
anyone who builds their own PCs; if you don't have one you'll be attaching port connectors
using a pair of poor-fitting pliers.
- Vice Grips: These are incredibly neat tools that have all sorts of uses.
- Torx Screwdrivers or Bits: These are the star-shaped screwdriver heads that are
used to make equipment "tamper-proof". You need these drivers if you want to,
- An ESD (Electrostatic Discharge) Wrist Strap: This is more of a safety device
than a tool; it is used to greatly reduce the chances of static
damage to components.
- A Knife: A cutting blade or utility knife of some sort.
The following items are sometimes included in tool kits but in my experience are rarely
if ever used:
- Soldering Irons: Essential if you are going to try to do repair of circuit
boards, but virtually nobody does this (and with good reason). They are also quite
dangerous if used improperly.
- Hex (Allen) Keys: They include these in virtually every commercial tool kit I've
ever encountered. I've never seen anything PC related that used them but of course that
doesn't mean that there isn't something out there that does...
- Chip Extractors: These are used to remove chips from regular (non-ZIF) sockets, but modern PCs do not generally
use these sockets any more. Useful for upgrading much older systems in some cases.
Finally, it is a good idea to accumulate a stockpile of spare parts if you are going to
be doing work on PCs. I would recommend the following:
- Screws: I have a "big ol' bag o' screws" of all shapes and sizes that
comes in handy when working on various machines.
- Expansion Card Inserts: Save the metal inserts that come out of the back of the
case when you put a modem or other card into the PC, as you may need them again later on.
- Drive Faceplates: Similarly, save the plastic faceplates that you remove from the
front of cases so you can replace them later if needed.
- Mounting Kits: These sometimes come with retail hard disks and allow you to put a
3.5" drive into a 5.25" bay. Useful when your case has more free 5.25" bays
than 3.5" ones.
- Cables: Save any power, IDE, floppy, CD-ROM, or other cables that you
accumulate in case you need them later on.
- Keyboard, Mouse, 3.5" Floppy Drive: Keep an extra one of each of these
components around to aid in troubleshooting problems by swapping. (Actually, keeping an
extra of every major component in the PC is helpful, but the three I mention are here
because they are cheap. Most people can't afford to keep an extra hard disk lying around
as a spare.)
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