How To: Stock An Emergency PC Fix-It Bag

Diagnostic Tools and Software

Having a stable of diagnostic software can mean the difference between a long reformat/reinstall and a quick scan and deletion. Some of the software will cost you, but there is a wide range of freeware that will help with detection and repair. Some programs like Memtest (a memory tool) and Spinrite (hard drive diagnostics) boot from a CD or flash drive and perform tests on hardware outside of the patient’s operating system. Others like GetDataBack (data recovery) work within Windows to recover data.

Other great pieces of diagnostic/repair software include BitDefender (antivirus), RegCleaner (Windows Registry diagnostic), Malwarebytes (malware remover), CPU-Z (CPU monitoring), coretemp (temperature monitoring), and Prime95 (general system stress tests).

There are plenty of other great (and free) software titles out there that have less to do with diagnostics and more to do with “ease of use.” WinRAR is a great tool for packing and unpacking .rar and .zip files, and the CCCP, or Combined Community Codec Pack, makes watching HD content on your PC a breeze (it also includes Media Player Classic). For other great free software, check out the new Downloads section of Tom’s Guide, which is chock full of games, freeware/shareware and iPhone/iPad applications.

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  • dilbert
    I have a Sabrent adapter for HDD to USB connectivity. It's not as elegant as the Thermaltake docking, but it supports both SATA and PATA drives (3.5, 2.5 and 1.8-inch). Even internal optical drives can be used with it. This adapter has saved the day many times.
  • Onus
    I always carry flashlights, one of which is either a headlamp, gooseneck LED, or some other kind of hands-free light.
    To the external cables, add internal ones as well, including SATA, PATA, and floppy (if needed). If you will (or might) be replacing a hard drive, disk-cloning software can be useful if it's just a size upgrade, and you'll be especially glad of the internal cable you brought unless you know the machine has eSATA for that dock.
  • mindspring
    As a consultant, I can't do w/o Hiren boot CD / bootable USB.
  • slimbones
    Cool article. jtt283 has a good point about the flashlights. An extra mouse (the portable, USB kind) and a tiny keyboard are sometimes helpful when it's only a shorted or malfunctioning device.
    And maybe a P.H.D PCI2, if you are really serious.
  • teknomedic
    I'm going to sound like an old dog here, but I tend to carry a few "legacy" adapters like PS/2 to USB and Serial to USB... I even carry a USB floppy disk drive to help gain access to some of my relatives/friends older PCs. The biggest problem I run into is that I always seem to run into a PC that doesn't support a USB to PS/2 adapter or is so old it can't even read USB pre-OS startup. That's when I have to head back home and open up the "legacy box" and return is a "REAL" internal floppy drive or Serial mouse. I try to do these PCs at home with all my supplies, but sometimes you just need to do a housecall.
  • schizz69
    I'd add a parts retriever or a pair of needle nose pliers, caz with that collection of screws, you're bound to drop one or two in a hard to reach place.
  • irh_1974
    Magnetic headed screwdrivers are the bomb, I have a fantastic little set with a single screwdriver and 24 pop-in heads in philips, flat and star-shaped around the same size as the above 7 piece set. I found it by accident in a gas-station for £5. Bargain.
  • duanes1967
    The coolest freeware program I have found is Macrium Reflect. It creates a backup image that can be reloaded onto bare metal. It is free for home use and reasonably priced for business. I set up an external drive so that the program starts when you insert the drive. It is easy enough for grandma to use reliably.
  • coleipoo
    This is a great article, but I can't help but feel it's a giant advertisement for certain brands (carry 4-5 Cruzer flash drives).

    Great article on the hardware side, but I'd like to see more practical advice, perhaps a guide that tells people steps to take in case of an emergency, a sort of guide to really help out the new folks.
  • geok1ng
    a PSU tester and a magnifying lens ( works wonders looking for blowed capacitors)
  • cadder
    Add LOTS of adapters of all types, and spare cables.

    Carrying a spare monitor is probably useful too.
  • processthis
    cadderAdd LOTS of adapters of all types, and spare cables.Carrying a spare monitor is probably useful too.

    How will you fit a monitor in a bag? What size would it be? o.O
  • Shadow703793
    processthisHow will you fit a monitor in a bag? What size would it be? o.O

    7" is a possibility.....
  • dconnors
    Good call on the internal cables, guys. As for the flash drives, we recommended three different brands, but honestly, any flash drive will do. We also included pliers (they're in the repair kit, I believe).

    I don't know why a flashlight didn't occur to me. :facepalm:

  • Onus
    I hope somebody does business with these spammers, sees who cashes the check, and has them put down like an animal.
  • aaron686
    A motherboard speaker can come in handy as well as a Multimeter.

    Oh, and don't forget the trusty receipt book. :P

    "Oh thank you so much dear!"


    "Cash Only."

  • bobiseverywhere
    Am i blind or did i not see mention of a power supply tester in there. Such an easy check and so many times source of an issue with an aging PC
  • Anonymous
    One word: Hiren's.
  • jsc
    As long as you are working in a non-professional environment PC environment, you have things covered pretty well. Did anyone mention a USB floppy drive?

    I qualified that because in the professional IT environment, RS232 is still very common. And that eliminates netbooks.

    For software, I also recommend including a BartPE disk - either CD or bootable USB.
  • englandr753
    If you have a system that you are working on that still runs and want a quick reference of info such as software installed and the key codes to activate them, Belarc Advisor is a great tool:

    Its a wealth of all types of info at your fingertips that you can print and use as a reference later when you want it.