How To: Stock An Emergency PC Fix-It Bag

Most of the Tom’s Guide and Tom’s Hardware readership considers itself to be in elite standing when it comes to technology. Sometimes, its all relative. When it comes to the tech trials and tribulations of your respective friends, relatives and loved ones, you are probably the “go-to guy” (or gal). From BSODs and mystery crashes to accidentally downloaded viruses and deleted .dll files, you are the first line of defense when it comes to wayward software and hardware. You may not be a professional, and you're probably far from an expert, but you're their only hope.

You don’t mind having this position; in fact, you relish being the techie hero in your own circles. Because you hold such a prestigious position, it would be a little embarrassing if you came upon a typical situation unprepared, no? You’re rep would take quite the hit if you showed up to the scene of the crime without something as simple as a Philips head screwdriver, or, say a USB-bootable Linux distro. That’s why we’ve put together the perfect “crash bag,” so you can be the Bob Vila of computer repair. From the right bag to the appropriate hardware to necessary (and sometimes legally free) software, our Fix-It Bag gives you the tools to tackle any tech headache.

Did we leave out a crucial piece of kit? Let us know in the comments section.

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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
  • 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.
  • radiumburn
    Needle nose plyers, Portable soldering kit (fix alot of broken laptop power jacks)

    USB to ethernet adapter is nice if your working on some old hardware with no drivers for the pci network card and want to speed up a full reinstall

    PSU tester is definatly a must if working on older hardware along with a multimeter.

    Don't forget to throw latest ubuntu build on your laptop/netbook not to mention a bootable cd/dvd for throwing on the customers computer if you are in a pinch (they will be willing to run linux off a bootable cd/dvd for a few days/weeks if they have 0 money to replace a HD thats DOA)
  • gamesmachine
    External DVD Drive is a must! Accept when your friends laptop wont boot from it - requiring windows to be put onto a bootable USB...

    Windows CD's...linux cd's...a Password Cracking Disk, I've had to use that a couple of times because people have forgotten the Administrator Password and the other Account is corrupt.

    The USB Ethernet is a good one, especially if there is a driver cd. Windows is great at finding drivers 90% of the time, but if it doesn't have Ethernet or wLan drivers at that time it means manually finding them, gotta love Windows Update.

    Cool to hear other peoples ideas!