Computers can be fickle things. Whether you’re a zealous follower of Getting Things Done methodology or you don’t have any productivity system to speak of, these buggers can get in the way of day-to-day life so often that you might think the modern human spends more time getting technical issues fixed than they spend doing real work and getting things done. I’ve been on caught in situations where I had computer issues on a deadline far too many times, and many of those times, I was completely unprepared. Here’s a list of things I’ve found essential to have ready to go at any moment — things that all too many times, I haven’t had around. Here’s the most basic computer maintenance kit that I think any user should have.
1. Comprehensive Screwdriver and Torx Set
There’s almost never a hardware maintenance, repair or upgrade situation that doesn’t require the use of a screwdriver. A good portion of today’s computers may also require the rarer Torx tool, which is not quite as common, so make sure you have some of those in different sizes. As far as screwdrivers go, you’ll want both standard blade and phillips drivers in a variety of sizes that allow you to quickly deal with both small and large screws.
2. Soldering Equipment
Sometimes unscrewing your computer case and jiggling your PCI cards around isn’t enough to fix a problem. You might have to whip out a soldering item and deal with some bad connections. It’s very wise to keep a soldering iron, a roll of solder and desoldering equipment handy at all times. Much of the time, having a soldering iron around means you spend ten minutes repairing a component instead of hours or days in frustration.
3. Wire Stripper & Cutter
In the world of audio engineering, they say that 95% of the time, your technical problems are with faulty cables and wiring, not with the hardware itself. It’s the same when it comes to computers. Make sure you have the tools to deal with bad wiring!
Simply put, you never know when you’ll have to yank something out of some strange crevice.
5. Small Handheld Mirror
If you’re working with a standard tower PC, there are a lot of places in the box that are hard to get a good visual on. Having a small mirror can come in handy when you want to see what’s going on behind your line of sight. Especially useful if you have a large head!
6. Small Flashlight
Just like you may need a mirror to see behind obstacles in the cramped compartments of a tower PC, you may need to illuminate your PC’s guts more clearly than your ceiling lights can. Get a small flashlight that is compact enough to get into tight spaces, but not so small that it doesn’t light anything up enough.
7. Linux Live CD
Not all problems are hardware related, of course. One of the most useful tools to keep on hand is a live CD of some sort of Linux distribution. This way, if your Windows, OS X or Linux installation is having issues you can’t fix from inside the system, such as partition table problems on the boot drive, you can take a look and do something about it. One of these CDs and an external hard drive can help you save your data when the drive is on the brink of failing, too.
8. Maintenance Software CD or Flash Drive
Load up a CD or a flash drive with maintenance software, such as antivirus, disk checking, various spyware scanners, and so on, and keep in reach of your computer. The best option is to get a cheap flash drive that is dedicated to maintenance and does not get used for data storage or anything else, ever. A bunch of portable apps can be really handy, and if you drop in on a friend with computer issues and have one of these in your bag you can be a real lifesaver. Keep the software up to date.
9. Spare Hard Disk Caddy
If you want to take a look at your boot drive in another computer or without the use of a live CD, you’ll need a caddy to whack it in. You could go as far as to have a hard drive loaded up with your operating system of choice and set up for maintenance and troubleshooting situations and keep it in the spare caddy. When your main drive needs looking at, you just swap them around.
10. A “Super Tool”
It doesn’t matter which kind of so-called super tool you go for; just having one of these around, even if it’s of the most basic variety, can help out in many situations. These things are handy for computer maintenance and for day-to-day life, so it’s worth getting one no matter what. You can see some of my favorites at the Maker Shed — there are a few varieties to suit your tool-wielding inclinations. These are great for super quick repairs, or “when all else fails” situations.