Essential PC, smartphone and tablet repair tools

If you're in the business of repairing PCs, smartphones, or tablets, then these tools will help you get the job done in a fast, efficient, and safe way.

Gadgets are more reliable than they have ever been, but that still doesn't mean that they can't go wrong. And if you're reading this, chances are you're the sort of person who will want to whip the cover off your devices and take a look at what's causing the problem.

If you're going to do that, then you need the best tools to help you get the job done. Having the right tools not only makes the job quicker, it also makes the job safer and prevents you from causing more damage and mayhem during the repair process.

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Screwdrivers

The mainstay of PC repair has to be the #2 size Phillips screwdriver. Using this you can get inside and take apart most PCs. While I've stripped and rebuilt countless devices using nothing more than the screwdriver fitted onto a Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman multitool, I recommend getting your hands on a good screwdriver. Using the wrong screwdriver on a stubborn screw will make your day unhappy.

My personal screwdrivers of choice come from the Wiha slimline insulated range. Not only are these 10,000 Volt tested and have a 1000 Volt certification (which, trust me, is a feature that can save your life), but they have been designed specifically to be able to access screws that other insulated screwdrivers can't.

Prices start at around $13.

While Wiha makes a whole range of screwdrivers, if you want to get inside something like the new MacBook Pro or iPhone you'll need special tools to help you defeat the proprietary screws. For these I recommend that you head over to iFixit where you will find a fantastic range of tools to help you get inside pretty much everything.

A word about fasteners

Don't overtighten stuff. All you need to do is snug things down, then add a quarter turn. Overtightening is a path that leads to sheared heads, stripped threads, and broken stuff (stuff that's almost certainly going to be expensive or hard to replace).

iOpener

With more and more smartphones and tablets about then ever, there's a good chance that you will need to get inside one at some point. But the problem is, most post-PC devices are put together with such tight tolerances -- not to mention copious amounts of adhesive -- that opening them up without doing more damage is nearly impossible unless you have the right tools. Don't think you can just stick a knife blade into the gap between a screen and the body of the device to lever it apart -- you'll end up breaking the screen, the blade, or more than likely, both! On top of that, there's a real risk that you'll impale yourself on the knife blade.

What you need is iFixit's iOpener. This is a kit containing all the tools you need to open even the most tightly put together devices such as Apple's iPad, Microsoft's Surface, or the Motorola Moto X.

This kit contains:

  • iOpener - An ingenious pad which you heat in a microwave oven and use to melt the adhesive
  • Plastic Opening Tools
  • iFixit Opening Picks set of 6
  • Small Suction Cup
  • Spudger
  • Plastic Cards
  • Phillips #000, Phillips #00, Phillips #0, Torx T5, Sim Eject, and Magnetic Pickup screwdriver bits and driver

This is an absolutely indispensable kit for anyone wanting to repair smartphones and tablets.

Price: $19.95.

Neutral color LED headlamp

I generally find that unless I'm building a new PC from scratch, I'm having to work in less than ideal conditions. No matter whether I'm repairing a PC, fixing a network cable, or diagnosing some other random problem I'm always struggling to get light on what I'm doing.

For a few years now I've been relying on LED flashlights and headlamps. They offer a powerful light and last a very long time. But they have one drawback -- the light the LEDs give off has a blue cast and this can make it hard to identify colors. This isn't a problem when dealing with screws and such, but when I'm dealing with cabling or wiring, it can sometimes be challenging to tell some colors apart.

This is why I've made the switch to Armytek Tiara A1 v2 XM-L2 (Warm). This ticks all the boxes for me:

  • Very variable light output -- From a firefly to one that feels like "Superman's laser beam melt your face off" mode
  • Powered by one AA battery
  • It's hard anodized to take bumps and knocks
  • The LED color output is a neutral 4000K which means colors look far more normal
  • It features an impact-resistant glass lens with sapphire with anti-reflection coating
  • The supplied headband is comfortable

Price: $59.95.

PSU tester

Sure, you can spend big money on a PSU tester, but for confirming a dead PSU I find a cheap tester works fine. Also, if you have a few hard drives handy, you can add some load to the PSU by connecting them up before you test. My go-to device is the FrozenCPU tester. It's cheap but reliable and does what it says on the tin for a little over $20.

If you want to take power troubleshooting to the next level then you can get your hands on a decent multimeter. If it's something you're going to use occasionally then a cheap one will do fine, but if you want something that will last you years then I'd go with the Fluke brand. If you don't know how to use a multimeter, then learn how to use one. It will change your life.

Broken/chewed up screw remover

I find that jobs get exponentially tougher when someone else has had a go at fixing something and in the process caused more problems.

One problem I come across often are chewed up or broken screws. Usually they're as a result of someone being too enthusiastic with a poor tool, but other times they're because someone's taken a powertool to the screws.

iFixit have two great tools to deal with such problems. The first is Neji-Saurus - the screw extracting dinosaur. It's a crazy name for a fantastic tool that can grip screw heads, bolts, or nuts allowing you to twist out even the most damaged fasteners. It might seem steep for $30, but it's a real lifesaver.

If you need to tackle screws that have had their heads sheared off completely, the precision screw remover set is worth a look.

Tweezers/magnetic pick-up tools

To paraphrase Vincent Gambini from the film My Cousin Vinnie, repairing a PC is a procedure; like rebuilding a carburettor has a procedure. You know, when you rebuild a carburettor, the first thing you do is you take the carburettor off the manifold. Suppose you skip the first step, and while you're replacing one of the jets, you accidentally drop the jet, it goes down the carburettor, rolls along the manifold, and goes into the head.

You're then in a world of pain.

While there's no head to drop screws into in a PC, they can end up in awkward, hard to reach places. And if you don't have the right tool you can end up having to up-end the entire PC to get it out.

This is why I like to have tools to help out. First on the list are tweezers. While you can get plastic ones, I prefer ESD-safe metal ones because they are stronger. Whia has a good range spanning different shapes and sizes.

I also like to have a magnetic pickup too, not so much for working inside a PC (it's not the magnetism I'm worried about but more the way that the head can be drawn towards any and all metallic objects with enough force to cause damage) but for picking up screws that have fallen on the floor, rolled under a desk, or dropped into a dark crevice.

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Loctite Threadlocker Blue

Got a fastener that just always seems to work its way loose? Probably means the fastener is damaged, the thread is damaged, or you lost a washer that was helping to keep it down. Rather than overtighten the fastener (which will just make things worse in the long term), apply a dab of Loctite Threadlocker Blue compound. The blue stuff is designed to be undone with hand tools, so it won't cement the fastener into place.

Follow the instructions, and don't go mad with it!

Liquid electrical tape

Ugh, I hate insulating tape with a passion. It doesn't stick well, but leaves a horrid residue that picks up all manner of filth and crud. A far better solution is liquid insulating tape. Just brush it on and you're done. It's also great for reinforcing vulnerable points on cables, like near the connectors on things like MacBook chargers and Lighting cables. It's not pretty, but it does the job.

This is great for automotive use, or on low voltage wiring, but use it sensibly. Don't use it on mains voltage. If you've run over your vacuum cleaner cable and damaged that, you need to get the cable replaced.

Anti-static wrist strap

People give me a lot of grief for not wearing one. I should, and so should you. Those little buzzes of static that you feel when touching metal, patting your cat, or giving your significant other a kiss can be deadly to delicate electronic components. Ground yourself with an anti-static wrist strap.

Thirsty bag

Perfect for when your precious electronic devices fall into the toilet or get left out in the rain. Just drop them into a Thirsty Bag and leave them in there for a day or so to dry out.

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