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IT pro toolbox tour

If you're in the business of repairing PCs, smartphones, or tablets, then you need the tools to help you get the job done in a fast, efficient, and safe way. Updated with reader suggestions July 2017.
Introduction
1 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

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.

There's an old adage worth remembering when it comes to tools -- "Feel the pain once when you pay for the tool, or feel the pain every time you use it!"

Do yourself a favor and get yourself decent tools. 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.

Engineer micro cutters
2 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Engineer micro cutters

I'm always on the lookout for good quality cutters, and these Engineer brand, made in Japan, micro-cutters are some of the best I've used. Yes, you will destroy them if you use them on things that they're not suppose to cut -- these are only suppose to cut 0.6mm copper wire -- but if you keep them in reserve for the right job, they'll cut perfect every time.

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3 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Nitecore TIP 2017

For the past few years I've been using flashlights that need throw-away cells such as the CR123A, which are good but wasteful. Recently I moved up to the Nitecore TIP 2017 which features a built-in lithium ion battery that can be recharged using a USB charger and a micro-USB cable and I have to admit that it works very well.

With the press of a button the Nitecore TIP can switch from a 240 lumen monster that has a 30-minute battery life, to a 1 lumen firefly that can last for 46 hours. The flashlight has a 1 year standby capacity which means it's great for storing in a toolbox.

Fluke LVD2 voltage detector
4 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Fluke LVD2 voltage detector

I'll be honest with you, I'm no fan of electric shocks. It's true that you really do feel it in your fillings. Experience has taught me not to trust anyone when they say that the power has been cut off to a cable or socket or whatever and it's safe for me to start working. This is why I carry with me a Fluke LVD2 non-contact voltage detector. The LVD2 features a dual sensitivity feature, with a blue LED coming on when the detector is 2.5 cm to 12 cm away from a power source, and a red LED coming on when it's at the source.

The detector does feel a little overly sensitive (in my experience most of these non-contact voltage detectors are), but after a while you get used to it.

Priced at around $30, you can certainly find cheaper, but given that I'm trusting my life to this, I'm happier sticking with a brand I trust.

DROK USB light
5 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

DROK USB light

These tiny USB lights -- which are little more than LEDs attached to a circuit board with a USB connector -- are awesome for both testing USB ports (I've lost count of the times that the reason a device isn't working is a broken USB port) and for illuminating the back of a PC when plugging in cables and connectors.

iSesamo
6 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

iSesamo

The iSesamo is a thin metal sheet with a non-slip handle that allows you to split open devices. It'll fit into the most microscopic of cracks and take a lot of prying force.

For $10, this is a brilliantly useful tool.

USB dummy load
7 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

USB dummy load

These USB dummy loads -- i don't have a specific link but they are widely available online and in places such as eBay -- are a switchable 1A/2A load for USB ports that allow you to test the power output of things like USB chargers and power banks (in combination with something like the DROK digital multimeter USB hub). They cost around $5.

iFixit's Pro Tech Toolkit
8 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

iFixit's Pro Tech Toolkit

I'm truly impressed with this kit, especially given the price tag of only $65. It's well thought-out and well made, and unlike most of the cheap toolkits out there it's backed up by a lifetime warranty. This kit is perfect for professionals and amateurs alike. I particularly like the CNC machined bits in the set. Not only do they look gorgeous but also they fit the appropriate fastener perfectly.

If I had to describe the new iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit in one word, that word would be "perfect."

Kit contents:

Here's a detailed listing of all the bits in the driver kit:

  • Phillips 000, 00, 0, 1, 2
  • Flathead 1, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 4 mm
  • Torx T2, T3, T4, T5
  • Torx Security TR6, TR7, TR8, TR9, TR10, TR15, TR20, TR25
  • Pentalobe P2, P5, P6
  • JIS J000, J00, J0, J1
  • Hex 0.7, 0.9, 1.3, 1.5, 2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, 5 mm
  • Tri-point Y000, Y00, Y0, Y1
  • Nut driver 2.5, 3, 3.5, 4, 4.5, 5, 5.5 mm
  • Square 0, 1, 2
  • Gamebit 3.8, 4.5 mm
  • Spanner 4, 6, 8
  • Triangle 2, 3 mm
  • SIM eject bit
  • 1/4" to 4 mm driver adapter
Sabrent USB-DSC9 USB 3.0 TO SATA/IDE converter
9 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Sabrent USB-DSC9 USB 3.0 TO SATA/IDE converter

Connect any 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch Serial ATA/SATA Hard Drive, solid state drive (SSD), or desktop 5.25″ CD/DVD-R/RW externally to your computer through an available USB 3.0 port.

The Sabrent USB SATA Adapter is a caseless solution that makes swapping hard drives easier than ever before. Ideal for recovering data from drives inside dead PCs and checking drives that are laying around.

iFlex
10 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

iFlex

For devices that have tolerances too tight for the iSesamo to get in the cracks, the iFlex is the tool for you. This is a machined sheet of 0.2mm inox stainless steel that will slip into the tightest of gaps.

Engineer PH-50 scissors
11 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Engineer PH-50 scissors

For years I made do with cheap rubbish scissors. Then I found the Engineer PH-50 scissors and my life changed. $17 might seem like a lot for a pair of scissors, but these are high-quality, made in Japan and can handle tough, heavy-duty jobs such as chomping through hose and cables, as well and thin sheet metal.

Arctic Silver 5 thermal paste
12 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Arctic Silver 5 thermal paste

Handy if you have to whip off a heatsink. I prefer the polysynthetic stuff because it's not electrically conductive, so if the tube releases the schmoo over a component, there's no risk of shorting out.

DROK Pocket Digital Multimeter USB 3.0 hub
13 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

DROK Digital Multimeter USB 3.0 hub

Want to test the power coming out of a USB port? Want to know how much capacity a portable battery pack has? Want to know how much power a device is pulling when it's on charge? You need a DROK Pocket Digital Multimeter USB 3.0 hub. This device, which is no bigger than a USB flash drive, gives you all the information you need.

For around $30, this simple device can replace a lot of complex test equipment.

Knipex crimping pliers
14 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Knipex crimping pliers

Knipex pliers are some of the best I've ever used. Cheap crimps are just a false economy.

These crimpers create perfect RJ11/12 and RJ45 crimps every time.

Hand sanitizer
15 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Hand sanitizer

People think I'm joking with this but I'm not.

I have a pretty good idea what people have been touching before they start pawing their keyboard and mouse, and I also know that there's a good chance they haven't washed their hands. This makes hand sanitizer a must.

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16 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

PassMark PCIe test card

Not only can the PassMark PCIe test card be used to benchmark the PCIe slot, it can also be used to troubleshoot problems and isolate whether an issue is caused by the PSU or motherboard.

If you're around enough dead or misbehaving PCs, this can be a real lifesaver.

Fluke multimeter
17 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Fluke multimeter

Fluke multimeters are eye-wateringly expensive when compared to the no-name meters you'll find at the big box stores, but after chasing my tail due to inaccurate readings I decided to bite the bullet and invest in one.

There are a number of Fluke units to choose from, but a unit such as the Fluke 179C covers most of the bases.

LG Ultra Slim Portable DVD Writer
18 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

LG Ultra Slim Portable DVD Writer

Not many new PCs have an optical drive these days, but there are times that having one comes in dead handy. I've always been partial to LG drives, but feel free to take your pick.

Flir TG165 thermal camera
19 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Flir TG165 thermal camera

When I was first exposed to the Flir TG165 thermal camera I thought that is was a cool toy for people with more money than sense. But having used one for a while, I'm finding it invaluable to have the "superpower" to be able to see in infrared. Why? Because when it comes to electrical repairs, excess heat means that there's something wrong, and this camera allows me to see this overloading directly.

I've already use the Flir TG165 to spot bad connections and overheating components, and it's a great tool for spotting heat buildup in PCs. It's also great around the home for a myriad of things, from spotting heat escape points to finding airlocks in the heating system.

At $399 it's certainly not cheap, but once you learn how to use it, it becomes a totally invaluable tool.

Wiha Slimline Insulated screwdrivers
20 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Wiha Slimline Insulated 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 have these tools been tested to withstand 10,000 Volts and each carries 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.

Sugru
21 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Sugru

I love Sugru. It's great for repairing frayed cabling (be smart though and don't use it on high voltage cabling!) or damaged plastic or rubber parts. It's also great if you want some extra heat resistance or add some waterproofing to a homebrew project.

This, along with cyanoacrylate adhesive, now for part of my day-to-day repair kit.

Knipex stripper for data cables
22 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Knipex stripper for data cables

If you've ever had to strip network cable to put RJ45 plugs on then you'll know how much of a pain it can be. The Knipex data cable stripper takes all the stress out of the job!

For stripping UTP and STP data cables with diameters of 4.5 to 10.0 mm. Blades are a special tool steel, oil-hardened, TiN-coated.

Knipex cutters
23 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Knipex cutters

I have several different Knipex brand cutters, from the diagonal cutters (pictured) to end nippers. All of them make perfect cuts every time.

Spare computer screws
24 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Spare computer screws

Screws are forever falling out of PCs, so i always carry spares with me. You can either buy a kit or just salvage old screws from derelict PCs.

Tweezers/magnetic pick-up tools
25 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Tweezers/magnetic pick-up tools

To paraphrase Vincent "Vinnie" Gambini from the film My Cousin Vinnie, repairing a PC is a procedure; like rebuilding a carburetor has a procedure. You know, when you rebuild a carburetor, the first thing you do is you take the carburetor 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 carburetor, rolls along the manifold, and goes into the head.

You're then in a world of pain.

While there's no cylinder head in a PC for screws to roll into, they can end up in awkward, hard to reach places (oh what a laugh it is when they roll into a PSU -- NOT!). 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.

Ideal Industries LanXPLORER PRO
26 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Ideal Industries LanXPLORER PRO

Sure, if you run the occasional bit of Ethernet cable then you can get away with a cheap LAN tester, but for professional installations you need something a bit (well, a lot) more hardcore.

The Ideal Industries LanXPLORER PRO is an In-Line tester for diagnosing problems in active and passive networks. Capabilities include troubleshooting for Ethernet connectivity and identifying faults in copper cables. Networks can be accessed through copper, fiber, and Wi-Fi interfaces.

LanXPLORER PRO includes advanced detection of PoE and PoE+ with voltage, current, and power consumption measurements to diagnose power supply problems. The In-Line mode also allows you to measure the power consumption of your PoE and PoE+ devices.

LanXPLORER PRO enables monitoring of VoIP calls to measure Quality of Service (QoS) including Real Time Transport Protocol (RTP) and jitter, whilst providing detailed network statistics and device mapping.

Great quality, but not cheap at $3,700!

Loctite Threadlocker Blue
27 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

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!

Broken/chewed up screw remover
28 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

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.

Schneider Electric punch down tool
29 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Schneider Electric punch down tool

Also known as a Krone tool, a punch down tool is used to insert wires into punch down connectors without having to strip the insulation.

If you need to punch down wires, I suggest getting a decent tool such as this one from Schneider Electric because the cheap ones fall apart in no time and can damage the fittings you are trying to punch the wires into.

PSU tester
30 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

PSU tester

Sure, you can spend big money on a PSU tester, or break out the multimeter, but for quickly 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 $15.

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 is a skill that will change your life.

Liquid electrical tape
31 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

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 damaged a power cable by running over your vacuum cleaner, you need to get that cable replaced.

Anti-static wrist strap
32 of 32 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

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.

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