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Must-have PC, smartphone and tablet repair tools

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.

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Topic: Hardware
Introduction
1 of 13 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Introduction

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.

iFixit's Pro Tech Toolkit
2 of 13 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
DROK Pocket Digital Multimeter USB 3.0 hub
3 of 13 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

DROK Pocket 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.

Wiha Slimline Insulated screwdrivers
4 of 13 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.

Flir TG165 thermal camera
5 of 13 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.

Tweezers/magnetic pick-up tools
6 of 13 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 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 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.

PSU tester
7 of 13 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

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 $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.

Loctite Threadlocker Blue
8 of 13 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
9 of 13 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.

Liquid electrical tape
10 of 13 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.

Fluke LVD2 voltage detector
11 of 13 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.

Anti-static wrist strap
12 of 13 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.

Neutral color led headlamp
13 of 13 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

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

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