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Six clicks: 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.
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1 of 7 Adrian Kingsley-Hughes/ZDNet

Introduction

PCs of today are far more reliable than they have ever been, but that still doesn't mean that they can't — and do — go wrong. And the chances are high that if you're reading this, you're the sort of person who will want to whip the cover off your PC 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 it safer and prevents you from causing more damage and mayhem.

(Source: iFixit)

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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 PCs using the screwdriver fitted onto a Swiss Army Knife or Leatherman multitool, I recommend getting your hands on a good screwdriver.

My personal screwdrivers of choice are Wiha slimline insulated range, Not only are these 10,000 Volt tested and have a 1000 Volt certification (which 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 which has a fantastic range of tools to help you get inside pretty much everything.

(Source: Wiha)

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iOpener

With more and more smartphones and tablets about then ever, there's a good chance that you will need to get inside one of these 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!

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.

(Source: iFixit)

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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 the ArmyTek Wizard Pro XM-L2 Warm. This ticks all the boxes for me:

  • Very variable light output — From a firefly more to one that feels like "Superman's laser beam melt your face off" mode
  • Choice of batteries — I can either use two disposable CR123A lithium cells or one 18650 lithium-ion rechargeable cell
  • 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: $99.95.

(Source: ArmyTek)

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PSU tester

Sure, you can spend big money on a PSU tester, but for confirming a dead PSU I find a cheap tester is handy. 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 is says on the tin and not bad value 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.

(Source: FrozenCPU)

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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 every so 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, and can help get you out of a jam.

(Source: iFixit)

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Tweezers/magnetic pick-up tools

To paraphrase Vincent 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 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 to wards a metallic object 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.

(Source: Whia)

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