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The tools of the tech (or) “What’s in your toolbag?”

From one tech to… anyone interested, here’s my take on those “Computer repair” toolkits: JUNK. It’s a bunch of things you’ll never use, in one package, with a pricetag on it.

Here’s what’s in my toolbag, sorted in what I feel is the order of importance:

Most important:

  • Portable ESD mat / wriststrap / grounding cord (A must!)
  • A #1 philips screwdriver (Laptops)
  • A #0 philips screwdriver (small screws — laptop optical drives, some small sub-assemblies)
  • A #2 philips screwdriver — at least 6″ or longer (For desktops cases and “tool” jokes.)
  • A 1/8″ flat screwdriver (laptop CPU sockets)
  • A 3/16″ and a 5mm hex driver (for VGA / serial / etc port standoffs.)
  • Torx driver, various sizes but usually T5, T10, T15, T18, T20 (Various models). I have a tool similiar to this one, and it’s served me well.
  • Thermal paste (cheap stuff is better than nothing) along with alcohol pads for cleaning.
  • A paper clip, for opening optical drives
  • A bootable USB stick loaded with diagnostic software. 2GB ought to do it, depending on what you’re using.

Recommended:

  • Pliers (regular, long nose, bent)
  • Wirecutters (For cutting zip-ties and wire harnesses)
  • Plastic tool, such as this one (Great for prying apart stubborn case clips without damage) – Guitar picks are also known to work well.
  • Power supply tester. I have this one, and it’s wonderful.
  • The under $5 magnetizer that will save your sanity. Some screwdrivers are sold pre-magnetized, but often lose their charge after a short time. Plus, with this, you can magnetize any tool.
  • Spare screws, and this really high-tech container to keep them sorted.
  • A toothbrush (Awesome for cleaning laptop heatsinks, recessed switches, speaker grilles, and countless other things)
  • A small scratch awl for removing rubber bumpers, screw covers, and the like.

Optional, but useful:

  • A cheap set of headphones or earbuds for testing sound issues. A small, functional, microphone is also good for testing mic issues, though they are rare. You could get a headset and combine the functions, just make sure it has separate input and output jacks.
  • A Linux live CD or USB stick, again for diagnostic testing. Most Linux distros will fit comfortably on a 2GB stick.
  • Another, blank, USB stick for moving drivers, software downloads, etc, when necessary. 4GB is a good, comfortable size for this stick.

And lastly, my thoughts on a few other items:

  • Cans of compressed air, while useful, are often “borrowed” and become an added expense and encumbrance in field use. For bench use, however, they are invaluable.
  • A Dremel. I’m kidding… what would you use a Dremel for on a computer, anyway?

Have any suggestions for a tech toolbag, or something you’ve found useful (or not), or a question about something I posted (or left out)? Please feel free to share in the comments below!

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