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My PC Repair Toolkit

June 15th, 2007 14 comments

Being the computer guy among family and friends I often get asked to fix their PCs. Over the years I have built up a wide range of tools that I use when fixing the computers.  The issues have involved cleaning spyware/viruses, fixing network issues, setting up email, rescuing personal data etc.

Here is my current PC repair toolkit:
Microsoft Windows XP CD – required for refreshing Windows files for repair or worst case scenario a full rebuild.

Microsoft Windows XP SP1, SP2 and SP3 – I am surprised at the number of people who do not have these already installed.

Hiren’s Boot CD – this is the Swiss army knife of Boot CDs – it includes virus scanners, many disk tools, anti spyware, file managers literally everything you could possibly need.

Ultimate Boot CD – another boot cd, not quite as comprehensive as Hiren’s boot cd but still comes in handy every now and then.

Ultimate Boot CD for Windows – this is one of the most important tools in my pc repair kit – it works like a Windows Live CD and allows you to boot up a machine into a seperate instance of Windows in order to repair/rescue a machine where Windows fails to load properly or is unusable due to malware.

Knoppix and Ubuntu Linux Live CDs – these Linux live CDs are a must if the PC is so bad that you can’t even boot into Windows to safeguard any data. Also I have found the Linux distros more tolerant of faulty hard disks and I could rescue data when Windows didn’t even recognize the faulty disk.

Malware Bytes – excellent malware removal tool, this has saved me a number of times when over products didn’t clean a machine fully.

Spybot Search and Destroy – removes spyware from a Windows PC – the best I have ever used.

Driver Collector – useful for creating a copy of all your hardware in Windows. Note that you need to make the copy before you run into any trouble so that you have them in one place when you need to rebuild a PC.

ZoneAlarm Firewall – my Windows Firewall of choice.

InstallPad – an excellent utility which allows you to add software to a new PC very easily.  You just tick the box for each software app that you want to install and it handles everything for you.  Well worth a try if you haven’t used it.

SystemInfo – a very handy tool to read any system info from your PC.

AutoRuns  – from Sysinternals (now part of Microsoft) allows you to control any startup programs, services etc. on you machine.  Brilliant for preventing nasty spyware from loading up giving you a chance to remove it.

Process Explorer – gives you way more info than the standard task manager in Windows – an absolute must.

Laptop Repair Videos are a great resource for helping you to fix laptops especially with so many different brands out there. Taking apart a laptop can be a daunting task but these videos walk you through the process step by step.

Podnutz Podcasts – you need to keep on learning in order to keep up to speed with all the new tools and hardware. The podcasts at PodNutz cover a wide range of topics that will help you stay on top of all the latest tools available out there. You also get to hear how other PC repair technicians approach pc repairs and so can continue to learn and develop your skills.

CrossLoop – I try more and more now (where possible) to fix PC problems remotely using CrossLoop (allows simple secure remote control of a Windows PC).  This is one of the most user friendly remote access apps I have used and a less experienced user on the other end will have no difficulties in setting up their end of the connection. This is handy for most tasks but for the major jobs which require reboots, when not running in Windows and internet connection issues this obviously won’t help you.

Well, that’s my list – do you use any other tools that I haven’t mentioned here ?

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What is your backup strategy?

May 24th, 2007 3 comments

Backing up your important files is something everyone knows that they should do but not too many people actually do it. My backup strategy at the moment consists of regularly burning DVDs or copying files to my portable HDD. Definitely far better that not backing up at all but not exactly bullet proof. I am a firm believer that you should try and automate as much as possible because when things are left to humans they don’t always get done.

I have looked into online backup solutions, especially www.mozy.com where you download a client to your PC and it continually backs up your stuff. The main issue I have with an online solution is security. Mozy say that they use 128-bit (during transport) and 448-bit Blowfish encryption (on our server) so it sounds pretty secure. So maybe I would be willing to backup my digital photos but I would still be a bit slow to backup any files which I don’t want other people viewing (letters, documents, source code, etc.) Obviously there are huge benefits of the online backup strategy, your data backup is held offsite for one.

Another online storage solution is www.box.net – they have just released an MS Office integrated toolbar to allow you to save your documents directly online.

What is your current backup strategy? Do you use an online backup solution and if so do you worry about security ?

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Multiple email addresses for one Gmail Account

May 12th, 2007 50 comments

I’m a huge fan of Google’s online applications: GMail, Google Reader, etc. One little known feature of GMail which I find myself using over and over again is the ability to add extra metadata to my gmail email address to let me know where the email came from.

Let’s say that I have a gmail address: sean@gmail.com

Now if I am signing up for a newsletter at XYZ Corp. I can register with the email address sean+xyz@gmail.com You can put in any extra alphanumeric information after the plus sign and it still gets delivered to sean@gmail.com. Furthermore you can apply a filter in Gmail to process the email a certain way based on the email address that you signed you for (sean+xyz@gmail.com).

One handy use of this feature is to track where emails are coming from so if you started to get spammed for instance you will know which address was passed onto a third party.

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Links for 2007-05-01

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Upgrading your PC’s RAM

March 20th, 2007 Comments off

I wanted to give my PC a bit of a boost so I decided to stick some more RAM in. The extra memory really helps out when you want to run VMWare images or Virtual PCs. So I wasn’t too sure which type of RAM I needed, there seems to be a ton of different questions/options when choosing RAM.

  • PC2700, PC3200, …
  • Parity or Non-Parity
  • Value of CL
  • How much RAM can I put in each slot ?
  • Do I have to keep the RAM chips balanced across slots ?

Even though I built the PC myself two years ago I still needed a bit of help when choosing the correct RAM chip.
Two resources which came in really handy were the following:

The Crucial System Scanner runs either in your browser (as an ActiveX) or as a downloadable exe and it scans your computer and gives you a report on what RAM that you need to buy. At least then you can be sure that what you buy will do the trick.

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Links for 2007-03-13

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Links for 2007-03-08

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