PC Hardware

Recommended Software

Don't feel compelled to carry an entire arsenal of arcane software. A small number of commonly used programs can serve most of your needs.

Bootable Floppy Disk

You'll want to compile and carry bootable floppy disks for each operating system that you encounter. These should contain the following files:

  • EMM386.EXE
  • MSD.EXE (.COM)
These files will just barely fit on one 3.5-inch high-density floppy disk. Files listed in bold are essential.

A Windows 98 startup disk is also a good item to carry. This is a bootable disk that will also load all drivers needed to run a CD-ROM on most PCs.

The utility MSD.EXE is a good diagnostic tool that can determine which hardware options are installed on a computer system without the need for you to remove the case. MSD.EXE is also a great tool for diagnosing software conflicts.

Operating-System Disk

Make sure copies of the original operating-system disk (or CD) are available. If it becomes necessary to install one or more components that were left out during the original installation, the computer might require verification of serial numbers (the original disk #1) before any additional files can be installed. Windows 95 and 98 and Windows NT strongly recommend that you create a rescue disk in case there are any problems with corrupt files in the operating system. It is a good practice to ensure that you have this disk available.

A rescue disk is unique to the computer for which it was created. Therefore, a new one must be made for each computer in service.

Software Utilities

There are many good-quality utility programs available today. These programs allow the experienced user to find and correct a multitude of problems. However, caution should be used when "correcting" a problem that has been identified by the software. The software might consider something a problem simply because it does not recognize it. ("If I don't know what it is, it must be bad.") In some cases, the cure is worse than the disease. Also, keep in mind that one utility will not solve every problem. As a computer professional, you will do far better to master one good software system than to have a box full of utilities that you don't know how to run effectively. Don't forget good old MS-DOS; it is full of commands that are usually forgotten or never used.

Older versions of utility programs are designed to work with MS-DOS and Windows 3.x. They can wreak havoc on a Windows 95 or Windows 98 system. You must also be especially careful if you're running later versions of Windows 95 or Windows 98 that use the FAT32 file system, because most utilities are designed to handle the traditional FAT16.

You should never run any application to "tune" a system that is not specifically designed for that version of the operating system. That applies triple to advanced 32-bit operating systems such as Windows 98 and Windows 2000.

Among the handiest utilities have around are virus-checking programs that are compatible with each operating system you work with, such as disk and video display diagnostic programs.