PC Hardware

Tools of the Trade

Nothing is more important than having the right tools for the job. To be an effective computer professional requires owning four sets of tools:

  • Hardware Toolkit: Use this to take things apart and put them back together; also to build up a collection of screws, jumpers, cables, splitters, and other goodies that can save a trip to a supply store.
  • Software Toolkit: Use this to troubleshoot and correct operating systems, hardware, drivers, and application problems. These days, your software toolkit should also include good, routinely updated virus checkers. And include a bootable disk with key diagnostic and system files for each operating system you work with.
  • Technical Library: Use this to help you keep track of the ever-growing base of information and provide answers to "I never saw that before" problems.
  • Spare Parts: Keep these computer-system components-such as power supply and expansion card that can be easily replaced when you're on location-at hand.
Keeping track of technical information is always a problem. There is always too much to remember. It can be helpful to keep track of technical information and problem resolution by using a free-form note-taking and database system with searching and indexing capabilities. There are many software packages commercially available for this purpose; however, with a little creativity, you can create your own custom database.

Hardware and Software Toolkits

A good hardware and software toolkit is an important part of a technician's life. Lesson 1: Computer Disassembly and Reassembly of Tutorial 14 covers the details of creating a basic toolkit. Only over time will you be able to perfect the contents of your toolkit. Your customer base (and the type of computers and software they use) will eventually determine the contents you need to carry. When creating your toolkit, remember two things:

  • The more tools you have, the more you will have to carry.
  • There is nothing more embarrassing than arriving on a job site without the tools to do the job.

Somehow-but only with experience-you will be able to overcome the contradiction inherent in these statements.

Technical Library

Keeping up with new developments in the ever-growing computer industry is a necessity. However, a good, old-fashioned technical library is also necessary-to keep up with the past. It is not uncommon to encounter an older machine that is still performing its assigned task but that has developed an ailment. It might not be cost-effective to replace the machine at this time, and you'll have to dust off the old books just to remind yourself what you used to do.

A technical library also helps keep up with the present. There are so many software and hardware packages in use that it is impossible to keep track of all the details. Further, many manufacturers no longer provide documentation. A good after-market reference manual can help. Check with your local computer/software stores and bookstores.

Not all the information in your library needs to be purchased. Keep a record of problems and their resolutions. Any time you need to download technical information from the Internet or assemble product documentation, file it for future reference. You never know when you might need it again.

If you do a lot of on-site troubleshooting, you should consider a notebook computer with a CD-ROM or DVD drive. You can take it with you to gain access to your searching/indexing software. There is even a version of a Web search engine that you can use to search for files on your own hard disk.

Spare Parts

As mentioned, it doesn't hurt to keep a few spare parts for testing purposes. When in doubt, exchanging a problematic part with a known-to-be working part will help you troubleshoot. Be careful to collect only parts that you're sure work. Exchanging a bad part with another bad part won't help the troubleshooting process and can even make matters worse.

Some suggested parts to keep on hand include the following:

  • Keyboard
  • Power supply
  • I/O card
  • Floppy drive
  • RAM
  • Network card
  • Variety of cables and connectors
  • Mouse
  • Video card