Software

Five diagnostic tools for your portable tech toolkit

When you head out for a job, be sure you take this collection of handy go-anywhere troubleshooting tools.
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 The world of computer administration requires you to be on your toes and prepared for just about anything. Along with that, you need to have tools that can get you out of nearly any jam — and that includes a set of portable diagnostic tools to help you when you don't have the time or the ability to install (or track down) software to solve the problem at hand.

Thing is, there are many diagnostic tools available — so which ones should you select for your portable toolkit? Here are five portable tools everyone should consider as first options for solving the problems that plague your systems.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery.

1: Process Explorer

Process Explorer (Figure A) is the tool to use when you really need information about a process and what file or folder that process has open. This tool is a tremendous help in discovering what application has a file or folder locked — especially when you can't seem to eject an external drive.

Figure A

Figure A
 

Process Explorer consists of two windows. The top window gives a real-time listing of active processes (and their owning accounts). The bottom window displays information based on the mode it's in. In handle mode, all handles that the selected process (from the top window) has opened will appear. In DLL mode, all DLLs and memory-mapped files that the selected process has opened will appear.

2: SystemRescueCd

SystemRescueCd (Figure B) is a bootable Linux disk (can be run from either CD or thumb drive) that offers a full kit of tools for administering or repairing your system and/or data after a crash. Included tools will help you work with drive partitions, files, networks, and much more.

Figure B

Figure B
 

This tool is effectively a full-blown Linux distribution that you run as a portable platform. The only difference is that the software is focused on diagnosing and repairing problems. Tools include Sfdisk, Partimage, Testdisk, GParted, Grub, secure hard disk wipers, programming tools, antivirus, and CD burners.

3: CrystalDiskInfo

CrystalDiskInfo (Figure C) monitors hard disks and reports the state of their health. It gives you all the S.M.A.R.T. information and lets you know how many times the disk has been turned on and off. This tool supports both HDD and SSD and even some external drives.

Figure C

Figure C
 

You can keep CrystalDiskInfo running and set it up to send email alerts if something goes wrong. Also included are Automatic Acoustic Management (AAM) and Advanced Power Management Control (APM). A resident alarm will alert you of temperature issues.

4: WinDirStat

WinDirStat (Figure D) is an invaluable tool when you need to find out what is taking up all that space on a drive. Simply download it, run it, select the drive to test, and wait for the results. Once the test is run, you will be offered a colorized map of every file type on the drive.

Figure D

Figure D
 Locate a color that is taking up the largest amount of space, right-click that color, and open the folder to find out exactly what you're dealing with. If you ever run into a situation where a C Drive has filled up, this is the first tool you want to grab.

5: Console Portable

Console Portable (Figure E) is a console window enhancement that can be run from a portable drive. It also allows you to add your own custom scripts (placed in ConsolePortable\Data\Scripts). Features include multiple tabs, text editor-like text selection, different background types, alpha and color-key transparency, configurable font, and different window styles. If you do a lot of your diagnostics from the command line, you should have this customizable console along for the ride.

Figure E 

Figure E
 

Ready to roll

Your diagnostic toolkit is one of the first things you should put in your pocket when you head out for a job. These five tools should be able to help you with numerous situations, from damaged data to virus infections — and everything in between.

Also read…

Your picks

What portable diagnostic tools are in your toolkit? Share your recommendations with other TechRepublic members.  

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

5 comments
a.portman
a.portman

I live and breathe with the HiRens Bood CD. http://www.hiren.info/pages/bootcd A lifesaver I learned about on TR. My most go to tools of the 14 pages of utilities on one CD or USB drive are Partition Wizard, Macrium Reflect Imaging, and the password reset tools. I have recovered many a hard disk worth of files from crapped out machines  with HiRens.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen moderator

I'll add these to the kit.  CrystalDiskInfo will probably be the most helpful.  The rest, not so much.  But that's due to the customer expectation that we not repair installations, but reimage or replace the drives.