Tech & Work

What's in your desktop support toolbox?

Joe Rosberg is looking for the perfect support desk toolkit. He lists some of his favorite items for everyday tasks and is open to suggestions from TechRepublic members. What are the tools that you can't live without?

What are your most vital tools for providing desktop support? And I mean any kind of tool - literal, figurative, hardware, software, etc.

Hand Tools: Of course, we all have the typical tool pouch with the screwdrivers, nut drivers, and those chip pullers - you know, the ones that make lousy tweezers. I've never pulled a chip in my life, but I suppose some people do. (Well, I have pulled some chips - the ones of the potato variety, out of a keyboard!) My favorite hand tool: that Phillips screwdriver with a perfect sized head, which is slightly magnetized so it will hold onto a screw; it has a rubber-wrapped handle that's perfect in both size and feel. (I never loan this one out, by the way.) Software tools: Other than the normal defrag-type flavor of software tools, I don't really use very many (if any) software diagnostic tools. If I have to run diagnostic tests or software fixes to a problem, it's probably easier for me to simply recreate the computer configuration from scratch.

However, a TechRepublic peer did send me information about one that I might start using. It's called ProcessQuickLink. It puts an icon next to each process listed in Task Manager, and by clicking on that icon, it takes you to a Web site that will give you a detailed explanation of what the process is. I installed it on my home computer, and it seems pretty slick. (Many thanks to the peer who sent me that tip!)

Disclaimer: I am neither recommending nor vouching for this particular product.

Diagnostic tools: Well, other than my Ethernet Cable Tester, I don't have any that I use. And in this case, I usually use it to figure out the origin of a stray cable that's been unplugged from the switch and left dangling for a while. But I'm also going to throw in various DOS commands as good diagnostic tools. For example, what would we do without the Ping command? Protective Tools: An antivirus tool, of course, is a must. I know they'll be detractors, but I love Norton Antivirus Corporate Edition (I use version 10.0.1). The boxed versions of Norton products take a lot of heat (and, in some cases, rightfully so), but the Corporate Edition isn't plagued with the same issues we hear about with the boxed versions. Research Tools: TechRepublic, of course, is my favorite. But keeping in-line with my occasion to use DOS as a command-line diagnostic tool, I still have (and actually reference on occasion) a couple of old DOS books - DOS Power Tools is one of them. It's amazing to consider how relevant and useful the old DOS commands can still be today. Communication Tools: E-mail, of course, is a tool. And I suppose most support people couldn't get by without their cell phone. (Well, I could sure get by without mine, but the people I support couldn't!)

This isn't a complete list by any means, but rather something to get the discussion ball rolling. Vital desktop support tools will probably run the gamut from a few to many, and will vary depending of the size and scope of your support obligations.

But what are your favorites? What do you depend on more than any other? The sky's the limit.

What's mine? Without a doubt, it's the Internet - The World Wide Web. I don't think I could get by without it. What a great tool!

What's in your toolbox?

60 comments
XnavyDK
XnavyDK

You guys/gals are in my toolbox. I recently started this gig full time and you are all invaluable! I soon hope to go to Dallas and take a server bootcamp through new horizons, but so far, this site has been more than helpfull in my transition from a somewhat informed digitally aware person to a network/sysadmin.

AressIndia.com
AressIndia.com

Some hardware manufactures also manufactures a double-ended screwdriver which have Philips head to one end and flat to the other. This also comes in handy length form so that it can keep in your pocket. Also keep one cross ended cable in the toolbox. This may be useful to connect two systems with out any need of switch.

Reduce, Reuse, Reboot
Reduce, Reuse, Reboot

I run Wireshark (used to be Ethereal)to identify ARP floods, NetBIOS broadcasts trying to resolve names of suspicious websites, and even finding excessive traffic from streaming media sites like YouTube and now Google and Yahoo. I run LANfind to find peer-to-peer files like Limewire. Ad-aware, Spybot, AVG, ComboFix.exe, Angry IP Scanner, Memtest, Real VNC. Try TreeSizeProfessional... it lets you see who has 14GB of Temp Internet Files in their profile. I try to carry a labelmaker and spare cables/parts to make cables/connectors/assorted screws/mouse/kybd/, etc. One of my favorite tools is a block of bits for my ratcheting screwdriver handle. Rubber block about 2"x3" that holds a couple of dozen torx and security bits. And I've got cute little 4" visegrips.

lynbor
lynbor

A Fun Topic because I'm sure there are many different versions of what is an essential set of tools for the support Technician. One software tool that I have found useful over the years is called WreckDisk. It's a boot diskette or Boot CD that does nothing more than delete all partitions on Hard Drive 0. It doesn't care what kind of partition it is and that saves me from trying to find the correct version of fdisk or whatever OS tool to remove the partitions. I've found it very useful when doing multiple OS upgrades for businesses that want a fresh install of the new OS on existing workstations. Or when putting that old Novell Server Hard Drive back into service as a windows workstation. Ever try to remove a Novell Server Partition with Windows fdisk? Wreckdisk is very fast at what it does. After a normal DOS-like boot it takes less than 10 seconds to remove the partitions on the drive. And for only $11.95 as a download, my copy has paid for itself many times over in time savings for me. It's available at www.wreckdisk.com.

Jacky Howe
Jacky Howe

It has given me a chance to see what I have acquired and what I really need to keep in my Case. I use the Case onsite and in my workshop, it has a special place right next to the work bench on a chest of drawers. Probably mentioned some things from previous posts but I needed to clean it out and get a list of what is in there. I made up a Multiboot CD that has these Programs as most of my work these days is in the Private Sector. 1. Gdisk Basic DOS xcopy, sys, MS-DOS Editor, PKZip, Format and Fdisk 2. Partition Magic 8 3. Ranish Partition Manager 4. Aida 16 5. Windiag 6. Ghost 7 7. AMI Diagnostics 8. Barts Network Boot Disk CD/DVD's kept in a 100 CD Case and no it isn't full, yet. :) WinImage created Boot Images. SysInterals Software. XP PE Modified with tools. Vista PE2 Modified with tools. Bart PE modified. Windows 2000, XP Pro and Home various versions with service packs. Win98 and Win95c. Numerous CD's with hard to find Drivers, Network and Diagnostic Tools. PC Linux. UBCD4Win. Rewriteable burned as a CD with Service Packs. Also a Vista DVD now that I found the F10 trick. Floppies Assorted Drivers, Network, Diagnostic Tools and New floppy disks. Floppy Drive cleaner. Wireless USB connector. PCI Network Card for older PC's. USB Sticks 4 Gb, 1 Gb, 2x256 Mb Assorted Antivirus, Malware, Network and Diagnostic Tools. Hard Drives for Basic Backup 1 x 20Gb 2.5" 1 x 80Gb 3.5" Compression Tools PKZip, WinRar and Power Archiver. Coin cell battery, I have stopped carrying the older ones. Telescopic Mirror saves bending to look under things. Telescopic magnet to retrieve dropped screws from the floor, saves bending. Magnifying Glasses Small and magnifying specs, cheaper than glasses. Velcro ties for holding things out of the way. Cable Ties. Flexible LED Light. Spare Power/Reset Switch. Manual Engraver. White Rubber. Toothbrush and small Paint Brush. Paper Clips. Tweezers. Cable Testing Meter. USB 2.0 to IDE / SATA Adapter Cable 80cm (Supports 2.5" & 3.5" IDE) Notebook IDE Hard Drive Adaptor. Sata and IDE cables. Crossover Cable and Fly Leads. Assorted Phone Cales and Connectors. And I do not go onsite without my old Acer with Dialup, Wireless and Ethernet Access. There are a few programs on the Notebook like my swag of text help files, Magic ISO, WinImage and 14Gb of Tools. I don't throw anything that's worth keeping away. I normally have one hand free to knock on the door or open it. :) Thanks again Joe

werick
werick

Some of the most basic stuff (at least in my work situation, hotel) are the greatest. -Coupler w/ x-over. In case 568A is where 568B should be, this makes a great quickie test. -RJ-45 & Crimper. Guests (and employees) can tend to be rough with cables, yet picky enough to complain about a broken clip (that they broke). -Punch Down Tool. Jumper cables everywhere and wanting to do most of the testing needed without walking back and forth? Enough said. -My personal laptop. 5 minutes till my day is supposed to end? "Hey, everything works fine on my computer. Must be something with yours, and without admin access I can't do much to help you. Sorry, bye, have a nice evening." *Run* Well, no actually don't do that, but sometimes I am tempted. -Google. Huh? I've never seen this happen before. Google it! -Tone generator. Ok, who messed with the wiring here? Seriously, the least they could've done was label and leave a note for everyone else.

oz_ollie
oz_ollie

One of my favourite tools is an Antec Power Supply Tester CS-PSUTSTATX12V. It is a 60-second job to unplug all the power leads in a PC and plug in the ATX 20-pin or 24-pin motherboard connector and get the green, amber or red LED display.

bryan.withage
bryan.withage

I always carry my Leatherman and a small screwdriver.

akoulintchenko
akoulintchenko

Talking about Software tools for Desktop support: I use GoverLAN from PJ Technologies at the office for remote administering and remote accessing PCs in our organization. The GoverLAN suite actually consists of 5 tools: the management console, remote control, scope actions (inventory management), command line (for scripting) and something called WMIX (alternative to scripting). All are very handy for desktop support engineers. And of course, I am neither recommending nor vouching for this particular product.

catfish182
catfish182

I carry 2 USB 2 GB keys. One has a series of tools that i use if the problem takes me longer then 20 minutes to whip down. A lot of times for me i do not run any tools on the machine as i spend most of the time trying to recreate the issue so i can see how to fix it. Its nice that they are there though if i need it. I keep some ebooks on there also and links to about 5 different driver sites. If the machine is really bad off i use my reatogo usb drive. Its based off Bart's PE but has a XP feel to it and you can use many of the tools in xp which is nice. What I love about it is its plugin creator. SO far i can take any .exe and make it a plugin so i can use (so far) any thing i want in the environment.

reisen55
reisen55

I have just discovered the joy of this boot cdrom which exceeds WinTernals in it's software utility capacity, plus upon boot it will read a usb connected hard drive. The toolbox is plentiful and I oculd spend 20 paragraphs on what it contains. I keep the following with me always... Windows XP Professional - Dell w/Keycodes if necessary Winternals BART PE Windows XP Boot Windows 2000 Pro if I never need it these days Collection of Spyware Utilities USB Floppy drive 30 gigabyte 2.5 drive in usb shell from MICROCENTER THE BEST place to visit for us folk. On this drive are all the apps I need for 90% of purpose. ****** When full diagnostics are needed, I carry my full CDcase with me but once I left it on a train and damn near was in the ER with worry!!!! Got it back. ****** Tools, I have a separate tool bag that is heavy as the planet Earth so I don't use it often unless I HAVE TO TAKE IT WITH ME and then I consign it to the trunk and take ONLY WHAT I NEED TO SURVIVE. My 2 cents

grewcockd
grewcockd

An ATX PSU test box, the one with actual voltage indicators is very usefull

mrob675
mrob675

I'd have to say my main resources are TuneUp Utilities, XP's own Restore System and ZoneAlarm Security Suite. Those three take care of pretty much evertything. Michael Http://newbies-marketing-info.com

Joe_R
Joe_R

Read the original blog piece for context. Any vital tools you care to share? What's in your toolbox?

reisen55
reisen55

You have come up with an impressive inventory. I have two carry bags myself. See my post on usb 2.5 drives. One carry bag is full of frequently used stuff, and also carries the laptop when I need it. It is fairly light to heavy. I also keep a small cdkit inside with 10 COMMONLY used disks and, also, keep sets of the same ON CLIENT SITE whenever possible. Comment: Make sure YOU have a set of common tools at storage in a client site too. Second carry bag is TOOLS, SCREWS, HARDWARE that I almost never need but when I do need it, it is serious. VERY HEAVY to carry. More often I raid it for the lighter bag.

Joe_R
Joe_R

There are a lot of great suggestions. I'm reviewing my own, and adding some of the great tools mentioned by various people.

Dyalect
Dyalect

Very good useful article. Good opportunity to share utilities for desktop/pc support. Heres my $0.02 - AVG free antivirus - Hirens Boot CD - www.oldversion.com

Chris_Muncy
Chris_Muncy

I carry the following: Wyse terminal thin client. If I have a user thats pc dies, I can have then hit the TS to resume working immediately. a WD 160gig usb drive for backing up user's data. Nortel IP phone (I can plug it in anywhere on the network - gotta love it) Spybot and Adaware - rarely needed as no one has super user privileges on their systems. Blank cd's and dvd's SPARE AA BATTERIES! An older laptop with a sprint air card. Real VNC is a life saver. Up-to-date list of your IP addressing schema. USB extension cable. I also carry around a tool bag to do complete electronic component level repair as we have some custom systems on our sand mine dredge that needs constant attention. A cold-heat soldering iron is a must.

itpro_z
itpro_z

I haven't yet found a security suite that didn't hammer a system's performance. I would especially avoid ZA on Vista, which certainly doesn't need anything beyond basic AV.

iano.it
iano.it

I carry a folder on a USB pen drive with portable apps, basically they all run of the USB drive and dont install on the target system. Folder includes password resets, AVG 8 and anti spyware apps

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

Simple IDE converter box. Converts 2.5, 3.5, 5.25 inches hard drives whether they be IDE or SATA to a USB 2.0. Cost about $20 or less.

gslea
gslea

I am "retiring" at the end of this month and going into business for myself "part time". As I am planning on doing network security (among other things) for small businesses, the suggestions here have been invaluable. As for my toolbox... so far I carry around a CD with Lavasoft and Spybot on it. Between the two of them I can usually clean the spyware out of almost any machine.

erbngeek
erbngeek

Beats the heck out of Ghost. Depending on severity and nature of problem, the first thing I will do is make a backup image of the problem machine, to external USB drive, CDs, network if available, or network to my laptop with USB drive shared. I always test the image also, well at least make sure it will mount and there are files on it. I guess I ought to say my laptop as it is under my control, can connect to the internet (especially if a problem machine cannot) and I can keep loads of tools on it, or download new ones if internet is available (especially with Data Plan Cell phone attached)

Timbo Zimbabwe
Timbo Zimbabwe

... that I've had the last 4 times I read this article over the past year. Are we running out of topics or something? Let's move on, please.

Jon
Jon

SOFTWARE: Knoppix bootable iso-cd Backtrack 2 w/ nessus-usb drive bootable RegCleaner Spybot AVG Fdisk DBAN ComPort Emulator tftp app for usb to serial Other associated Windows Tools Hardware: usb to db9 and db25 Cable tester screwdriver-on a tool belt in trunk cordless drill & bits-tool belt in trunk 1000ft spoll of cable always in trunk crimpers, cutters, rg45, rg 11 connectors 6,8,12 ft straight cables rollover cable crossovercable null modem adapt, also other old adapts usb to ide/sata w/power cleaning wipes usb mouse 10 LED pen flashlight 180GB usb harddrive lots of coffee and cereal bars....... misc cables in trunk(VGA,SVID,AV,power cords) a hardware peice for low level formatting I carry everything with me execpt the tool belt and spool of cable. Though I only use these things mostly on individual contract jobs. If things break at work, cross my fingers, I don''t need half of these things. Oh and a sledge for asset destruction! :)

Mr.Wiz
Mr.Wiz

http://www.ubcd4win.com This CD has many of the tools already mentioned and quite a few more. I've also found it to be an easier build than BartPE and it is based on Bart. This is in addition to the normal hand tools and testers, spare parts, etc.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Windows Memory Diagnostic Tool, and Windows System Restore. One shelf of the cart I use to deliver equipment has a box with a cable continuity tester, two power cords, two Ethernet cables, a mouse, a mouse pad, screen cleaning wipes, an SVGA cable, a DVI cable, an SVGA-to-DVI adapter, a surge protector, two screwdrivers, and other miscellaneous goodies.

techmail
techmail

My Winternals CD has allowed me to gain access to machines countless times over the past several years. Microsoft acquired Winternals back in July of 2006 so you can no longer get one legally. It's probably my favorite. www.winternals.com will redirect you to current information on Microsoft's website.

brudab
brudab

Belarc Advisor - shows all local system specs (including network drives and printers) Kernel Password Unmask - Reveals passwords in Windows forms (helpful when migrating a MS Outlook account) Angry IPScanner - Pings a range of IP Addresses (useful when determining if all network devices are ping-able) AutoIt - Macro script creator. Can be used to script some repetitive Windows tasks. Sandboxie - Allows programs to be run "virtualised" i.e. in a real sandbox, so that nothing is written to your hard drive. I've found it much quicker to use than a virtual machine, but of course it doesn't replace VM's outright.

itpro_z
itpro_z

Others here have already posted the usual, a password retriever, AV, etc, and of course the usual hand tools. I frequently use Keyfinder to pull software keys from a system before rebuilding. I also carry the latest versions of ubiquitous programs like Acrobat Reader or our client access software. Many times an issue can be resolved by just updating the user to the latest version. While I don't install it by default, I carry FireFox as well, for those instances where IE becomes infected or can't display a particular website correctly. Finally, I still run into registry corruption and find Regclean a handy tool.

brian.mills
brian.mills

In addition to the various screwdrivers, bit-drivers, cable testers, etc., I carry two CDs: Damn Small Linux and the Offline NT Password Reset Disc. Both have come in handy on different occasions, and between using them, the internet, and the tools build into the installed OS, I can diagnose and repair most problems. I also carry a spare network cable and a crossover adapter, because you never know when you'll need them.

Selltekk
Selltekk

EBCD...Emergency boot CD (admin password blanking disk. This had a huge impact when we were migrating from one organization's domain to our own. The old domain admins would not give us the local admin passwords, so unjoining their domain and joining our own became a bit difficult without it.

Jacky Howe
Jacky Howe

really good suggestions in here that will be added to my swag.

Joe_R
Joe_R

The suites don't do any favors for the performance and stability of a system.

reisen55
reisen55

If you can find a MICROCENTER near you, the tech selection is marvelous. I moved away from USB drives per se because for $12 I picked up a usb 2.5 hard drive shell - two of them - that I pocketed some spare 40 and 30 gb drives into and carry those in a travel pouch. Now I have 70 gb of storage with me at all times, far easier to carry than the 320 gb Simpletech usb drive (that fell four times and is now comatose anyway). One is for APPLICATIONS and the other is for client DATA. AND they are hard to lose unlike a usb key that can fall out of pocket anytime, anywhere.

netforce
netforce

#1 PC-CHECK Extensive hardware diag. tool. #2 MEMTEST #3 ERD Commander #4 SpongeBob teaches Excel (don't laugh) Pretty much everything else mentioned on this thread. Aaaah...I'm kidding about #4

gslea
gslea

Hey, Timbo, If you've seen it before or you don't like it or it's not relevant to you there's always the Close button.

Joe_R
Joe_R

I can say with 100 percent certainty, that this is the first time I?ve written a piece on this subject. It?s somewhat unique, and it?s not a reincarnation (or copy) of anyone else?s piece. Perhaps you?ve seen similar articles elsewhere on the site, but none by me. As we all know, technology changes from time to time. In the case of this current toolbox piece, it offers an opportunity for people to share and learn about something new. Sure, a magnetic screwdriver will always be the same, but there are nifty new software tools mentioned that I?ve never seen before. As such, we might want to consider this an update instead of a repeat. One of my previous articles was about my specifications for a build your own box computer. It?s also about time to update that one. What was relevant and current 12 months ago, may not be today. Moreover, there are new people who visit the site every day. You might have read a toolbox piece before, but perhaps others haven?t. It is a challenge to please everyone all of the time; but I?ll consider it a challenge met if I can reach some of them some of the time. I?m glad to see you come back as a return reader. As such, and I?m sure I speak for other writers at the site, we try to provide what you want. You are correct in suggesting that many subjects do get readdressed from time to time, but that?s not necessarily a bad thing. What are some topics you think we overlook? Shoot me an e-mail or post some suggestions in this discussion, and it will probably get done. If it?s a subject outside my area of knowledge, I?ll certainly get it to another writer who can properly address it. Many thanks....

frodo
frodo

Great set of tools on this one!!!

bfpower
bfpower

I also like Belarc Advisor for folks who no longer know their software keys... I use printmig to migrate our office list of printers (about 15-20) to each XP PC following a move, upgrade, or discovering that an image is really old and has the wrong locations/drivers/etc for a printer. See this blog post on it - http://bfpower.wordpress.com/2008/01/31/migrate-your-printers-list-with-printmig/ I love Remote Desktop and administrative sharing for working on PCs on our LAN. We have two buildings and I'm far too busy (read: lazy) to go to each desk to make changes. I also use Google and its corresponding search results extensively. Probably more than any other tool except my brain and experience.

Joe_R
Joe_R

But those are all great suggestions - thanks

Joe_R
Joe_R

Great suggestions - thanks

doug.statum
doug.statum

great little tool allows you to see everything running in the background and then some....and yes, more than you see with task manager or msconfig....and its a GUI. Enjoy!

jdclyde
jdclyde

your damn/small, have you added any utilities, or just a basic install?

The Altruist
The Altruist

Get UBCD4WIN. It's preloaded with a copy of the NTFS Offline Registry Editor. Also get a copy of OPH Crack. In the event of encrypted data that you need to recover, OPH Crack cracks the password for you. Note however that the free version will only cover NT LAN Manager passwords which were discontinued with Vista. I.e. NT4, 2K, XP, 2K3 all work great, but not Vista.

Jacky Howe
Jacky Howe

for awhile. I am already in a spin from some of these these suggestions. There are tools mentiond here that I have never heard of. I must admit that I am eager to test some of them. :)

daimon
daimon

Definitely a lot of useful tools I got from everyone. Awesome and thanks!

WiseITOne
WiseITOne

1. Ophcrack - Can't believe no one mentioned Ophcrack. I am not sure if the other Admin hack tools mentioned above are fr$$. Ophcrack is. 2. REAL VNC - I LIKE angry IP scanner. Amazing tool. REAL VNC costs money but works better than RA IMO. 3. PC Wizard 2008 - More robust than Belarc and you can do benchmarks with it. Very lite. 4. 7-zip - Best zip tool out there period. 5. Windows Media Player Classic - Codecs included best media player period...and its FR$$, no more codec issues with all that other junk, gets you in good with the managers who need to watch "vendor" DVD's. 6. Systernals - tools are pretty good and very lite...also FR$$ 7. doPDF - Great for any PDF conversion and it's FR$$. I have yet to find a good free network analyzer and ticketing system...I am convinced a good free solution does not exist. Spiceworks is decent but needs some work. I agree the web is the best tool I use for troubleshooting problems. It is the HIVE.

Joe_R
Joe_R

That really was appreciated.

Techcited!
Techcited!

By the way. I too use this same tool all the time. It really comes in handy. And the customers love you for it, be they internal as well as external.

Techcited!
Techcited!

Joe: In your main article, you did forget to mention one of the most valuable tools. That would be the one you just used. That being humility. What a great response to a less than kind post. No wonder you are so successful in your tech gig. Thanks for the breath of fresh air.

The Altruist
The Altruist

It's invaluable in large corporate environments with cookie cutter desktop configurations. For this, I reference schools. Big win for schools. I've also used this deadly duo in refurbishing PC's and tweaking Sysprepped systems. It just doesn't get any better. Unless you can swing a 24-host 1Gb Network with a PXE boot server. (Not yet, but I'm working on it).

bfpower
bfpower

I use a similar tool (www.netbootdisk.com) to boot to PC DOS, then use a network share to run Ghost 8.0. It's invaluable for imaging.

christop095
christop095

I run 15 offices frequent new users printer process entirely with this program. You can write a simple batch file for different offices unique printer settings. You will never install another printer!! Even works with Vista (miracles do happen:)

bfpower
bfpower

I use Ghost 8.0 pretty extensively to image our PCs at the office. It's old-school but it's powerful. Along with it I use ghstwalk.exe to reset SIDs.

svasani
svasani

A laptop has always been handy for me. P.S. Accidentally put this post under the wrong branch. Can't delete or move it two levels up; but can edit the post. Hence, adding this sorry note.

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