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Basic computer repair/maintenance toolkit

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    Originally posted by Chuck(G) View Post
    Well, I'm kind of fussy about screwdrivers, particularly Phillips. Most of the Far East imports just don't have them done right. Go with a brand that has "Genuine Phillips" on it. Here's a nice set from Crescent that should meet most of your needs.

    The other thing I'm fussy about is nutdrivers. A good nutdriver is worth its weight in gold. I think I've been using my Xcelite nutdrivers for almost 50 years now. They still work as well as the day they were new. Cheap Chinese drivers have a sloppy fit, plated finish and rounded "nose" and can be a pain.

    As someone once said "I can't afford cheap tools." A few really good basics will last a lifetime.
    The aforementioned screwdriver set is fantastic. I took apart many thinkpads and 5 1/4" HDDs using it.
    And you'll have immense difficulty finding those screw sizes anywhere else. Which is what I was after. I have plenty of high quality screw drivers that just don't go down that small.


      I'll second Chuck's post about the Xcelite tools. I picked up this kit at a yard sale over a year ago for $20, and I've used it daily ever since. Best set of nut drivers and basic screwdrivers in my toolbox. It tends to go to work with me, and ride in my truck when I'm not at work. They've been inside my truck's engine, and just about every computer, monitor, and appliance I've taken apart in the last year.... If you can't tell, I'm quite enamored with them. Not sure that I'd pay the retail cost on them, but I'd definitely try to piece together a kit from eBay or the like (where they can be had quite cheaply, surprisingly)
      Currently seeking:
      * Roland MPU-401/AT (with daughter card header)
      * Magitronic K-156 Keyboard (5pin DIN w/ XT-AT switch)
      I also collect PC and C64 Sierra On-Line software!


        What are your opinions on a anti-static mat and wrist strap? I usually neglect them because it is fairly warm here but it would use it in the midst of winter, when I get most of my systems.


          As long as you grab the case first, before touching anything else, you don't need anything else.
          PM me if you're looking for 3" or 5" floppy disks. EMail For everything else, Take Another Step


            Let the static wars begin.
            I'm a firm believer in static mats and wrist straps, since if zap a chip, the damage doesn't necessarily keep the chip from working. It's not like being excessively cautious is going to hurt anything.


              Never use static prevention, but then humidity around here rarely drops below 40-50% RH. I am careful with handling, however.
              Reach me: vcfblackhole _at_ protonmail dot com.


                I've never used any anti-static prevention either, even in Denver when the humidity was often in the single digits. To my knowledge, I've never zapped anything with static.

                Don't take this as a recommendation to avoid using static protection though, you really should use wrist straps and such if available.


                  The one time I made an effort to use an anti-static wrist strap is when I ran a computer workshop at a kids camp. I made sure to emphasize, "Now if you ever want to pop the top off this computer for any reason and tinker around inside, ALWAYS wear your anti-static wrist strap." Nevertheless, I've never followed my own advice there.

                  Remember, wherever you go, there you are.


                    It's probably easier to choose the appropriate flooring material. Vinyl composition tile is good. Carpeting can be nasty stuff, on the other hand.
                    Reach me: vcfblackhole _at_ protonmail dot com.


                      If you don't use a strap, at least wear cotton clothing (avoid synthetic fabric).



                        Hm, My gear is the following.

                        I have 3 sets of Screw drivers for several different purposes.
                        A small metal, wristwatch set. (Using it for setting Pot meters)
                        A Insulated set this is generally the bigger stuff insulation up to 1000V.(House electrics and monitor fixes, and Assembly)
                        A ESD set this is my least used set to be honest.

                        A ESD wristband and wire I have a ESD mat on my worktable.

                        I have a Weller temperature controlled soldering station which has a 3 irons, 1 normal which can use different tips, a desolder gun, and a heat blower for the interesting stuff.
                        Desolder leach, also known as desoldering wick is handy to have

                        In general i keep a Laser temperature sensor at hand, just in case A multimeter and I would love to get my hands on a private logic analyzer and Oscilloscope.

                        A EPROM programmer is going a little too far IMHO but i do understand the requirement for dental tools in electronics, do not forget a good solid insulated pliers, and trusty ol side cutter.

                        PS: I nearly forgot pincet one of the corner stones of electronics tools.


                          If you have a shaky hand, or work on monitors and other RF stuff a good set of plastic non-conductive "tweakers" is nice to have. That way when your screwdriver slips off the thingy you're adjusting you don't short something out. Non-metallic screwdrivers were also a requirement if you were adjusting RF circuitry so you didn't detune circuits with your metal screwdriver. My uncle owned a busy radio/tv shop and I've inherited a giant bundle of his non-metallic adjusting tools.


                            This toolkit is a good start:

                            General tools I use in addition to the above:
                            -A dedicated soldering station with clamps to hold small parts (that "3rd hand"). Soldering Iron with temperature control is nice.
                            -A telescoping mirror for seeing around cases.
                            -A lit magnifying glass for seeing small parts.
                            -Add in a precision bit toolkit as posted earlier. A clicker torque screwdriver for these is nice, but costs a bit more.
                            -Specialized bits (ex: pentalobe) are available from iFixit. Purchase when needed as they are expensive.
                            -Wooden chopsticks from the local Chinese joint work great as probes.
                            -Crimpers for various communications wires (coax, RJ-45, etc.)
                            -A digital multimeter for testing circuits. Add in a test lamp and alligator clip leads! Sewing pins are good for testing small female connectors (gives you a place to clamp on the alligator clips).
                            -Cable testers are important if you plan on debugging building wiring installs. Optional otherwise
                            -Ethernet patch cables, both wired straight and crossover.
                            -Parallel data transfer aka "Laplink" cable and null modem RS-232 cables. Always handy.
                            -Various monitor adapters.
                            -Gender changers/adapters for serial, SCSI, etc.
                            -AC outlet tester. Sometimes getting clean power is the whole problem
                            -AC Power strip.
                            -Spare screws, jumpers, case standoffs
                            -Optionally an air compressor is handy for cleaning out really dusty cruddy cases.
                            -ATX power supply tester

                            Electronic "tools":
                            -USB to SATA/PATA adapter for quick connection of HDs and optical drives. Comes with a nice power supply that can be used for other things as well.
                            -12-in-1 USB flash card reader. Mostly for data recovery, the older ones support dead standards like SmartMedia and xD.
                            -USB-to-Ethernet adapter. The older ones supported various platforms with included drivers. Later OSes usually have drivers built in. Needed for machiens without onboard adapters or broken adapters.
                            -A collection of video cards for just about every bus/platform (ISA, VLB, PCI, AGP Universal, NuBus). Useful for testing "blank screen" machines.
                            -NEC Multisync II or any "true multisync" display. These usually support 15khz analog RGB along with other exotic signals and digital TTL RGB like CGA/EGA. A must with vintage equipment!
                            -A POST code card. ISA and PCI combo handles most everything. PCIe versions will be needed for the latest machines. Also MiniPCI/PCIe combo cards for laptops.
                            -I keep a collection of SCSI interface cards for just about every bus including parallel port. Handy for hooking up drives to vintage machines that lack USB and ATA, or are non-PC. I also have USB/Firewire PCI and Cardbus cards handy.
                            -In addition to the cards above. I have various "bridge" machines that can interface with vintage hardware like 5.25" drives, oddball tape drives and, removable media (Jaz, Syquest, etc.). Windows 9x is usually on these machines as it can run both DOS and older Windows software/drivers. I also maintain Mac bridge machines as well (mostly older beige PPC units with all the legacy ports running OS9 and OSX dual boot). Both have really saved me when I was doing this work professionally for a local computer store and had some "unique" data recovery scenarios.
                            -A memory tester. I don't own one of these, but dedicated devices are handy if you don't have another machine that takes the memory you want to test to rule out problems.
                            -A CFL backlight inverter tester. Tests backlight bulbs on LCD displays. Some even have the ability to test the inverters themselves.

                            Software Tools:
                            -Disk repair software for various platforms (Spinrite, DiskWarrior for Mac, etc.)
                            -Live CDs for various platforms (BartPE, MS DaRT etc.)
                            -A decent virus/malware program on the above
                            -WSUS/Offline Update CD. Quicker then Windows Update.
                            -Install CD/DVDs for popular OSes, including common OEM variants (XP Home/Pro, 2000, Server 2003, Vista 32/64bit, 7 32/64bit, MacOS 8.x-9.x, OS X, etc.).
                            -Now obsolete, but I have a bootable OS CD with Windows 9x, 3.1x, and DOS on it. The boot image is the Windows 98SE startup disk which has handy tools and drivers.
                            -Hardware test programs, mostly for hard drives. Grab ALL the various HD vendor's tools (Western Digital, Seagate, etc.) including defunct companies like Maxtor. They usually work best as opposed to generic tools. Various memory testers. Check-It! 3.0 is handy for vintage PCs but can only test 16MB of RAM.
                            -Imaging software (Ghost, Acronis TrueImage, CarbonCopyCloner, etc.)
                            -File translators. Sadly these have gone out of style, but something like DataViz Conversions Plus and MacLinkPlus is really handy to have around.
                            -Virtual Machines/Emulators. This is mostly a last resort for data recovery if a host isn't available or if a customer needs legacy software when moving to a new machine.

                            Note that this toolkit took years to build, it wasn't something I purchased all at once. I'm prepared for just about anything old and new as a result. This was mostly because the store I worked for didn't turn away vintage machines or Macs of various ages (the latter mostly because I had to tools to support them!).



                              Did anyone mention a side cutter? Can't do without that!

                              A couple of bigger things to add to this list... Stuff that was way too expensive in the past but (thanks to Chinese manufacturing mostly) have dropped in price so much they make sense in Stage Two of your retrocomputing affliction:

                              • Desoldering tool
                                Cheap Atten 858 or Zhongdi ZD915 desoldering stations cost something like $60. It really allows repair jobs that were impossible before. Although, yes, a $7 solder sucker does work, you're not going to remove a 68000 processor from its motherboard that way...
                              • Logic analyzer
                                I bought a Saleae probe a few years ago. For finding out what's wrong, nothing has been more useful. About $100 or so?
                              • Oscilloscope
                                You can buy anold Tektronix 465 for $60 or so if you look around. Correction to self: even more useful than the logic probe. And just as interesting as the vintage computer it's used on...

                              I actually made a page on my site describing my collection of tools (here). Tools Are Nice.


                              My Vintage Computers & Homebrewing collection:
                              My Retrocomputing blog:


                                I don't count software or cables--in most cases, I can make either myself or know where to find them. However, you can't download a screwdriver.

                                I'm a bit surprised that no one has mentioned PanaVise. I'd be lost without mine. I use the 324:

                                The great thing is that the rail that the spring-loaded PCB clamps rides on is a standard square tubing size, available at most US hardware stores, so you can fabricate your own extra-long rails. The advantage is that you're not trying to old a PCB steady while you work on it; holding angles are adjustable--and you get simultaneous access to both sides of the PCB.
                                Reach me: vcfblackhole _at_ protonmail dot com.