Software Tools

Together with hand tools, your kit of tools must contain a set of floppy disks and CDs containing diagnostic tools, reports and critical applications. The place where you keep the kit can vary according to your needs. If you have only one PC, keep everything close to it. If you work on many PCs, I’ll ship it with you.

Essential Software Tools

The content of your software toolkit depends on how many PCs you maintain, what operating system they use, and similar factors, but a good software toolkit typically includes the following essential utilities:

MS-DOS Boot Floppy

Even if all your computers run Windows or Linux, the most important accessory in your software toolkit is an MS-DOS boot disk with the CD-ROM drive drivers . When the PC does not boot, this diskette allows you to install or run recovery or diagnostics programs from the CD. Without this, you may get stuck by not accessing the CD-ROM drive, even if it is to do something as basic as reinstalling the operating system. This is true even for systems that allow boot from CD-ROM because not all CDs have boot. The Windows 9X installation disc fulfills this requirement. If you only work with Windows NT / 2K / XP or Linux, try to get a Windows 9X CD to create a DOS boot disk.

To create the Windows 95/98 / Me boot disk, open Control Panel and double-click and add / remove programs. Open the Startup Disk page and click the Create Disk icon to create the Startup Disk. This floppy disk is a bootable floppy disk and contains the necessary drivers to access most CD-ROM drives. You can use a bootable floppy disk created on a computer to boot any other computer. Floppy disks usually get damaged easily, so we advise you to have multiple copies of the boot diskette scattered across multiple sites and in the software toolkit.

On this or another floppy disk, depending on the free space, also copy some essential utilities. At a minimum, add the following software tools to your startup disk.

FORMAT.COM – Required to format the hard disk, if necessary.

EDIT.COM and EDIT.HLP – A standard ASCII editor that ships with Windows 9X and Windows 2000. Note that it is a single program, unlike previous versions that required BASIC. If the floppy disk space is tight, you can dispense with the help file (EDIT.HLP). This editor uses the Alt key plus the letters to execute the commands. Example: Alt-F to open a file.

All three of these extra files fit on the standard Windows 98 boot disk.

NOTE: The Windows 9X boot disk contains drivers that work with almost all commercially available CD-ROM and DVD-ROM drives, and can also work with SCSI CD / DVD-ROM drives, depending on the type of which is connected. If your system has a SCSI CD / DVDROM adapter, make sure that the boot with the standard boot disk allows access to the drive. If you do not allow it, download the drivers for MS-DOS from the adapter manufacturer’s website, copy them to the boot disk, and make the necessary changes or changes to the autoexec.bat and config.sys files. Then check that the boot diskette already accesses the CD / DVD-ROM drive before you begin making changes to the PC.

MS-DOS Diagnostic Programs

A few years ago, PCs came with CheckIt, QAPlus, AMIDiag, or similar diagnostic programs. Now PC makers expect people to use the utilities included with Windows. These are good in what they allow to do, but do not allow much. Windows (in particular NT / 2K / XP) and Linux isolate users and programs from the hardware, making it more difficult for diagnostic utilities to do their job. In addition, Windows-based utilities will only work if the computer boots. You can use these utilities to detect a misconfigured component or an IRQ conflicton a system running Windows, but this does not come when you need detailed information or when the PC does not boot. For these situations, you need a DOS-based utility that performs deep system testing and reports. Some of the software tools we present do this job. We use them all, but if you have to choose one, choose CheckIt from SmithMicro Software.

SiSoft Sandra

SISoft Sandra is our favorite Windows-based diagnostic software tool and probably the most used one, not just because a free version can be downloaded from the SiSoft website. While the free version is sufficient for most people’s needs, SiSoft also sells for $ 20 SiSoft Professional which includes additional features and support.

Symantec Norton Utilities

Almost since the first PC technicians almost all have a copy of the Norton Utilities software tool. Unfortunately Norton discontinued the MS-DOS version some time ago. Current versions have nice displays, but test tools are limited. Try to get one of the latest versions for MS-DOS.

SmithMicro Software CheckIt

The best software tool dedicated to diagnosing hardware is CheckIt, available in several versions. For most users, the Portable Edition is sufficient. If you repair computers by profession, the Professional Edition provides additional tools and utilities that are worth having. Each version can boot independently of the operating system as such can be used to test the hardware on systems where Windows does not boot.

Emergency Diskette

The latest versions of Windows allow you to create an emergency disk that contains important system configuration information, part of the entire registry, and so on. Create or update this disk whenever you make changes to the system configuration. Mark it, date it, and save it to your computer or to your software toolkit. If you do not have any up-to-date copy, do yourself a favor and create it now. Use the following procedures to create it:

Windows 95/98 / Me

For Windows 9X, we recommend backing up the entire registry, which you can do by simply copying the registry files to another location. The registry is composed of two files, SYSTEM.DAT and USER.DAT, which are located in the WINDOWS folder. These files are marked as hidden and read-only so you will need to change this status before you can view or copy them. To do this, from Explorer, choose View, Folder Options, and click the View tab. In Files and Folders locate Hidden Files and check View All. As soon as you can see the log files, you can use Paste Copy to copy them to another location. The USER.DAT file has a few KB, and fits well on a floppy disk. The SYSTEM.DAT file may be a bit larger. In our test system for example, it has more than 3MB. Fortunately, the log files can be quite compressed. Use a utility such as WinZip or PKZip to compress these files to fit on a floppy disk.

NOTE: The Windows 9X boot disk is not an emergency disk. It is simply a startup disk that does not contain log files or other settings.

Windows 2000 / XP Emergency Repair Disk (DRE)

Click Start, Programs, Accessories, System Tools, and Backup. With the Backup program open, click the Emergency Repair Disk icon. In the window that opens later, also check the Log Files option, to copy essential files to the system.


Use the Linux command-line software tool, mkbootdisk, to create an emergency boot disk. This disk is specific to your system configuration, and should be updated whenever you make changes to your hardware configuration. Put the chance to download a live-cd distribution such as Knoppix, for example. You can create a boot disk with which Linux runs directly, allowing you to perform various diagnostic tests.

Operating system distribution disk

Você precisa dos discos de distribuição para corrigir um disco rígido com falhas, mas também pode precisar deles para upgrades de rotina e manutenção. Por exemplo, o Windows pergunta pelo disco de distribuição para carregar drivers para um novo dispositivo, e os discos de distribuição do Linux podem conter centenas de programas que não são carregados na instalação inicial. Se tiver feito o update do sistema operativo para a versão da distribuição inicial (exemplo: aplicando um service pack do Windows NT/2000/XP) também é útil manter o service pack ou update do CD.

With hard drives costing so little, we have created a supplemental “system partition” on the hard drive for the systems we mount. We copy the distribution CD for this partition, as well as the service packs, the Office CD (and other programs that the system uses), the drivers CD of the installed hardware, etc. This brings some benefits, including the speed of installation, the fact that you do not need the CD when you change options or you want to install other modules, and that you can completely reconfigure the system using only a bootable floppy if necessary.

Backup utility

If you use third-party backup software, keep a copy of the disk in your kit to make sure you can recover the backup tapes after reinstalling the operating system. Few things are more frustrating than recovering a broken computer, having excellent backup copies, but not being able to use them because you do not have the necessary software to do so.


If your system becomes infected with a virus, you need to have a write-protected boot disk and a recent version of an antivirus. In fact, every time the system has gone weird, a good first step to solve is to run the antivirus. Boot diskettes allow you to boot to the system and detect and clean viruses on DOS or Windows 9X systems, or on a Windows NT / 2000 / XP system that is FAT-formatted. Because you can not access an NTFS disk booted with a floppy disk, the only way to remove a virus from these disks is to boot the system from the hard disk and run the antivirus from the hard disk or network disk.

CMOS backup / restore utility

The CMOS settings save the current configuration of a PC. These settings range from the simplest – current date and time, boot options, hard disk configuration, etc. – even more complicated ones like advanced chipset configuration that only system engineers understand. Although you can save the entire configuration on paper, there is a better way – a program that allows you to save the CMOS configuration. This utility saves the CMOS configuration to a file on the disk, which if necessary will allow you to restore the settings at once.