Computer Technicians 101: The Essential Toolbox

So, you’ve decided to become a computer technician. Whether it’s the will to help people, computers, to earn cash, to make a name for yourself, or any combination of that, it’s a good thing. I hope you realize you’ll have quite a bit to learn if you’re completely new to the business. In order to become a good technician, you should know the inside and outside of your computer, both hardware and software – and I say a good one, because if you don’t put your mind and will into it you’ll land in more trouble than you can imagine, and you will only have yourself to blame. If you learn how to do everything properly, you’ll know what went wrong, and you’ll be wise enough to make sure you didn’t do it. In this article, let’s assume you’ve seen the inside of your computer at least once, you know all the basic parts of your computer and you can generally guess what all can go wrong.

Nuts and bolds
First, however, you need to have a proper toolkit to do your work. Modern-day computers generally aren’t robust enough to survive opening with a hammer and chisel, so you have to be more subtle. The absolutely first thing you need is a set of screwdrivers – not just one, but a set, because different components have different-sized screws and bolts. Of course, you could just use one size, but eventually you’d either wreck the screw’s head or sprain an arm muscle. Generally, try to get a set that consists of the following:

  • fitting a standard PCI and chassis screw
  • fitting a standard internal ventilator screw
  • fitting a smaller fan screw, like the ones on chipsets and CPU heatsinks

You should get all of those in both the slotted (in-line) and Philips/PoziDriv (crosshead) variety. The reason being that the crosshead design gives you a better grip on new screws, while the slotted ones are better for driving older, more worn out ones. If you come across anything like a TORX screw (six-sided star), chances are it’s really not to be messed with – unless you’re positive you’re doing the right thing. In that case, a six-piece set of TORX drivers will do fine. Also, your smaller screwdrivers should have a magnetic tip – those are especially useful on crossheads, and you need not fear that they’ll do damage to circuitry or hard-drives, they’re not magnetic enough to wipe anything. Unless you take the time to scratch it back and forth with one, which is a bad move to begin with.

Nitpicking

The second important tool you’ll need is a solid pair of tweezers. No, we’re not assembing a make-up set, but you’re going to need those anyway. More often than not one of the screws you’re untightening will go a little too far, fall out and drop someplace on the motherboard. Since tilting the case until the screw shows up on a flat surface isn’t viable (because you never know when a weakly-mounted heatsink or something can fall off), a pair of tweezers is needed for picking them up. They’re also useful for moving jumpers around. In case you do not know, jumpers are small plastic blocks with a wire inside, and are used like a sort of switch on hard-drives and in other places.. Small here means less than a third of the size of your pinky finger’s nail – trying to remove one with your fingers will only make you scream in agony because of how well they fit the pins they’re on. A good pair of tweezers (preferably not made out of copper, aluminium or a similar soft metal) will help you a lot in both of those cases.

Hot zone equipment

The third important thing you’ll need is what you could call a heat-remover kit. Every once in a while you’ll run into a job where the heatsink needs cleaning and the grease needs replacing. Even quality tubes (or syringes, in some cases) don’t cost over 6 Euros, but they can last for about 20 applications, which means it’s more than just a short-term investment. Along with that, a plastic card the size of a credit card is the best for applying the stuff, and a pack of paper tissues and a bottle of acetone. For cleaning the heatsinks, a decent stiff-haired painting brush will do the job.

Miscellaneous
The above three components are the key tools you’ll need for basic maintenance. As miscellaneous items, you’ll want to keep a rubber eraser (the type that erases inkpens) for cleaning contacts on cards, two spare IDE ribbon cables (both 45cm and 90cm) in case a cable turns out to be defective, your own mouse (preferably a PS/2 with a USB adapter) so you can make sure you’re working with the one you’re accustomed to (among other things), and, if you have the money to invest, a solid multimeter. A multimeter might sound like a bit of an extravaganza, but it’s useful in case you suspect the power supply is faulty – a relatively common occurence. Learning how to use one of those is easy, and it can give you an insight into the workings of a power supply. That way, you’ll be able to detect when the neccessary voltages are off the scale and when it’s time to get a better power supply unit. Keeping a spare set of PCI slot covers (the removable kind) is a help as well, in case you have to remove a card, but want to keep dust out as well. Finally, a candy bar in your pocket to give you the energy half-way through the job is a good thing, so long as you don’t decide to munch on it while examining a sound card or something similar.

Packing it all up
Finally, you have to find some way to haul all of it around. Despite the number of things listed here, all of that can fit into the packaging of a graphics card or motherboard. In fact, a motherboard box is your best option, because not only can it fit all the hardware you’ll need for repair, it’ll fit what will become your better part of the toolkit. But software is beyond the scope of this article, so stay tuned for the next episode.



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