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26 essential tools for your portable troubleshooting toolkit

22 October 2010, Nick Peers

More and more programs come in portable packages nowadays, enabling you to download and run them directly from an external drive, including your USB flash drive. This enables you to carry these programs from PC to PC, complete with your personal preferences and settings in place, ensuring you always have access to the tools and apps in question.

Troubleshooting can be a tricky art even when all the programs you need are in place, but if you’re working on someone else’s PC you don’t necessarily want to – assuming you can of course – install a host of tools on that computer. Thankfully, there are many portable troubleshooting tools out there that you can run directly from your trusty flash drive, and in this feature we uncover 26 tools you should add to your armoury that ensure you’re well prepared the next time you’re called into action.

1. Backup Tools

It’s always a good idea to back up before attempting any fixes or repairs, just in case. Allway Sync ‘n’ Go is the best tool for copying entire folders to an external drive, plus it supports FTP connections, enabling you to back up to your webspace if no back-up device is to hand. Alternatively, add CDBurner XP Portable, so you can burn files and folders to CD or DVD if it’s an option.

If you want to image an entire drive, add HDClone to your portable toolkit – you might want to follow the instructions to download and burn the ISO file to CD, which can be booted from and used to back up the drive if you can’t get Windows to boot.

2. Data-Recovery Tools

It’s also sensible to have a data recovery tool or two in case key files aren’t easily accessible. You can download the portable version of Recuva, which can find and restore recoverable deleted data from your drive. Add Disk Digger too – this can go even deeper than Recuva and scan the disk for other data files too, which may include data lost after a recent reformat. The program is free for personal use, but you’ll be nagged each time you recover a file to purchase a personal license, which costs a reasonable US$14.99.

It’s also worth adding the portable version of Roadkil Unstoppable Copier, which can copy files from disks in poor physical health.

3. Check Hard Drive Health

Speaking of poorly hard drives, when it comes to checking the health of an ailing drive, make sure you have the portable version of CrystalDiskInfo, which will quickly let you know if it’s reaching the end of its life, making a total backup using HDClone a necessity.

4. Perform Security Check

The nasty thing about virus infections is that they often prevent you from installing the tools you need to get rid of them. Adding this collection of security tools to your flash drive gives you a fighting chance of beating the infection – boot into Safe mode if necessary to use them.

ClamWin Portable is part of the PortableApps suite and lets you scan for and remove viruses. Then use the tools provided as part of the Emsisoft Emergency Kit, which includes another scan-and-remove tool, plus Emsisoft HijackFree for manually rooting out problems and BlitzBank for deleting troublesome files.

If problems remain, run Re-Enable, which includes one-click fixes for common restrictions left behind by malware, such as accessing Registry Editor or Task Manager.

5. Take A Closer Look

Microsoft’s SysInternals suite contains a number of useful programs that can be run direct from your flash drive. Examine and manage the troublesome PC’s startup routine using Autoruns and then pore over the finer details of running processes – including potential resource hogs – using Process Explorer. Use AppCrashView to get a detailed list of recent application crashes, helping you again to diagnose the problem and track down a possible fix.

Get detailed system information about the troublesome PC using WinAudit, including hardware, installed programs, Windows settings and much, much more. Print, save or email the results to help get more help and advice if your own investigations prove inconclusive.

6. Clean And Fix

Some problems can be traced to the Registry, which is where the Registry cleaner comes into play. These are dangerous tools, which can cause more problems than they fix – however, a good Registry cleaning tool like Wise Registry Cleaner Free backs up the Registry each time, and provides useful information about the effects of clearing out certain Registry entries.

Registry cleaners rarely agree on what’s safe to delete and what isn’t, so back up Wise’s findings with the cleaner employed by CCleaner Portable – you’ll find the latter is more conservative about which entries it considers redundant or problematic. You’ll also be able to use CCleaner to quickly clean out other redundant files too, freeing up valuable hard drive space. Use the CCEnhancer add-on to help it clear out after even more programs.

7. Remove Stubborn Applications

IOBit Toolbox is packed full of useful troubleshooting tools, including yet another Registry cleaner, and an uninstall utility that does a more thorough job of cleaning up behind programs (plus it comes with a “Forced uninstall” button for programs that won’t depart when asked to). Of most value, perhaps, is the Win Fix program, that includes a series of one-click fixes for a host of common problems.

8. More One-Click Fixes

Get simple fixes for more problems – over 50 in fact – by adding FixWin to your toolkit – note this will only work with Vista and Windows 7. Follow the advice to take a System Restore point before you begin; the program helpfully provides a button to do  this for you, along with a button for running the System File Checker utility.

9. File And Folder Tools

Add the following tools to give you complete control over disk-based operations: SpaceSniffer lets you see where all that hard drive space has gone. PeaZip Portable gives you access to compressed files in obscure formats.

Q-Dir (available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions) lets you replace Windows Explorer with something more flexible: a four-paned window that makes moving and copying files a pleasure. Use Unlocker to delete locked files by revealing what process is locking them, allowing you to either close it yourself or let the program forcibly allow the file in question to be deleted. Finally, Rename Master is a must if you’ve been called in to rename a large group of files.

10. Other Useful Tools

Firefox Portable may be your only route online should the browsers on your troublesome PC be playing up. Problems playing certain audio or video files? The K-Lite Codec Tweak Tool may be able to help, scanning for broken or missing codecs and downloading replacements.

Sometimes troubleshooting involves opening all kinds of text-based files – when it comes to handling a wide range of file formats, there’s little better than Notepad++ Portable, which can also be used for taking notes.

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