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My digital toolbox 4

Being a computer technician, I used all sorts of different software during my day. One day I might be removing viruses and malware, the next day, I might be replacing a failed hard drive. So the software I use is always changing, so here is another installment of my digital toolbox.

My digital toolbox 4

Windows 10 media (USB and DVD versions)

Screenshot of Windows 10 media boot menu

One of the best things Microsoft did when it comes to Windows 10 is to make the installation media readily available. With the installation media, you can do all sorts of repairs and maintenance to Windows 10.

You can, of course, install or reinstall Windows 10. You can also perform an in-place upgrade from Windows 7, Windows 8.1, or even Windows 10 itself. And since the drives are bootable, you can even use the Windows 10 installation media to repair Windows 10.

Now I have in my digital toolbox several USB and DVD versions of the Windows 10 media. The Windows 10 USB drives have both 32-bit and 64-bit versions on them. I have separate DVDs for 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows 10.

Believe it or not, but I have the ISO file of every version of Windows 10 that has been released (32-bit and 64-bit). You never know when they might come in handy.

Since the installation media is bootable, I mainly use it for repairing Windows 10. You can access the same recovery tools on the install media as you have when Windows 10 fails to boot correctly.

Here are a few links to articles that illustrate how you can use the Windows 10 media. I have included a link to the Windows 10 Media Creation Tool too.

How to repair Windows 10 by doing an in-place upgrade

How to get a free Windows 10 upgrade for Windows 7 and Windows 8.1

How to perform a clean Windows 10 installation

The Windows 10 feature you hope you never have to use

Windows 10 Media Creation Tool

Space Sniffer

Screenshot of Space Sniffer

There are times when I need to see how the space on a drive is allocated. It is one thing to know the size of a folder or file in numbers, but seeing them graphically represented as blocks is quite different. This is where Space Sniffer comes in handy.

Space Sniffer displays the contents of a drive as blocks in a treemap. The larger the block, the larger folder or file. You can quickly find data that is taking up large amounts of space on a drive.

Now the cool thing about Space Sniffer is that it requires no installation. You can run directly from a USB drive. Just insert the USB drive and start it up.

Case in point; I once had a business that all of the workstations were getting low disk space messages. I ran Space Sniffer from a USB drive on a couple of the workstations and quickly found the problem. It turned out that the network anti-virus client was not deleting previous versions of virus definitions as it was supposed to be doing.

I also like to use Space Sniffer to quickly find Outlook databases, as it has a couple of different locations it stores its files. Microsoft Outlook is notorious for creating large files.

See what your drive contains with Space Sniffer

Synchronized browser data

Screenshot of Firefox sync settings

One of handy features of browsers nowadays is the ability to synchronize data (passwords, favorites, extensions, etc.). All of the major browsers have this feature, including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Microsoft Edge.

Each browser has a different way of setting up synchronization; Chrome uses a Gmail account, Firefox uses a Firefox account, and Edge uses a Microsoft account.

But no matter what browser you use, you get the same content (passwords, favorites, options, etc.) across all platforms. Be it either Windows Mac, Linux, Android, or iOS. If it is on one device, it is on all devices.

Since I do a lot of research for service calls at my office, I like to save bookmarks in my desktop version of Firefox. Then when I get on-site, I can open those bookmarks in my smartphone version of Firefox.

One of my favorite things is opening a tab on my desktop Firefox from the Firefox in my workshop. That way, I can locate parts for customer's computers in the workshop and then order them in my office.

Any way you look at it, having browser data synchronized between devices is a real asset that should not be overlooked. If you are not syncing your browser data, I recommend you give it a try.

My digital toolbox 3

When it comes to repairing computers, every technician has what I call a digital toolbox. It is software that they use for specific tasks, like finding information on hardware or cloning drives. So here is another installment of my digital toolbox.

My digital toolbox 3

CPU-Z

Screenshot of CPU-Z

When it comes to finding the specifications of your motherboard, processor, etc., you could open your computer case and disassemble the components to get that information. Or you could download and run CPU-Z.

CPU-Z will display all of the information on your CPU (Central Processing Unit), motherboard, memory, and GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). It can even benchmark your existing processor against preloaded reference CPU's.

I recently needed to find out what specific memory a laptop was running. Instead of tearing it down to look at the memory modules, I just ran CPU-Z. If you need to know the specifications of your computer's hardware, CPU-Z is a great way to do it.

Click here for more information on CPU-Z

Samsung Data Migration

Screenshot of Samsung Data Migration

Now upgrading your HDD (Hard Disk Drive) to an SSD (Solid State Drive) can be tricky. But if you purchase specific Samsung SSD's, you can utilize their free cloning software, Samsung SSD Data Migration.

I have used this software before, and it does work pretty flawlessly. All you have to do is download and install the Samsung Data Migration software on your computer. The only thing you will need is a drive adapter or docking station to attach the Samsung SSD to your system.

Once you have the Samsung Data Migration software installed, you attach your new Samsung SSD via an adapter or docking station and then start up the Samsung Data Migration software.

Now you have to keep in mind that you want to have a Samsung SSD that is relatively the same size or larger (in gigabytes) than your existing drive (HDD or SSD). That way, you don't have any issues with shrinking any of the partitions. Expanding them is easy, shrinking them can cause problems.

Another thing to keep in mind is if your cloning a 3.5" desktop HDD to a 2.5" Samsung SSD and your computer case does not have a 2.5" mounting bracket, you will need to have a 2.5" to 3.5" adapter bracket.

As I mentioned before, Samsung Data Migration software works with specific Samsung SSD's, so check the user manual first for the list of supported Samsung drives.

Click here for more information on Samsung Data Migration

Acronis True Image WD Edition Software

Screenshot of Acronis True Image WD Edition Software

Now when it comes to free drive cloning software, nobody can beat Western Digital. They offer a stripped-down version of Acronis True Image for use with any Western Digital HDD or Sandisk SSD.

The beautiful thing about this software is that besides drive cloning, it will also backup the entire system, individual partitions, or just folder/files. You have to have a qualifying drive (Western Digital or Sandisk).

Now, this software will clone to either a physically installed drive or one connected via a drive adapter or docking station. It has its boot loader in which it boots to when cloning a drive.

Just remember that when using any drive cloning software, you will need to turn the computer off after the cloning process is finished and change the new cloned drive out for the old existing drive.

Click here for more information on Acronis True Image WD Edition

My digital toolbox 2

My Digital Toolbox

When it comes to computer repair, every technician has a collection of software that they use on a regular basis. Whether it is on a CD, DVD or USB drive, these programs are essential to diagnosing different computer related issues. Here are just a few of my favorite programs that I keep in my digital toolbox.

Junkware Removal Tool (JRT)

The main screen for the Junkware Removal Tool

JRT stand-alone (requires no installation) program is essential for finding and removing all sorts of known malware, spyware and adware. It is very simple to use, as it has no user interface. It just opens up in a command prompt window. But don't think for a minute that this program just a collection of scripts, it is quite powerful. And now that it is part of the Malwarebytes collection of tools, it has some major support behind it. If you're looking to clean up some adware or junkware, look no further than JRT.

Click here for more information on JRT

Ultimate Boot CD (UBCD)

The Ultimate Boot CD main menu

Another of my favorite diagnostic tools is UBCD. It contains a bunch of useful programs that run from a Linux based CD. All of the programs contained on the UBCD are free of charge. The programs included in it range from memory diagnostics to hard drive erasers. And it has the best selection of hard drive manufacturer's diagnostic programs you will ever find. UBCD does come as an .ISO file that you can burn to a CD or you can load it on to a USB drive. Their website has all of the instruction on how to do it. UBCD is a privately fund project, so if you find it useful, please make a donation.

Click here for more information on UBCD

Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset (DaRT)

The main screen for the Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset

My all-time favorite set of diagnostic tools is DaRT. It is not just one program but a complete set of diagnostic tools that boots up on a version of Windows (depending on what version of Windows you build it on). It is similar to the system recovery disk you can make inside of every version of Windows, but it also includes various programs that you can use for diagnostics.

DaRT has quite a few programs straight out of Windows like File Explorer, Registry Editor and Computer Management. It also includes Crash Analyzer, SFC (System File Checker) and Locksmith (resets passwords for local accounts). When you create the DaRT media you have the option of configuring what programs are going into your DaRT build.

Now here is the downside. DaRT is part of the Microsoft Desktop Optimization Pack (MDOP) and is only available to Microsoft's Volume Licensing Service, MSDN or Action Pack subscribers. But if you or your company has one of these subscriptions, DaRT is one tool you'll be glad you have in your digital toolbox.

Click here for more information on the Diagnostic and Recovery Toolset (DaRT)

Troubleshoot your computer and more for free with Sysinternals Suite from Microsoft

Have you ever wanted to see what programs start up when your computer boots? Or maybe defrag your pagefile? Or how about finding out what files, registry keys, etc. are currently open? You can do all this and more for free with Sysinternals Suite by Mark Russinovicha and from Microsoft.

The Autoruns program from the Sysinternals Suite
The Autoruns program from the Sysinternals Suite

Sysinternals Suite is a collection of extremely useful utilities for Windows. I have been using them since Windows 95. From everyday user to computer repair technician, there is something here for you. There is currently over sixty utilities included in the Sysinternals Suite.

The Process Explorer program from the Sysinternals Suite
The Process Explorer program from the Sysinternals Suite

For the everyday user there is Autoruns, Desktops and PageDefrag. With Autoruns, you can see what programs are configured to automatically start when your system boots. Desktops allow you to create up to four virtual desktops and switch in between them. And with PageDefrag, you can defragment your pagefile and registry.

The TCPView program from the Sysinternals Suite
The TCPView program from the Sysinternals Suite

For the computer repair technician there is Process Explorer, Process Monitor and TCPView. With Process Explorer, you can see what files and folders a program has open. Process Monitor is a real-time monitoring tool that provides detail information (PID's, path, etc.) for files, registry and processes. And TCPView gives you a detail listing of all network endpoints, local and remote, with addresses and port numbers.

For more information on Sysinternals Suite and all of the free utilities included, just follow the links below.

Sysinternals Suite
Sysinternals Utilities Index

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(602) 795-1111

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Geeks in Phoenix is an IT consulting company that specializes in servicing all brands of desktop and laptop computers. Since 2008, our expert and knowledgeable technicians have been providing excellent computer repair, virus removal, data recovery, photo manipulation, and website support to the greater Phoenix metro area.

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