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December 5, 2020

Ed’s Physical Admin Toolkit


I’ve been writing a lot about troubleshooting lately, particularly storage and networking related stuff. I thought readers might be interested to get an inventory of the tools and spare parts I keep around to help me handle Windows weirdnesses as they occur. This won’t be an exhaustive inventory — heck, I’m not even sure I can find everything — but here’s what I’ve got immediately at hand by category.

Networking

I have a StarTech ASIX USB 3.0 to GbE adapter (works with USB 2.0 ports, too; cost US$30) that comes in handy when I want to speed up a Wi-Fi only laptop (I’ve still got 6 open GbE switch ports in my office). I’ve also got two 802.11ac USB Wi-Fi adapters: a Trendnet TEW-805UB (Cost: US$30) and an older ASUS USB-AC56 (Cost: US$30). I’ve purchased 2 or 3 proprietary-to-RJ-45 dongles for my 2018 vintage Lenovo laptops (counts as a PCIe device, according to Device Manager and connects up to a built-in I219-LM Intel NIC; cost US$35 ). I’ve got an extra 5-port TP-LInk GbE switch around, in case one of my existing switches goes wonky or I need more ports (US$23 at Amazon). And of course, I’ve got RJ-45 cables (mostly Cat5e) out the ying-yang from lengths of 0.5 ft (~15cm) to 100 ft (~30m).

Storage

I’ve got numerous single and dual USB 3.0 to SATA drive enclosures (brands Inatek and WavLink). I’ve got three or four each of Sabrent mSATA to USB 3 and M.2/NVMe to USB-C/3.1 SSD enclosures. I’ve got M.2 SSDs in 256 and 1024 GiB sizes, and mSATAs SSDs at those same sizes, too, plus 512 GiB as well. HDD’s I’ve got in both 2.5 and 3.5 inch varieties, in sizes from 1 TiB to 5 TiB (2.5″) and from 2TiB to 8TiB (3.5″). I can put pretty much any kind of storage together I want of the disk variety. Plenty of USB 3.0 USB Flash Drives, too, in sizes from 8 GiB to 128 GiB (most too slow for my current needs, though).

Spares

I’ve got extra mice and keyboards to replace what I’m currently using, two each. Microsoft Mobile 4000 mouse and Microsoft Comfort Curve 4000 keyboard. Other miscellaneous extras from Logitech (mice, that is), too. I still have an old PS/2 Keyboard around in my extra parts closet. I’ve got several USB-C/Thunderbolt hubs as well (most courtesy of Belkin, who has sent me instances to write about here).

Tools

I’ve got a Seasonic Power Angel power measurement device (plug into socket, plug device to measure into Seasonic). A precision set of jeweler’s screwdrivers: 2 Philips-head and 4 slot-head. A Craftsman 1/4″ socket drive set with sockets from 1/2″ to 3/16″. An ancient Jensen 54-955 compact blue cordura tool case stuffed with tools that I bought in 1988 when I had my first field engineering job. It’s got 4 different sets of pliers (1xclipper/dikes, 1xadjustable, 2xneedle-nose). A screwdriver handle with 2xslot, 2xPhilips, 6xTorx. Two kinds of chip-pullers and a screw-extractor (very handy, sometimes). 3xmosquitos (small hemostats that make great clamps and grabbers). A bunch of small hex wrenches, and two small knives: one small mat knife plus a straight-bladed Exacto knife. A small but powerful soldering iron (Jensen 468723) and rosin-core solder. An Antec 20-pin motherboard power-connector tester. A pin-straightening tool for old fashioned chips and CPUs. A narrow gauge wire-stripper. I think I paid around US$150 for the kit when I bought it, but I’ve added and replaced numerous items over the years. Looks like Jensen sells similar collections these days for US$379.17 to US$449.22 (this item serves as the lead-in graphic for this story, in “case open, tools showing” view).

Miscellany (Added Sept 24)

I forgot to include my screw collections in the initial recitation, so I’m adding them now. I’ve been saving screws since I started building PCs in the mid-to-late 90s. They’re in a 24 drawer plastic parts storage bin (like this one). I’ve also got a McSher 300pcs laptop screws set (M1912) that’s been great with all the Dell, Microsoft, HP, and Lenovo laptops I’ve worked on over the years. I’ve also got a collection of knurled “tool-less” aluminum screws from Raidmax (most for use on computer cases) but I can’t find that item online anymore. This big collection of fasteners, washers, stand-offs and more means that I can usually put things together even if I lose or misplace a screw or similar item somewhere between taking things apart and reassembling them. That’s important! I spent under US$20 for all this stuff including the parts drawers and the two small collections of items I actually purchased, along with the multitude of fasteners and so forth I’ve collected from motherboard kits, case kits, adapter cards, fans and more.

It’s All Good/Important Stuff!

YMMV as you put your own collection of tools and spares together. Let your guiding principles be: spend only what you must, get spares for all types of networking connections, make sure you have extras for key input devices (especially mice and keyboards), and grab what you need when you find out you need it. Trust me: it will ALL come in handy, one day or another.

Author: Ed Tittel

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran. He’s a Princeton and multiple University of Texas graduate who’s worked in IT since 1981 when he started his first programming job. Over the past three decades he’s also worked as a manager, technical evangelist, consultant, trainer, and an expert witness. See his professional bio for all the details.

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