The IT Support Pro's Flash Drive


Read this article to know what an IT Support Pro's Flash Drive contains. What all tools do they keep with them to make sure that they resolve any computer issue in just one visit.

As a computer repair technician and IT support professional, I have two indispensable toolkits. The first is a physical toolkit, with screwdrivers, prying tools, pliers, scissors and other useful tools. The second is a USB flash drive containing a wide range of utilities and applications. This flash drive is attached to my keyring and goes everywhere with me. I'd like to describe the contents of this flash drive and hope that this might be useful for anyone just starting off in IT support.

A Bootable Drive


One of the most important things about my flash drive is that it's a bootable drive. This means that it can be used to boot a Windows computer into a mode other than its normal Operating System. This feature has many uses and applications. Probably the most obvious one is for the installation or reinstallation of Windows or a Linux distribution.

It's necessary to create the flash drive as a bootable drive before beginning to fill it up with your tools and applications. In order to do this, I use Easy2Boot. This is a completely free utility which allows you to create a bootable drive, onto which you can copy numerous ISO files. The drive can be created either as a legacy drive using MBR partitioning or as a UEFI drive.

The Easy2Boot website contains comprehensive instructions about how to create your bootable flash drive. Once created and booted you'll be presented with a GRUB menu from which you can select what you want to do next. After you've created your drive, you can then view it in the Windows File Explorer and drag and drop content to the drive in the normal manner.

E2B Menu

ISO Files


The most useful feature of the bootable Easy2Boot drive is that you can use it to boot your computer into any number of different modes by copying various ISO files onto the drive. These will then appear in the menu when you boot the drive.

Windows Installers


My bootable flash drive has quite a number of different Windows installers. Of course, I have a Windows 10 installer and I like to keep this one up to date by always having the most recent release. At the time of writing, that's Windows 10 20H2. I'll usually also have the previous release available and have both the 32-bit and 64-bit versions on the drive. Nowadays it's rarely necessary to have the 32-bit version but it is possible that you could come across an older 32-bit computer onto which you'll be installing Windows 10 for the first time.

As well as Windows 10, I have Windows 8.1 32-bit and 64-bit installers, various versions of Windows 7 (Home Premium, Pro, Ultimate), and even a number of versions of Windows Vista. I like to have these older versions of Windows available in case I come across an older computer which requires a reinstall and whose owner doesn't want to upgrade to Windows 10. In these cases, I would reinstall whatever version they had and activate it using their existing license key.

Other ISOs


I have various other ISO files on the flash drive. These include the following -
  • Hiren's BootCD: This is an old favourite containing numerous utilities which have now been updated for Windows 10.
  • Clonezilla: A partition and disk imaging/cloning program
  • Memtest86: A memory diagnostic utility
  • Paragon Hard Disk Manager: This is a particular favourite of mine and contains a backup and recovery utility, a partition manager, a drive copier and a disk wiper. I use the backup and recovery application extensively, particularly to create Windows 10 images and backups and to image hard drives with Windows 10. This is typically a much faster method for installing Windows 10 than to run through a full Windows 10 installation every time.
  • Linux: Having one or more Linux distributions available is always useful. I've used a portable version of the popular Linux distro Ubuntu particularly in situations where I've needed to recover or copy files from a Windows installation.

Windows Applications


Aside from the bootable utilities and applications on the flash drive I also have a whole range of applications and tools for use within Windows. I've grouped these all into a folder called My stuff and the screenshot below shows what's there at the moment. I won't go through all of this in detail but I'll highlight what I consider to be my most important and most commonly used applications. Many of the installers on the drive can be readily downloaded from the internet and, if internet access is available, this is often a good idea as in doing so you're sure to have the latest version.
IT Support Pro tools

Folders


The folders under My stuff are as follows.
  • Antivirus etc: This folder contains installers for a number of different antivirus applications. My scanner of choice is to use a free trial of Malwarebytes and for a more thorough scan I would couple this with a parallel scan using the Malwarebytes Anti-Rootkit BETA and SUPERAntiSpyWARE. Ideally, these scans would be run in Safe Mode.
  • CrystalDIskInfo is one of a number of applications which can be used to test the S.M.A.R.T. status of a hard disk. This is useful when considering whether to replace a SATA drive in an older computer but not relevant for Solid State Drives (SSDs).
  • FastCopy is a simple file manager application which I've used for copying and backing up files.
  • The Microsoft folder contains various Microsoft installers, products and tools. These include installers for various older versions of Microsoft Office. These are required when reinstalling MS Office for a client who still wants to keep their older version of Office and to reactivate it using their existing license key.
  • The produkey and ShowKeyPlus folders contain applications for use in extracting Microsoft license keys from the Windows registry. This is not normally necessary when using Windows 10 as it uses a digital license, or for Microsoft Office 365 which uses a Microsoft account for activation. However, for clients using older Operating Systems such as Windows 7, or older versions of Microsoft Office, such as 2010, the 25 digit key is needed when reinstalling and reactivating the product.
  • Revo Uninstaller is my preferred uninstaller for Windows and carries out a much more thorough uninstall than the built-in Windows uninstaller. I like to use the portable version so that I can run it directly from the flash drive without having to install it on the client's computer.
  • Snappy Driver Installer (SDI_RUS) is an extremely useful tool as it allows you to install and update Windows drivers without needing to be connected to the internet. It's a rather large download (currently over 20 GB) as it contains numerous drivers and is regularly updated.
  • Shadow Explorer allows you to browse shadow copies created by the Windows Volume Shadow Copy Service. I've used this tool to recover files which have been deleted accidentally as it effectively allows you to view the computer's directory structure and files at a previous point in time.

Other Applications


You'll see a number of other applications and installers listed on the My stuff screenshot. I won't describe all of these but the following are the highlights.
  • 7-Zip is a file archiver which is able to read all sorts of package formats.
  • AnyDesk is my preferred remote desktop application. It essentially provides the same functionality as the industry flagship TeamViewer but, for use by an IT support professional, the pricing is much more competitive.
  • WinDirStat is a great little utility for use in showing you disk usage statistics. I've often used this to determine what files were using large amounts of space on a hard drive.
Amongst the other installers in the My stuff directory are installers for popular browsers such as Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox and popular applications such as Adobe Reader, Dropbox and Spotify.

Summing It All Up


I hope you've found this overview of my own version of the IT support pro's flash drive useful. Many of the tools and applications I've described are the bread and butter of an IT support professional's life and are used repeatedly. I've settled on some of the tools described here after testing various alternatives and can highly recommend just about everything I've described.

This article was written by Norm McLaughlin, founder of Norm's Computer Services, a local computer repair & IT support business in Brisbane, Australia


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