When friends call you with computer trouble, you try to help. But no matter how much you know about PCs, correcting a problem can be a challenge when you're talking to someone who doesn't know a taskbar from a USB port. So we've put together the definitive guide to providing IT support for those closest to you. We'll show you the tweaks, the tricks and the freebies that will make you the most popular geek in town.
2. The right tools for the right job
And while you're at it, put some portable diagnostic and repair programs on the flash drive, as well. Portable programs don't have to be installed on a computer; you run them from the flash drive and they work just fine.
Here are three free, portable programs that belong on every local hero's flash drive:
ToniArts' repair tool searches your Registry for unnecessary entries and gives you the option of deleting them. You can instruct it to skip entries containing a specific word, and you can have it print or save its search results.
EasyCleaner has other tricks, as well, including an Add/Remove programs tool (it's no better than Windows' built-in add/remove utility, however), tools for finding duplicate and unnecessary files, a space usage tool that tells you where your hard-drive space is going, and a Startup inspector that could take the place of msconfig. It has an undo command, too. Should you regret a particular Registry change, you can undo all or just one of them.
CPUID's freebie provides a full list of everything on your friend's PC. It will identify the BIOS make and number, the type of RAM, and CPU and motherboard temperature. PC Wizard can also report on Windows' configuration, system files and resources. And it benchmarks the PC's performance.
Download PC Wizard
Just in case your beneficiary accidentally deleted a file and then emptied the Recycle Bin, it's a good idea to have this little program on your flash drive. It scans the hard drive, groups deleted files by type, and estimates you the likelihood of recovering the lost items.
Then it tries - and often succeeds - to recover the ones you select. Undelete Plus is free, but if you like it, be nice and send in the requested £5 donation.
Download Undelete Plus