17 Portable Apps to Help Troubleshoot PC's

by Ross McKillop on July 21, 2008

Are you the one that your friends and family call every time they have a problem with their computer? Put these tools on your USB thumb drive and troubleshooting will be that much easier.

Please feel free – encouraged even – to suggest other helpful, portable troubleshooting apps. Just leave a comment and I’ll check out the app then update the list accordingly.

  1. AutoRuns (startup monitor)

  2. The most comprehensive tool for info on auto-starting locations of any startup monitor/utility. It shows you what programs are configured to run during system bootup or login, and displays the entries in the order Windows processes them. To download and/or get more details, click here.

  3. Avira UnErase (file recovery)

  4. File Recovery tool for Windows 2000 and XP. Install on a PC, then copy the installation folder to your USB thumb drive. Though it’s no longer officially supported, it’s still available for download, and it still works. Download here.

  5. CCleaner (PC optimization)

  6. The popular PC optimization and privacy tool has a Portable Edition that you can download and install on your USB thumb drive. Related tutorial: How to use CCleaner to free up disk space on your Windows PC

  7. ClamWin (anti-virus)

  8. Following the instructions found here, you can carry the open-source anti-virus software ClamWin on your USB pen drive. Great for removing viruses when you’re unable to install anti-virus software on the host PC.

  9. DBAN (secure disk eraser)

  10. DBAN is a self-contained boot disk that securely wipes the hard disks of most computers. Download the USB flash drive version from http://dban.sourceforge.net. Related tutorial: How to completely wipe all the data from your hard drive

  11. JkDefrag (disk defrag)

  12. JkDefrag is a portable disk defragmenter and optimizer for Windows 2000/2003/XP/Vista/2008/X64. Completely automatic and very easy to use, fast, low overhead, with several optimization strategies, and can handle floppies, USB disks, memory sticks, and anything else that looks like a disk to Windows. And it’s open source.

  13. K-MAC (MAC address changer)

  14. Useful for network troubleshooting. Download here.

  15. On-Screen Keyboard (virtual keyboard)

  16. Working on a PC with a broken keyboard? Or one that has keys remapped to the strangest of places? On-Screen Keyboard will come in handy. Note: part of the PortableApps suite.

  17. Portable MV RegClean (registery cleaner)

  18. Registry cleaner for 32 and 64bit Windows. Also allows you to make backups of any registry change made by MV RegClean. Download here.

  19. Portable UnInstall Cleaner (software uninstaller/cleaner)

  20. When a program does not properly uninstall or problems occur in the uninstallation, there will be excess entries in the registry. UnInstall Cleaner can delete these entries so that you don’t take the painstaking job of cleaning the the registry manually. Download here.

  21. Process Explorer (advanced task manager)

  22. Hugely improved version of Windows Task Manager. Download here. Related tutorial: How to get detailed information on each running process in Windows

  23. Restoration (file recovery)

  24. Restoration is another file recovery tool, but this one works on Windows 98/ME/2000/XP/Vista. If you’re trying to recover files in 2K or XP, try Avira UnErase (see above) first.

  25. Roadkil’s Boot Builder (create custom boot sectors)

  26. Boot Builder allows you to create your own custom boot sector from scratch. This utility allows you to recreate or restore boot sectors lost due to virus or other damage to a drive. Boot sectors can be imported/exported to a disk or created from a template. This program supports FAT and NTFS boot sector types.

  27. SpyBot Search and Destroy (spyware removal)

  28. Download SpyBot Search and Destroy, install it on your PC and then follow the instructions found here to make it portable. Related tutorial: How to remove spyware from your PC

  29. System Spec (System Information Utility)

  30. Find detailed information on the PC you’re troubleshooting. Works in Windows 2000 and XP completely, some info won’t be displayed (though it does work) on Windows 98 and ME. Download here.

  31. TinyResMeter (real-time system and resources)

  32. TinyResMeter provides real-time PC system and resource info in a small display window, and detailed info when that window is selected. Download here

  33. What Is Transferring (TCP packet sniffer)

  34. What Is Transferring is a portable packet sniffer for Windows 2000/XP. It can capture and display the TCP/IP packets that pass through a network adapte. Very helpful for determining unwanted connections and then viewing what those connections have sent/recieved.

  • SEO

    Thanks for this wonderful article and tools.

  • Pretty nice set. :) I can make a lot of suggestions but they may be excessive and somewhat holy-war-ish so I’ll only name:

    Autoruns – for managing startup programs/drivers.

    TinyResMeter – best portable set of performance indicators. It’s very good when system chokes and you can’t figure out why.

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  • a

    While no where near complete still a good list to have. My favorite website for portable freeware is.. well http://portablefreeware.com

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  • I personally use StickyNotes allows you to create electronic sticky notes directly on your Windows desktop. The Sticky Notes are just like paper post-it notes. Write down tasks, messages, ideas, appointments, phone numbers/emails, dreams, todo lists, birthdays in a note and stick it on any desktop. It’s small and simple and all notes can saved to text file. It does not use the registry.

    The note’s contents can be formatted to include fonts, colors, transparency, hyperlinks and alerts.

    http://www.download.com/Sticky-Notes/3000-12565_4-10573348.html

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  • Thanks for this great article

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  • Dean

    Mahalo for the list!

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  • psayre23

    I’ve used SMSniff for years as my portable packet sniffer of choice. Roughly the same as What Is Transfering, except SMSniff can use WinPCap drivers to give you low level access to the network interface.
    SMSniff can be found here: http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/smsniff.html
    (At the time of posting, the link is down. Try this instead: http://www.nirsoft.net/utils/index.html)

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  • amazing post! i’m sure anyone in tech support will love it. Long back when I used provide tech support, I used some of them… but most of them are new to me.. awesome !

  • Great set of tools, thanks a lot.

  • wow.. i tried couple of those apps frm the list. thnx alot.

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  • voodoo_child

    The virtual keyboard is there on any PC…look in start – all programs – accessories – accessibility.

  • Lucio

    Nice List

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  • What about HiJack This, Windows In A Box, WinContig.

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  • bigboy99

    I would not use Ccleaner. It can and will hoes your computers registry, rendering it in operable. Any good computer tech will tell you that. I am A+ certified as well as a Microsoft Certified Desktop Support tech and I don’t touch the registry unless absolutely necessary and I know what I need to do.

  • >I would not use Ccleaner. It can and will hoes your computers registry, rendering it in operable. Any good computer tech will tell you that.

    CCleaner is very shallow as registry cleaner, it only touches very obvious stuff like broken uninstall or file association records. From my experience it’s pretty much impossible to break registry with it.

    Don’t speak for all computer techs, they might not agree. :)

  • bigboy99

    [QUOTE]CCleaner is very shallow as registry cleaner, it only touches very obvious stuff like broken uninstall or file association records. From my experience it’s pretty much impossible to break registry with it.

    Don’t speak for all computer techs, they might not agree.[/QUOTE]

    It goes a lot deeper then just the basics. I have seen it first hand hoes a computer single handadly. I am not the only one, I know computer techs around the world who have seen that happen all too often.

  • bigboy – actually, Rarst is correct. CCleaner is very shallow as registry cleaner. For good reason – it doesn’t want to “hose” your system. It’s one of the most recommended ‘system cleaners’ on the Internet for good reason – it has been thoroughly tested by thousands of techs world-wide, and adheres to a ‘play it safe’ model, vs. cleaning something that may potentially be needed/required.

    If you had a bad experience with it, it’s very, very likely that the system had more widespread problems.

  • bigboy99

    Actually, the system I used it on was clean. It does clean deeper then the surface. The average home user should not use anything to clean the registry, or touch the registry themselves.

  • johnniewalker

    bigboy – Go ahead and spread the fear and uncertainty, but I for one don’t believe you. I am going to download this and try it out. I will reply back if it ever causes any problems.

  • Wes

    bigboy99- I’m going to have to agree with Rarst and Ross. It is a very good tool for computers that are having problems, once other avenues have been explored. If you have already used all non-registry tools, and the computer is still experiencing problems, what do you really have to lose by working on the registry? If the problem isn’t severe enough to warrant working on the registry, then the problem isn’t worth worrying about.

    On the other hand, if your computer is constantly having drama, try CCleaner. Thousands of us have, and thousands of us stand behind it.

  • bigboy99

    I am not the only one who don’t like it or use it. Plus as a computer tech why would I need a tool to do something that I am competent and capable of doing myself. Also the clamwin anti-virus is like Mcafee. It couldn’t catch a cold in a room filled with the flu. A good free AV is Avira anti-vir or AVG. Even better are the paid ones like Nod32 be Eset or Norton 2008.

  • Wes

    What part of “portable” do you not understand?

  • bigboy99

    I have Avira on a CD. I manually go in to the registry to edit it myself. I don’t understand what you mean? I understand what portable is just fine. Portable means it is easy to take with you. Avira is a program that can be stored on a floppy/flash drive/CD.

  • >I am not the only one who don’t like it or use it.

    Let’s stop comparing crowds? :)

    >Plus as a computer tech why would I need a tool to do something that I am competent and capable of doing myself.

    To save time? That’s the only thing cleaners are doing, they are performing lots of boring tasks instead of human.

    >Also the clamwin anti-virus is like Mcafee. It couldn’t catch a cold in a room filled with the flu. A good free AV is Avira anti-vir or AVG. Even better are the paid ones like Nod32 be Eset or Norton 2008.

    I have corporate NOD32 at work and my impression is that it lost some quality in last year or so. Update speed is ugly, I had to deal with one infection (Virut.D I think) that was already for week in DBs of some other products but not in NOD.

    ClamAV found it by the way. It may not compare to paid products in functions but it’s pretty good as portable scanner.

  • bigboy99

    Thought I would offer my opinion like everyone else. Didn’t realize I would get flamed for doing so. That’s why I stick to my home base at Kicken Hardware.

  • >Thought I would offer my opinion like everyone else. Didn’t realize I would get flamed for doing so. That’s why I stick to my home base at Kicken Hardware.

    Can’t say for rest but I apologize if I sounded offensive in any way. I was bit annoyed with your’s offering personal opinion under “Any good computer tech will tell you that.” statement :)

  • Christopher Hale

    Amazing tools and will prove invaluable. Thanks again… Thumbs up on stumble!

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  • Guest

    bigboy99 Thanks for your input but I have to agree with Rarst that your comment about “any good tech will tell you that”. I don’t agree with your statements at all and I have been doing this for 20 years and I taught at a computer school and done corporate training as well. I have never seen cCleaner “hose” a machine and I recommend it to all my students whom I have had over 500 of them who provide feedback to me. If you can provide a link or forum where users have described this then it would be helpful. Besides, cCleaner warns you to backup the registry before the changes are made.
    As to why would I buy something that I can do myself, I don’t know of any better way to find dead links in the registry other than a utility like this one.

  • I use some of these utililaties and I will definatley look at the others…May I suggest a utillity to add to the list Belarc Advisor…Its queries hardware to to determin maker…even current drivers plus shows current patches and service packs and everything about the hardware…this is one I dont go without on My thumb drive… and best of all its free

  • Prabhakar Goud

    MxOne (USB Anti-Malware), System Explorer NEW BETA Version (Another process explorer but with a couple of unique and very hand features viz., its integration with VirusTotal.com), and FileAssassin would be my picks for your list.

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  • very helpful list thanks! i happen to be “that guy” who needs to troubleshoot everything and allot of times i cant even get on the pcs internet to d/l regular progs similar to these, so good stuff

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  • Kann man da auch programme einbauen die nicht extra dafür gemacht sind?

  • Oh alles english
    Is it because the program does not install specially-made?

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  • While these can be run from a USB drive some are not truly portable since they write to the registry of any machine on which you run them.

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  • Great collection and it is so sweet when they are small and can be installed onto my small USB.

  • D Hilton

    Regarding CCleaner hosing a PC: I use it very often to clean up my computer. It’s hard not to get junk kicked in when surfing the web. Using CCleaner I find that I go years without having to reinstall the operating system and application software. If I just leave it alone the computer gets slower and slower until it’s useless. I have seen a couple of computers that were on their knees get trashed by CCleaner. They would have needed complete reformatting and reinstalls of everything anyway. So, if you think it’s bad software give your head a shake. It does work but don’t leave it til the bitter end before trying it. Use it on a regular basis and you’ll be fine.

  • Excellent collection of applications…i like it…

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  • I often experience lots of difficulties in PC start up. And many times I have to go for PC mechanic to seek his help. Now it is very much easier with all this tools and applications. Thanks a lot for sharing this with us.

  • Bent

    This is a great list; thanks for the post. I’m trying to find a few more apps to use while I travel…hate lugging around my old huge laptop, so portable apps was the answer for me as a traveling freelancer.

  • Luster

    excellent! Just stumbled upon this

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