This guide contains a list of super-helpful portable Apps that you can run directly from a USB thumb drive to help troubleshoot PC’s. If you’re the one that friends and family call every time they have a problem with their computer, this list is for you.
Please note: Although this guide was originally published in 2008, it has been updated to be current in 2021.
- AutoRuns (startup monitor)
- rcvPortable (file recovery)
- CCleaner (PC optimization)
- ClamWin (anti-virus)
- DBAN (secure disk eraser)
- dfgPortable (disk defragmentation)
- WinSCP Portable (SFTP, FTP and SCP client)
- On-Screen Keyboard (virtual keyboard)
- Portable MV RegClean (registry cleaner)
- Portable UnInstall Cleaner (software uninstaller/cleaner)
- Process Explorer (advanced task manager)
- Restoration (file recovery)
- Roadkil’s Boot Builder (create custom boot sectors)
- SpyBot Search and Destroy (spyware removal)
- specPortable (system information tool)
- TinyResMeter (real-time system and resources)
- Portable Wireshark (packet sniffer)
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.
rcvPortable lets you run Recuva without having to install it on the destination PC. Recuva can restore any kind of file that you’ve lost, and it can do so from hard drives, memory cards, external hard drives and USB sticks.
The popular PC optimization and privacy tool has a Portable Edition that you can download and install on your USB thumb drive.
Following the instructions found here (or by using the PortableApps app), you can carry the open-source anti-virus software ClamWin on your USB pen drive. Particularly helpful for removing viruses when you’re unable to install anti-virus software on the host PC.
DBAN is a self-contained boot disk that securely wipes the hard disks of most computers. Here are good instructions for installing DBAN on a portable thumb drive.
dfgPortable allows you to run Defraggler without having to install it. Defraggler can speed up a PC with quick and easy defragmentation and works with whole drives or just an individual file, on both HDD and SSD, NTFS and FAT32.
WinSCP Portable is a trusted (open source), frequently updated and free SFTP, FTP and SCP client for Windows. Download WinSCP Portable by visiting this page, then select the folder that represents the latest version, and then look for the file that ends in -Portable.zip. Or you can use it via PortableApps (which might not utilized the very latest version).
Registry cleaner for 32 and 64bit Windows. Also allows you to make backups of any registry change made by MV RegClean. Download here.
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.
Hugely improved version of Windows Task Manager. Download here. Related tutorial: How to get detailed information on each running process in Windows
Restoration is another file recovery tool, and though it hasn’t been updated since 2003, it still works in modern versions of Windows. You may want to try rcvPortable (#2 in our list) first though.
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. The last supported version of Windows that it lists is Windows 8, but it may work in Windows 10 as well – I haven’t been able to confirm yet.
The easiest way to use SpyBot Search and Destroy on a USB thumb drive/pen drive is via PortaableApps. It may be technically possible to create your own standalone/portable version, it’s a bit involved and can be troublesome to keep the latest spyware/malware definitions updated. Note: for the latest definitions, update through the built-in updater.
specPortable allows you to run Speccy without needing to install it. Speccy is a free tool that provides you with detailed information about a computer – eg. the exact Windows version, motherboard, CPU, memory, graphics card, storage, and more. Another member of the PortableApps app family.
TinyResMeter provides real-time PC system and resource info in a small display window, and detailed info when that window is selected. Download here.
I’m going to quote SoftPedia –
Portable Wireshark is an advanced network protocol analyzer made to intercept traffic, monitor sent/received data packets, investigate network issues and suspicious activity, generate statistics, featuring color-coded packet types.
Portable Wireshark does require WinPcap be installed on the host machine, so you may want to download the installer and keep it on your thumb drive as well.