14 Essential Tools For Hands-On PC Gamers
Like a car mechanic, a do-it-yourself PC gamer isn’t much good without the proper tools; you wouldn’t want to tighten those screws that hold your GPU to the case with your fingers, after all. That’s why we created the ultimate list of tools that’ll keep you covered under almost any situation (even on the go). And for those wary about whether or not to pop open the side of their rig and dive in, don’t worry—none of these implements require a degree from MIT to use. If you can turn a screwdriver or manipulate a set of tweezers, you’re ready for action.
Most of your PC can be effectively field-stripped with just this single, versatile tool. A magnetic tip is always preferable, and loads of differently sized bits are a godsend. The best-of-the-best is Snap-on’s ratcheting-handle screwdriver. Of course, 60 bucks is pretty steep; Dewalt’s Ratcheting Screwdriver isn’t as fancy or nuke-proof, but it’s only $16, and the rubberized grip soothes your skin when twisting it like crazy.
While that Philips-head screw-stick is a hardware hero, you’ll occasionally need much smaller, different 'drivers for precision work, such as removing the GeForce GTX 980 and 970’s SLI back plate. This Delcast 12-piece set is perfect in that regard, and the magnetic tip helps you hold onto those fiddly little screws. Alternatively, go all-out with Tekton’s 135-piece screwdriver set, which should tackle any gadget you ever buy.
If the world of PC hardware was somehow turned into the Wild West, canned air would be your trusty revolver—never leave home without it! Keeping your components free from dust and debris is an absolute must, and short, compressed blasts from canned air gets the job done like no other. You can get a four-pack of Falcon Dust-Off for just shy of 23 bucks on Amazon.
Dremel Rotary Tool
A Dremel tool is a wonderful addition to your arsenal. You can use it to smooth out rough edges on your case and drill holes for accessories, such as liquid cooling tubes. There are quite a few different types, but a mid-range cordless option is a terrific choice, such as the Dremel 7700 – 1/15 MultiPro. If $40 is a little out of reach, try the MiniMite — it’s not as powerful, but it’ll still do the trick.
While they’re certainly not sexy, safety glasses are important. There are all sorts of sharp, eye-pulverizing particles lying around the inside of your rig, and all it takes is one of them to come flying out into your face to ruin your day. Wear safety glasses whenever using canned air or revving up the Dremel, and save yourself an ER bill.
It’s dark inside your PC, and working in the dark is miserable. And yeah, your smartphone’s flashlight app will do in a pinch, but boy does that get awkward fast. Investing in a decent flashlight—one that preferably has a stand or a head strap — is a wise move indeed. They’re markedly inexpensive, so there’s little reason not to get one.
Anti-Static Wrist Strap
Frying a $500 GPU through pure neglect is a capital crime on the Klingon homeworld (probably). Avoid such a grisly fate by properly grounding yourself with an anti-static wrist strap any time you tinker with your PC’s guts. It comes standard with the Pro Tech Toolkit, which is great for most PC jobs and mods, but you can also buy one individually for 3 bucks on Newegg.
You can never, ever have enough cable ties. You’ll use them for managing otherwise unsightly power cords, random connectors, SATA cables, and plenty more. They come in all sorts of shapes, colors, and sizes, and it’s a pro move to have a vast variety of them. You can also use adhesive Velcro strips to keep bundled cables snug against the inside of your case.
You will lose case screws and motherboard standoffs. Like death and taxes, this is inevitable. However, they’re easily replaced if you’re prepared. Awesomely, Link Depot’s Accessory Computer Screws Kit has plenty of the most commonly used versions, and they’re secured inside a smallish plastic container.
Magnetic Parts Tray
When pulling apart components or installing new gear, it’s frustrating trying to keep all those screws and metal fasteners from rolling off your desk (and stepping on a rogue screw is the worst). A magnetic parts tray will ease your suffering here. Titan’s magnetic bowl costs a mere 5 bucks, it doesn’t take up much space, and it has rubber on the bottom to prevent slippage and surface damage.
Isopropyl Alcohol Wipes
There are a few areas where canned-air just isn’t gonna cut it, such as cleaning accessory fans and removing old thermal paste. But isopropyl alcohol wipes will make quick work of spots such as these. Alternatively, you can also go the cotton-swab and bottled isopropyl approach, but it’s a little messier, and those Q-tips can leave hairs and residue on your parts.
When you upgrade to a new CPU cooler or third-party GPU cooler, or you swap out your processor, you gotta reapply the thermal paste. Not doing so means the heat won’t transfer properly to the heat sinks, which results in melted hardware. Also, many of the thermal pastes that come with new CPUs are garbage. For peace of mind, stick with IC Diamond’s 24 Carat Thermal Compound.
You’ll need somewhere to store everything you just bought, so if you’ve got 20 bucks to spare, we recommend the Craftsman 13” reinforced tool bag — it’s spacious but not overly bulky, simple to zip up, and nice and rugged. Really though, anything will do here—a backpack, a knapsack, or your old school bag.
Storage Drive Docking Station
Chances are you’ve got more than one hard drive or solid state drive. But what happens when you tear your rig apart and forget what data’s on which device? If you use a docking station such as the Thermaltake BlacX, it’s easy—just connect the dock to another PC or laptop with USB or eSATA, drop in your SSD or HHD, and poke around inside it.
Got any other recommendations? Share your suggestions in the Comments section below!