Create a Disaster Recovery Disc
It's great to have your PC's system-restore disks and a fresh copy of Windows at hand, but if your computer does go south, don't be in such a rush to wipe out the hard drive. In advance, create a DVD full of essential utilities that you can use to try to repair your PC before reinstalling Windows from scratch.
Your disaster disc should also contain up-to-date hardware drivers, especially for networking devices. Organize everything by folders, and keep names short: You may be browsing the folder from a command prompt if Windows won't boot.
Here's a good selection of utilities that should help out in any crisis, large or small. Note that the first two listed need to be installed on their own bootable CD or DVD in order to run at startup. All are free or available as trialware.
- MemTest86: This venerable RAM tester still works.
- Active@ KillDisk: Securely wipes drives as required.
- Hot CPU Tester: Diagnoses CPU problems with an in-depth testing procedure.
- Restoration: Recovers accidentally deleted files from both FAT and NTFS partitions, as well as memory cards.
- HDDlife: Monitors the hard drive to warn you if a failure is near. (It's also a good idea to install this on your PC for occasional checkups.)
- AOL Active Virus Shield: Free antivirus protection, with an engine powered by Kaspersky.
- Spybot Search & Destroy: Keep an antispyware scanner on hand at all times.
- OpenOffice.Org: Always great for reading Office files when Microsoft Office isn't working.
Also check out these premade, downloadable emergency discs, which, in many cases, pack lots of system utilities.
- Knoppix: Use this free bootable Linux CD to access Windows directories on a hard drive.
- Ultimate Boot CD: Contains over 100 low-level system utilities on a single disc. The download is free; a CD is $6, with shipping.
- EBCD: This free emergency CD is designed for seriously broken PCs--and expert users.
- Microsoft Boot Disks: Download free boot discs for OSs from Windows XP to MS-DOS 6.