Computers are consumable products. Sure, we all hope they’ll last forever, but inevitably they fail due to hardware or software issues. When it happens, you’ll need to take your PC to a shop. Computer repair businesses have seen it all when it comes to fixing computers. They never know what scenario they ‘re going to face when they open their doors each morning. They’re on the front lines in the battle to keep your technology running.
We had the pleasure of interviewing BienTek, a computer repair company located in Novi, Michigan. They gave us some insight on some of common computer repair questions frequently asked in our forums. We’re sure you’ll enjoy their perspective.
PCTechBytes: What are the most common computer problems you solve in your shop?
BienTek: Let’s do a top-three list on this one.
- Malware Removal – Malware seems to be one of the most common problems out there today. It’s so tricky to keep off your system. It seems to be attached to everything. Even toolbars that seem like they are from reputable sources seem to be “gateway” programs that lead to other more serious stuff. Keep your toolbars to a minimum – and ONLY install ones you can’t live without and that are from trustworthy sources. This is not only good from a security standpoint, but also for performance reasons. The more toolbars your browser has to load, the slower it will be. More than half of the systems I work on are infected with malware. This boils down to having an effective security program and making good decisions with your left-clicker. Stay away from free screensavers, free music downloads and flashy ads, especially if you’re not using a secure internet browser like so many people these days. More than likely, the free cute funny thing you’re clicking on will end up being anything but. I know it’s hard, but you must resist seeing what you would look like as a cartoon. And stay away from programs and websites that claim to automatically fix stuff for you. If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
- Bad Hard Drives on Laptops – I think the reason for this is because so many of us close our lids, put our laptop in our bag, THROW it over our shoulder and head out the door. If that hard drive is on, you don’t want to be moving the laptop around very much. Shut it down all the way properly, or at least put it in a complete Stand-by or Hibernation mode and wait until it is completely off before being so rough with it. And hey, don’t forget – it’s a laptop. Don’t be so rough with it.
- Overheating Components – I’m a big believer in preventative maintenance. This one can be avoided easily by having your system cleaned on a regular basis. Nothing crazy; usually about once a year on a desktop and maybe once every 2 years or so on a laptop. Cleanings are much cheaper than replacing power supplies, CPUs, motherboards and fans.
PCTechBytes: What are your favorite tools or programs to use when fixing and diagnosing computers?
BienTek: It’s not really about what I favor, but what’s appropriate for the situation. You need the right tools for the job. In order to diagnose a computer properly, you need to be able to know what is working correctly in the system and what is not. This goes for hardware and software. Software is very complicated and it takes an expert (sometimes) to know everything is working as it should. You need to make sure to stay on top of service packs, updates and virus definitions for starters. Basically a trained eye using Windows is the most valuable tool in this situation. The best bet for an end-user is to get the computer checked up every once in a while. Annually is probably good enough. This way you have peace of mind knowing a qualified technician has made sure everything is okay. Find a place that does a free checkup and make sure they check all your hardware. This is a great way to catch problems early. When it comes to hardware, it’s best to use utilities designed by the manufacturers for testing. A lot of systems nowadays come loaded with a diagnostic partition from which utilities can be run to test components for failures, such as hard drives and memory. Most hard drive manufacturers have utilities that can be downloaded from their websites for testing. When a system is not booting or fully functional, sometimes the right tools include compatible parts that can be swapped out. It’s difficult for a program to tell you that a power supply or a data cable is defective – especially when the system won’t power on or stay powered on.
PCTechBytes: Which is the worst major brand name computer company you have to deal with in regards to repairing their hardware or reinstalling their OS?
BienTek: I wouldn’t want to single anyone out. As far as quality and ease of OS installation, most major brand computer companies are pretty neck and neck. The thing about the big guys is that their desktop systems tend to be proprietary. What this means is that they design them in such a way, whenever possible, that it seems you have to contact them directly for replacement parts after your warranty period expires. You have to pay them $80, per se, for a $35 power supply. The truth is, most adequately equipped PC repair shops should be able to get you replacement parts for less and/or have alternate solutions such as converting your proprietary system to an open-architecture one. Most knowledgeable technicians not being paid commission to sell proprietary systems will tell you that the best solution is to start out with an open architecture system. The best computer you can buy is one you can have your local computer shop build for you. They use better components that are industry-standard and you can buy replacement parts virtually anywhere.
PCTechBytes: Would you recommend Mac computers to most of your clients? Elaborate.
BienTek: I would not recommend Macs to most of my clients. Some? Sure. You are someone I would recommend a Mac to if the following conditions are met:
- You are using it professionally for multimedia purposes, such as video and/or audio editing.
- You already know what program or programs you plan on using and they are compatible with Mac.
- You don’t mind paying more when you buy the system or if and when you have to have it repaired after its warranty period.
That’s the criteria. The fact is your dollar can go much farther in the PC world (you know, the one that 98% of us live in) as far as, pardon the pun, apples to apples comparisons of processor speed, RAM and hard drive space. And you would be pretty hard up to find something incompatible with a PC, except maybe Mac OS. Then again, a lot of Mac users may argue that they have the advantage when it comes to malware issues. Speaking of compatibility, most viruses aren’t “compatible” with Mac software. Make no mistake, this does not mean Mac users are not in danger of getting infected. With Macs getting more and more popular, you will see this advantage disappear. And does the small annual cost of a good antivirus program outweigh the cost difference between a PC and a Mac? Probably not. At least not before you’ll be due for a new one anyway.
PCTechBytes: Do you recommend a specific backup strategy to your clients?
BienTek: Backup solutions can be different depending on the situation. External hard drives and online services can be convenient and cost-effective for home users. Business clients will usually require onsite and offsite data redundancy. I assess a situation to learn about what’s important to a client so an appropriate recommendation can be made. What is the budget? How much data needs to be backed up and how often? What options are going to be most convenient if a disaster recovery plan needs to be executed? One thing rings true across the board: keep your data in as many places as you can. OK, maybe that sounds a little drastic. But if your data is very important, two isn’t enough. Remember that even though the chances of something going wrong with two separate sets of data are small, it can still happen. A good rule of thumb is 3 total places. This could include the computer on which the data originally resides, an online backup, an external hard drive, a second computer, a flash drive or optical media like CDs and DVDs. In my experience, flash drives seem to stop working on you suddenly when it’s most inconvenient and CDs and DVDs can get scratched, broken or misplaced. The bottom line: get a backup solution of some sort now – not after you’ve lost your data.
PCTechBytes: How much is the average computer repair cost for labor?
BienTek: It’s hard to say from one shop to the next. Some do free diagnostics and checkups while some charge for them. Find a shop that at least applies costs of these things toward the repair and your bill will stay lower. I would definitely recommend staying away from jack-of-all-trades type places like big-box stores. They have a lot of marketing dollars to let you know they’re there (which is evident in your service bill), but they usually have too many employees to make sure they’re all experts and their resources are normally limited. For instance, you can’t usually have a technician at a big-box store order a new motherboard or internal optical drive for your 2-year-old laptop. Also, keep in mind when you get your quote how much of it is for the repair and how much of it is for maintenance (cost of owning a computer) you’ve been neglecting. That may put it in perspective for you. It’s one thing to spend $350 to repair a 3 year old $600 laptop. But if half of it is removing viruses, updating security patches, cleaning internal components and installing a good antivirus program, this is money you should have been spending anyway and will spend eventually even on a new system, unless you plan to neglect that one too.
PCTechBytes: Are laptops worth repairing in regards to cost vs replace?
BienTek: This depends on several things. The cost of the repair, the age of the laptop and what you’ll have afterward. You need to ask yourself a few questions. Was your laptop doing everything you wanted it to at a speed that’s efficient for you before it broke down? How much of the repair cost is maintenance-related? How much will a new one cost? Don’t forget to include the cost of an antivirus program and a data transfer from your old laptop. Have you already paid for a major repair in the past? The best advice is to weigh all options and make an informed decision. A good technician will fully explain all of your choices and keep your best interests in mind. Be wary of a technician pushing you into fixing it if he or she doesn’t have the ability to sell you a new one.
PCTechBytes: What is your number one computer tip for users?
BienTek: Don’t skimp on maintenance. There is a cost to owning a computer. Have it cleaned, tuned up and checked out annually. A good repair shop should be able to price this at or around $100 or $150 with a renewal on your antivirus subscription. This should also include testing your components for early signs of failure. It’s a lot more expensive to retrieve data from a hard drive that isn’t spinning up anymore than it is from one that has just started to develop a few bad sectors; success is a lot less likely too. Remember the old adage “If you take care of it, it will take care of you.”
We want to thank BienTek for participating in this interview. If you’re in their area, be sure to drop your PC off for repair or maintenance.