Our forums are filled with tech professionals with their own special skills and services they provide. We are please to interview Michael Worley, owner of My Friend’s Computer Clinic in Florida. He specializes in fixing the unfixable, and performs repairs at the motherboard level. If you have any questions of your own for Michale, you can find him on our forums as Michale32086. You can also find him at http://mfccfl.us/.
PCTechBytes: What exactly is Professional Reflowing and when is this process used?
Michale: Reflowing is a process whereas you use low grade slow rising infrared heat to completely heat a circuit board to the point where solder will melt (re-flow). That point is approximately 230C. What this process does is repair broken connections within the circuitry of a circuit board that have been separated due to overheating or warpage or a combination of both. The XBOX 360 is a prime example. The 360 uses “X-Clamps” to hold the heatsink onto the GPU. This has the detrimental effect of slightly warping the board. That warpage, combined with high temps causes the solder connections within the GPU (and sometimes the CPU) to separate, thus producing the infamous RROD (Red Ring Of Death). A reflow process re-liquefies the solder and allows them to reconnect. “Professional Reflowing” is done with specialized equipment, such as the Ownta T-8280 Infrared Pre-Heater. You can sometimes achieve the same results by using a conventional oven. That would not be considered “Professional Reflowing” but will do in a pinch.
As to when it’s used, pretty much whenever any other possibility has been eliminated or failed. If a laptop will power up, show lights, but no picture on the LCD or external monitor, that’s a pretty safe bet that it’s an overheated motherboard with a disconnect within the GPU/Video circuit. A totally dead motherboard where the power jack/cable has tested good and no obvious shorts or burns on the motherboard is also a good candidate for a reflow. Other than those two specifics, a reflow is done when nothing else has worked. On the GPU/Video circuit problem, I have about a 95% success rate; with a totally dead motherboard, about a 60% success rate. As a Hail-Mary-Nothing-Else-Has-Worked-Let’s-Give-It-A-Shot, usually about 20% come back to life. The only caveat when doing reflows is that it is not a guaranteed forever fix. If the conditions that initially caused the disconnect repeat, then it’s likely another disconnect will result. Further, once you start down the reflow road, it’s a cumulative effect that will eventually result in an unfixable motherboard. I usually reflow a motherboard 3 times. After that, if it comes back, I offer to let the customer trade it in for one of mine in inventory, then I part out the laptop.
PCTechBytes: Which gaming consoles do you see in your shop the most and what is the most common issue?
Michale: Playstation 3s and XBOX 360s were the prominent items I repaired. I say “were” because I have, for the most part, gotten away from consoles. The problem was that the original PS3s and 360s had severe design flaws. In the case of the 360, the previously mentioned X-Clamps issue. With PS3s, the fan wasn’t sufficient to maintain the proper operating temps. I am a real stickler for warranties. If I give a warranty, I honor it to the exclusion of all else. It became so that I was spending 2/3rds of my time doing warranty repairs on game consoles, I didn’t have enough time to take care of laptops. So I had to discontinue the Game Console repair. I’ll do one every once in a while as a favor to a regular customer or as part of a package deal, but by and large these days, I tend to shy away from console repairs.
PCTechBytes: Is there any specific brand of computer you despise working on the most? If yes, why?
Michale: Without a doubt, IBM ThinkPads. A gazillion screws, all different lengths and no rhyme nor reason to their placement. The dis-assembly is horrendous with tons of little parts that cover this or support that, but are not part of the overall frame. Taking a TP apart and putting it back together a week later?? NOT for the faint of heart. I always end up with a ton of parts left over, thinking to myself, “Gee, I hope that wasn’t important. I actually have given customers great deals on replacement laptops using their TPs as trade-ins just to avoid having to work on an older IBM Thinkpad. I then give the Thinkpads to a salvage guy I know.
PCTechBytes: In regards to computers, if you can name one, what is the most common reason people bring their PC in to you for repair? (malware, Operating System problems, dead hard drives, etc….)
Michale: General slowness, suspected virus, just runs lousy. That’s probably the biggest thing I see. Very non-specific symptoms. Sometimes the customer will relay, “Well, it came up with this error message, but I don’t remember what it said. What do you think the problem is??” I get that a lot. The usual fix for this is what I term an FnR. Format and Re-Install. It’s likely overkill to be sure, but I explain it to the customer that it is either do this for $50 or pay diagnostics costs upwards of $150 or more to try and determine the specific problem and then find a viable fix that will actually work. Once the customer learns I can save personal files (music, documents, pictures, etc etc) they are usually OK with an FnR. A close runner up to this would be LCD replacements. I would say that I do 15-20 FnRs a month and 8-10 LCD replacements a month.
PCTechBytes: What antivirus protection, if any, do you use on your home computers?
Michale: I use AVAST both on my own systems and on every FnR I do. Lately it’s become kinda a pain because AVAST has added some new “sandbox” features that, by default, are on. I know a customer won’t know how to deal with it, so I usually have the extra step of having to disable the SANDBOX feature. But Avast is a decent AV that I have used for quite a while now. I have thought about switching to Microsoft Security Essentials, simply because it’s MS and if anyone would know best about security for MS Windows, it would be MS. But I haven’t gotten around to doing a comparison as of yet.
PCTechBytes: What do you consider to be your go-to diagnostic tool?
Michale: PCTechBytes forum. 😀 Seriously, I really don’t have a favorite DIAGNOSTIC tool. Most of the problems I run into are pretty self-evident. LCD Replacement, bad hard drive, bad memory etc etc. What self-evidence doesn’t provide, experience is the key. An HP DV series laptop with just the lights on, nothing on the screen and no boot. Motherboard overheat. So, I guess the best diagnostic tool I have is experience. My particular location and clientele doesn’t really lend itself to scalpel work. I tend to be a broadsword kinda tech.
PCTechBytes: Being a successful computer business owner, what advice can you give to those just starting out?
Michale: By far, the best advice I can give is to take care of your customers. It sounds so obvious and self-evident, but you would be surprised at how so many little things will give you customers for life. I have a bunch of power cords, USB cables, Cat-5 cables, etc. that I always keep on hand. A person comes in and needs one, I’ll hand them one with a, “Here ya go. No charge, don’t worry about it..”. They are tickled pink. And that same customer will come back to me when they have a REAL problem. If a customer comes in and says their wireless isn’t working and it’s just a setting/driver issue, I don’t charge them. It’s 10-15 minutes out of my life that will be visited back upon me 20-fold in that they will bring me their problems when it WILL be a paid fix. Plus they will recommend me to friends and family. I would estimate that 70%-80% of my business is repeat customers and referrals. My personal business philosophy is “If you take care of your customers, your bottom line will take care of itself.” It’s worked for me.