10 Different Computer Repair Services, 7 Wrong Answers

Computer repair “geeks” are sometimes nothing more than conmen in a uniform, as readers of The Consumerist well know. We linked to the full CBC investigation a few weeks ago, this is an abbreviated and more digestible version, only 3 minutes long. They rig a computer to just need a memory module replaced. But when they tested 10 different places, they got nearly 10 different answers, including one guy from “Nerds On Site” who tells them they need to send the computer to a special dust-free room for data recovery, a process that costs several thousands of dollars. Clearly, computer repair guys need to be bonded and licensed.

PREVIOUSLY: Sting Op Of 10 Different Computer Repair Companies Finds 70% Don’t Know What They’re Doing

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  1. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    Wasn’t this reported here like 2 weeks ago?

  2. timmus says:

    Well, there wouldn’t be a need for bonding and licensing if there were resources to help people select a good repair company and people availed themselves of those resources. Case in point — the big box places would be bonded and licensed yet would do the crappiest job, as we’ve hashed out here before.

  3. beavis88 says:

    1) Repeat
    2) Not always an “easy easy problem”
    3) Still doesn’t excuse the gross incompetence displayed in the video

  4. jamesdenver says:

    I always laugh at stories like “she brought in the monitor”… like the time someone at my work played an MP3 (without speakers) and said “it’s just doing circles, referring to the Windows Media player graphic.

  5. DashTheHand says:

    So……that video contains a lot of clueless techs and bad companies. Then what are the 3 companies that know what they are doing??? Oh right, competent service doesn’t make for a good shock story, ON WITH THE SCARE TACTICS!

  6. 3drage says:

    You get what you pay for, enough said.

  7. robdew2 says:

    “Clearly, computer repair guys need to be bonded and licensed.”

    That’s not so clear to me. It seems that would just open the door for gaming of the licensing system like happens in all other industries.
    Computers are complicated and repair is not easy nor cheap. If you don’t know anything about them, get service agreements.

  8. llryuujinll says:

    Motherboard status(peep) codes are different depending on the maker. And some don’t even have peep codes anymore but had status leds. So if the MB didn’t give any peep codes and the tech missed the LEDs then it could be easy give the wrong diagnose. That being said the techs should of knew their shit. Also when I troubleshoot hardware, i know i can’t do it on site every easily, since i usually need another computer to swap out different hardware to find the broken piece.

  9. Hanke says:

    I do this job (well, I did, until I moved to network administration). I haven’t seen the video, but any tech with experience is going to see what is happening, and immediately run diagnostics software, and there are plenty out there, that would immediately identify the problem.

    Now, the cost of the replacement RAM…

  10. erratapage says:

    They need us to think computer are complicated and that repair is not easy nor cheap. In reality, there are a limited number of things that go wrong with the average computer. I used to be able to fix my own computer. These days, I value my time a little bit more, so I take my computers out for repair. I am amazed how much easier it is for an experienced computer technician to repair my computer than it was for me. And if I factor in my time, it’s MUCH cheaper.

    Of course, I don’t go to the big box places. I go to the places that have gotten the answer right for me and my friends for years.

    Oh… and those service contracts? Waste of money if you know a decent repair guy.

  11. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    And this is why everyone should have a geek or two in their circle of friends.

  12. mopar_man says:

    @LatherRinseRepeat:

    Or at least know someone who knows a geek.

  13. enm4r says:

    @LatherRinseRepeat: And then compensate them for their time.

    I’m the “computer repair consultant” in enough circles, and as anyone who is “that guy” knows, it can be draining. Especially if you’re already stretched, and you have friends coming to you all the time asking for free service. I’m a nice guy, I’m more than willing to do the job, but when my friends aren’t understanding about my time or the value of it, I’m not inclined to help.

    I don’t even see why this is an issue. Yes, a lot of the “geeks” were flat out wrong, but shocks stories like this are just that, meant so serve their purpose, and they’re setup in a way that they can’t fail. The same story can, and has, been made about everything under the sun that requires any sort of repair.

  14. warf0x0r says:

    “Nerds On Site” who tells them they need to send the computer to a special dust-free room for data recovery, a process that costs several thousands of dollars.

    WHO FALLS FOR THIS CRAP?!?

  15. PaulMorel says:

    This story is FUD. Here’s why:

    My POV: Part of my job is tech support, and I have diagnosed/fixed about a million computer problems for our customers (who love us).

    How often does a user have a bad RAM module? Rarely.

    Usually, if the RAM us bad, it is a symptom of another problem. In other words, if I see a lot of random crashing on a computer, I know that there could be a problem with the RAM. So two things normally cause a RAM failure: a virus or a lightning strike.

    In both situations, bad RAM is a secondary problem. If there’s a virus, then that needs to be addressed first. If there was a power surge, then usually other parts of the PC need to be replaced. In that situation, the power supply would need to be replaced first.

    So a RAM failure very very very rarely occurs on its own. In fact, in years of diagnosing (and fixing) PCs, I have NEVER seen a RAM failure that wasn’t part of a larger problem that was easier to diagnose (like a virus or power surge).

    Long story short: In this story they deliberately chose a very rare PC problem that they knew would stump the jaded techies. Admittedly, these guys weren’t very thorough, but I don’t fault them for not recognizing an esoteric problem like this.

    I mean, if a patient shows up at a doctor’s office with a rare set of symptoms, then there’s a solid chance that they will be misdiagnosed.

  16. FightOnTrojans says:

    @warf0x0r: The same people who click on the flashing pop-up thinking they are the lucky winner of a xbox/ps3/ipod/[insert other ridiculously priced electronic gizmo here].

    Basically, people who are afraid they will destroy their thousand dollar investment if they push the wrong button.

  17. Murph1908 says:

    I predict it won’t be long until computer techs will need to be trained and certified like doctors.

    And not the generic certifications that are prominent.

  18. MENDOZA!!!!! says:

    @warf0x0r: Who falls for it? Anyone over the age of 40, like my parents.
    I sent an old desktop to my parents for internet/email use. When they’re DSL did not work, they took it to a computer shop.
    They wanted to change the motherboard for $500, when all it needed was a new NIC card ($70).
    I called the guy and laid into him for about 15 minutes for trying to cheat people.

  19. liquisoft says:

    It cracks me up, because on all operating systems (more modern ones, at least), there are little apps that tell you the status of all of your parts. If a family member has something going wrong on their computer, the first place I go is to the little app that tells me if the RAM is okay, etc etc etc.

    Furthermore, why ANY tech would recommend a customer spend more money trying to diagnose a problem than their computer is actually worth is beyond me.

  20. CoolTri says:

    Couldn’t see the video but i can imagine. I cringe when i walk near any computer tech support desk and over hear what BS those “Tech’s” are serving up.

    I’ve been working on computers for over 10 years easily, For me its In, Fixed and Out as fast as possible, with the ideal that i never see that Computer again for that or any other problem. I take it as a personal insult when i don’t get it fixed the first time. I’ve left jobs because they didn’t like that i was fixing them so fast.

    There are good tech out there that just buy talking to the user should be able to figure out what the issues is. Most of those tech don’t listen. If they ask you more than once what the problem was, walk away. It people like this that make me ashame to be a computer tech, a Job i have a passion and love for.

  21. PaulMorel says:

    Oh, and my best tech-support story:

    I spent literally, 2 hours on the phone walking a guy through setting up his local network, but nothing seemed to work. We would get to a certain point in the instructions and something would go wrong. A normal menu wouldn’t pop up, or he would suddenly be doing something completely different from what I was telling him.

    Finally, I discerned (through massive misinformation) that none of the popup menus were working.

    Me: Are you right clicking on the icon?
    Him: Yeah, nothing happens.
    Me: Are you sure you’re right clicking?
    Hime: Well, the mouse only has the one button.

    He was clicking his single-button mouse with his middle finger. That was ‘right-clicking’ to him.

    Oh, and he didn’t tell me that he was running windows on a mac, so I had no idea that he had a one-button mouse …

  22. kenposan says:

    @PaulMorel: LOL

  23. vlv723 says:

    This is why Best Buy and others try to hire guys who can upsell, not fix.

  24. Spencer says:

    I do part-time work as a computer repair consultant and I’ve been put in a situation where I’ve been asked a question (on-the-spot) where I have given a wrong answer. Not on purpose mind you, it is just that sometimes you’ll have one problem, that is caused by another, that is caused by another. By the time you get to the root of the problem, you find your original answer had nothing to do with the actual problem.

    This is not a big deal in my opinion as long as you honestly charge the customer.

    Bonding/licensing would be a joke. The compliance rate would be very low among indie consultants. The only people who might adhere to this are places I advise people not to go to already (Best Buy, Circuit City).

    As long as we’re bonding/licensing people, what say customers get bonded too? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been burned on people paying for the repairs I make, as I generally think it is bad business to ask for the money up-front.

  25. llryuujinll says:

    @liquisoft: your computer probably won’t boot up if you have a bad RAM stick, so you really can’t use your lil apps. And those apps only alert on broken hardware that the PC detects, if its broken and the PC can’t detect it, the sys monitor doesn’t alert you.

  26. Zerhackermann says:

    I have been in the computer biz for 20 years. I have been fixing, troubleshooting and building computers (and more often than not, the users of same) for at least that long both professionally and not.

    Tech folk – yes the skill set and ability is varied. But you do know what the top pay is for “service techs” in retail arena is right? No, less than that. No, lower. Lower. Right about the time the tech gains the skill and experience to make him (or her) incredibly valuable ans killed, the pay stops increasing. So they then either move on to other sectors (software for instance) or jump into the corporate IT sector. Any tech who can juggle the triad of tech skill, customer service and company economics is gone, gone, gone to greener pastures.

    Bonding wont do a damned thing. See how well it works in the Construction/Home Improvement sector? Certification/Licensing is a joke. They simply cannot keep up with the technology. A+ certification is a joke. MCSE certs do *not* translate into actual skill.

    I still troubleshoot, build and install systems on the side. I enjoy it. Often I do it in trade, or if it is for someone’s business I maintain my business license so we can keep everything on the up and up. But If I have to submit to licensing, bonding and insuring – I will stop. Many others like me will as well. That is a lot of experience and knowledge no longer available.

  27. warf0x0r says:

    Oh, wait… this is Canada. Okay, makes sense now

    >:P j/k

  28. 3drage says:

    A single RAM module failure is rare, and the error that you get on boot either doesn’t exist or is so cryptic that the problem could reside with the HD, Motherboard, or RAM. I’ve even had faulty video cards cause a PC not to POST. If the tech company doesn’t give a tech a toolkit with parts to try, they are just going with their best guess based on what they’ve encountered as a tech. Since PC techs that operate in these places either A) can’t get a job doing real computer tech work, or B) are working their way through college and are entry-level. It’s not such a shock to note that an obscure failure would elicit such varied results.

  29. kc2idf says:

    @Jaysyn:

    Wasn’t this reported here like 2 weeks ago?

    From the post:

    We linked to the full CBC investigation a few weeks ago, this is an abbreviated and more digestible version, only 3 minutes long.

  30. HeartBurnKid says:

    Time for a perspective from somebody who knows what they’re doing:

    I’ve been building and fixing computers as a hobby for about 10 years now, and professionally for a large call center for about 2 years. If these guys had any kind of diagnostic skill at all, they would have traced the problem to a faulty memory module. And, while it’s true that memory modules rarely fail on their own, it’s been known to happen. Anything even approaching a proper diagnostic protocol would have isolated the memory as an issue; once that’s done (and replaced), I’d run a hard drive scan, CPU burn in test, etc, and if the system passed all of those, I’d chalk it up to the rare occurrence of a memory module going bad.

    @PaulMorel: I haven’t seen a virus yet that can cause a stick of memory to go bad. A hard drive yes, memory no. The two culprits I’ve seen most often: power surges (often by lightning strike, as you pointed out), and some genius reading an article about overclocking and deciding, “Hey, I should try that!” You are correct in that either one of those would cause other issues, but I think I would actually run a few more tests before giving a customer false information and trying to get them to spend a bunch of money.

  31. HeartBurnKid says:

    @Spencer: That’s why I ask for cash on delivery (unless it’s a very close friend). You don’t pay, I keep your PC. :)

  32. iamme99 says:

    Computer tech guys are no different than auto mechanics. There are a few good ones, a large number of average ones and 20% or so who are truly awful.

    It pays to learn about and have some knowledge of the subject. Otherwise, you stand a good chance of wasting a lot of time and maybe spending a lot of money.

    I once had a back and forth with a “Sr. Tech” from Symantec re: a problem with Ghost. He was insistent that BOTH my hard drives were bad and the only way to solve the problems I was encountering was to go buy new hard drives. This despite my testing the hard drives with a number of programs and coming up with a clean bill of health for each. Of course, he was far off base. I solved the problem by switching to Acronis True Image. I fear that someone with less experience might have actually followed his advice!

    In my experience, the many free forums on the net for tech help often provide much better ROI than paying some tech.

  33. MyCokesBiggerThanYours says:

    If we bond and license them then the Democrats wont want to do those jobs and soon they will all be illegal aliens just like all the other contracting jobs.

  34. Sigh. I find these things incredibly depressing.

    This spring a friend’s laptop, which was less than two years old, stopped booting and started spitting out hard drive errors. She took it to a local computer repair place and they told her the hard drive needed to be replaced and that her old data was totally unrecoverable. They billed her something like $40 just for the diagnosis. In the end she just bought a new laptop, and gave the broken one to me since I’m a bit of a computer-junk pack rat. It took me less than an hour to fix it and recover all of the data. All I had to do pop in a boot disk and run CHKDSK, which is basically the very oldest, most basic hard drive diagnostic tool for Windows. CHKDSK repaired a few bad sectors, I backed up my friend’s old data for her and my girlfriend has been using the old laptop, problem free, ever since.

    I don’t know if the so-called computer repair person was incredibly incompetent or just wanted to sell a new hard drive (at a large markup, I’m sure) and bill my friend for a couple more hours “service,” but either way it still pisses me off thinking about it now.

  35. trrwilson says:

    @HeartBurnKid:

    I’m not sure if they included it in this shortened version, but there was a second part in the longer one where they removed or damaged a file. That could have been the virus thing paulmorel was talking about.

    Also, in all the years I’ve worked on PCs, I’ve never seen more motherboard failures than RAM that got fried to unusability. Not that I’m defending the incompetence of the techs…but you tend to rely on what you’ve seen.

  36. Lin-Z [linguist on duty] says:

    I really want to know which companies were doing it right. =/

  37. satoru says:

    A RAM failure is pretty rare in computers. Definitely motherboard failures are more common. Also it’s hard to just ‘swap out’ memory. Motherboards are notoriously fussy about the types of memory you throw in them. Not to mention, these days there are so many memory types it’s hardly cost effective to keep parts lying around for testing if you go into the field. Motherboards also report errors in vastly different ways. How do you know what 3 beeps actually means? Is the PC speaker even hooked up? Some motherboards only have blinking LEDs in mystical ways that require the Oracle at Delphi to interpret.

    I agree this ‘simple’ test was actually a bit more esoteric than you’d imagine to solve. A more common symptom of bad memory are random system freezes.

    I think this kind of service though is indicative of just how a business works. Since their performance is based on the # cases solved per day, they aren’t inclined to actually ‘help’ you in the way say you would help a friend out.

  38. Kaisum says:

    I think it’s comical how they “troubleshot” what was wrong with the computer without even testing the parts in other computers. Almost every time a hardware problem surfaces when I’m repairing other people’s computers I need to take the computer with me so I can test out all the parts and figure out what is working and what is not. It’s pretty hard to tell what part is shot if you don’t have another box to test it in.

  39. consumerd says:

    I have repaired quite a few computers for friends and family. Most times I ask and have them demonstrate what is happening. That’s where I glean the most information from. Now am I in the business to fix PC’s? no not really. I just do it for the hobby and know how to do it. it’s not surprising that 3 out of 10 get it right. You would be amazed how much “business” geek squad sends my way.

  40. Blue says:

    Dead memory sticks can be the hardest of problems to diagnose. You can be easily led down the wrong road when troubleshooting a computer with a bad stick or socket. Therefore i would say those techs are not utterly incompetent. They simply are not technical giants.

  41. CumaeanSibyl says:

    @Blue, @satoru: What the heck are you guys talking about? Half the time you don’t even have to swap the stick to figure that out — these days there are usually at least two, so leave one in and see if it’s still good. And as for difficulty or rarity — come on, that’s one of the first things you check! RAM blows out all the damn time.

    If I can diagnose a RAM failure with no formal training or experience, somebody who’s doing it for a living damn well should be able to.

  42. catprotector says:

    I agree. They already did this story. BTW, a dead memory stick is somewhat of an easy diagnosis if you actually ask the customer questions. BTW, sometimes if a RAM stick goes bad some systems will boot up normally but be a bit slower and you should be able to see how much memory a computer has just by going to the system profile. The video never even showed whether or not this even happened.

    This story could have been better if they just simply disconnected another piece of hardware and ran with that. Nonetheless, this story could be an eye opener for some consumers because most don’t realize the kind of tech they may be getting. Never be afraid to ask questions.

  43. shamim316 says:

    this is exactly why i started my own website with the most common computer questions with video tutorials and several tips on how to run your pc smoother.

  44. DSDan says:

    “Clearly, computer repair guys need to be bonded and licensed.”
    So by decreasing competition in the computer repair field and prohibiting young aspiring techies from making some summer cash by helping their neighbors, we will make the big box stores do better work? Not so clear to me.

  45. 8abhive says:

    @CumaeanSibyl: Agreed. Bad memory happens all the time. I’ve been molesting these toys nearly 30yrs (without certs – oh noes!) and in my experience memory faults are commonplace. I’m counting connection and component faults as one.

    Why all the FUD? Most RAM problems are among the simplest to diagnose. Sure, intermittents, boards, and sockets can be at fault but if you’re seeing symptoms you’re likely to catch it quickly with a diagnostic. Don’t assume even a long POST will catch them. Swapping modules is easy, but it’s even easier to grab your favorite diagnostic on a CD or floppy and give it a couple minutes. Only after a clean pass of memtest should our cunning tech don their voodoo doctor costume and begin shoveling BS.

  46. swalve says:

    @PaulMorel: You could not be more wrong. RAM does not fail because it’s storing unpleasant data.

  47. PaulMorel says:

    @swalve: lol, obviously.

    Maybe I am off-base on the virus thing. Maybe, in my experience, the two just often occur together, and that is actually a result of someone not taking care of their computer wholistically. ie They don’t do virus scans AND they open bad attachments AND they have their pc plugged right into the wall …

    *grain of salt*
    Like I said, I am just speaking from tech-support experience … my training is all in programming, so I have little education in hardware…

  48. Scuba Steve says:

    @3drage: Uh.. I don’t get your “saying”.. most quality repair work comes from Engineers and Computer Scientists who are doing their friends a favor.

    That being said, faulty memory is hard to diagnose if you’re not taking the time to do a proper diagnosis.

  49. DarkSamurai says:

    As a former PC Repair tech I can say that diagnosing a computer problem isn’t exactly like solving a mechanical issue. It’s not like an old Ford where you can swap a spark plug and roll away. I’ll admit, the technicians that weren’t able to find a bad RAM module didn’t do their jobs. On a system that won’t POST (Power On Start Test), a bad memory module is a suspect. It can also be a bad motherboard, CPU, graphics card and sometimes just a bad add-on card. RAM is usually a good suspect (a lot of times the customer has tried to upgrade and managed to put their RAM stick in backwards, or has bought RAM that isn’t compatible with their motherboard, even if it matches the recommended specs). On the corrupted Windows installation, I would have recommended wiping it out and starting over as who knows HOW the files were corrupted. It could have been a virus, improperly installed software, and other issues. Sometimes a repair just makes the problem worse.

    You want a few hints on picking a decent tech?

    Find an A+ certified technician (This means your tech has had to take a test to prove he has 6 months to 2 years of experience with PC repair).

    If you find a place that repairs simple stuff free of charge, it usually means they are ABLE to diagnose quickly and not charge you for easy stuff. I used to fix a lot of stuff on the fly with a nod from my manager.

    Ask your PC repair tech if they have parts for your computer before he gets there. I will admit that I worked for a tiny repair shop that didn’t have a lot of parts and they charged a lot for them. Markup on aftermarket parts is part of the lifeblood of small repair shops (still, double is WAY too much. Expect a tech visiting your home to probably charge you about 20% over the cost of internet pricing).

    Don’t trust a tech who tears a computer apart first and asks questions later! If your tech doesn’t ask you questions, send him/her packing!

    Oh, and for that technician that said that the hard-drive was blown… a PC will fire up with a bad hard-drive, it just won’t load Windows.

  50. DarkSamurai says:

    “Bonding wont do a damned thing. See how well it works in the Construction/Home Improvement sector? Certification/Licensing is a joke. They simply cannot keep up with the technology. A+ certification is a joke. MCSE certs do *not* translate into actual skill.”

    I will admit that the A+ certification isn’t exactly the holy grail of computer repair knowledge, but its usually better to find someone who is, rather than someone who isn’t (at least who works inside of the computer repair industry).

    I’ve known a lot of hardcore networking guys, freelancers and corporate systems analysts who don’t have an A+, an MCSE or anything else, but they can run rings around most PC repair techs… oddly, most of those hardcore types have found better paying jobs. PC repair techs don’t get paid that well. I made $7.50 (yes, a little over seven dollars an hour, driving my OWN CAR even though the company I worked for charged $55.00 an hour) to fix PCs in Missoula, MT and I made $12.00/hr in Phoenix, AZ. This isn’t exactly the most lucrative profession a person can have. I make a great deal more repairing medical equipment these days; but again, those who are serious about computers and technology usually don’t stay PC repair technicians forever… it doesn’t pay well enough.

  51. Patrickleeman says:

    Excellent presentation! I have been fixing, troubleshooting and building computers for the past 7 years. I can say that a RAM failure is pretty rare in computers and motherboard failures are very common. Motherboards are notoriously fussy about the types of memory you throw in them. Not to mention, these days there are so many memory types it’s hardly cost effective to keep parts lying around for testing if you go into the field.

  52. Patrickleeman says:

    Excellent presentation! I have been fixing, troubleshooting and building computers for the past 7 years. I can say that a RAM failure is pretty rare in computers and motherboard failures are very common. Motherboards are notoriously fussy about the types of memory you throw in them. Not to mention, these days there are so many memory types it’s hardly cost effective to keep parts lying around for testing if you go into the field.

  53. Patrickleeman says:

    Excellent presentation! I have been fixing, troubleshooting and building computers for the past 7 years. I can say that a RAM failure is pretty rare in computers and motherboard failures are very common. Motherboards are notoriously fussy about the types of memory you throw in them. Not to mention, these days there are so many memory types it’s hardly cost effective to keep parts lying around for testing if you go into the field.

    Now You can also fix computer startup problems easily and quickly in the comfort of your own home.