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Now computers are a common fixture in pretty much every household, it's kind of ridiculous to expect everyone to know how to fix them. There are computer guys for that, just like there are mechanics to change the oil in your car.
But what I'm about to tell you can save you some dollars. Before you pack up your injured machine and drive it to the local repair shop.
5. One Free Program May Fix the Whole Thing
If your computer's having problems like it's running slow or IE stops responding. And it's fixable without you having to pay some guy $200 to do it for you. Use Wise PC 1stAid, the awesome thing is that the repair program is totally free, so if it doesn't work, you've lost nothing. Just download it, install it and run it. Using it is as easy as following the directions on a microwave pizza. Everything is streamlined because it's written for average people who consistently get themselves into computer trouble. Or you could, you know, take it to a guy who will do the same exact thing, except charge you $200.
However, if you do find a problem that's over your head, you'll sometimes find that the repair shop is unavoidable.
4. It's Going to Be Expensive as Hell
Before you pick up the phone, tell the person that your computer "is being stupid" and ask how much it's going to cost to fix it, know that the reason their response will sound muffled is because they're talking through gritted teeth while flipping off the phone. It's impossible to give an exact diagnosis over the phone for the same reasons that your doctor couldn't tell that you have bronchitis without first running a few tests. But with the right information, they can give you a couple of scenarios and at least a ballpark estimate of each.
This is important, because hourly rates vary dramatically from shop to shop. I've heard prices range from $40 to $150 per hour. If your local shop falls into those higher rates and your repair is going to take three or four hours, you're now talking about a bill that's equal to a brand new tower. Yep, from time to time it's actually cheaper to buy a whole new system. And that is a very real decision you're going to have to make. "Do I repair the one I have, or is it smarter to just buy a completely new machine?"
Your 5-year-old machine is basically worthless now, and this is something that very few people are prepared to hear. It seems downright unfair that the system you paid a thousand dollars for just a few years ago has been reduced to the price of the scrap metal inside it, but that's the way the computer world works. So now it's down to some simple math.
If your current computer is worth 50 bucks and the problem is a fried hard drive, is it worth spending $100 on a new one? More importantly, how long do the rest of your components have before they are obsolete? Are you about to drop that much money on a hard drive, only to be forced into buying a brand new system next year? Ask the tech if the repair they're about to perform boils down to polishing a turd.
I can't tell you how many times I've seen a person sink 300 bucks into a repair when they could have spent the same amount for a lower end tower that is actually more powerful than the one they just fixed. Remember, you already have working components that don't need to be replaced: mouse, keyboard, monitor, etc. When you strip all of that out of the overall price and just look at the cost of the tower alone, you'll be surprised how cheap it is.
But in order to even reach the point of making that decision, they're going to need some detailed information.
3. Be Honest With the Repair Person
If you've ever seen the show House, you know that they regularly bring up an interesting phenomenon we do as humans that just destroys any chance we have at helping others: "Everybody lies." Any person who has ever worked at a job fixing things can tell you that it's absolutely true, and it is the most frustrating thing in the world to computer techs.
The thing is, there is nothing you can do on a computer that we haven't already seen a thousand times. We know people watch porn -- hell, three-fourths of all repairs I've ever made have been because of bad porn sites. I've seen a computer overheat because the person stuffed a bag of weed inside the case and the plastic got caught in the fan. I've seen a tower infested with roaches, and another that got infected with a virus because a little kid was trying to learn how to make and distribute one.
Yet people are still afraid to come clean with what they were doing when things went messy, opting instead to say, "I don't know. I was using it just fine one minute, and the next thing I knew it just went crazy on me, out of the blue!" They're afraid to simply tell us what happened because nobody wants to be blamed. Like they're afraid we'll look at them differently or scold them for being so stupid.
The truth is (aside from the oddball cases I just mentioned), almost everybody does exactly what you were doing. The reason repair guys have a job in the first place is because people continually mess up their computers by going to bad websites, downloading screen savers, opening spam emails, installing questionable games and using torrent sites without knowing how to spot the bad things.
By not being honest about how your computer got screwed in the first place, you're adding additional time to the repair process. Because now the tech has to track down the source of the problem to make sure it's not coming from a file buried in the system that will simply respawn the same problems once the symptoms have been alleviated. And that translates into more money that you'll be paying because you'd rather keep your poop fetish to yourself. Wanna know something scary? In the process of fixing the computer, they're going to find out anyway.
Trying to cover your tracks by deleting your history and clearing your cache only adds more time to the repair.
2. Remember What You Were Doing When It Died (And Don't Delete Your History)
Bad websites aren't the only things that screw up a computer. At any given moment, there are dozens of programs running quietly in the background, all written by different companies, telling your computer to do different things. If one of them is telling your system, "At the next stoplight, make a right," and you plug in an MP3 player that tells it, "At the next stoplight, make a left," your computer freaks out. This happens all the time, and it's not your fault.
However, when you bring it in for repair, and the guy asks you what happened, you can't just tell them, "It was working fine one minute, and the next minute it just got all stupid." You'd be more helpful by just staring at them in cold, dead silence. You need to let them know exactly what you were doing when it flipped out. Did you turn on your printer? Did you plug something in? Did you remove something? Did you accidentally spin-kick it during ninja training?
As I mentioned earlier, knowing what you were doing with the computer at the exact moment of its demise eliminates several hours of work. It's for this reason that you need to keep your browsing history intact.
Any time we see that the history has been cleared the day it was brought in, the first thing we think is, "Porn." That gives us a general direction to go, but it's only a guess, and that is about the worst way to dive into a fix. What generally happens is that we take a shot in the dark and it turns up a dead end. So we have to start from scratch with a brand new guess, which again leads to nothing. In most cases, if we know what we're dealing with, we could have your computer back in your hands so fast that you could have it messed up again by dinner time. Instead, we have to experiment over and over until we whittle down to the source through a process of elimination, and your bill ends up being five times more than it should have been.
But aside from just finding out what the problem is, if we know where it came from, we can warn you so you don't have to go through this again. "The problem was that your phone wasn't compatible with Windows, so we updated the drivers and it works fine now." In the case of malware, many people acquire these problems completely oblivious as to how it happened, no porn involved at all. Maybe they're really into knitting, and they frequent a mittens-making community where a banner ad dropped a piece of rogue software onto their system. By tracking down the source, we can warn the person to either stay away from that site completely or to let the site's owner know of the problem so they can get the ad or its network removed. Otherwise, a return trip to the repair shop is inevitable, and those bills are going to just keep stacking up.
"Hold on" some of you will scream in a fit of rage and panic. "That's my favorite website" OK, you might want to sit down for this one, because it's hard for some people to accept that ...
1. You May Be Losing Some Things That You Love
I used to have an aunt who was the sweetest woman in the world. She had virtually no vices to speak of -- she didn't drink, smoke or even curse. But that 60-year-old woman loved poker. She loved it so much that she bought a computer specifically because one of her sons told her that she could play online for free, which would eliminate any worries of her running away to Vegas and having to blow mobsters to pay off her unfathomable gambling debts.
Anyone who has used a computer for more than four seconds knows what happened next. Within a matter of days, her computer became an $800 paperweight. Knowing I was a computer guy, she called me, and while cleaning up the mess I explained that I'd have to uninstall her new poker game, and that all of the online versions she played would also have to be avoided. She sadly agreed, and we got everything back to normal. But the upside was that I was able to track down another clean poker game for her, and that made her happy again.
One week later, I got another call. Same problem. When I started the cleanup again, I saw that she had been frequenting five completely new poker sites -- all of them dumping the same malware into her hard drive. When I brought it up, she explained, "The one we put on there last week wasn't very good, so I found new ones."
That exact situation is the problem with new computer users, and it's not entirely their fault. When you turn on the television, you can flip to any channel you want without worrying that the show is going to break your TV. You can go through every radio station on the dial knowing that you're not going to land on one that forces your speakers to play nothing but commercials and randomly switches back to that station without your input. No device or broadcast on the planet does that -- except computers.
It's unthinkable that randomly clicking on links would break the very thing that was designed to let you click links. That visiting websites would prevent you from visiting other websites. That playing the wrong game could cripple your computer so badly that it prevents you from being able to play even that game. Everything a person knows about the normal world is turned upside-down on the Internet, and it takes some training and education before you can dive in and start clicking things.
It's going to turn out that some of the things you love are the very things that are causing your computer problems, and the only way to fix it is to completely remove those programs. There is no other way around it. Those programs are specifically designed to be fun and interesting because that's what keeps you from uninstalling it, hence stopping the malware from funneling in. But unless you accept it and let us do what we need to do, you're going to be back in that repair shop every week until you have to start blowing us like mobsters to pay your unfathomable computer repair debt.