Before I start talking computer repair, I offer three caveats. First, I have no formal training in diagnosing, repairing, or even using computers. Second, I have no experience with repairing an Apple or Mac computer. Third, all of the below only applies to laptop repair. Its incredibly easy to swap out components on a desktop.
So, you’ve done the math and decided that it is more cost-effective to repair your non-functional and out-of-warranty laptop. You know that having the manufacturer or a big box store like Best Buy, Circuit City and Fry’s is a very bad idea. About the best you can hope for is that it will only cost you much more money than your computer is actually worth. The worst you can expect is to pay for your computer to be returned to you in worse condition.
Option 3: Dedicated Repair Facility
Since I use my laptop constantly, it was extremely important to me that I took it someone who I could trust to do a good job. Unfortunately, this is the kind of decision I agonize over. Weighing the various pro’s and con’s, relative merits, creating formulas or spreadsheets to help me synthesize and digest the data.
I over-analyze, in part, because I want to make sure I spend my money well. However, its far more important to me that I make sure that whatever item I am researching is the most perfect fit for me. I spent my free time for the better part of the week Googling for local laptop repair places. Once I had a list of places, I started to par it down.
My criteria included: location, accreditation, apparent familiarity with my problem, initial diagnosis based upon my description over the phone, whether they performed a free diagnosis, whether I could locate any review or complaints, and price. You know, that’s all.
I first created a list of every laptop repair facility in my area and then tossed out the ones with bad reviews.
Question 1: Can you repair laptops?
This is a really good question even if you’re looking to have your desktop computer repaired. Repairing a desktop is dead simple. If a part stops working, you open it up, pull it out, slap in a new one and “rock on completely, with some brand new components“.  Repairing a laptop is far more involved.
If they couldn’t repair a laptop, I would not have any confidence they’d be able to repair a desktop and would move on.
Question 2: Can you repair components?
There are a lot of “computer repair” places, but most of them either only deal with software problems or only replace large whole computer parts. Their solution to a laptop problem is to replace the motherboard or tell you to buy a new computer. That’s like a mechanic telling you that you need to either replace the entire engine or buy a new car because spark plugs are just not their thing.
The good thing about a repair facility that does “component level repair” is that they will actually look for what caused the problem. Then they will need to try and replace just that little part. Depending upon your computer’s symptoms, you might need a new power jack, new chip on the motherboard, or even have the solder on the board around a chip melted and re-applied to the motherboard .
If the repair facility couldn’t repair a component level problem, I moved on.
Question 3: Can you diagnose the problem over the phone?
When calling a repair facility, ask for a technician and describe the problem for them. Obviously, you can’t expect them to actually know what’s wrong, so don’t hold them to it. On the other hand, they should be have some inkling as to the cause.
A small aside about workers’ compensation defense, and then back to laptop repair:
Sometimes during a doctor’s deposition I need to ask a question that deals with legal issues. Invariably, the other attorney present has a different take on the applicable medicine or, more likely, the law. In these situations, I state my position about the medical-legal issue in terms of, “Doctor, its my understanding that…” Then, I say, “Doctor, for the purposes of this question, assume that my understanding about the applicable law is correct. Now… [insert insightful question here]?”
This keeps objections and interruptions to a minimum and allows the doctor to focus on my question. If the other attorney is correct in their legal position, my question and the corresponding answer are irrelevant. Posing the question in this fashion completely removes any basis for objection since the doctor’s response becomes entirely dependent upon whether or not a given legal position is correct.
When describing my computer problems over the phone and getting a snap diagnosis from the technician, I ask them the following, “Assuming the problem is [the problem you've just diagnosed], are you capable of making this repair and how long would it take?”
If the repair facility technician had no idea what the problem was or would refuse to venture a guess based on what I was saying, I moved on.
Question 4: Who will be doing the diagnosis and repair?
I located a surprising number of local people who represented via their website or a posting on CraigsList.org that they were able to repair a variety of laptop problems. Some of these were just people who did the work out of their home. They may very well do a good job and certainly charged less – but they weren’t for me. I had a little more confidence in a repair facility employing a repair technician than I did in a some guy who put up an ad or website.
Occasionally, a local repair facility will actually out-source the diagnosis and repair. This, of course, begs the question – why do I need you?
As I mentioned above, I wanted to talk to a technician – preferably the one who would be performing the job themselves.
Question 5: How did you treat me on the phone?
Some technicians can’t help feeling superior to the their clients.  If the technician was the least bit rude or condescending, I hung up and moved on. Repair facilities are in the customer service industry as much as they’re in the computer repair industry. All it takes is one unfriendly or unknowledgeable person answering the phones for you to lose a potential client.
If you follow the above criteria to create a list of local computer repair facilities and ask the above questions, you’re going to stand a decent chance of finding the best place to get your laptop repaired. Good luck!