Dec
17
2008
2

How to Repair A Laptop: Option 3 – Dedicated Repair Facility

Broken Laptop

Broken Laptop

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.[1]

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[2] and Fry’s is a very bad idea.[3]  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.[4]

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“. [5] 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[6] .

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[7] 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. [8]  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!

  1. Photo courtesy of Just Us 3. []
  2. They’re bankrupt, so don’t bother []
  3. For those of you who just can’t wait to find out: I think a dedicated computer facility is best. []
  4. Or, in my case, have Dell ship your laptop to a construction site in Oakland.  Yay. []
  5. Thank you Cake! []
  6. This is called a “re-flow,” since the original solder is melted and made to flow back around the chip or connections.  If your computer gets heated and cooled a lot, this might be your problem. []
  7. And, perhaps wrongly so.  This is just a gut feeling. []
  8. Unfortunately, this is also true of some attorneys. []
Dec
01
2008
1

How to Repair A Laptop: Option 1 – The Manufacturer

Broken Laptop

Broken Laptop

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, your laptop has stopped working and you’ve decided it makes sense to repair it.[1] The big question is: How do you repair it?[2]

When my laptop died back I Googled and called around trying to find and decide upon someone to repair my laptop.  There are several possible options when it comes to choosing a laptop repairer.  When your laptop is still under warranty, its a no-brainer to send it back to the manufacturer. [3] But, what about a computer that’s either no longer in warranty or with no warranty?

Option 1:  Manufacturer

I’ve owned three laptops – a Compaq, a Dell, and then another Dell.  On the one hand, I never had to call Compaq for technical support.  On the other hand, by the time the laptop was three years old it was in pretty bad shape.

I called Dell first.  Sure, I’d had truly terrible experiences with Dell tech support in the past.[4] I figured it couldn’t possibly have gotten worse, right?[5]

Dell offered a three stop process to fix the problem:

  1. Phone diagnostic.  $50.00.
  2. Selling me new parts[6] and walking me through the repair over the phone.  $200.00 – $300.00.
  3. Sending in the laptop to Dell for repair.  $300.00 – $500.00.

There are several problems with Dell’s repair process.  First, its tremendously time consuming.  Second, most of Dell’s processes are developed with the idea that the user is the most common problem.  Third, if you have an actual problem you are all but guarrantted to spend more money than the computer is worth.  Fourth, Dell tech support is just about the worst ever.

Time Consuming

Dell tech support is nothing if not standardized.  Their tech support staff all have binders[7] which list tons of symptoms, diagnostic tests, and possible fixes.  But, before you even start such a scenario you will be asked to check all cables, that everything is plugged in, and restart your computer several times.  Even if you eliminate all time you spend on hold, that’s half an hour right there.

By the time you’ve run through a few diagnostic programs, you’ve easily spent two hours on the phone.

Computer Users Are The Problem

As best as I can tell, Dell’s tech support binder has them verify that the problem is not the user, then not software, then not user-replaceable hardware, then not Dell-replaceable hardware.  Obviously, their goal is to minimize tech support time by ruling out simple issues, and thereby minimizing costs.

I’m not saying this is a bad system.  But, if the problem is obviously a hardware problem, restarting the computer or dimming the monitor isn’t going to help.  I have sent in two Dell laptops becuase the left mouse click button stopped springing back up.  After fully describing the problem several times, they still asked me to fiddle with the battery, check that the laptop was plugged in, etc.

The problem is that by requiring you go through the Dell checklist of basic problems with their tech support staff, they are guarranting that every single call, no matter how trivial, will require a minimum of 30-45 minutes.

My former “left mouse button won’t pop back up” problem is really a 5 minute phone call that should go something like this:

  • Jay calls Dell.
  • “Hi, my name is Roger, please state the nature of your technical emergency.”[8]
  • Jay: “Hi Roger, I have a Dell XPS 1210 and the left mouse button won’t pop back up.”
  • Roger:  “Hmm.  Well, try tapping the button.  Does that work?”
  • Jay:  “No, that doesn’t seem to work.”
  • Roger:  “Hmm.  Can you see anything jammed in there?”
  • Jay:  “Nope.”
  • Roger:  “Yeah, that was a longshot.  Okay, well, I’ll send you a box and a shipping label.”
  • Jay gives Roger his information and is happy with Dell service.

Ideally, Dell would have a way to jump past certain steps.  Perhaps by answering a computer trivia question or by hitting “3” for “I have performed all basic rudimentary tests and diagnostics and know what I’m doing.”

Or, more likely: “I have checked all cables, restarted the computer, removed the battery, reinserted the battery, restarted again, booted into Safe Mode, restarted, booted into the command prompt, booted back in Safe Mode, restarted, booted from a recovery disk, restarted, restarted, booted from a Linux CD, restarted, wished on a falling star, and my brand new laptop still arrived with a giant gaping hole in the middle of the screen.”[9]

Dell’s Guaranteed Expensive Fix

If your computer has an actual hardware problem, and you’re trying to get Dell to fix it, you’re all but guaranteed to spend more money than the computer is worth.  If your laptop is out of warranty, then its probably more than a year old.  If you go through Dell’s repair process above (phone diagnostic, user-repair, Dell repair), you’re going to spend a minimum of $550.00.  This is a losing proposition.  Unless you have a high end gaming rig, it probably cost between $750.00 to $1,500.00.

If you’re spending more than one-third to one-half the cost of the original laptop after one year, that money would be better spent towards a new laptop.  That’s just a rule-of-thumb; you should really try my[10] scientific formula for deciding whether you should invest in a repair or buy a new computer.

Dell’s Tech Support Is Bad

Dell’s tech support is the opposite of helpful.  Their tech support personnel are trained to read from their scripts, repeat what you say as if they understood the problem, and then simply do the next thing on the script.  Any request for deviation from the script results in a denial or, best case scenario, holding for ten minutes while they find out from their supervisor the reason for denying your request.

You can eventually get what you want from Dell’s technical support, but you better be prepared to fight like hell for it.  You will need to argue and haggle with two layers of technical support grunts and as many supervisors as it takes to reach a technical support person located in the United States.

Even if Dell agrees to repair your laptop in an acceptable fashion, you’ve probably 10 hours in the process.  Add this to the actual cost of the repair and its a losing proposition.

Look, I’m Indian and I hate Dell’s Indian tech support.

  1. Photo courtesy of Just Us 3. []
  2. Since I can tell the suspense is killing you, I think a dedicated computer facility is best. []
  3. Tech support in this circumstance isn’t so much free as it is pre-paid. []
  4. A long story for another day. []
  5. I was sooo naive. []
  6. At cost, supposedly. []
  7. Or the digital equivalent of binders.  Decision tree programs, if you will. []
  8. Thank you Robert Picardo! []
  9. I had a scarily similar experience to the one I just described with a friend’s Dell laptop that arrived with a non-functional CD-burner. []
  10. Mostly []

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