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Your Opinions Requested: PC-Repair Services

The e-mail came from an old friend, but it could have been sent by any random reader -- a "Help, please!" subject header, followed by a litany of computing ailments and a request for suggestions about a good in-home repair service that could, in this case, troubleshoot an erratic monitor and set up a backup system.

I get messages like this as about as often as you'd expect, but I can rarely offer much direct help picking a computer fix-it operation. I haven't used any of these services myself; I'm supposed to be able to keep my own computers in working order, then fix them if they're not. But even occasional tryouts of one shop or another would offer little useful advice over the long term.

My usual go-to source for help with the service industry, Washington Consumer Checkbook magazine, covered computer-repair shops in its spring/summer 2007 issue -- available at most local libraries, or $10 to download -- but that piece did not look specifically at in-home services. (For what it's worth, Checkbook subscribers gave top ratings for quality and price to Boon PC Computer in Bethesda, the Computer Place in Gaithersburg and Fairfax, the Creative Group-PC Warehouse in Rockville, CSDC Computer Services in Vienna and Platinum Micro Electronics in Vienna.)

That still leaves individual readers' reports as a reference -- but far more of them have featured complaints than compliments about these services. And, of course, those e-mails are confined to my inbox, where I have to hope I can find them the next time somebody asks for advice about a good repair shop.

So let's trying using the comments here to gather some of those reports instead. If you've hired a company to visit your home and fix your computer, tell me about the experience: Did they fix the problem? Did they protect your data in the process? How much did they charge? Did that charge exceed their estimate? How long did they take to do the job?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  July 22, 2008; 10:23 AM ET
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I will briefly describe an ongoing saga with HP and its phone and email support service. My HP battery backup/surge protector was fried by a power surge--luckily it protected my computor, etc.., The unit is under a 2 year warrenty (I bought it in November '07) and I have been trying since Saturday afternoon to get assistance from HP. At first I really only wanted to know how to properly dispose of the fried unit but after spending 2+ hours on the phone being bumped from one totally unknowledgable staffer to another and then finally told that my warrenty had expired and I would have to prove to them the date of purchase I tried the email service---also to no avial! One respondant said my warrenty was in date and suggested I call the toll free system again (UUUGGGHHH) where someone would be more than happy to help me. Another said that my message had been routed to the wrong department (even though I had simply hit reply! Please help!! I am at my wit's end with HP and beginning to suspect that despite their warranty docs they have no real intention of providing any assistance to purchasers or their products.

Posted by: Julianne Clifford | July 22, 2008 12:01 PM | Report abuse

I have had very good luck with APC back up/surge protector units. We use APC in the office. Recently we ordered some new units, one of which was defective. I called APC, went thru all the usual "trial and error" steps trying to locate the problem. Once it was determined that the unit was actually defective, and the unit was under warranty, I had no problem. I got a replacement unit in just a few days.

Posted by: LaDonna Turpin | July 22, 2008 12:28 PM | Report abuse

I did in home PC help for a few months when I was 'between contracts' and I can say most of my customers had no idea how to go about finding a Computer repair / help service. They were all hesitant to call any of the G*eek named businesses (huge mistrust, no real reason for it). They found me through word of mouth, HOA newsletter ads, or Craigslist.

Someone, somewhere, will create a system for providing these services that the general population will trust and adopt, but they haven't yet, IMHO.

It doesn't help that you can buy a new PC for $500 when fixing an existing 3 year old system might cost $200.

Posted by: JkR | July 22, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

The one time I had someone in (part of the warranty of the computer I had at the time, so I had no choice about the service used), he failed to fix the problem, but he did leave a screwdriver behind "accidentally," which meant he wanted to come back to my house that night to get it. Ugh! I don't remember the name of the company. This was at least 10 years ago. I trust it has gone out of business.

I don't use in-home services now. With the last two or three dekstop computers, I've been able to fix any problems myself or decided to replace the machine. There is a good repair shop in Annapolis (Annapolis Computers on Forest Drive) that has done several different repairs on my laptop. If there was a problem with the desktop that I thought worth fixing, I would take it there rather than risk an in-home service I know nothing about.

Posted by: BW | July 22, 2008 1:34 PM | Report abuse

Nowadays, is my go-to place for information like this. People write detailed reviews, and when you find someplace with one good and one bad review, you need to read the reviews carefully. Remember, the people posting the reviews might be clueless, too. But if you find a string of good reviews, that's promising and worth a try. Looking for "Computer repair" in my neighborhood, I'd try the place with the nine 5 star reviews, but first I'd read those reviews to make sure they cover more than replacing a missing cable.

Posted by: Judith | July 22, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

For PDA repairs I found Renew Electronics in Cumming, GA dependable and fast. They fixed two totally dead Palm Txs in about a week, including new batteries and a digitizer chip for $70 each. You pre-pay with return postage for an estimate - about $24 each. The estimate comes off the total charge. It was fast, done right and I'm happily using two PDAs that I thought I'd have to junk.

Posted by: Jimmy P. | July 22, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I used the Geek Squad (affiliated with Best Buy, which I didn't know at the time) to fix my Dell.

As it turns out, the hard drive was dead, and it ended up being more cost-effective to buy a new computer than to pay for the tech's time and parts (testing of the hard drive took time, which increased the overall bill).

I would prefer to find a good, local outlet. Some firm that I can get to know, and gain confidence in. Not that the GS wasn't professional or anything - I just don't like the idea of padding Best Buy's coffers.

Posted by: NW DC | July 22, 2008 3:50 PM | Report abuse

I have had six Dell computers. My office has about a dozen. The reason that both I and my company keep buying Dell is that on the very rare occasion when something need to be replaced, it has been done quickly, a day or two at the most, and completely, with little fanfare.

Posted by: Richard Mitnick | July 22, 2008 5:17 PM | Report abuse

I also am one of those people who generally would never use any of these services -- I work with computers for a living and build (almost) all my own systems from parts. That being said, I can add two things:

I do own a Sony Vaio notebook, and after taking a good close look at it decided to purchase a service contract directly from Sony; I wasn't sure I would ever have been able to get parts much less find the correct procedure to disassemble the device to get at the parts. The one time I actually called in for this service -- the hard drive died -- they sent someone out within a couple of days, and he swapped out the hard drive and started the procedure to reload the OS (I assured him I could complete the procedure). Generally that experience was a good one, which I may attempt to repeat soon as other problems are accumulating.

The second comment has to do with The Computer Place in Gaithersburg. With the loss of CompUSA, they are the only place left in Gaithersburg to buy many sorts of computer parts. They do have have a substantial repair business. I buy parts from them frequently, and have often referred people to them as a good place to get stuff fixed and especially to get a PC that will be custom built to your requirements without all the crap that the big-name PC companies tend to stuff into their systems.

My only bad experience with them came a few weeks ago. I purchased a new motherboard, processor and memory to upgrade a computer. These parts worked fine for the better part of a day, but then started to flake out -- the OS (Linux) would routinely crash before it could finish booting, and booting from the install CD exhibited the same problem. This is classic "infant mortality," to use the industry term. I took the parts back, thinking that this would be a no-brainer cause for replacement. But to my disappointment they gave me a runaround, saying that if the board passed POST (power on self test), that there couldn't be anything wrong with it, and in any event they didn't support Linux. All of this was b*****t. They sent me to the repair desk, and they poor guy working back there, after I told him the story, called up front saying in effect "what the &%!@ am I supposed to do with *this*?" -- the obvious course of action was to replace the parts.

Anyway, after going round and round with them for twenty minutes or so, I told them that I wanted to *return* the parts, as they clearly didn't meet my needs. They then tried to scare me with a "well, there would probably have to be a 15% restocking fee...", to which I said fine, let's get the process started. To which they said, "well, how about if we replace the motherboard". Which, of course, was what I was after all the time. They swapped out the motherboard, I put the new unit in my system, and everything worked great.

Which I guess is a long way around saying that, while I do recommend them, be aware that you might have to push back at them if it seem like they are trying to avoid liability on something that they have sold you.

Posted by: BobD | July 22, 2008 8:30 PM | Report abuse

I have about 30 computers from Intellect Computer in Shirlington. (on 7 at George Mason Dr.)

They've been extremely good for both new computers and repairs.

Posted by: Jason | July 22, 2008 11:44 PM | Report abuse

In case it gets hung up in the spam filter:
Shiny! Want!

Posted by: wiredog | July 23, 2008 7:54 AM | Report abuse

The Prince George's County School System uses Pro-Tech to fix printers. For computers, they keep them under warranty for 3 years.

Posted by: Ed | July 23, 2008 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Yes HP "service" is the worst. My new HP computer was full of problems . After twenty-nine days and hours on the phone I gave up and managed to get a refund before the thirty days were up. I bought a Gateway with a full service plan. This one had problems but they were solved by their service team which has been first rate, on the phone as well as in my home. Sometimes you get an agent who doesn't have a clue but, with perseverance , problems can be solved.

Posted by: sbuddrv | July 23, 2008 2:31 PM | Report abuse

i love the guys at dell and hp - i am a lone stranger tech in a school (you'd think they'd put their money where their politics are) and: the quick and dirty stuff is never an issue, the support pages are pretty reliable, the service is only limited by snail mail of parts back and forth!
I just started using sun systems so it remains to be seen how that will work out.

Ubuntu Linux support is pretty basic - gotta' do it yourself or hire an outside systems engineer to keep 'em going. the ubuntu itself is pretty stable and requires little effort once up however.

my biggest issue, when it comes to support, is the lack of any from the users/ admin - geesh, no money for budget, unreal expectations(they never know what they're talking about) and i wish they would at least try some training.

ok, i feel better now......

Posted by: al | July 24, 2008 3:15 AM | Report abuse

I've used Frank at CSDC Computer Services in Vienna a few times. (It's a one man service shop). He does good work at a very reasonable cost. He wasn't getting enough business to keep his own office, so now he does computer work on the side, but still does it well.

Let's see, the first time I used him, I had installed a new power supply, but in the process crossed a few wires. He fixed that up and cleaned up the inside of the computer. I think he only charged like $20 for that. The next time was when my hard drive was doing a slow nose dive to the grave. He was able to transfer everything to a new hard drive. He had to keep the computer for several days because the original disk drive was moving at a snail's pace. $75 plus the cost of the new drive (I think it was $30?) The last time I used him (last week) was when my computer was acting really wacky. He said it sounded like the power supply (different computer than the one mentioned before). Had it replaced and working the next day, for $75.

All these times, I went to him (he isn't too far from me), I don't know if he goes to homes or not. His charges never exceeded his estimates. He called me periodically to let me know what he was doing, and what he planned to do next (with the hard drive). I've recommended him to others, and would do so again.

Posted by: Louis | July 24, 2008 7:35 AM | Report abuse

I've used several retailers in the area for PC and Mac repair. Quality varies and I have found it really depends on who you get as your technician.

CSDC has the most consistent quality as far as I'm concerned...for PC work. Pretty much anything I have brought to him has been fixed and done right the first time. Price has always been right!

For Macs I've used Earmark Media Services. Not cheap... they only perform onsite visits but are another company that seems to get it right the first time. They specialize in Macs and getting Macs networked. I've even recommended them to a couple of the companies I temp for. (Graphic Design)

Posted by: Peter | July 28, 2008 6:29 PM | Report abuse

I have used Richards Computer in Merrifield/Fairfax a few times. Very professional service, timely turnaround (usually within 2-3 days), though a little pricey if machine not under warranty (PC repairs don't come cheap usually anyway). They highlight on repairing specific brands, but they may repair others. They also have a local courrier service where they will pick up your machine at your home or office, for an extra fee.

Highly recommended. One time I had a Toshiba laptop under warranty though the Toshiba national support center lost this information in their database. I brought my machine and warranty paperwork to Richards, and it was repaired for free, no hassles.

Posted by: Fairfax, VA | July 29, 2008 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Would not recommend HP due to issues with warranty work/customer service.
My first HP experience has been a love-hate; in that order. I've owned several pcs in the past. My latest, the HP notebook (DV2000) WAS wonderful. My first warranty experience was good -- out and back within a week -- WOW! Was I impressed!

When I received the pc back, however, I was unable to check if the DVD player was fixed BECAUSE now the pc wouldn't even boot up. Customer Service had me go through some diagnostics/potential fixes but had to ultimately call back the pc for service. (My question was: Wasn't the PC checked before it was sent out!?)

Because I run my biz using the pc, I was certainly inconvenienced being without it yet again; but had no choice. It went back in for service after the call June 12, 2008. The diagnosis was "defective board." I called to explain the importance of having the pc repaired and returned promptly (my business' lifeblood). First, it was to be a week. Then, 3 weeks (parts shortage). Then, August 18!!! (all have been recalled to replace the mother boards).

I received the pc back Aug. 7, 2008. Even with the lost revenue it cost me, I was happy to have it back finally. I charged it up & turned it on. Immediately it went to an error message, "Checking File system on C:..." and it locked up during the CHKDSK process. I called Customer Service. Again I was led through some diagnostics and testing. The extended test took 96 minutes. I was called back after 2 hours to check on the status (good job HP!).

I explained that it passed the tests but went into the same error message when rebooted. The rep said, in that case, the pc would have to be repaired or replaced. I told him about the previous warranty work and asked why the pc was shipped back to me without being able to properly boot up (required for testing the fix!)? He explained that this was a case ("lemon") that would be sent directly to the Case Management team who has the authority to replace the pc.

I was assigned a Case Manager, Trevor Kelly.

I have never -- in 30 years in business -- been so shocked with the insensitivity and callous manner of any Customer-facing organization. Mr. Kelly, told me (and I'm paraphrasing, "Sounds like this time it's the disk.....No, YOU listen, you will send it back for another repair." (I had tried to interject my issue of being without a pc for 2 months already, having experienced 2 unsuccessful repairs. And, how could I believe that THIS repair would actually work since not once, but TWICE, the pc was actually returned to me inoperable! (Before any warranty work, at least it booted up and ran!) I hung up very dissatisfied and frustrated.

I called back asking to be assigned a different Case Manager (and explained why). I was emphatically told, "That is impossible -- once a person is assigned, they are the one that follows through to resolution." I asked if I could PLEASE speak with a leader/manager of the Case Managers. I was told, "There are no managers here; we are the final say. ...Yours is a repair-based warranty; period. I will forward you to Trevor." She tried his line and came back to me saying, "Trevor is with another customer. I will give him your message and he will call you back." That was yesterday 3 hours before the department closed. My call still has not been returned (24 hours later).

What happened to customer-oriented, "customer service" organizations? Shouldn't team members -- at least -- respect the customer enough to LISTEN? He jumped to his conclusion (repair vs. replace) before listening to extent of my issues. Not all customers, nor all problems (cases) are alike. This is one customer who will never buy another HP-anything.

Posted by: Karen | August 8, 2008 7:01 PM | Report abuse

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