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Technology

What You Need to Know About Computer Repair

Even if you're not a certified geek, you may be able to troubleshoot your ailing PC.


VIEW AS SLIDESHOW: What You Need to Know About Computer Repair



Even if you're not a certified geek, you may be able to troubleshoot your ailing PC.

1. First Stop: Do It Yourself.

Before spending any money, look for help online to remedy your problem. "You may find a really easy fix you never would have come up with on your own," says Tom Merritt, executive editor of CNET.com, the electronics-review site. If you have software difficulties, online forums, such as Annoyances.org for PCs and Mac-Forums.com for Apple users, offer knowledgeable advice.

If you suspect your problem is hardware-related, call the manufacturer to see if it is covered under the warranty. (To cut through the PC maker's phone tree and reach a customer-service rep, get instructions at Gethuman.com.)

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2. Next Stop: Ask For A Referral.

Training and credentials vary so much that your best bet is to get recommendations from people you trust. Then vet the business using complaint records from the local Better Business Bureau, available online at www.us.bbb.org. Before you agree to any service, ask how long the company will guarantee its work and what, if anything, follow-up visits will cost.

The technician should give you a free price quote upfront. Some repairers charge by the hour (the average rate is $100), and others price by service, such as $200 to install or fix operating-system software. House calls cost extra.

3. Keep Out Unwanted Intruders On The Cheap.

Has your system slowed to a crawl? The cause may be spyware-stealth software that, at minimum, installs itself on your PC to track your Internet usage (more nefarious versions take control of your computer and send out spam e-mails). Firedog, the repair arm of electronics retailer Circuit City, charges $99 for in-store spyware removal and $179 for a home visit.

The Geek Squad, a computer -- repair outfit run by Best Buy, offers a one-year subscription ($30) to Web-based software that will remove spyware. But if you're running Windows XP or Vista, you have another option: Windows Defender. Defender is fine for most home users -- and it's free. (To download the program, go to www.microsoft.com/downloads and click on "Windows Security & Updates.")

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4. Your Technician Could Be a Peeping Tom

Any service you choose gets access to your personal stuff -- not a relationship to take lightly. Last summer, a staffer at the blog Consumerist.com caught a Geek Squad employee stealing files from his computer when he took the PC in to have it repaired.

Says a Geek Squad spokeswoman, "We have been the target of a blog that prefers to focus on the exceptions to our service and not the overall, vast majority of successful services we provide to clients."

5. Buying A Laptop? Insure It.

Consumer Reports figures that there's a 43% chance your laptop will need repairs in the first three to four years. Among the top laptop wreckers: accidental damage and meltdown from a power surge. Those woes are not covered by most manufacturers' extended warranties, including AppleCare.

But some insurers, among them Safeware (800-800-1492; www.safeware.com), offer lap-top coverage. Repairing the screen on an $1,100 MacBook -- destroyed by, say, a slip off the kitchen table -- can easily run $400. But Safeware will insure a MacBook against accidental damage (including drops, falls and liquid spills) for about $70 per year with no deductible.