Monday, July 26, 2010

It’s like paying $1000 dollars for an oil change.

Since I bought my very first PC about 15 years ago (my first PC, not my first computer), I've always thought the continual drive to make computers as user-friendly and idiot proof as possible has been a really bad idea.

Windows Operating Systems have become like over-protective parents. Want to delete a file? Two or three levels of 'are you sure?' …Want to run a program? Two levels of 'Are you sure?' and if Windows doesn't like that program or thinks it's suspicious, you're either shit out of luck, or you're gonna spend the next twenty minutes navigating through a maze of options to turn the damn nanny off.

For example, Sunny's laptop got infected with a pretty nasty virus that copied itself and changed its filename every time you tried to delete it. With Windows XP, the solution was simple. You ran the virus checker, it would recognize the virus but not attempt to delete it…but would delete it during startup before it started running, and therefore get rid of it for good.

I tried that on Sunny's Vista laptop, and after waiting an hour for the virus checker to finish, and selecting the option to erase it during startup, I reset the machine only to find Vista has blocked the virus checker from doing anything. Why? Because programs that try to run during startup are 'suspicious'.

Basically, when I started using computers, there was a certain level of knowledge required to use one. Today, not so much.

This isn't techno-snobbery… because the problem is that, today, we have literally millions of people using computers who know absolutely nothing about them…and that leads to these people being ripped off left right and center.

For example, last night, I restarted my desktop only to find it wouldn't boot up, for some reason it was trying to boot from the network instead of the hard drive.

Now to someone who has never had to learn anything about computers, that's a dead-end right there. This is where the average user calls someone like me (if they're lucky), or if they don't know a 'computer guy', they go without a computer for a while and then pay a service like Geeksquad twice what their computer is worth to fix it…and, yes, you will pay it even though you could get a new computer for less, because the broken computer probably has a ton of stuff you can't afford to lose on it that you never bothered backing up.

I, on the other hand, rebooted the machine, pressed f8 during startup to check my BIOS hadn't glitched and messed up the boot order. This is more common than you think, especially when you're forced to turn off your computer without shutting it down.

However, checking my BIOS settings, I saw the computer wasn't recognizing either hard drive. Now, your average computer user may have the necessary knowledge to look at their bios settings, but very few, if any, would know what to do if their computer just wasn't recognizing their hard drive. Again, off to Geek squad to get shafted.

Instead, I did something that less than 1% of average users would be willing to do…I opened the case to check the IDE cable hadn't come loose, again 99% of the time, this would be your problem.

For me, it wasn't. This left one option, my bios settings had messed up…and the fix was really simple if you know what to do.

I found the bios chip on the motherboard (It's easy to find, it's next to a watch battery). Next to the battery is a little jumper that controls the power to the chip. I removed the jumper, restarted the computer, which also completely reset the bios, turned the computer off, replaced the jumper and restarted. Problem solved.

Now, let me be clear here. I have no idea how a bios chip actually works. However, I know what it does and what it needs to do it… and how to reset it if it messes up. It's like you don't have to know how a DVD player actually works in order to know that it has to be plugged in and connected to your TV in order to play your movie.

Now, I'm not suggesting that the average user should learn exactly how everything in their computer works with absolute detail, but do a bit of reading and learn the basics. Basically, computers are like cars, you don't have to know how an internal combustion engine works to drive one, but today, it's like people buy cars and don't even know how to change a tire or even fill it with gas.

After fixing the problem, just out of interest, I called Geek Squad to see what they'd charge.

I was absolutely fucking amazed.

For example, if you get a virus, you can download virus checkers and removers for free. They're not difficult to use (it's usually a one-click operation)…Geek Squad charged $200 to do this for you, even more if you want them to come to you. So, you can either download something like AVG anti-virus for free off the internet and click 'scan whole computer' when you get a virus…or you can drive your computer to a Best Buy and pay someone to price of a new iPod to do exactly the same thing

So I talked to the guy and explained my problem. He explained that if the computer wasn't recognizing either hard drive, my motherboard was almost certainly 'fried' (his words, not mine) and it would be around $100 just to look at it, about $200 for a new motherboard, and another $50 to install it.

That's $350 to open a case and move a jumper that's about a technically difficult as turning on a light switch.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that once I took it over there, they'd see the motherboard wasn't the problem and probably charge me less, right?


I watched a video recently where, to test out computer repair places, they took a four fully functioning computers, and just unplugged the IDE cable inside (that's a big fat ribbon-style cable that connects your hard drive to your motherboard). Anyone who knows anything about computers would check that first and it would be totally obvious that that was the problem. Missing that would be like taking your car to a mechanic and them not noticing your engine was missing. Then they took these computers in for repair.

Out of the four repair places, only one diagnosed the problem correctly, just plugged it back in and just charged a nominal fee for looking at it. Geek Squad said the motherboard was half dead, and that it was probably caused by a faulty power supply, so charged $200 for the repair, plus the cost of a new motherboard and a new power supply. The other two repair places gave similarly ridiculous and expensive diagnoses.

What it boils down to is that a little bit of knowledge goes a long way…and that so-called 'professional' repair services are actively out to screw you. Even the ones that aren't trying to screw you over are still going to charge you hundreds of dollars that can be fixed with a couple of mouse clicks.

Learn how your computer works.


1 comment:

Evan 08 said...

I think that people should know a little bit about everything they own. But if this happened in reality, people would not have electricity, indoor plumbing, heating and air conditioning, computers or cars. I'm kind of like you in one aspect... I LIKE learning how shit works. I ENJOY knowing a bit about a lot of things and saving money. I am PROUD of my mechanical, plumbing and electronics skills. It keeps the man from ripping me off in two ways. One: I can do many basic repairs myself. Two: I can intelligently describe the problem, so the experts know I have a clue and fix the problem without over-charging.