Free PC Diagnostics: Confusion and the Truth

You see free diagnostics advertised everywhere. This subject needs lots of clarifying. It’s a touchy subject that angers both customers and computer repair shops alike. I’m no exception.

First, lets address the confusion. What exactly is a diagnostic?

… Is it a quick look at your PC and an educated guess?
… Is it a thorough testing of all your hardware and software?
… Is it a thorough troubleshooting and testing service?

The answer is yes to all of these. Therefore the question becomes, what can you expect for free? Do you really expect a repair shop to spend hours working on your PC for free? Do you think they can survive if they do this? Let me ask you this… do you work for free? What would happen if you did? Could you survive?

Now that we’ve cleared this up, let’s ask “What is a Free Diagnostic?” It is one of two things:

1) A “Bait and Switch” scheme to get you into the store
2) A quick look at your PC to get a general idea of the problem, i.e. a quick consultation.

Any honest repair shop will take a quick 10 – 20 minute look at the problem, or even do a simple repair for free, but that is all. However, some computer problems are complex to the point that even an experienced technician will not know what the problem is unless he or she does some in depth troubleshooting. That is not free, nor should it be.

Honest shops will not charge for all their time in these more complex cases if you decide not to do the repair, but they will charge a small diagnostic fee, usually somewhere between $30 to $60 (more for laptops). They still lose money, but at least they get something for their time.

The dishonest shops will pretend they did a diagnostic and then make up a story to get you to do an expensive repair, like replacing a hard drive, motherboard, or reinstalling Windows. This is also what usually happens with Big Box stores (including Office Supply stores). They also use this method to sell you a whole new computer.

In closing, a Word of Caution:

Do not pressure a repair shop to do a free diagnostic. If you do, they’ll either turn down the job and send you away, or recommend a major repair. They can’t spend the time to do a thorough diagnosis unpaid, and will recommend a broad range (i.e. major) repair to cover all the bases, which will definitely fix your computer.

If you’re fair to them, you may get out with a $100 repair. If not, it may be $400. This is more survival behavior than dishonesty (yes, I know it’s a fine line). They have bills to pay, and a need for food, clothing and shelter, just like you.

Laptop Repair: Overheating Issues

Does your laptop shut down on its own?  Does it get so hot you can’t keep it on your lap?  Does the fan scream or make grinding noises so loud it scares you?  If so, you could be having overheating issues.

What’s happening here?  First of all, if the processor (CPU) gets too hot, the laptop will shut itself down to protect it from burning out.  There are other reasons for unexpected shutdowns, but this is a major one.  This can also happen if the video (graphics) chip overheats.

This could happen for several reasons, but the major causes are as follows.

The fan is clogged or is going bad: 

It could be gunked up with dust or pet hair, preventing the air flow of the fan.  Sometimes the bearings on the fan go bad, resulting in grinding noises.  Dust and hair can either damage the bearings directly, or block the fan from rotating freely, which in turn can damage the bearings.

The Thermal Compound on the CPU has dried up and/or cracked:

In this case, the laptop will shut down on its own, or the fan will run really fast.  Why?  There is a thin film of heat conducting “grease” that sits between the CPU itself and the surface of a metal plate called the “Heat Sink”.  It’s like a radiator and has thin metal (usually copper) fins to help dissipate the heat from the CPU.

The thermal compound forms a seal that ensures full contact between the CPU and the heatsink, so that it efficiently pulls off the heat.  Over time, it can dry up and crack, breaking that seal.  Old, dried up compound also loses it’s ability to transfer (pull off) heat from the CPU.

Repair & Maintenance Options:

1. Get a can of air and blow it into the cooling vents of the laptop.  You’ll be surprised at what comes out.  If you wait too long however, there may be so much caked up in there, this won’t help.  The laptop may have to be opened up, so a technician can get in there and clean it up.

2. Broken fans have to be replaced.  This is not usually a big job, and the fans are cheap.  On some models however, the fan and heat sink are an integrated assembly and you have to replace the whole cooling system.  This is a bit more expensive, but still not too bad.

3. Remove the old thermal compound and put on a fresh layer.  This costs a little more, as you have to remove both the heat sink and fan, so you can get to the CPU.  When we do this, we use a higher quality compound than what the laptop came with.  We use a silver-impregnated compound that makes the laptop run up to 10 degrees cooler than standard ceramic compounds.

We can help you with these, or any other Computer and Laptop Repair issues.  If you’re reading this post from outside our website, click this link to our Tucson Laptop Repair website to learn more.

Thanks for reading, and check back for more helpful tips and information.

Laptop Repair: Liquid Spills on Keyboard

What should you do if you spill liquid on your laptop’s keyboard?  How can the damage be repaired?  What’s the possible extent of the damage?  These are common occurrences unfortunately.  We can repair laptop liquid spill damage, but the seriousness of the damage and the needed repairs depend largely on what you do when it happens.

Possible Extent of Liquid Damage:

I’ll just describe the worst-case scenario.  This would be if the liquid goes through the keyboard and into the the deeper parts of the laptop.  It can short out any of the internal components, including the motherboard (or logic board).

Even if it dries and works for a while, if the liquid was anything other than water, it can corrode the electronics and the machine could die later on.  This is why I always recommend letting a technician look at it.  The damage can get worse over time, thus costing more to repair if you wait.

Emergency Procedure:  If you spill liquid on your laptop, do this immediately:

  1. Close the lid and turn the laptop upside down. This prevents the liquid from seeping too far into the laptop.
  2. Unplug the power and remove the battery. Cutting off all power prevents short circuit electrical damage.

Don’t worry that this will cause an improper shutdown.  It’s better than ruining the machine and occasional improper shutdowns are not a big deal.

Leave the laptop this way and let the liquid seep out of the keyboard.  If the spill was just water, let it dry out for several hours or overnight.  When you get home, you can open up the lid, but leave the laptop upside down, perhaps propped up against something so you don’t damage the screen.  When it dries, turn it on.  If it works… cool!  If not, bring it to a repair shop.

If the spill was not water, bring the laptop to local PC Repair Shop.  I mean a real repair shop, not a big box store, as they’re clueless.  If you’re adept and adventurous, you can try to do more, but I strongly advise against it.  I’ve seen people mess things up pretty bad when they tried.  Still, if you insist, try the following.

Get an Electronic Cleaning Solvent…. Do Not Use a Household Cleaner!  You can pick up these special solvents at an electronics store.  I don’t mean an Ace Hardware either.  I mean a real electronics store.

If you’re not up to removing the keyboard, get the solvent in a spray can so you can get it into the keyboard while keeping it upside down.  If you do remove the keyboard, you can soak it in a tray of solvent.  Inspect the area under the keyboard and see if the liquid got in deeper.  If so, stop and bring it to a repair shop.

In closing, don’t try this yourself, but if you do, be careful!  Some of these repairs are difficult.  It’s not always apparent which component was damaged, so we often have to test everything.  Give us a call and we’ll do everything we can to save your laptop.

Laptop Repair Issue: Deciding on New or Used Parts

If you need parts for a broken laptop repair, an important choice to make is, should you get new or used/refurbished parts?  Here’s my thoughts and policy that I use in my repair business.

I’m talking about major components here, like motherboards and LCD screens.  Other minor parts are no big deal, as they’re not expensive.  For these major parts, the difference in cost between new and used/refurbished can be as high as $100 for LCD’s and $150 for motherboards.

If your laptop is over 3 years old, you’re better off with used or refurbished parts, unless it’s a high-end model (e.g. if it was over $1000 new).  If your laptop was a basic model with only a year or two of life left in it, you want to keep your repair cost low.

If your baby is a high-end beauty that still runs fast and is pretty up to date, you want to stick with new parts, as they are more reliable and will give your laptop longer life.  You want a good machine to last a while, since you spent a lot to buy it in the first place.

For newer laptops (less than 2 years old), you want to stick with new parts.  You want your machine to last 4 or 5 years, so you want the longer life and reliability of a new part.  Of course, if your laptop was a budget unit you bought for $299, it’s probably not worth doing a major repair.

What other considerations are there in choosing new versus used, or even in doing the repair it at all?  This is a cost/benefit decision.  If the cost of the repair (including labor) is half the cost or less of buying a new unit, you should definitely repair it.  If you can do this with new parts, go for it!

Most of these major repairs cost $300-$500 using new parts, or $200-$350 with used parts.  A good, solid mid-range laptop these days goes for $600-$800.  So you can see it’s a close decision.  If you bring your laptop to us, we’ll advise you on what’s best to do.

If you need help with this type of issue, or any other computer repair issue, our contact information is on our website at Saguaro PC Tech – Tucson Computer & Laptop Repair.

Laptop LCD Sreens: Ordering Them Yourself is Not a Good Idea

Ordering an LCD screen for your laptop is a lot trickier than you might think.  Manufacturers use more than one type of screen for the same model.  This makes no sense and is annoying, but that’s the world of laptops for you.

We get lots of customers who order a screen, thinking they’re saving time and money, then bring it in for us to install.  In over 75% of cases, we find they got the wrong screen and have to order one for them after all.  The customer then has the hassle of shipping it back to the vendor, often having to pay postage and possibly even restocking fees.

In the end, they spent more money and delayed the repair process.  Prices are not that different when you try this.  The hassle is not worth the $20-$30 you might save.  Think you’re smarter than the average bear, and that you know how to order the right screen?  Think again!

Even we don’t order screens that way.  We never search for the part by using the model number of the laptop.  We remove the existing screen, then we find the exact part number of the LCD panel itself, which is on the back of the panel.  Even then, we’re not fully satisfied.  We do multiple searches on different vendor sites and look for a picture of the back of the panel to insure the connectors are in the right place.

So the words of advice are… don’t try this at home folks!  We don’t mark parts up that much, so our prices are still comparable to what you would pay.  Remember, laptop repair shops know where to look for the best deals better than the average person.  Just bring your laptop to us and we’ll handle the hassle that comes with laptop parts ordering…. and believe me, laptops are a hassle to fix.  Much more so than desktops.

Laptop Repair: Finding a Good Repair Shop is Not Easy

Computer Laptop RepairWhile general laptop repair, like virus removal and software issues (Windows problems, etc.) are the same as for desktop computers, repairing laptop internal hardware components is a very difficult and specialized area.  Therefore, finding a good laptop repair shop is not so easy.

Why is this?  There are two reasons:

  1. Internal repairs require extreme precision and skill.  Soldering and electrical testing are also often required.
  2. Parts are very specific to each model, sometimes even varying among different revisions of the same model laptop.

Therefore a repair shop must have technicians with the appropriate skills.  Plus, the owner of the shop must have the knowledge and patience to deal with the often frustrating process of finding and ordering the correct parts for the job.  I personally went through hell learning this and often wondered if it was even worth bothering with laptop repairs. [Read more…]