If your desktop or laptop is acting up, even if you're not a certified geek, you may be able to cure the problem yourself. In the April issue...
NEW YORK — If your desktop or laptop is acting up, even if you’re not a certified geek, you may be able to cure the problem yourself. In the April issue of Kiplinger’s magazine, associate editor Thomas Andersons identifies four ways you can try to repair your PC before spending any money on professional help.
• First stop: Do it yourself. Before spending any money, look for help online to remedy your problem. If you have software difficulties, online forums such as www.annoyances.org for PCs and www.Mac-Forums.com for Apple users offer knowledgeable advice. If you believe your problem is hardware-related, call the manufacturer to see if it is covered under the warranty. (To cut through the phone tree and reach a customer service representative, get instructions at www.Gethuman.com.)
• Next stop: Ask for a referral. Training and credentials vary so much that your best bet is to get a recommendation from someone you trust. Then vet the business using complaint records from the local Better Business Bureau, available online at www.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.
• Keep out unwanted intruders on the cheap. If your system has slowed to a crawl, the cause may be spyware — stealth software that, at a minimum, installs itself on your PC to track your Internet usage. 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 for $30 to Web-based software that will remove spyware. If you’re running Windows XP or Vista, you can download Windows Defender at www.microsoft.com/downloads and click on “Windows Security & Updates.”
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• If you buy a laptop, insure it. Consumer Reports estimates that there’s a 43 percent chance your laptop will need repair 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. Repairing the screen on a $1,100 MacBook can easily run $400, but laptop insurer Safeware (www.safeware.com) will insure a MacBook against accidental damage for about $70 a year with no deductible.