Computers: DIY

This makes me kind of nauseous. Okay, it makes me really nauseous. Not literally though, just figuratively. According to a report by The Consumerist, Best Buy's repair department, known as the "Geek Squad", has been holding the laptop of an invalid and they refuse to give it back to her. Basically, the story is this:
Jenni's sister is disabled and bed-bound, and her laptop is her portal to the world. So when her HP laptop had to go in for repair, it was a big deal. It was an even bigger deal after the Geek Squad spent over a month dickering with the repair and while it was in their hands, the warranty ran out. Now Geek Squad won't give it back unless the full out of warranty price is paid, and HP says it's not their problem, it's Geek Squad's.
I've heard plenty of horror stories about Geek Squad, including this damning article by a former employee, which coincidentally or not was also published by The Consumerist. It contains some revealing tidbits of unethical management, like this:
Selling services and warranties are pushed more than actually completing repairs. I remember one instance where my GM said that selling a new computer with services was more important than completing a customer's unit that they had already paid for.
An ex-girlfriend of mine once took her laptop to Geek Squad, and got an $80 bill. What had they done? The work receipt said:
  1. Uninstalled Internet Explorer
  2. Re-Installed Internet Explorer
Now look. It's easy to hear these kinds of stories and demonize Best Buy and/or the Geek Squad. The reality is that there are hundreds of Best Buy stores in the United States, and lots and lots of Geek Squad outfits. They handle thousands of cases, and the ones that are resolved without issue are not the ones that make the news. It's likely that some of them are managed professionally, while others are managed poorly and even unethically.

So my point is not to rip on Geek Squad; rather, it's to impart an important message about PCs: learn about them.

PCs are absolutely central to our digital lives, and yet it's astonishing how few people even understand basic functions and troubleshooting. For a long time, I was in that boat just like everyone else. Then, I took a leap: I built my own PC.

I started building my own PCs in 2006. I'd always wanted a nice gaming PC, but I'd never been able to afford one. For the last five years, I've built, modded, tweaked, overclocked and perfected many PCs, and build several for friends. The best part of the experience has been really getting to understand the hardware, the software, and the interaction of the two. Windows XP, for example, had always seemed less intuitive than the Mac operating systems I'd used at my parents' house as a kid. But with the first clean installation of the OS – no unwanted programs, no trial offers, nothing on there that I didn't put on there – it suddenly appeared to me as a flexible, secure and stable operating system. I can't see myself ever buying a computer again.

Not that I would expect everyone to build their own computers, of course. Nonetheless, all users should understand basic troubleshooting skills. The majority of troubled PCs do not have anything significant wrong with them. But when you're unable to accurately diagnose and fix a simple problem, it opens the door for places like the Geek Squad to price gouge you and/or sell you something you don't actually need. I've seen people swear they need a new computer when all they needed was a can of compressed air to clean mountains of dust off the inside of their computer.

Fortunately, we all have access to a wealth of diagnostic information: the internet. Before you send your PC in for repairs, try Google. I'd bet that the majority of the time, you'd find a solution and save yourself time and money. A little know-how goes a long way toward preventing customer abuse.


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