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Tech 101 | Do It

PC Repairs and Upgrades Should Begin at Home

March 08, 2001|JEFF LEVY | jefflevykfi@hotmail.com

Taking a computer in for repairs or upgrades ranks right up there with a root canal. Costs can spiral out of control and the box can get stuck in the shop for days. If you have to take your computer in for upgrades or non-warranty repairs, here's what you should know before your computer goes out the door.

Upgrades aren't really rocket science anymore. Adding RAM, a new 3-D graphics card or even a new hard drive can be done at home or in the office. Each successive version of Windows does a better job of helping you to install what Microsoft calls "plug-and-play" hardware.

In most cases it's as simple as sticking the new hardware in the proper slot, loading software and letting Windows do its thing. Even if the instructions that come with new hardware aren't clear and helpful, you can buy books and magazines that feature upgrade instructions and cost far less than what you would pay to have the work done.

Repairing your own computer presents a separate set of challenges. You'll first have to determine whether the problem involves hardware or software. If your computer develops a problem after you load a new program or the error occurs only when you run certain programs, you've got a software glitch. The same is true for problems that surface after you download or install a new driver. The fix here can be as simple as downloading a patch, fix or new driver. It also can involve using the "recovery" CD-ROM to format your hard drive and reinstall Windows.

At the hardware level, a failed component can be replaced. If, for example, your CD-ROM or floppy disk drive fails, a repair tech will not waste time trying to fix it. It's easier and faster to replace the bad device with a new one. In that case, the repair is no more difficult than a device upgrade. You can do it yourself.

The Internet is an excellent source of hardware and software fixes. Checking a computer product manufacturer's Web site often can pinpoint and provide fixes for common problems and known bugs or glitches. You also can look for related information using search engines.

If all else fails, and you take your computer to a shop for repairs, talk with the tech about the problem you're having. Have the tech give you a written estimate for the cost of diagnosing and fixing the problem and the length of time the repairs will take.

Have the tech write on the invoice that you are to be contacted before more expensive repairs are undertaken. Insist that any defective hardware be returned when you pick up your computer. And pay for your repair or upgrade with a credit card so you can place the transaction in dispute if you suspect you've been taken for a ride.

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Jeff Levy hosts the "On Computers" radio talk show from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on KFI-AM (640).

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