Archives for December 2011

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.

Last updated by at .