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How to Service Your Own Computer: 7 Easy Things Computer Repair Places Do

assembling-desktop-computer

Computer repair places like Best Buy’s Geek Squad do a lot of things that you can easily do yourself. Instead of paying for a pricy malware removal or computer tune-up, you can do it yourself.

This guide won’t walk you through identifying a failing component and repairing it by hand. It’s focused on the easy stuff – although it’s easy, people pay hundreds of dollars to have it done for them.

Image Credit: Fort Meade on Flickr

Remove Viruses and Malware

Many people still wrestle with infected Windows PCs. If your computer is infected and isn’t working properly, you don’t have to pay someone else to fix it. The Geek Squad doesn’t have any magic tools – they use many of the standard antivirus tools you can use yourself.

For instructions on removing viruses – and preventing them from coming back – read: What To Do If You Get a Virus on Your Computer

For a really deep infection, a good repair place may dig through your autostart entries and registry by hand and manually remove malware that isn’t being caught by tools. However, this can be time-consuming – and if the computer is already so infected, there’s no guarantee all the malware will be removed. In cases like this, they’ll often just reinstall Windows. You can do that yourself, too.

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Reinstall the Operating System

Some people think that computers become slower over time and eventually need to be replaced – it’s sad, but true. Other people may take the computer to a repair place when it starts slowing down. When dealing with a computer that’s become bogged down by startup programs and toolbars, a simple Windows reinstall is often the fastest, easiest solution.

This can also help if you’re experiencing other problems with your computer, such as file corruption or weird errors. While it’s often possible to troubleshoot these things by replacing corrupted files and bad drivers, it’s usually faster to just reset Windows back to its factory state.

Most new computers come with factory restore partitions, which you can access by pressing the correct key during the boot process (check your computer’s manual). You may also have CDs or DVDs you can restore your computer from. If you installed Windows yourself, you can use the Windows installation disc. On Windows 8, use the Refresh or Reset feature to easily reinstall Windows.

Be sure to back up your important files before doing this. Some places may back up your important files for you, while some may ask you to back them up ahead of time – that’s because they’ll just be reinstalling Windows for you.

Remove Included Bloatware

If you’ve just purchased a new computer – or reset your old computer back to its factory default state – you’ll often find it packed full of useless software. Computer manufacturers are paid to include these programs, which slow your computer down (particularly during the startup process) and clutter your system tray.

Best Buy’s Geek Squad will charge you to remove this bloatware. Even Microsoft is getting in on the action – if you bring a Windows PC to a Microsoft store, they’ll remove the bloatware for $99.

Don’t fall for it: You don’t have to pay a dime to remove these preinstalled programs. There are three ways you can go about doing this:

  • Use a program like PC Decrapifier. It will automatically scan your computer for bloatware and automatically uninstall it.
  • Open the Uninstall a program control panel and manually uninstall each piece of bloatware, one-by-one. If you do this on a new computer, be sure not to uninstall any hardware drivers. Everything else should be fair game.
  • Reinstall Windows. Many geeks like performing a fresh install of Windows on their new computers to start from a clean state. You’ll often have to download and install hardware drivers from your computer manufacturer’s website after the reinstall.

Build Your Own Computer

If you’re in the market for a new desktop computer (you can’t really build your own laptop), you don’t have to buy a prebuilt computer. It’s surprisingly easy to build your own computer from components you can order online. This is generally cheaper than building a new computer – you can get better hardware and choose exactly the hardware you want.

For step-by-step instructions for everything from choosing components to assembling your new machine, check out our guides:

Upgrade Your RAM or Hard Drive

Some computer upgrades are particularly simple. Adding new RAM to your computer is a very simple process – as long as you buy the right RAM for your computer, installing it is will be easy (even in many laptops.) You can also upgrade your hard drive (or add a new hard drive) to increase the storage space you have available. This is a bit more complicated, as you’ll have to reinstall Windows or move your existing operating system over if you’re replacing the original hard drive, but it’s not too hard.

We have guides that will walk you through performing these simple upgrades:

RMA Your Computer

If you bought a laptop or pre-assembled desktop computer, you don’t need to take it to a repair place if it breaks. If it’s still under warranty, you can contact the manufacturer to RMA the computer and have them repair it. RMA stands for “return merchandise authorization” – you’ll need to tell the manufacturer’s service department your problem and receive an RMA number before mailing it to their service center.

If you built your own computer from scratch, it can get a bit more complicated here – you’ll need to pin down which component is defective and RMA that component alone.

For information on RMA’ing your hardware if it breaks, consult your computer’s warranty documentation. You can also visit your computer manufacturer’s support website online.

Recover Deleted Files

If you’ve accidentally deleted an important file, you’ll be happy to know that it may be possible to recover it. This is because deleted files aren’t actually erased immediately.

If you need in-depth forensic data recovery of critical business documents, you might want to contact a professional for that. This is an expensive service, so unless it’s extremely important data, you may as well just try doing it yourself.

Read More:


These are all things you can do on your own fairly easily if you can follow instructions. We haven’t touched on the more complicated stuff here, but a lot of what people pay computer repair places to do is simple. This is the computer equivalent of changing your own windshield wiper fluid.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/5/13

Comments (80)

  1. toxictavrn

    “This is the computer equivalent of changing your own windshield wiper fluid.”

    i dont know man, i ve never “changed” my washer fluid! my blinker fluid yes……

  2. Luke

    It saddens me that people are willing to pay $99 for someone to remove bloatware for them. There shouldn’t even be a market for that.

  3. Big dee

    This article is a confusing mess. Do you want people to build their own computer or fix it themselves? If they’re already paying geek squad to remove a virus do you think they will want to build their own computer? This post was typed in 1 minute, just like the article.

  4. Pluto

    The virus and spyware removal section of this article is crap. I dont do this level of tech work anymore but I have 16 years experience doing it and I even (unfortunately) worked for geek squad for awhile. Geek Squad and other computer repair places have access to tons of removal and repair programs that their companies pay a lot of money for. These tools are much more thorough than the free ones you get out on the internet. Not to say that the things listed here couldnt work. Its never a bad idea to give it a go yourself but most times inexperienced or even some more tech savvy people arent going to be successful at removing these things entirely and properly and in some cases you can even hose your OS in the process if you dont know what you are doing. Yes its true that you can learn to wipe your PC and reinstall yoru OS to get rid of malware but Geek Squad or any other decent PC company can usually do it without having to resort to that. Typically if windows does get hosed in the virus and spyware removal process computer techs can repair windows instead of reinstalling it which is usually why people pay these companies money to do it for them. Data retention is usually the customers primary concern as well as the company that is working on it. My .02

  5. Eric

    The process is really educative and important for computer users

  6. Sandy Bergman

    Did I miss “vacuum out the dust”?

    I am 78 (female) and started with computers in 1981. Can’t do much now but help other old farts… Restart, Dust, Defrag, Clean off unused files, Run Virus scan, update drivers and check outlets etc…works miracles! And I am free…no large charges and they are back to email & google searches.

  7. nt0xik8ed

    the first thing i ask is “have you tried to run any registry cleaners” and 99.9% of the time they’ll say yes. that way they won’t lie. then i ask if they still have their cd’s that came with the computer. 99.9% of the time the answer is no. i’m prepared to make money after that…

  8. Terry

    Here’s what I do when someone brings me there computer to clean out. About 15 years experience.

    1. Disable any unnecessary items starting up using Ccleaner and msconfig.

    2. use the cleaner in Ccleaner and the registry cleaner built in (I even doubt reg cleaners but every little bit helps)

    3. Then I like to scan for virus/malware etc. by using Malwarebytes and Superantispyware and one using whatever antivirus program they are using.

    4. I also like to reset IE even if they don’t use it. If I notice a lot of tool-bars in IE I will also go to either Control Panel or again to Ccleaner and uninstall them. Some tool-bars use background services and other sneaky methods to re-enable themselves after an IE reset.

    5. I usually also defrag but not a firm believer if this does anything good or not. I assume only fractions of seconds are gained by this but every little bit helps considering all the online forums I read where people are whining about a few seconds here or there , like in the speed of their computer booting up.

    6. I make sure that any specific issues are fixed and thats it.

    And I only charge $10 flat fee.

  9. Jim Carter

    I love the idea of people “repairing” their own computers! That means I charge EVEN MORE to fix the messes they’ve made!

  10. clamo

    @Luke: its because there are a lot of people that do not know a thing about how to correctly operate there computers and shops like to take advantage of this. like best buys geeks quad. they charge like $50 for a service call and use software that is free and available over the web AND they also use illegal software when looking @ a persons computer.

    @Big dee: some times knowing how to build one is a good idea as if you don’t know how can one remove a bad part for replacement.

    @Pluto: LOL you are so full of it. I have a geeksquad software cd and almost everything on it is free software. the only software on the cd that is paid for by best buy is the illegal stuff. and yes they have already had a law suit filed against them as regards to it and they were ordered to REMOVE it….guess what, it never happened.

    the moral of this people is please get educated on how to clean and repair your computers so you do not have to put up with the inconsiderate others trying to take advantage of you.

  11. Paul

    Great article. Brings together lots of useful info (however I do agree that it should have included a vacuum out step. I’ve seen some real messes in my 20 odd years with PCs). Gets a place in my Favourites!

  12. lostnsavd

    I am Microsoft Office certified and have been working with computer software since 1981.

    All computers (new and used) should have FREE antivirus, malwarebyte, etc. programs pre-installed with instructions. As for myself, I have helped a many a person and even include my step-by-step tutorials (visual illustrations) on how a person can DIY (do it yourself). These instructions come with any programs I install for them also at no charge. There are still a lot of people who are not computer literate, nor does anyone (that I know of), ever edumacate (sarcasm for educate) computer users to run certain programs on a ‘scheduled’ basis.

    One thing I have always believed in…is that there should be a computer exam (like a written driving test) “before” a new user can purchase a computer, or a FREE online ‘computer basics 101′ for new users. Something to help them get started. Think about that. You certainly can’t drive a car without taking an exam. Many people buy a computer and have no clue what they’ve gotten themselves into, and then get themselves in a wreck.

    And one other thing. You mention to back up all your files before having your computer serviced to reinstall Windows. Well, FYI… If a persons computer is already infected and then they back up their files, there is a good chance that they may also backup some of those viruses, malware etc. too.

    Which reminds me, a GOOD tech and/or sales person, will ‘educate’ their customers.

    Computer savvy and still learning…

  13. synwave

    Im thinking fdisk is the most effective tool.

  14. BEN TEN TEN

    The best advice I’ve read on here, so far is @ Clamo

  15. BEN TEN TEN

    I hate when people uses the word “SAVVY” in reference to anything, because it just sounds so arrogant, and self glorifying.

  16. BEN TEN TEN

    I have the most simplest invention, in the world, that will eliminate dust from ever even interring a computer; just need backing, with no questions, until after the manufacturing and packaging process is completed, because it’s that simple.

  17. Amanda

    If all you are going to do is diss the article why read it
    yes SOME
    good advice but as one person mentioned teach the user how to use their pc

  18. Amanda

    i had a friend who worked on a help desk and got a call from a user saying “weve had a power cut and i cant turn my computer on” DOH, he replied “do you have the packaging for your computer and if so pack it back up because you are too thick to use it” to this he was sacked

  19. Tiffany

    Most computers don’t even include and CD’s/disks with them anymore

  20. Mohammed

    I think the reason why the article is getting so much negative feedback, is because it over-simplifies computer repair, as if anyone can do it and in reality, everyone CANNOT and SHOULD NOT do it.

    Yes, anyone can learn to remove viruses, bloatware, reinstall Windows, or build their own PC. But not everyone is suited to do it nor has the patience to follow through the process when a problem arises. And a problem will ALWAYS arise.

    The major aspect the article fails to address is that when a person is taking their computers in for service repair, they are not just paying for a service, they are paying for the requisite expertise of the person(s) performing the services. Professional computer repair is more than just knowing how to do it, but about knowing what to do when things don’t go right. Is the act of removing viruses easy? Yes. But is it the process of removing viruses easy? That is a resounding, “No.” Unless you have experienced failure when performing these services, then you really can’t say how easy it is or isn’t.

    The things mentioned in this article are easy to do, as I believe anyone can learn how to do something, but ONLY if the person has the patience and the will to endure the learning process. The statement I feel is of most criticism is the last one:

    “These are all things you can do on your own fairly easily if you can follow instructions. We haven’t touched on the more complicated stuff here, but a lot of what people pay computer repair places to do is simple. This is the computer equivalent of changing your own windshield wiper fluid.”

    As much as I love this site and have been visiting it for years, this is pretty much a direct insult to all computer repair business and the people who are employed in them. And I am not talking about pizza techs like Geek Squad who are a dime-a-dozen and could care less about quality work. I am talking about the local businesses who spend countless time and money ensuring they provide the best work they can and reasonable prices. The ones who don’t perform every job for money, but are willing to turn down jobs, because they are willing to admit they either shouldn’t do it or can’t do it. More importantly, the ones who end up spending countless man hours fixing the problems clients self-inflict on themselves, because they read incomplete articles like this one, thinking the process is easy, when it fact it is not.

    As a computer repair technician, I would just ask that next time your write about such a subject, you be more cognizant of the whole process and not just one aspect of it. Articles like this not only create more headaches for quality computer repair techs like myself, but it also creates a behavioral issues in clients thinking things are easy, realizing they are not, and then when it comes time for repair, automatically think they are being ripped off, because they read how easy it was — regardless of the fact that they are coming to us to fix the easy thing they knew not how to do.

  21. ken

    Why does every one say vacuum out the computer…. you should not vacuum out a computer, you can get static discharge and fry a component . BLOW out the computer, Air compresser, hell even a can-o air would work better than the vacuum

  22. KooKoo4CoCoPuffs

    I saw the title: How to Service Your Own Computer: 7 Easy Things Computer Repair Places Do

    So would this also include LINUX users?

    Or how about Apple users?

    I might also point out ancient antiques such as CP/M or any one of the now “orphan” systems too – even MS-DOS!

    So shouldn’t that title be renamed? to something like: How to Service Your Own Windows (V-8: Vista to 8) Computer: 7 Easy Things Computer Repair Places Do?

  23. KooKoo4CoCoPuffs

    Shouldn’t the title to this article be renamed to…

    How to Service Your Own Windows Computer: 7 Easy Things Computer Repair Places Do

    (Sorry if this is a repost since any time my comment is “awaiting moderation” it’s usually thrown out.)

  24. niceenoughbloke

    I’ve serviced over 500 PCs in the last 3 years and I run a small business with modest premises in the UK and affordable pricing the service I offer is guaranteed. It involves a data backup, (twice to be certain) Windows reinstall with all the updates and correct drivers etc,and then all the software the customer uses is discussed,only putting back what they want and need. It is delivered and set up, printer installed and tested etc. Obviously the service includes removing all the dust and cleaning and testing the hardware etc. Upgrading the hard drive and memory etc where needed. Doing this as a bespoke service and making sure the customer has a PC that they had before but without any of the problems can be very time consuming and the problems (as other technicians will know) that you come across are way beyond 99% of peoples ability. Plus they don’t have the time or inclination to do it! They have jobs, like me and they just want it done and for it to work! Which it always does.

    For much older machines I offer a swap out service so for just a small amount extra they can have a newer machine which perfectly services their needs. I am snowed under with work.

    I like Mohammed’s comment about an exam though, it’d be good for those that wanted it. The industry should also be regulated as there are people being ripped off all over the place.

    I know of a back street shop which took in a laptop with a ‘dodgy’ Windows 7, hdd full to bursting, crammed with spyware and problems. They cloned the OS using EasyUs, (free) and transferred the data to a 320gb sata from a 120gb. They failed to clean the fan, which was stuffed with dust and causing overheating to extreme levels. They charged £100 for the hdd, cost is £26 for a 320gb sata 2.5″ from my supplier and £85 for the clone. £185!!! For absolutely nothing useful whatsoever!

    This sort of rip-off needs to stop!

  25. john3347

    Ken’s advice here is the best advice from the whole string of responses and better information that a lot of the article. A $40 compressor provides plenty of air pressure and volume to give your computer a needed annual cleaning. (And will also fill your wheelbarrow, bicycle, motorcycle, and riding lawn mower tires. Will even top off your automobile tires.) Anyone who advises to clean your computer with a vacuum cleaner has never cleaned a computer. A shop vacuum cleaner that you can reverse the hose on to blow instead of vacuum sometimes does a minimum satisfactory job, but no suction vacuum job will clean a computer of accumulated lint.

  26. Phil

    LOL

  27. niceenoughbloke

    Ha, yes my compressor was £100 and that’s cheap for the UK… Has a very controllable nose though and yes, useful for the car too!

  28. SilverTrove

    I think this is a very informative and useful article. I’m not a geek but I have fixed a lot of things on my own computer and this is information I can and will use. Several of the fixes are things I’ve thought about doing on my own but wasn’t quite sure I had the skill or time to tackle them, but this article confirmed what I’ve read elsewhere; anyone with half a brain could do this. I’m pretty sure the author didn’t intend to write a book on this subject; he just tells us which fixes most people could do themselves and gives a brief overview on how to go about them. He also provided us with links to HTG articles that dive deeper into each subject. Maybe not everyone would be able to perform the fixes discussed here, but I don’t know many people who are foolish enough to think they can do all these things without looking for more detailed information elsewhere.

    One thing I might add; When you call any tech support service, if you are comfortable letting them share control of your computer, watch what they are doing like a hawk. Jot down everything they do for later reference. You might have to pay for tech support once, but if you pay close attention, you will be able to run the same scans and perform the same fixes again and again – for free!

  29. Pateriska

    I trust your knowledge and appreciate the articles you offer on your website. It has helped me many times, especially with my sister’s computer. She clicks on anything and everything and screws up her OS so badly. Her usual answer is to just replace the computer. I’ve learned so much from your articles. So, please keep them coming. For those who think they are smarter than your staff, go for it. Everyone wants to think they know more than anyone else. Never true. Myself, I appreciate the opportunity to learn how to help myself. It’s surprising what we will pay for to save time. Being disabled, I have lots of time, so if it takes me awhile to figure something out, it’s okay. I love the challenge.

  30. Barbara

    I don’t know what all the hoopla is about with this article. It is saying how easy it is to keep your own computer working or to build one. Well I am here to tell you , that I am a 65 year old woman who has had a computer since ever, ever and ever. I had a repair person come to my house to fix something , admitted, that I goofed up on . This was my brand new baby and the guy wouldn’t let me see what he was doing nor would he explain what he was doing. Charged me a Cool 80.00 bucks and was there for about 10 to 15 minutes and left.
    Needless to say from that day to this one I was so annoyed that I never used a repair person again. I used my head and researched everything I could about a computer online, even learned how to build one with online instructions that I printed out. Starting with my own computer, I disassembled it , payed attention to what came from where and it’s been my Paid Hobby ever since. I haven’t bought a computer since 1990 and have built countless computers for family, friends, and clients.
    Just want to say you do have to have the passion and patience but it is easy to do. If I can do it anyone can! I’m just saying ;-) .

  31. niceenoughbloke

    If you can do it anyone can’t! Not everyone can get their heads around it but repair people like the one you experienced are what needs to be stopped. I always talk through what is being done, to whatever level the customer wants. Utter transparency and keep them informed. Talking from the UK here!

  32. Gary

    Was trying to free up drive space( didn’t have enough to defrag). I ended up with a blue screen, won’t quite load up. Is there anything I can do ?

  33. jase

    Ken. Spot on! NEVER take a vacuum to your PC, even when disconnected from mains. BLOW! Take it outside and use compressed air cannister or a compressor if you can borrow one or have one. Will leave it spotless. I had a customer jump in with a vaccuum when my back was turned and i was servicing her pc. It didn’t turn on again. She was embarrassed by all the dust she saw when i took the side off. Fortunately she didn’t hold me accountable, i pointed out that a vac was the worst thing you could use to clean the pc out due to static discharge. She felt very silly and i felt bad for her. It cost me my callout fee tho, didn’t have the heart to ask her for payment .

    as a more general comment to this article. It sucks. Anyone can fix software issues with a windows cd nuke and pave. But the data and the configuration of everything on it is the reason most don’t. I don’t like that i should have to apologise for charging people to solve their pc problems. Sometimes i can fix issues in 10 minutes, but the reality is that that job took me 20 years, because that’s how long ive spent building up my experience to be able to fix them in 10 minutes. There’s no substitute for experience.

    and to the guy who gave a list of stuff he’ll do for 10 bucks. I wouldn’t pay you 10 bucks to do that cos there is no value in paying someone like you to follow a checklist of essentially pointless practices. If you were a professional you could not stay in business charging 10 bucks. 10 bucks paid to you to do that is 10 bucks wasted

  34. Chemical

    Mohammed

    That was an interesting read, I agree with your main points!

  35. Riddle

    Can someone enlighten me and tell me how Microsoft “professionally” uninstalls bloatware -for $99- ? it’s their ***** operating system after all (and that’s a troll )

  36. IT-rick

    @ken ,exactly !! do not vacuum / blow it out instead …
    as for the rest of you; get over it !

    I`ve been doing this for 15 years and the one thing I have learned in all that time is , there is never a shortage of computer illiterate users. It`s how I make a living, fixing – repairing – building – computers. you will not lose any work or clients because of this article ! we will all be out of work soon enough, with kids now days being born with smart phones & ipads in their hands as early as 7 years old, everyone will be a so called super user in another 10 years or so.
    CD`s are a thing of the past just like books / let them learn ! god… please let them learn !
    eventually even the smart people (super users) will screw up their PC`s, tablet, phone, smart watch, or whatever the wearable PC turns into… you will call me (or someone like me); eventually.
    Is this where I insert Muuuhahahahahaha !

  37. PhDr Seuss

    does that also account for a computer in which there is no tower? i habe one of those towerless computers (its built into the screen).

  38. ned11wils

    @Big dee. If you found this simple and straightforward article to be confusing then it is possibly best for you to pay to have these basic items done.

    @Jim Carter. Not only do you have lousy professional ethics but I would be willing to bet that I can do a better job than you. There is nothing here that cannot be done by a novice. I suspect that you do not like the idea that with a little bit of effort many people can nicely do without your services.

  39. Chad

    It’s really sad in today’s economy to see people trying to put other people out of business.

  40. Keltari

    @Mohammed – Wow… Just… wow. *You* are the reason this article was written. That way people can avoid “quality repair technicians” like you.

  41. Keltari

    @chad – Should I pay someone to mow my lawn? Should I pay a maid to clean my house? Just because a business exists, doesnt mean I should use it. In this economy, shouldnt I be spending money wisely, rather than paying someone to do something I can do myself?

  42. Gary

    This article is a bit ok but TECHNICALLY it’s very hard to do the cleaning/re-installing OS or removing virus, etc… you need someone to do it as in PROFESSIONAL or EXPERIENCED PEOPLE of this kind of work that’s why we have Computer Technical Support or a Computer Technician. many people have computer BUT most of them only know how to chat/facebook/email/browsing/games or typing etc… IF ever that people (no hardware/software knowledge) follow what this article says.. MIGHT all the important documents get LOST..OR if re-install OS of course you need to reformat the hardisk.. (WHAT IF THE HARDISK IS PARTITIONED and the Backup is accidentally reformat)… bye bye all the saved files/musics/photos/movies…

    there’s a lot of anti-virus/anti-malware in the Internet but plenty is a false software.. you still NEED advise for the experienced people. OR you MUST enrol to computer school OR attend to computer repair seminar.

    TO ALL PEOPLE THAT NO KNOWLEDGE HOW TO RE-INSTALL OS/BACK-UP FILES/REMOVING VIRUS OR MALWARES ETC … ETC… BEWARE!!! …. CALL COMPUTER TECHNICIAN TO DO IT

  43. Friendly Neighborhood Spiderman

    These are good tips for those who bought and use their computer as an appliance and have little interest in the details of using/cleaning,fixing the OS until something goes wrong. I know that is most users and that should be Ok.

    I know more than a few people who make their living doing this. They aren’t the least bit worried that people will do this themselves and put them out of business. Most people will try their more knowledgeable friends first to save money. Then they will shell out a few bucks to solve the problem rather than google and learn since they have other priorities in life.

    When I help friends, I always create a folder on their desktop with a text file that lists every step in detail and includes URLs. I don’t ask for money but when people see all I had to do to fix a little problem they usually offer to pay me. I tell them to send a contribution to the developers of the free programs that remove malware and viruses.

    Yes, I’ve seen malware that set a group policy and removes tabs and user interfaces that would be nice to have access to in removing the malware. It takes a thorough knowledge of Windows inner workings sometimes. Most of the time though, it is not as difficult as people make it seem. When someone says “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” they are trying to convince you it’s always magic and you need the wizard.

  44. Chase

    Vacuum your computer??? Worst idea ever.

    Vacuums are know to build up a static charge, and bring the vacuum close to the components can cause an electro-static discharge. And seeing how most computer parts are ESD sensitive, its a quick way to end up with a dead computer.

  45. Edmond

    Thanks for the information on how to easily build a computer from components available on line. It would be most appreciated if you would kindly advise how to build a server so that the computer can be used without the interference of a Graphical User Interface. Kind regards
    Edmond

  46. David Wiloch

    Thanks for the article. I make the most money when people bring me their computers after trying to do repairs themselves. I can learn very quickly how to remove someones tonsils, it only requires a snip with a pair of scissors. Does that make me a Doctor? Many people will have a false sense of security if they are not well educated on how to remove malware. This article is insulting at the very least.

  47. greg in snow

    if you have a degree in computer science, 40 years experience in computer repair, or are simply the next genetically superior technology expert …. and you are complaining about the advice on this page….

    please go air your ego in your local coffee shop – where it will harm fewer people.

    Fingers off the keys, take a deep breath … realize this is the page for folks who would like this help. If you can’t add something constructive or don’t realize who the target audience is … you may need some help in rebuilding yourself.

    meditate. do some yoga. take a walk. find a counselor.
    be a person first and pontificating technology wonk never.

  48. hogey74

    Nice article but as others have said, dust is the biggest hardware issue most people will face. When I started out, an old toothbrush and the customers vacuum cleaner quickly became my most used tools. If the air is dry and static might be an issue, simply take your shoes off and do it barefoot.

    Also, I initially wasted many hours cleaning spyware etc off computers and with rootkits etc it’s hard to be sure it’s gone. Now, if the install is over a year or so, I tell them to either reinstall themselves or I’ll do it for them and give them the expectation that they keep their install disks, back up their stuff and always be ready to reinstall if needed. I’m happy to play up the risk of HDD failure with a few horror stories to encourage people to back up precious photos etc!

  49. WhytteDragun

    @Riddle: yes, it’s Microsoft’s operating system, but the bloatware is from the PC’s manufacturer (Dell, HP, Compaq, etc) not MS. If you get a Windows installation dvd from MS, you won’t get any bloatware when you install windows.

  50. Lisa

    Thanks for sharing this information! It’s easy to read.

  51. Andrew

    I have been working on computers since I was young and I also have a CompTIA A+ Certification.

    1. People are willing to pay $99 because they either don’t know how to do it, or they would simply prefer to have someone else deal with their problem

    @ken Yes, yes, yes
    @Tiffany Even if they did come with CD’s, they are usually as old as dinosaurs compared to the recent versions, life lesson, throw the CD away and download the recent version from the manufactuar’s website.

    NEVER, EVER “vacuum” out your computer. It creates static electricity which frys components inside your computer, always ground yourself on your computer by having a static band or simply hold your hand on a metal part on the computer BEFORE changing or removing anything inside the computer

    This is a very well written article that provides information to the masses. It is very accurate to the best of my knowledge, so please stop critisizing the article.

  52. thegeekkid

    The best advise for people using computers is to be educated, or find someone who is that is really really nice. I don’t mind charging people a lot of money to fix their mistakes (because 90% of the time the problem is somewhere between the keyboard and the chair). Remember, you aren’t getting paid to push buttons, you are getting paid to know which buttons to push. On the other hand, you do need to be careful who you trust and how much they know. I don’t really do tier 1 support anymore (although when I was in college, I worked for one of these “magic” support companies), but I do refer people to support people that I know. My number 1 requirement for a tech support person is that they have a MINIMUM of an A+ cert. Can you have a decent knowledge without the cert? Absolutely. But I need a way of verifying that you know what you claim to know BEFORE you touch a computer. Let’s face it… the A+ is a joke. If you can build a computer, you can probably pass the A+.

    Regarding these “tech support companies”, I don’t know about Geek Squad… I think they do most of their own work, but places like Staples, Office Depot, Micro Center (I think), etc. actually outsource their work to support.com. When I was still working for one of those companies (which shall remain nameless), I remember I had the A+ when I started working for them. I would literally just make the computer boot, run the joke of a “PC health check” that would always recommend around $150-200 to fix a basic virus (and maybe not even that!), and sit and watch them use free software remotely. They didn’t even use CCleaner! When I passed the Net+, I was still working for them, and I asked if they wanted a copy of the cert for their records. My boss told me at that they weren’t even supposed to have someone with my knowledge on staff! I was also told that she “didn’t hear me say I had any certs”.

    Long story short, go support the small computer repair shop down the street, but make sure he has a A+. Most of the time you will get better service for less cost.

  53. RedC5Ragtop

    Ok now that all you so called tech geniuses have beat this; what could have been a helpful article to death. I am no expert by far but most users can google and get all the info and virus removal tools they need to clean most things from thier PC’s it just takes some time and patience,which most don’t want to do .The one thing not mentioned here that I have learned HAS TO been done that I have learned by re-doing and many many hours of removing viruses from friends and families PC’s is that you must TURN OFF the RESTORE on you PC’s before removal , if you don’t the chances of the virus still being in restore files is a nearly a 100% chance and all the removal work will have gone to no avail the first time the machine is re-booted after all the time you have spent to get rid of them ,Just Saying.

  54. TheFu

    Backups are critical. Actually, versioned backups that can be selectively restored are critical. I can’t think of any real computer problem that a set of versioned backups doesn’t solve.

    * virus
    * corrupted file
    * crashed hard disk, dead PSU, cracked motherboard
    * corrupted file system
    * little sister deletes everything
    * stolen PC

    All these things are solved by versioned backups. After all, it really isn’t about the hardware, it is about the DATA. Hardware can usually be replaced, data often cannot.

  55. vEEE

    @Mohammed, geesh talk about a direct insult! My Geek Squad has always perfored quality work. This article has good info but a tech in any phase just has the knack for problem solving. Some issue still have to be researched and processed until the solution is found. Some people just don’t have the patience or the will to do it. And that’s why we are paid to do what we do!

  56. iandrewmartin

    Ken;
    Damn! I have been doing everything wrong for 30 years. If only I had known this I would never have vaccumed out my PCs.

    BTW – are you using dust and particle filters where you are blowing out all of that fine dust?

  57. cityboy3

    Man i with lostnsavd! because my 65yr old sister and her hubby wanted to buy a new computer but let the sale man ( yes best buy ) talk them in a desktop WAY TO MUCH FOR THEM after it was all done cost around $800! Now i call the geek squad for them!

  58. ron

    As well as dusting the computer, there is dusting the keyboard and mouse. Sticky keys, letters “not typing” can often be cleaned up very simply, as simple as turning the keyboard upside down and shaking it! The scroll ball on my old mouse used to collect dust and grime t the point that it wouldn’t work. Opening up the mouse, and removing some dust and grime from the ball and it would work for more months. Much cheaper than paying $20 or more to replace it (it was a medium quality mouse).

    “Debugging”, or malware squashing is often more complex that just running an antivirus program because by the time the “average” user recognizes the problem the computer is thoroughly compromised by MANY forms of serious malware.

    Jumping from cleaning bloatware and installing the OS to building a whole computer is a rather a stretch for this article.

    While I can see the point that some of the technicians have made, arming people with a little information is good way to make them more dangerous, I do think that computer users need to become more knowledgeable about the computer technology they are using. While a “computer crash” may not cause the physical damage a car crash does, the impact of identity theft can be just as economically damaging.

    I’ll take a middle of the road approach to some of the criticisms. Requiring people to get an “operators” license before they can connect to the internet is not a bad idea. The government still requires it for anyone who wants to “broadcast” on a radio, even private pilots, so why not computer operators.

  59. jean

    I think this article was great.The anti-virus article was very informative.
    I never knew the purpose the the rescue-disc.

    I know several people who have built their own computers..
    I have never thought of the Geek Squad as an option.

  60. Mohammed

    The suggestion for an air compressor is by far one of the smartest pieces of advice ever. They are cheap and highly effective at removing particles from any enclosure.

    As for the few who disagreed with me. Each is entitle to their opinion, but I am not coming from the POV of someone who thinks they know more simply, because they read it on the Internet. Like many small business who repair computers, the business in compute repair is much different from simply helping a friend or family member fix a problem they encounter on occasion. You can debate it all you want, but unless you do this as a profession, then you really have no idea what type of effect these articles have on consumers who try to fix the problems themselves to save a quick buck and then end up in our shops asking us to fix their problems with the notion that since it “sounded easy when I read it online,” I shouldn’t charge them appropriately for it. This is the CORE issue I have with the article and is something that demands it be worded much better than it was. And this problem is not unique. In fact it is a common problem among many DIY repair/maintenance articles — they are usually written by a technically competent person for those that are not.

    Anyone who is in this business knows you should never make these tasks seem easy simply because you know how to do them, but you explain things as if the person has no understanding. This forces you as a technician to explain things clearly and concisely so that anyone can not only understand what is being said but the SCOPE of what is being said. An article like this achieves only half of the purpose. It INFORMS the non-technical of what to do, but it does not EDUCATE them on the process (both when it goes right and when it goes wrong). The job of a computer technician is not just to fix the problem, but to teach others about the problem and how to avoid it. Do not misconstrue my initial response as a way to protect my business interest, because my business is people not profits. People have technical issues and good technicans are there to fix them. We also educate them on how to avoid these problems, as a way to save them time and us money. And believe me it does save us money. When a client continually has the same problem of malware infections or viruses, becasue they refuse to follow good practices, we can end up spending countles manhours fixing avoidable problems, which cost us more than we could ever make, because it diverts our business away from those with more severe issues. This is what happens when they are merely informed of a process and not educated on how it works.

    I am not denouncing the information within. As I said before, I truly believe that ANYONE can learn how to do the repair jobs listed within, with enough time and patience. But in all honestly, many are not suited for it — It is the reason why people and businesses like me exist. This is not about superiority, but the reality of what actually exists.

    Ultimately, everyone is entitled to ther opinion and I can respect each and every one of them, but please do not assume I am some shady technician trying to protect my business and make a quick buck. I take pride in my work and do this, because I have become good at what I do after much trial and error. The joy is in being able to make a living from something you would do anyway.

    @vEEE – I meant no disrespect to you or your particular Geek Squad, but if we are going to be honest, yours is unfortunately the exception and not the rule. We have all ready the horror stories of Best Buy’s practices and many have experienced them firsthand (me included). Many a time have I encountered clients who say they can get a better deal by going to BB after I explain to them their particular technical issue and that is fine by me. I thank them for their time, don’t charge them a thing and let them go their merry way — most of the time they end up coming back telling me of their horrible experience and I end up fixing the problem anyway. If a particular Geek Squad has exemplary service, it is not due to Best Buy’s practices, but managers like you who take pride in what they do, and in all honesty should be running their own business.

  61. jason wescott

    How many people really have 30 years experience and no A+ certification? With that minimum certification, you know that ESD is caused by vacuum cleaners. Most electronic components are sensitive to as little as 30V. A static discharge of one inch contains 10,000 volts. Being barefooted but wearing any synthetic material on your body can still create static. Unless the humidity in your computer environment is at least 70 percent, you can have serious consequences from static. Always connect a ground strap between yourself and the equipment you are repairing. I did not invent the internet, I will leave that honor to Al Gore. I attended a major university in the seventies in computer science and have worked with computer hardware and software since. There is some good information here, you just have to know which part of the information is true.

    THIS IS MY BOYFRIEND,,, HE IS A FRENCH MODEL I MET HIM ON THE INTERNET
    EVERYTHING ON THE INTERNET IS TRUE…. beware!

  62. yushri

    Good article but why not be specific and state how to service your computer’s software and then perhaps how to service you’re computers hardware? Or have I missed this?

  63. Martin

    I agree that you should never use a Vacuum to clean dust out of a computer. Cleaning the dust using the proper tool may or may not fix the computer but it will prevent further problems down the road. A compressor is a good tool to use to blow out dust, BUT be sure to hold the cooling fan blade(s) with a finger or a rag so it dosn’t move. A compressor can set them to spinning at a high speed and the fan can actually send a small amount of current back into the computer and cause damage. Tf you fail to secure te fan blade, the reverse voltage can happen even thought the computer is turned off, You should never do maintenance or repair work on the computer with out having it turned off. I am not a professional, but do my own computer/software repairs and have been helping others, starting back hen the TRS 80 came out. In regards to the turning off the power I turn the power of and then remove the power cord and either put it in my back pocket. Some people really try to be helpful by turning on the computer when they think you are ready, and can cause you harm or cause damage to the computer.

  64. CountMike

    I do not have any issues with the article, it was meant as just a rough guide to what could be done with your own computer by an average Joe (or Jane, as the case may be ) Much more could be said about some comments made by some people. Yes I worked on and with computers since way before the so called PC. First real PC I have put together was an IBM PC ( 8088 kind) and did not find anything buffing about it, just red the manual that came with it and it worked at the first try. Even now they come with manuals, very detailed, even with pictures, all you have to do is understand it and follow it. So called a+ or whatever certificates do not impress me at all. I know a guy that has a doctorate in computer sciences and I had to repair computer and install OS and programs for him.
    Do not use a vacuum cleaner because of static, bah humbug, it may build up static charge when cleaning the carpet but nobody suggests to use it on the computer same way. A soft brush end hold a small nozzle few inches away will not damage anything.
    When working on a computer assembled inside the case it is enough to touch the case and it’s large enough to soak up any static you could pick up in normal usage. Touching components by the contacts wile dragging your feet on a carpet could eventually damage something. As iandrewmartin said ” all this time I’v been using a vacuum cleaner” for light cleaning computers and NOW you tel me that i shouldn’t !!! Oooops I must have killed hundreds of them by now !!! Blowing more stubborn dist with a small compressor does somewhat better job but is messy and I do it outside. Any cleaning more than that requires diss-assembly anyway.
    Then we come to keeping software in top shape. The best antivirus is YOU, know what you click on and do not do it until yo absolutely are sure you know the consequences of it. Of course having a good updated software antivirus is a must, an obsolete one with couple of month old signature data base is not going to even slow down anything you can run in to on internet or an USB memory stick that a friend brought over. Disable autorunn on all the devices, it’s not that difficult to learn how to play music, watch a movie or pictures without autorunn. As everything it’s better to prevent to have to cure. As no antivirus is 100% secure, run it couple of times a month thru the whole system and let it do it’s job,it will find something new that it missed before it was updated, Avast gets updated 2 to 5 times daily for instance, that can tell you something about number of mallware out there. I always keep an bootablle USB memory stick with properly updated antivirus on it and if I suspect mallware on a computer boot of it and clean the system as much as possible first.
    There are a lot more things most anybody can do on own computer, but if you are not comfortable using any of this basic things take it to a reputable shop, preferably a small private one and make friends with owner, it would pay hundred fold.
    Maybe it’s just me but I never buy anything I can make easily and newer pay for what I can do.

  65. Kenneth

    Sorry man, but ESD is a hold-over from the 60s. I’ve never seen any component damaged from the oh-so-dangerous ESD.

  66. Henrik

    I don’t repair my own computer, just like I don’t change my own tyres. In my job I deliver services to clients, freeing up their resources to focus on their core business. It’s called partition of work.

  67. Viggenboy

    My neighbour just gave me an 18month old HP laptop that they’ve replaced because “it doesn’t work at all”. I asked them what was wrong, and it had gotten very slow (suspect general winrot) so the “clicked on on of those messages that come up on website saying you have problems with your PC, click here to fix them”……oh dear, completely hijacked. 5 clicks and and hour later (after windows had re-installed) it was just-like-new. Apparently the geek squad had quoted them $250 to fix this!! When they decided the might as well by a new laptop, the geek squad at “Best Buy” charged them $100 to… transfer their files, $150 to “transfer their Norton subscription” (WTF?!?!?!), and a mere bargain offer $50 to install Windows 7 instead of Windows 8 “Because it’s new and completely unstable and not even us Geek Squad guys understand how to use it- seriously it’s just bad news!” WHAT A RIP OFF!!!!!!!

    Not sure if it’s a case of avoif Best Buy tech support altogether, or just the one at Millennia Mall Orlando (where there’s a pleantiful supply of gullible well-to-do seniors to sell down the river).

    Upside, I’ve now got a really nice spare HP 17″ Laptop

  68. Bernard

    Reading some of these comments both raises a smile and confirms that I was right years ago to learn how to keep a PC in top condition.

  69. Steve K

    Mohammed, if there were an award for best post on this site, you’ve won it. Bravo.

  70. kelltic

    When you mentioned a reinstall of Windows as a solution, you didn’t warn what would happen to all the software on the system in question – and yes, some folks wouldn’t know. :D

  71. Steve K

    Kenneth, you said “Sorry man, but ESD is a hold-over from the 60s. I’ve never seen any component damaged from the oh-so-dangerous ESD.”

    Most ESD damage is latent. The semi-conductor gets a crack in it, invisible to the eye but not the microscope, and three, six, nine months later completely fails.

    If you ever watched the 3M videos (they might be on Youtube; I used them in a class on ESD I taught many years ago), you’d be convinced.

    Speaking of “hold-over from the 60s,” ESD was discovered at that time, because it was determined to have caused the destruction of one of the space flights (I forget which now). Today the situation is much worse than the ’60s, as electronic components are far smaller yet have far more transistors in them. Search for Very Large Scale Integration to learn more on this.

    This post is my small contribution to public knowledge, to correcting misinformation. Thanks for the opportunity.

  72. Bud Vitoff

    @niceenoughbloke
    I like what you have to say. Do you make house calls? I’m in Minnesota.

  73. Dave the Esthameian

    @Bud Vitoff
    niceenoughbloke said he was in UK so maybe only willing 2 make housecall if u invite him for a holiday!

    I’d just make the point that there’d be no point in professionals making statements to protect their business as the likelihood of potential customers of their particular business reading the feed back to this particular article on this particular website is minimal!

    All ‘interesting’ responses but my awards for 5 stars are niceenoughbloke and Mohammed.

    @niceenoughbloke you’re not near Berkshire are u? :)

  74. Dave the Esthameian

    @Mohammed In case you’re wondering, by your references I assume you’re stateside?

  75. Bruce (pmtoolsthatwork.com)

    A few things to add that I didn’t see in the discussion (but I didn’t read them all ….)

    1. Make a backup of the computer (assuming it can be started) before changing the software. When I tune-up or de-virus someone’s PC, I often times do it 2-3 times to ensure I’ve done it with the minimal changes needed (i.e.,back it up, do the work, back it up again, restore to the original, do it again a different way, compare and decide which I like best). This also gives me the option to restore the PC to its original state if the customer is ever unhappy (has never happened, but I like having the option).

    2. I must admit that I often use a vacuum cleaner. Like any tool you have to use it correctly (grounding straps, hold it at a distance, etc.). The only side effect I’ve ever experienced is once a PC powered itself on …. No, I don’t recommend it for most people, but it falls in the same category as putting a keyboard in the dishwasher (yes, the whole thing, and yes it all gets wet, and yes it works fine after it dries out) and putting an error prone or non working hard disk in the freezer (helps the disk to be temporarily stable and readable),

    3. The most common customer response to my tune-ups is “it’s like having a new PC!” Most of this has been touched upon already, but what works for me is: remove unneeded start-up/bloatware programs and background processes + update the OS, all applications and firmware + complete defrag including pagefile. The PCs usually boot up and shutdown in about half the time they had been taking and apps launch and windows/menus open/close with a snap instead of with a delay.

    4. I tell people that I don’t do anything special, nothing they couldn’t do themselves if they were so inclined. As mentioned a few times above, this is no different than having Jiffy Lube change your oil and check your other fluids. Yes, you can do it yourself, but it is nice when someone comes by, picks up your PC and then returns it looking and acting like new.

  76. Lynn

    @Amada: I’ve heard that joke at least 100 times during the last 20 years. Did it happen? Maybe somewhere at sometime two or more decades ago, but I highly doubt ur friend actually got this call. Unless your friend is in her 40s or older. This joke has been in many software & hardware mags & on different sites for many, many years. More likely she remembered the joke & has retold it, having herself play the lead part! Sorry but true.

  77. Angel

    Mohammed, I could not have said it better myself. Well expressed.

  78. Mohammed

    @Dave the Esthameian – Yes, I am stateside.

  79. Brian

    Viruses to get rid of. WoW , please turn off system Restore/Get updates ( which viruses will not let you download) Anti-virus software Update Plz/ SuperAntiSpyware Free Software/Malwarebytes Free software/ – PLUS – The best Registry Cleaner ->- Glary Utilities Free / Get them things DONE! Run them in Safe Mode! Clean it right! Then reboot -> Turn System Restore back on if Yaa like it. You are done with viruses then. Plz use any of they programs every week. Most don’t do anything. Good luck with that ONE.!

  80. rick

    As a component level electronics technician of over 25 years, i would add 1 very, very important piece of information whenever you are pulling apart or opening up your pc. GET AN ANTI_STATIC MAT AND STRAP AND USE IT, WITHOUT FAIL. Quickest way to kill your pc components, is to shove a nice big static discharge through them! Most people here would be in houses, with carpets, and pets, all of which being very good sources for static build up. Lay a finger on your expensive video card pcb, and you are likely to damage it with static discharge, without the proper anti-static tools.
    I have seen many a tech with these on their benches…..collecting dust not being used!
    It was usually their problem fault, that was sent to me for repair, that was originally a simple problem, now compounded by component failure from static discharge.
    Always, yes always, use the proper anti static protection, whenever touching any form of digital electronics, or run the risk of paying dearly for your laziness!

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