Unleash your inner nerd and save $$
So I recently had a friend come over to my place and ask me if I could take a look at his computer because it suddenly started giving him an “Operating system not found” error whenever he tried to boot up. It was a fairly new laptop and it had Windows 7 Home Premium installed.
He had taken the laptop to GeekSquad and walked out the next minute when they told him it was going to cost $450 to fix the computer! He had only paid like $500 for the laptop, so there was no way he was about to pay $450 to fix the thing. Anyway, to make a long story short, I fixed the whole thing for him for $88, the cost of a new hard drive since the original one was dead. Didn’t have to pay extra for Windows 7 because he had a product key on the back side of the laptop.
In this article, I’m going to try my best to show you how you can avoid paying hundreds of extra dollars trying to get your computer fixed by so-called “premium services” and do it yourself or at least most of it yourself! In the end, I realize that there are some people that simply do not understand how to open a computer, for example, and would need someone else to do that for them. However, you can still avoid using a expensive service like GeekSquad for that.
The first thing you get when you take a computer to GeekSquad or any other computer repair service is their diagnosis. I won’t say it’s always bad as it really depends on the technician looking at your machine. Some are really good and understand what’s going on and some will tell you the world is ending when everything is fine.
Before you just listen to whatever someone says and spend lots of money, take some time to figure out what they are saying is true. What’s great about computers is that even though they are complicated, they are not nearly as complicated as cars. When you take a car to get repaired and you know nothing about cars, there is really little you can do if they tell you your transmission is dead. You can get a second opinion, but you really can’t check the car to see if that’s true.
With computers, you can actually check. Failed hard drive? You can check that easily. Bad memory? You can check that too. Unbeatable virus that has corrupted your entire system? Yup, there are ways to check that! Luckily, that’s just about 90% of the issues that end up in the hands of the GeekSquad. What about recovering data from a drive that won’t boot up? You can spend $20 and do it yourself.
So you’re asking yourself now, “That’s great, but how do I do all of that?”. Before, I get into that, I want to go over the reasons I feel people end up going to a service like GeekSquad:
1. They simply don’t have the time to do it themselves
2. They don’t have the original DVD that came with the computer
3. The have the DVD, but don’t want to reinstall the OS because they’ll lose data they need
4. They need to replace a piece of hardware, but are apprehensive about doing it or don’t know what to replace
As far as I can tell, those are the most critical issues that force people to end up going to a repair service and paying lots of money. Luckily, there are some solutions before you shell out all that money. First off, just pay for the diagnosis and then take the computer back. I always tell people to never just accept the diagnosis and let them do the work. Instead, let them tell you what they think the problems are and what needs to be done, then go back home and check this guide!
The OTT Do-It-Yourself Guide
Even if you are unable to repair the computer yourself, you can at least figure out what’s really wrong with it. And in the cases where you don’t have to replace a hard drive or memory, you really can do it yourself. Let’s start with viruses, then hard drives, then memory. I’ll also talk about how to recover data along the way.
So the repair folks can tell you one of two things when it comes to viruses: either it can be removed for some crazy amount or it simply can’t be removed and you have to reinstall Windows. In the latter case, this requires transferring your data and then reinstalling the OS.
My suggestions for computer newbies is to try it yourself and then if you simply can’t do it and nothing is working, then pay the money. There is no harm in trying. Here’s what you need to do.
Step 1: You can try to remove the virus yourself. How so? Try to use an offline virus scanning tool. Obviously, if you are reading this post, you can’t do a real-time scan in Windows for some reason. Check out my post on performing an offline virus scan, which basically will scan for viruses before the operating system loads.
With viruses, some programs work better than others. If you can’t get rid of the virus using Window Defender Offline Tool, which I linked to above, then you can try others like BitDefender Rescue CD or Rescue USB. It’s got a full tutorial on how to download it, create the CD, etc. Of course, you’ll need to do this on a different computer first and then use the CD/USB drive on the infected PC.
Another good offline virus scanning tool is Kaspersky Rescue Disk. The site has full tutorials on how to create the disk and how to use it to remove viruses. If you can follow instructions, you can do this yourself, even if you’re not very familiar with computers.
Step 2: If you can’t get rid of the virus, then your only other option is to reinstall Windows. There are usually two problems with this scenario: one is you need to copy important data off and the second is that you may not have the original DVD that came with the computer.
However, both of these issues can be solved without much expense. The first is copying data off your hard drive. If you have a virus and it’s preventing you from loading Windows, the only way to get the data off is to use a hard drive dock.
Luckily, I’ve written a detailed article on what a hard drive dock is, which one to buy and how it works. It’s super easy and if you know how to plug a USB drive into your computer, you can use a hard drive dock. It will allow you to copy data off of the hard drive without loading Windows. This will require you to remove the hard drive, which may or may not be a deal breaker. In the end, I have seen that most manufacturer websites have completely guides that you can download that show you how to add or remove hardware components.
Secondly, what about the original DVD? That’s not a problem either. If you don’t have it, you can download the official and legal ISO images of the Windows OS to your computer and then burn it to a DVD. Note that these are not illegal or pirated copies, but legal copies that you have to activate with a valid product key. If you don’t have a product key, they are just 30-day trials.
Check out the two links above for the links to download Windows 7 ISO images from DigitalRiver, which is an official Microsoft partner that you can buy Windows from. In our case, you just need the version of Windows that your computer came with and then you’ll install Windows and use the product key that is on the back of your computer.
You can also read my previous posts on how to burn an ISO image on a Mac or how to burn an ISO image on a PC. In order to reinstall Windows, you have to boot from the DVD and then follow the installation prompts. Check out my previous post on 10 essential skills for Windows users and read #10. You may have to do a little Googling in order to reinstall Windows if you have never done it before, but it’s really not too bad if you spend a short amount of time.
Hard Drive & Memory
The other major issues are a failed hard drive or bad memory. If you get that diagnosis, then you can perform some tests on your own to validate their claims. First, let’s talk about hard drives. If your hard drive is failing or has crashed completely, then it’s bound to have errors.
You can check your hard drive for errors using a variety of free programs that I mention in the linked post. One of the tools mentioned in my article is SeaTools, which again can be downloaded as an ISO image, burned to a CD and then booted from. It may sound complicated, but if you follow the links above about burning ISO images and booting from CD/DVD, you’ll be just fine.
As for memory, you can also do the exact same thing as for checking hard drive. Check out my previous post on tools for checking for bad memory. I highly recommend Memtest86, which can be downloaded and burned to a CD. This method allows you to check your hard disk and memory without having to boot Windows, which is good in case Windows is not loading.
Lastly, if you do need to replace a hard drive or a memory chip, you need to buy the parts. Check out my post on the best places to buy computer parts online. I would highly recommend Crucial.com as it will allow you to pick your exact computer model and then tell you exactly what memory and hard drive is compatible with that system. You don’t have to worry about buying the wrong memory or the wrong hard drive.
The last part and probably the scariest part for anyone who is a newbie is installing a computer part like a hard drive or memory. If you have a laptop, I can say it’s a lot easier than a desktop. Sometimes desktops can be a little complicated because of the case and the location of the motherboard and ports, etc. If you’re having issues with a laptop though, you really can do it yourself because laptops are mostly designed to be easily upgradeable.
My main suggestion at this point is to do one of two things: either try it yourself if you feel you can possibly do it or simply hire someone local to do it. If you go to Dell.com, Sony.com, HP.com or whatever your manufacturers website is, you will be able to find a support page where you can enter your model number and download PDF guides for your PC. These will usually tell you how to open the computer and add/replace components.
If you just can’t do it yourself, I suggest posting an ad on Craigslist or just doing a Google Local or Yahoo Local search for a computer repair specialist in the area. Call them and tell them you just need to have them install a new piece of hardware. It really should cost nothing more than $50. It’s usually a very simple procedure, so don’t let someone try to charge you anything more than $50 max.
Hopefully, this guide can get you a little inspired and more confident about your ability to fix your own computer problem. It may sound and look scary, but with a little bit of time and effort, you can literally save yourself hundreds of dollars. Let us know what you think in the comments. Enjoy!