This month’s PC Pro, quaintly dated “October”, has an excellent, shocking article, researched in association with Sky News, in which a faulty laptop was taken to a number of computer repair shops around London. You can also read the article online. The laptop was not really faulty, but had a deliberately loosened memory module that needed to be pressed home. In addition, the researchers installed spy software hooked to the laptop’s webcam (I find it hard to believe that the engineers did not notice this).
The results are truly depressing. Only one of six shops behaved with full professionalism, fixing the fault without charge. Another fixed the fault but could not resist flicking through the customer’s holiday snaps. Three of the six insisted a new motherboard was required and quoted or charged accordingly; one actually charged for this but returned the machine with the old (and good) motherboard still in place. The sixth shop fixed the fault but then quoted £145 for a full fault-finding examination.
One of these six shops went the totally evil route, not only quoting for an unneeded part, but also searching the laptop for logon credentials and attempting to break into the customer’s bank account.
I would find all this implausible except that something similar happened to a friend of mine. They had a Dell machine that shut itself down spontaneously from time to time. They took it to a PC repair shop locally, several times (because the fault was never fixed). First, a new power supply was fitted. Machine was returned as working, but still had the fault. Next, the shop reinstalled Windows, even though the fault bore all the symptoms of a hardware issue. Machine returned as working, but still had the fault. On the third visit, the customer was told that they must have downloaded a virus which was preventing the machine from working. They were sold an anti-virus security suite and made to sign a statement that the PC was now fully working, though it still was not reliable.
I took a look at the machine and discovered that it was a known issue with this particular Dell model, caused by a fault on the motherboard. I didn’t discover the exact fault, since the remedy was to exchange the board with Dell. Nothing to do with the power supply. Nothing to do with Windows. Nothing to do with malware.
Looking at the research, along with my friend’s experience, is enough to convince me that this sort of thing is very common.
I doubt there will ever be a complete solution to the problem. It is like the motor trade. On the one hand you have users who know little of the technology but can only describe their experience: works, does not work, makes a strange hum, etc. On the other hand you have service engineers of variable expertise who can easily exploit their customers’ lack of knowledge, though the better ones will at least deliver a working system at the end of it.