Of the many types of services we evaluate, computer repair shops are among
the lowest rated. Our Ratings Tables list some shops rated "inferior"
overall by more than 25 percent of their surveyed customers.
You will also notice big variations in price, with some shops charging
more than double what nearby competitors charge.
If your computer needs repairs, shopping for price is difficult because
many shops charge $50 or more for a diagnosis and estimate. But if you
are looking for an upgrade-for instance, a new hard drive or additional
memory-or know what repair you need, you can shop by phone. You will find
substantial price differences. For instance, we found prices ranging from
$75 to $205 to add three gigabytes of memory to a MacPro desktop.
To get the best repairs at the best price, you need to deal carefully with
the shop you use
Provide the shop with a thorough written description of the symptoms prompting
a repair visit.
Insist on a written estimate before repairs can proceed.
Decide whether the computer is really worth repairingor its time to shell
out for a new model.
Before paying, get a detailed invoice, including a description of the components
repaired, date, breakdown for labor and the price for each part, and warranty.
Test the device as soon as you get it home, and return it to the shopor
notify the shop in writing immediatelyif its still not working right.
Most computer problems result from software glitches, often caused by viruses
and other malware. For tips on how to keep your computer healthy and safe,
see our article here.
Theres an acronym thats popular among computer tech support folks: PICNIC
for Problem In Chair Not In Computer. Often enough, thats the case. But
sometimes, the device really is the problem. And if youre the one experiencing
the problem, you dont care about the causeyou just want help now.
Fortunately, if you have a problem you cant fix on your own, there are
many computer repair shops in the area that can help. To help you find
one that does quality work at reasonable prices, weve evaluated area shops.
Our Ratings Tables reveal the results.
While customers usually bring or ship their computers to the shops, some
repair shops offer the option of coming to your home, and others only go
to customers homes.
Some of the shops listed on our Ratings Tables received very high ratings,
but there are several youll want to avoid. In fact, of the many types
of services we evaluate, computer repair shops yield some of the highest
percentages of strongly dissatisfied customers.
We asked area consumers (primarily CHECKBOOK and Consumer Reports subscribers)
to rate shops they had used inferior, adequate, or superior on several
different aspects of service: doing work properly (on the first try),
starting and completing work promptly, letting you know cost early,
advice on service options and costs, and overall performance. For companies
that received at least 10 ratings, our Ratings Tables show the percent
of each companys surveyed customers who rated it superior (as opposed
to inferior or adequate) on each question. Our Ratings Tables also
report the percent of surveyed customers who rated it adequate or superior
(as opposed to inferior) for overall performance. (Click here for further discussion of our customer
survey and other research methods.)
Most of the listings on our Ratings Tables are for individual shop
or store locations. For multi-store chainsApple Store and Best Buythe
listings show the combined ratings for computer repair at any of the chains
area stores. While chains perform some simple repair and upgrade work on-site,
they send more complicated work to centralized repair centers, subcontractors,
or the manufacturers.
As indicated on our Ratings Tables, customer ratings varied widely
from shop to shop. At the time of our last full, published article, eight
of the 47 shops were rated inferior (neither adequate nor superior)
for overall performance by 25 percent or more of their surveyed customers.
On the other hand, 19 of the shops were rated adequate or superior
overall by 95 percent or more of their surveyed customers.
In addition to ratings from customers, for firms that were evaluated in
our last full, published article, our Ratings Tables show counts of
complaints we gathered from the Consumer Protection Division of the Washington
Office of the Attorney General for a recent two-year period. For more information
on reported complaint counts, click here.
To help you find a shop that both performs high-quality work and charges
reasonable prices, we calculated a price comparison score for each shop
that was evaluated in our last full, published article. The scores are
based on prices quoted to our shoppers for six computer equipment upgrade
and repair jobs. These scores, shown on our Ratings Tables, indicate
how the prices quoted to our shoppers (who did not reveal their connection
with CHECKBOOK) compared to the prices all other shops quoted for the same
jobs. Price comparison scores are adjusted to a base of $100. Thus, a shop
with a price comparison score of $110 quoted prices that averaged 10 percent
higher than the average of all quotes for the same jobs.
There were substantial shop-to-shop differences in price comparison scoresthe
scores range from $58 to $171. Table 1 indicates that the prices on specific
jobs varied even more than the price comparison scores.
Table 1Low, Average, and High Prices Quoted for Computer Upgrade and Repair Jobs
|Add one gigabyte of memory to a Dell Dimension 9200 desktop computer ||$12 ||$49 ||$105|
|Replace the power supply in an HP Pavilion Elite desktop computer ||$45 ||$97 ||$130|
|Install a customer-supplied DVD/CD-RW drive on an HP Pavilion Elite desktop computer ||$10 ||$40 ||$80|
|Add a customer-supplied, secondary hard drive to a MacPro desktop computer ||$25 ||$52 ||$129|
|Add three gigabytes of memory to a MacPro desktop computer ||$75 ||$123 ||$205|
|1 For each job, shops were given additional detailed specifications.|
If you know exactly what work you need the shop to perform, call several
shops for price quotes. Youll have to push some of them pretty hard to
get a firm price, and some will simply refuse to quote prices over the
phone. But at least a few will provide quotes, with the understanding that
the price might rise if the work that needs to be done is different from
what youve described.
If you dont know whats needed, or cant extract quotes from shops you
call, youll have to take in your equipment for a diagnosis and estimate.
Our Ratings Tables show shops charges for written estimates. Almost
all shops apply the estimate fee to the cost of the repair if they do the
work. Estimate charges at the surveyed shops ranged from $0 to $98 or more.
All else being equal, its better to avoid high estimate fees. If a shop
that charges a high estimate fee also offers a high estimate, it will be
costly to take it elsewhere.
Once you find a good shop, its still important to deal with it carefully.
In-Shop vs. In-Home Repair
Some shops will send technicians to your home to make repairs if you dont
want to take your equipment in. But there are advantages to taking your
equipment to the shop:
The price is generally lower.
You avoid waiting around for the technician to arrive.
The shop is likely to have more and better diagnostic equipment than a
technician can bring to your home, and technicians in the shop can turn
to colleagues for advice.
If the problem with your device is intermittent, the technician will need
to check it out over a period of time. In fact, a technician who comes
to your home may have to take your unit to the shop anyway.
However, in-home repairs do have some advantages:
Because you see how long the technician actually spends on your computer,
you can check the charges.
If its a desktop computer, you spare yourself the trouble of unhooking
everything to make the trip to the shop.
If the problem with your system is caused by your Internet connection or
the computers interaction with peripherals, the technician wont know
about these problems unless you bring in the peripherals or the technician
comes to your home.
Put the Problem in Writing
Give the shop a written description of symptoms. Describe the occasions
when the problem occurs, exactly what happens, etc. Put this information
in writingotherwise the shop may forget what youve said by the time it
starts working on your computer.
Deal Directly with the Technician
As with most types of repairs, its preferable to speak directly with the
person who does the work. With a face-to-face exchange, you can make sure
you adequately communicate the symptoms. Also, personal contact may make
the technician care more about doing the job right. And you may be more
understanding when the technician cant solve a problem after youve had
a chance to discuss the obstacles.
Insist on a Written Estimate
Unless the shop demands that you authorize repairs up to a certain dollar
amount in advance, request a written estimate upfront.
When you drop off your computer, write on the repair ticket: No repairs
are to be made prior to customers approval based on a written estimate.
Also note that Charges shall not exceed the estimate by more than 20 percent.
Most shops will be willing to provide a written estimate upon request.
For convenience, you may settle for an oral estimate over the phone, but
take careful notes of exactly what the shop tells you, and ask the shop
to send you a written estimate (invaluable documentation in the event of
Consider Whether the Repair Is Worth Making
Repairing a computer often costs well over $200. If you have a newer system
and are satisfied with its capabilities, spending that much may make sense.
But if you have an old computer that will soon become obsolete, you might
be better off applying the money for repairs toward a new model.
If the Price Seems Too High, Get Other Estimates
Although it can be difficult to get estimates over the phone, some shops
provide them, especially if you need only upgrade services. Call a few
and describe the upgrade or repairs another shop has recommended. If you
are shopping for repairs, of course, this process doesnt tell you whether
the first shops diagnosis or recommendations are correct. If you suspect
that they are incorrect, consider taking your device to a second shop for
Even if you need a computer quickly, you can buy time to deal with shops
by renting one. Some shops offer replacement computers while they repair
Nail Down the Time
Although unforeseen problems can arise, youll be in a better position
to argue for priority service if youve received an advance commitment
as to when the work will be completed.
Ask the Shop to Return Replaced Parts
Although you may not know a hard drive from a mouse, shops dont know how
much youor your nerd brother-in-lawknows. The shop will be reluctant
to pull out good parts, or claim falsely to have replaced parts, if it
knows it has to return replaced parts to you.
Get a Receipt
Never drop off any device without getting a receipt.
Get a Detailed Invoice
The invoice should state
Name, address, and phone number of repair shop
Your name and address
Description of repair
Date repair was completed
Name of technician
Statement of any warranty on parts and/or labor
This invoice will be essential if you need to take advantage of the shops
repair warranty. It will also be useful for reference if at a later date
another repair shop says you need the same repairs.
Pay by Credit Card
If you are dissatisfied with a repair, you have the option to dispute the
transaction under the federal Fair Credit Billing Act.
Ask Whether There Is Any Indication that You Are Not Properly Caring for
Find out if the problem could have been caused by your actions and how
to avoid future problems.
Test the Device as Soon as You Get It Home
If the problems persist, either take the device back to the shop immediately
or drop a note to the shop documenting the fact that the problems were