back to article Geeks and Nerds caught on film lacking geeky nerdiness

Canada was shocked to its honest-to-goodness core this week by the news that the country's PC repairmen are undermining its sweet as maple syrup image. Canadian TV show CBC Marketplace did a hidden camera investigation into computer repair firms to see how many technicians could correctly fix a hardware problem. Of the 10 …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Jason Harvey

    not surprised

    I always diagnose stuff myself and for family and friends before taking things in so that it gets fixed right (usually by way of me fixing it unless it's under warranty) I'd open my own shop if I had the funds to and undercut all these "mainstream" shops that hire people because of their people skills and not because they actually know anything.

  2. Richard Drinkwater

    Static anyone?

    I didn't see any of those people use any antistatic precautions. After they fiddled in the computer, could well be they have fried all those components they listed.

  3. Andrew Baines Silver badge

    Pay peanut

    Get monkeys

    If people valued IT repair as highly as they valued plumbers, they'd get a better repair service.

  4. Tawakalna

    ha! we have..

    ..PC World "technical" centre, where incompetence and extortion are prerequisites of the job.

  5. Alan Paice
    Gates Halo

    Guild of craftsmen AKA BCS

    There are cowboys in every trade. I.T is sadly one of those professions where a little knowledge is dangerous. And in the uk the majority of these people are employed by PC world et al.

    I believe the BCS is trying to get I.T Professionals a better rep. Like builders and plumbers we in I.T should be members of a proffesional guild.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    same in the UK

    Someone did a similar thing in the UK, same results.

  7. CJ
    Paris Hilton


    "Here's the film in all its baffling glory:"

    am I the only one not seeing anything?

    and where's the Paris Hilton angle ;)

  8. Adam Azarchs

    Not unique story

    I remember a year or so back, an undercover reporter unplugged the power cable to their hard drive, and took it around to a bunch of repair shops. Only one of them was able to diagnose the problem (with a $200 flat rate repair...). Others either were baffled or tried to sell the reporter a new power supply.

  9. Keith Doyle

    Consider the source...

    Any self respecting "geek" who can't get any better tech job than one working at a retail store is one who is clueless from the start-- consider the qualifications of the dimwits who sell you stuff at those stores-- the repair techs are likely only slightly more knowledgable than that-- otherwise they'd have a much better job at a real tech company. If it says "geek" on their car or on their T-shirt, turn around and run the other way briskly...

  10. Sampler
    IT Angle

    Also not surprised

    After working for a few years in IT support I too can see how it happens. Instead of paying good money to get knowledgeable and trained staff they pay peanuts to higher monkeys.

    Us good staff with recognised abilities get shifted off up into more important server jobs whilst the useless cretins we covered for are left leaving a bad taste in the customers mouth...

  11. crashIO

    The problem is cost

    Geek Squad has to hire low-end techies to make it profitable. These are likely high and college kids that have yet to cut their teeth in the real world. They have all this knowledge and no practical experience so they can and will make mistakes in diagnosing system problems.


    I would open up my own shop as well but quite frankly nobody wants to pay $100 an hour to fix a system that is worthless. A five hour diag and repair could be worth more than the system itself!

  12. Joe

    I'm gonna start a company...

    ...that specialises in IT services to car repair places, and pay the bastards back for all these years they've been fleecing *me*!

    "Ooh... [sucks breath through teeth] It looks like you're gonna need a new sprenklezip for that PC... and look at those prinks, they're nearly burned out!"

  13. Mike
    Paris Hilton

    ha ha

    This is something good technicians have known for some time. Most of these guys have graduated from some fast-track course that trains you how to pass the exams and teaches you very little about actually diagnosing and repairing computers. In addition these companies pay their technicians at rock-bottom rates that only newly certified techs would bother applying for. I already had 17 years computer experience as a hobbyist (hardware hacking, programming in assembly) before I decided to become a technician - not 6 months like most of these guys. I work in Toronto and have fixed more than one or two cock-ups caused by these inexperienced techs. Just google "insert tech company" complaints and you'll get an idea of what I'm talking about.

    I inserted Paris for those of you looking for the Paris Hilton angle.

  14. Denis

    Totaly agree

    I posted this on their website hours ago, but doubt they will publish it.


    I have been in IT for over 10 years. I currently work on Help Desk for a large company doing government work.

    That show had to be so biased or call me chicken. The fact that you took a memory stick that was faulty and put it into a working PC. What the heck were they thinking? Are they trying to blow the motherboard? And they where considered the experts? Wow, boggles my mind.

    I used to help friends and such with the PC problem, but now I don't. I used to get the "come over for supper" deal all the time and finally said sure, but I am not touching your PC. Now, when I do fix their PC it's hardware only and even then charge $50 and I don't look at it for more then 1 hour. I do not touch software problems, period. I will if they pay me. I will re-install their valid version of windows and after that I tell I will not fix their software problem. I will re-install again.

    I think your story has made it seem that those who fix computers need to have certifications and degrees and such. You know what. I started using PCs when I was 14. I was self taught. I went to college only to get a piece of paper to say I know my stuff. Most of my college mates knew nothing about computers but passed their courses. Go figure.

    Lets hope one day you actually do a valid show on IT support

  15. Bill Smith

    Waste of time

    50% of al <wait 5 minutes for the twatnet to kick in> l Canadians own <wait 4 minutes for the twatnet to kick in> a P <wait 5 minutes for the twatnet to kick in> - oh fuck off I am bored now.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    C'mon... the whole thing is bogus

    Are there bad techs? Absolutely. But the reporter was also setting people up to fail. It's certainly not as easy to catch as an unplugged HD.

    "Blown memory module?" In my experience, RAM either works or it doesn't. I've ever had memory go bad on me over time... that's just something that isn't common.

    I've built systems only to learn that the memory doesn't jive with the motherboard. The symptoms have include a corrupted OS install among other things. That's easy to figure out because bad memory is something you would consider.

    A hard drive could go bad and ideally running a HD diagnostic will tell you whether or not a HD is the issue... but I've also seen HD's die due to a bad power supply. Try diagnosing a bad PSU!! Unless you can test the voltages, the symptoms can be almost anything!

    Anyway... the point is, the only way I'd have caught the memory if a customer told me they hadn't changed it is if I had a RAM checker handy - and it would not be the first thing I'd look at.

  17. Jesse Bartholomew
    IT Angle

    A Little knowledge can Kill

    Most of these Techs are paid Peanuts for what they do, and the ones who know what they are doing are bored out of their sculls doing it, and thus resort to scouring customers PC's for Pron and the like (there was a story on this a few months back).

    Something like a Bad RAM stick is a rare thing, I agree, I have only personally seen it once in the 10 years I have been working in IT, but it still should be something they can diagnose. There will either be

    a.) a beep code (if any of these techs actually knew what that ment)

    b.) a bios error stating that the memory is non-existant

    c.) if the system powers on and doesn't do anything, and they HDD is powered up so by process of elimination it is one of 3 possible components as the PSU and HDD are known good.




    and one of the first things any tech should have learned is the process of replacing suspected bad with known good.

    These "Geeks" do nothing but give real IT Professionals (notice that we do not refer to ourselves as "Geeks") a bad name.

    I cringe every time I see a Nerd-mobile or a Geeksquad car pull up outside someones home. I want to call the police every time it happens because I know they are about to be robbed.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    This is a bias story

    This story is really a bunch of nonsense, I have 18 yeas experience in IT / IS. The fact of the matter is RAM is one of the most difficult things in these cheaply built Chinese mass produce pieces of garbage to diagnose. The story proclaims it's a simple fix which is completely false. The average life of a PC is 20 months, the average life of a Mac is 7 years, the average life of a solaris machine is 12 years the average life of an alpha is 12 years. Get the picture? This Chinese hardware is garbage, just like the dog food and toys this country produces.

    9 times out of ten if the RAM is bad the motherboard and / or Processor is too or it's days are shortly numbered. By placing a known bad stick or RAM in a PC I would recommend to the user to replace the MOBO or the machine too. RAM only goes bad from a very few simple things, all having to do with power surge which effects the MOBO also. I have a degree in information systems. News people who report technical story's need a technical consultant, you people didn't have one that knows anything more then the geek squad. If that's who you call to repair your machine then you get what you deserve. This is poor reporting with twisted facts at it's finest, sounds about the same as a Bush speech. Dumb and Dumber.

  19. Snert Lee


    Not enough info given in the story. What symptoms were they trying to diagnose from? One bad stick o' RAM in a PC will usually either generate BIOS beep codes, if it's the only RAM, or cause it to show less RAM than expected, if there's at least one other stick installed.

    There's no reason to believe that the montage of error messages and close passes on a system board had anything to do with the PC in question. On the other hand, I'm sure the television station managed to get the story they were looking for.

  20. Jim

    Who has never been fleeced by a tradesman?

    The vid piece opens with the anchor bitchin about PC repairs not fixing the actual problem but people seem to put up with shite service from other trades all the time. Plumbers, builders, car mechanics, whatever. Who hasn't been fleeced at least once?

    The fact is that if you don't understand how something works (fairly intimately) then you will get fleeced - no magic, no mystery, no news!

  21. hh


    system files that suddenly are missing or corrupted? a virus and/or malware is a totally logical conclusion, little else could cause such a thing besides someone willfully deleting or altering files.

    I also had a problem with how they seemed to disagree with the idea of marking up the price on a component. Its business, there are going to be diagnostic fees and labor charges ($80-125/hr is far from unreasonable) and the marked up cost of the components. Some are going to cost more than others. When you're having a PC repaired by a business its not like having your buddy Al drop by after work to take a look at it, if a service is performed there will be a cost attached to it.

    but yeah, those guys were grossly under-trained and under-experienced, giving a black eye to the industry. then again, i would expect nothing more from the likes of those stores.

    though I suppose it would be difficult for a consumer to find a decent place for PC repair.

  22. An Unwashed Mass


    If RAM so rarely goes wrong how come MemTest still exists?

    A RAM stick won't 'blow'... It will simply develop errors reading and/or writing (much like a bad sector on a HDD)... Plugging a duff stick into a different motherboard won't damage it! (would a sector-dropping HDD?)

    Incidentally I had a brand new matched pair of 1GB Corsair sticks that had allocation errors out of the packet... In this case testing that it wasn't the motherboard was easy as swapping the sticks show the allocation disparities in MemTest

    Also many RAM errors won't illicit a BIOS bleep because they report their correct size and speed

    Just my ten penn'orth

    PS What the hell is up with the comments page? Halfway through typing this all the CSS went MIA!

  23. Phyre Blade
    Thumb Down

    This report is not particularly objective.

    As an IT Professional of 15+ years, I actually found this report to be a little one sided. While I agree that majority of the technicians shown were incompetent, or perhaps excessively sales oriented, from a diagnostic perspective, given the wide range of ways different systems respond to faulty ram (especially of the cheap variety) and corrupt system files, these are not always an easy diagnosis to make. While most of the techs faired poorly in the diagnostic department, the segment also severely oversimplified the reasons why they were deemed incompetent.

    And from a pricing perspective, It is really unfair to use in-house IT department staff to make any kind of judgement on the pricing of parts and labor for third party, on-site service organizations. Being in-house does not automatically infer any more competency than an outsourced technician. And having worked on both sides of that particular fence, I can say that the costs and quality of parts and labor for third parties is actually a much different ball game than for an in-house IT department.

    You really cannot have people who do not understand the ins and outs of the computer repair industry writing articles or executing stings. Even the people they used as subject matter experts, while technically capable, simply did not know enough about how outsourced/third party support works and it's commensurate costs to provide a fair and unbiased view of things.

  24. Colin Wilson

    Simple steps

    If you're called to an unknown fault where everything spins up as it should, but the computer fails to boot correctly, I start like this :

    1) throw Memtest at it for a few minutes (that'll usually detect faulty memory very quickly - a crash just doing this indicates either a faulty PSU or motherboard in most cases). I do this from personal experience, having once wasted a whole weekend trying to figure out why 'doze failed to install, crashing at different places, 27 times through fresh installs...

    2) use a bootable linux CD - if it boots for longer than the machine would under Windows, you've pretty much nailed it down to a being a software issue, given the one exception of it being a faulty graphics card under heavy 3D load - for which the customer will usually know what they were doing when it keeled over.

    Both of these would take less than 20 minutes and give you a good idea if it's actually a "basic" hardware issue.

    If both the above fail or it doesn't spin up as expected - particularly if the PC is 4-6 years old - take the side off and check the capacitors around the processor... my old machine died a slow death with random crashes due to this, and a colleagues' failed spontaneously more recently. It was my first instinct when told the age of their machine, and hit the nail on the head :-p

  25. Colin Wilson

    $2000 dust free room

    In all fairness to the guy who suggested the hard drive - it if *was* the hard drive, and the data was important to the customer, he was probably quite close to the truth as far as costs for recovering the data was concerned...

    In the meantime, he should have re-checked his diagnosis in-situ, then tried to verify the drive was dead by use of a spare PSU and USB to IDE/SATA adaptor on another system.

    One of my colleagues recently learned this lesson the hard way when their old 8Gb drive failed, losing the last photos of a relative before they died (sadly, it really was shot, but out of the question getting it recovered). Not even the freezer trick or "flicking" the drive (spinning it in your hand to see if it releases a sticky platter / helps a weak motor) worked.

    How does that song go again ?

    Tears on my pillow, pain in my heart, no backups have you - oo-oo-oo-oo ooooh

  26. Mac605
    IT Angle

    oh no...

    From my experience (10 years of being "This usually angry guy that fixes broken computers) the truth is "Memory faults are really pain in the @#$ to diagnose..." - one of the last things tou start to consider when you encounter a broken computer...

  27. mojojam

    It's an industry trend...

    I totally agree what Sampler had to say: Instead of paying good money to get knowledgeable and trained staff they pay peanuts to hire monkeys.

    A couple of years ago I worked on one of the help desks at a international business machine company. The people there knew their stuff. Then upper management then decided to save money by going with a cheaper contractor. Now they're all dumb as rocks, except for the very few that stayed on from before. I've also spoken with some of the help desk customers, they all indicated the quality of support has drastically declined and they despise calling he help desk anymore.

  28. J

    Get real

    Oh, IT professionals... Get real, stop defending those guys/companies. Dust free room!? Pushing a new computer? Come on... Many of those guys are just crooks and you know it. It's not because YOU have 137 years of IT experience that everybody must be as good as you.

    And after all THREE of the ten technicians got it right, so it was far from difficult to diagnose it, eh? Hell, even I (nothing to do with IT) have ran MemTest on some memory I bought which seemed to be making my computer unstable (it turned out one of the sticks was faulty indeed).

    Now, I hope that they reward the ones who did get it right by mentioning their (company) names in the "full report" the guy mentioned...

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    As someone already eluded to, generally when memory goes bad the machine lets you know... Back in the good ol days when we used to use honest to god chips, most memory errors were corrected by simply reseating the chip, or if it was user installed, straightening out one of the little metal pins.

    Even the most poorly built machines today are built better than the top of the line stuff that was built 20 years ago. It's almost impossible to jam a memory module in backwards without either destroying the chip or the mother board.

    20 or so years ago, if you put a chip in backwards, it either burned up or it exploded (really cool I might add).

    Diagnosing machines today is NOTHING like it used to be... Back then you actually had to know a little about electronics, and I'd say about about 50% of the time you could actually fix a problem with a machine by swapping out a few chips or adjusting a few pots... You had to use o-scopes, dmm's and other such tools to verify if a system had hardware problems...

    Now a days, people who can't speak a lick of english can read problem isolation scripts to people who don't the difference between the internet and ethernet...

    To be honest, a success rate of 30% is much better than I expected... The way the training centers from Microsoft, Cisco, Dell, et. al, crank out "graduates" from their learning centers, I think it's a miracle. The last time I took a MS course, we had 8 binders full of power point slides, from which the "instructor" read word for word and line by line... Pretty much 1600 or so pages of information covered in 4 days... What's more, the tests really don't cover real world abstract situations that one would find in reality.

    As for the box stores and their "geek" squads, eh, you (the consumer) get what they (the box store where you bought your computer from) pay for (technical support staff). Occasionally, you'll come across someone who really knows their stuff, but don't get too attached... They're either moonlighting OR that store is the first step towards finding a real job.

    Finally, a really good tech kind of like a Ferrari F-1 mechanic... They might be neurotic, they might smell a little ripe and they may speak in foreign tongues, but they're damn good at what they do and the people who are lucky enough to be on the receiving end of their knowledge and services will have a machine that screams like a F-1 car... AND will pay the premium for it.

  30. Sean Nevin


    I just got back home from fixing/setting up a network in a local Doctor's office. He called me *after* the Nerds on Site had charged him over $300, to ask if I could make up some new Cat5 patch cables. Apparently, the Nerds had told him that the 25 foot ones (that he also paid Waaaayy too much for) were too long and there was "interference getting into the lines".

    After fixing the problem (DHCP was disabled in the router) he asked if there was a switch he could buy to disconnect one of his machines from the rest of the network. He wanted (understandably) to keep medical information separate from the internet, but still use it locally. I guess disabling routing from the WAN port for that particular computer was too much for the Nerds...

  31. foxyshadis

    Don't they know the Boy Scout motto?

    The biggest fault was probably preparation. I would hope that they talked to the lady on her initial call to get a vague idea of what to expect, if someone called me I'd try to at least figure out if I needed to bring anything out of the ordinary. Those are probably the ones who found it. In fact, if it sounded like hardware at all, I'd tell them to just bring it in, the field isn't the best place to check that if you can avoid it. (RAM and mobos aren't something I carry around, though I think there's a PSU in the trunk, and hard drives have been damaged easily in my car. Then again, that's why I have lackeys to order around.)

    As for static, won't touching the case before you poke around clear off 99% of any static anyway? I'm used to a mild climate where I've never even heard a first-hand account of static damage.

    Odd failures story: Once had a lady employ me to find out why it was crashing so much and ran so slow, the first was easy - video card, but all it needed was a driver update. (And it had been through several PC repair trips and a return to the manufacturer!) The second was, believe it or not, too many fonts, and I never did find a good font manager/swapper to fix that. Windows is unkind to graphic designers, I fear.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Simple steps -- agreed

    I've spent far too many hours hanging out at a hardware forum, dealing with exactly these issues of diagnosing problems. I dispense some advice, and I learn a lot from others. And it's obvious that some of the commenters know little more about diagnosing common pc problems than the bogus techs on the program. Colin Wilson was nearly identical to the methods I'd use:

    Run Memtest86+

    Run the hard disk manufacturer's test utility

    Put in a live linux disk

    Proceed from there. A spare video card and psu to swap in are handy.

    Scan for viri and spyware

    Diagnosing pc problems benefits from experience. I'm not that expert on software or networking and couldn't hold a candle to most of you. But I would never advise anyone to take an ailing computer in to any of those big box or nerd/geek franchise outfits. Either get advice from a good hardware forum to diy or find a small shop that others have had good experiences with.

  33. Chris Phillips

    So quick to crush the bad ones...

    I understand that the news media thrives on pain and suffering and basically any bad news, but please, give credit where it's due.

    Yeah, crack the whip at the incompetent fools that did not solve the problem, but please please please, give some positive press to the 3 that did!

    The 3 success stories weren't even named in the bulletin, while the baddies got named and shamed. How on earth can you call this fair and unbiased reporting? I know that I am not the only one who watched the show thinking that the news people were just on a witch hunt - and didn't they sound pleased with themselves?

    You found 3 people that identified the problem. Identify them and let them bask in the glory, or you're just letting ourselves and your profession down.

  34. Alex Hawdon

    False Market...

    The fact is that most home PC Repair stuff is a pretty false market... (more on that later)

    IMO the only way it can be done correctly and economically is to hire people who don't know much and have them go through simple diagnostic tests which will diagnose 95% of faults within a couple of hours (hardware or software? If hardware then swap test hardware until fault is localised, etc.) and charge £30-40/hr for diagnosis.

    Experts get paid more and therefore have to cost more. You would have to charge closer to £100/hr if you wanted to employ mid-level PC techs. Granted, they would be able to diagnose more faults, but when most PCs cost less than £400, there isn't any point.

    What I mean about a false market is that most people who would bring their computers to these places are the people who paid £1500 for the 'best' PC package a few years ago. To them it's still the dog's proverbials, but they don't realise that they could just replace the base unit with something better for about £300; diagnosing/fixing it just isn't economical.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad RAM is RARE!?

    Clearly you guys don't work with Dells, do you?

    Their choice of shoddy power supply in the GX260/270/280 lines results in RAM going bad on a regular basis. After a machine has eaten up 2 or 3 sticks of RAM, the motherboard has finally had enough and quits, too. After about 2 motherboards, the PSU finally takes it upon itself to die and take every component with it.

    Memory is one of the FIRST things I check - because it can cause all sorts of wacky effects that look like anything from a dead or dying motherboard to software problems. Memtest86 takes care of that (mind you, that's not a housecall thing - it takes way too damned long to get useful results)

    And you know what? I actually applied to Best Buy/Geek Squad recently, because they pay better than the numbnuts I'm working for now, and it's actually possible that I'll have a boss who won't chew me out (and initiate formal disciplinary procedures) for doing my fucking job instead of her fucking errands.

  36. Jared

    Correct conclusion, terrible methodology

    I agree with those saying the problem probably wasn't very straightforward to diagnose. I doubt the motherboard even POSTed, so memtest and the linux disk methods are out. I would have suspected the motherboard, the video card, the psu, then the RAM, in that order. I probably would have eventually gotten around to the real problem by testing the two modules individually (I think they mentioned there were two...). 3 out of 10 is pretty good for the beginners likely to work at "nerd herd" kinds of places for $10 per hour.

    If you're even mildly surprised that a news network is willing to grossly exaggerate the facts to make the story more interesting, then your parents have probably neglected to tell you about santa, the tooth fairly, the birds and the bees, and never let you watch the ending of "Old Yeller."

    @Joe - I'll be a tech in that company any day...12 hour days, no charge.

  37. Tom

    You pay with peanuts... get monkeys.

    Unfortunately, the "average user" doesn't know squat about how their computer works, or what is going on (thus the needs for these idiot servicemen). Go on over to techtales and listen to the ID10T users and the tech people on the phone. It is a very rude awakening.

    Nothing new. Microsoft mentality.

  38. graeme leggett Silver badge


    what's the managers role in this. Even if they are under experienced and poorly trained, why aren't they operating to some Standard Operating Procedures or similar. Or perhaps my experience in Pharma has poisoned me to real world expectations.

    can't really talk, too busy to document my own work most of the time and I suspect any good store manager is quickly promoted to above his own level of competence or gets another job.

  39. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle

    Where they get them from

    At university I had a friend who had difficulty finding the on switch for his PC. He graduated with a Geography degree and found his first job. After a two week training course, he was the lead repair technician in the city's PC World.

    How we laughed........

  40. yeah, right.
    Dead Vulture

    Not surprised at all.

    Yep. These companies hire people with zero experience, give them 20 minutes of MARKETING training and a manual, then let them loose. They don't hire people who actually have any experience, because those people might actually know what they're doing, and thus might dare to disagree with the "senior" tech - the one whose been there 6 months.

    Meanwhile, the punters keep flowing into these shops because the shops have well funded marketing depts, they do lots of advertising and have "low" prices.

    Canadian consumers are some of the most pliant, complacent, easily ripped off people in the world. I'm surprised any of them still actually have any money left, given the crap they unquestioningly put up with.

  41. George Marian
    Thumb Up

    Not an easy fix?

    As if. One of the standard troubleshooting steps is to try known working parts in a "dead" PC. If you can afford a memory tester, even better, as you don't risk blowing your good stick(s) of memory in a possibly fault motherboard.

    However, any tech that didn't -- at least -- try a good stick of memory in the PC isn't worth his/her rate.

    I do agree that not all of them are necessarily bad techs, just inexperienced. Blame the companies first for not training them correctly, and the techs second for not learning off the job. If you're merely a "9-to-5" tech, you don't belong in the business.

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The industry is full of pretenders and con artists...

    In 2001 I attended a 2-week MCSE Windows 2000 Professional and Server course in a central city facility, to get me out of the motor trade and into IT. Actually it was the Network+ course and qualification that stood me in the best position for that.

    On the penultimate day of this MCSE course, the person I shared a desk with, turned to me and whispered "What's a browser?"... I was speechless and numb with shock.

    Since then however, I have moved onward and upward and often find myself cringing at what some "techies" in our support department are saying to our customers. For the sake of our customers and out reputation, I hope that they get better at their jobs!

    The trouble is, I don't think the problem is fixable. For any outfit that is anything more than a one-man-band, it literally is usually cheaper to replace a system with new, than it is to diagnose and repair a problem. It'd probably be easier to educate the consumer and/or re-adjust their expectations, to be more in line with reality.

    Posting anonymously to protect the innocent (incompetent).


    xx Peace out.

  43. Federal

    It's not always that easy

    We had a machine that would crash randomly under heavy load. It could go weeks without having a problem. But if you ran memtest overnight it would show an occasional error.

    We replaced the memory and it reduced the frequency of the problem, but didn't end it. The new memory was still showing an occasional error (that was noted as sometimes being a fale positive) when running memtest overnight so we replaced it again.

    It turned out that the problem was the hard disk. The electronics on the drive, I suppose. Replacing the hard disk eliminated the problem. The only symptom was memory errors - the hard drive had appeared fine. We replaced the drive so we wouldn't have to worry about losing the user's work. The machine has been flawless for years (with the replaced disk drive).

    Never saw that problem before, haven't seen it since. It had 4 very experienced IT staff baffled (including me) for weeks.

    Literally hundreds of millions of "parts" need to work perfectly for a PC to work. A problem transistor on one subsytem (motherboard chip) can surface as an error on another.(video card). Or hard disk and memory, apparently - that one still has me somewhat baffled.

    But this stuff isn't always easy to figure out. We probably spent a couple $k in staff time diagnosing a bad $100 disk.

    This stuff isn't always that easy.

  44. Alex Hawdon


    "But this stuff isn't always easy to figure out. We probably spent a couple $k in staff time diagnosing a bad $100 disk."

    How much would it have cost to replace the whole computer and migrate the user's data... $700?

    I would say it may be easier than you think, if you don't want to be a hippy about it... ;)

  45. George Marian


    Yes, there can be many difficult to diagnose problems with a PC. Which is the reason I believe that you can't be a day-tech. You have to care enough about what you do; to always want to learn more about it.

    Case in point: when I upgraded to an FX5900 video card, it was my first video card which required a separate power connection. I put the puppy in and my system wouldn't boot. It had be baffled for a while and a friend of mine suggested -- sigh unseen -- that I needed to replace my power supply.

    This went against most of my troubleshooting knowledge and intuition. The PSU in question is a 440 watt "beast," and it's still humming away; powering another friend's PC to this day. What I realized after that encounter is that as PSUs age they won't necessarily be able to provide the same amount of power as they did when new. (That, or the PSU wasn't capable of its rated wattage from the very beginning, which was never an issue before that video card came into the equation.)

    That PSU would've been marginally acceptable to power my PC w/ that video card, if it was capable for providing the rated wattage. While troubleshooting, I ignored my concerns over that issue and dismissed the PSU as being a possible cause. Lesson learned.

    That's the problem of the day-techs. If you're not dedicated to your craft, you don't necessarily retain these lessons and probably don't seek out new information. In your case, I would've suspected the motherboard after the memory. Lesson learned; the hard drive is part of the "memory" equation, in that it stores much of the the data that ends up in RAM.

    BTW, I'm programmer, not a hardware guy. I've learned to troubleshoot hardware issues out of necessity. However, I believe that anything worth doing, is worth doing right.

    The lack of that kind of focus for someone's job is basically the problem with the poorly paid techs that work for such companies. It's not even the sorry pay. Everyone's gotta start out someplace; and anyone can find themselves in a tough spot where they accept a job just to make ends meet. Not caring about your work, however, is unacceptable.

    There are many good reasons for being in that position, but we still must strive to do the best that we can, no matter the conditions. I've been in that situation in the past, where the situation at a job lead to a decline in my performance. I don't beat myself up about it, but I still strive for my ideal of reaching for excellence with everything I do. (That's the reason I usually preview comments a zillion times before I finally post them. And I still miss some errors, but it doesn't stop me from caring enough to always try get it just right.)

  46. Mahou Saru

    Real geeks get paid in peanuts and beer

    When will people learn that all you need to do is offer your nearest geek lots of beer and maybe a bowl of peanuts and they will help you for free. Helps if you are a hot chick too :3

  47. kain preacher
    Gates Halo

    bad memory rare ?

    hmm must not of been in the field long if you dont see bad memory. THere are certain clues to follow. If I have a client that says their computer crashes alot I'd suspect spy ware, then memory, HDD then the mother board or CPU.

  48. Tom Simnett

    RAM difficult to diagnose? My arse...

    There is a reason MemTest exists. If your machine is crashing without any valid reason, then there are a number of basic steps that anyone worth their salt would check. I'm not an "IT support tech" because I chose not to be and I can get paid far more to do what I enjoy doing: tinkering with software.

    However, I do build my own machines, and I've had a few faulty memory sticks in my time. Always check the memory! Only today, a friend of mine had his machine up (a Dell, yes), trying to install win32. It didn't have it. When I stuck an ubuntu cdrom in the drive, it kernel panicked instantly. A quick memtest later, and it was quite clear that 90k errors and counting between 501MB and 503MB wasn't something to be snorted at...

    Come on, really. All of you who think it's hard to diagnose, or that it'll blow the machine by having faulty memory are somewhat deluded. They're errors. They happen. But not to be able to diagnose a simple problem like that, and not to carry the correct tools around when you're in the job, are just not even passable as excuses.

  49. A. Lewis

    Been there, tried that.

    I'm not cut out for that kind of work. I did consider for a while going freelance as a call-out tecchie. I can do the technical work no problem (I'd have certainly passed CBC's test - as a colleague of mine says: "It's always RAM") but I'm just not good enough at demanding money, I consistently sold myself short.

    For this kind of work I think you need to have a little bit of the bull-shitting con artist in you to actually make a living out of it. I don't mean you should try and charge £2000 for a simple blown RAM module, but you should charge a reasonable fee for labour since it's something the user clearly cannot do themselves.

    I think I had a point in that ramble somewhere, but it wasn't necessarily related to the story...

  50. A. Lewis

    @Those vultures who criticised the test set-up

    What the heck are you guys talking about? You're betraying your own complete lack of hardware knowledge.

    Here's the bit you should pay attention to, you might learn something:

    RAM problems happen. Often. They happen on their own without problems with other hardware. While it is less likely for a module to fail 'over time' as opposed to being faulty from the outset, if a module is working enough to pass POST and install windows, the fault may not be spotted straight away. Faulty RAM is easy to diagnose. If a system is showing unstable behaviour that doesn't look software-related, it's the first thing that should be tested. You can't "blow a motherboard" by plugging in RAM that has a logical fault, for this to happen you would need to cross-solder some of the contacts, and even then you would probably only damage that particular slot.

    Why do these things happen? Because a lot of smaller OEMs (that are likely to be used by home customers) use cheap RAM to keep their prices competitive. Cheap RAM has a high failure rate.

    Sorry to rant, but some of you guys were sounding exactly like the rip-off merchants in the video.

  51. teacake


    "am I the only one not seeing anything?"

    Oh, if you can't see the film it means your motherboard is broken.

  52. ryan
    Dead Vulture

    "You work with computers?"

    "can you just take a look at my PC a moment? it wont start, and sometimes it makes a buzzing noise, and i want to install this VOIP phone thingy? it won't take 5 mins i'm sure"

    I don't normally have the heart to tell them that as a web designer, i know fuck all about computers. i'm going to invest in a "NO! I WONT FIX YOUR COMPUTER" t-shirt.

  53. Gordon

    Ah, well....

    Oh, i'll always take a look at a friend or family member's PC. I don't charge, it's something called a "favour". They might cook me lunch, I'll fix their PC as they're my friend/relative.

    As for the "blown" memory. Just what does this mean? Are we talking "PC will not start" style blown or "when it gets warm it crashes windows" style blown Most competant repair people will try taking memory out of a PC that will not boot as we know it does fail and cause unpredictable problems. But if the thing boots and then fails later, you'd look at O/S file problems and hard-disk corruption first (well, I would).

    Diagnosis is often just "playing the numbers" you look at the most likely cause first, test for it, and if it's not there you move on - and sometimes there is nothing to tell you what order to try things in. So it's pure luck whether you try the right thing first or last.

  54. Christopher Hall


    Not heard of MemTest86 then?

    These cretinous 'geeks' make my blood boil. I make it my business to accompany friends and family into places like PCWorld should they require me so they don't get the nonsense, sell-it-quick sales patter that often supercedes thoughtful, technical advice. I've had too many people consult me for advice having been dealt with by no more than over-insentivised sales staff with little to no knowledge about what they're selling.

    We need a proper IT cohort that is driven by customer's needs, not it's shareholders, like an IT co-op I suppose. Thoughts welcome.

  55. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    Cowboys everywhere

    Its the same no matter what industry. Builders, plumbers, sparkies, double glazing and now "nerds". Last time i was in a car garage for repairs they'd tried to fleece me because the average punter doesn't know much about cars. They got put in their place. Also it would help if we got some damn respect for out jobs. I started out as tech and moved up to specicialise in networks. The lack of respect people have because they know nothing about computers is ridiculous. Finally its not new the i.t. industry ripping off people, just look at how much "consultants" charge and how often their installs go tits up. It wont be long before the tech guy wears trousers that shows off their crack. Dont worry though, ITIL will sort it all out (sigh).

  56. Todd Franklin

    They didn't call ME

    If the machine wouldn't POST, memory is one of the FIRST things you check. Here in southern Missouri, USA, we have many rural dial-up users and we occasionally have thunderstorms. Therefore, usually no-POST issues are either the modem or power supply (depending on whether the lightning struck a power line or the phone line.) If you eliminate those 2 problems, the next thing to do is pull the memory and see if your motherboard beeps at you. It helps to have a 25$ post-code checker, but it's not entirely necessary. If the machine will POST, but you're having flaky problems, then run a bootable diagnostic tool like pc-check to check your processor, motherboard, memory, and hard drive.

    The problem with many of these "geeksquad" type services is that they're not interested in fixing your computer. They are about selling product. They DON'T WANT to fix your computer and they DON'T CARE about you. An honest computer tech is like an honest mechanic, once you find one you can trust, stick with him (or her) and tell all your friends.

  57. Demian Phillips

    You keep using that word...

    "On the penultimate day of this MCSE course, the person I shared a desk with, turned to me and whispered "What's a browser?"... I was speechless and numb with shock."

    So what was the ultimate day of the MCSE course?

This topic is closed for new posts.