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Getting Gouged by Geeks 581

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the broken-trowlfaz-inhibitor dept.
dottyslashdottydot writes "CBC Marketplace recently ran a sting operation and discovered that most home computer repair technicians failed miserably at diagnosing a simple RAM failure. Many techs tried to sell unneccessary software or upgrades. (or even a new computer!) However, the worst offender was one guy who claimed that the hard drive had failed, and that the only remedy was to pay $2,000 to have a special facility with a clean room recover the data."
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Getting Gouged by Geeks

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  • by DaleGlass (1068434) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:41PM (#20860319) Homepage
    Memory affects pretty much everything, so it's hard to isolate it from everything else. Bad RAM can result in disk corruption, making it hard to determine it's the memory and not the disk that's broken.

    For example, take Nero, burn a CD, then verify it. If the RAM is bad it may well happen that a few bits you read from the CD got flipped, and now the verification fails. Obvious conclusion: The CD-R was bad. After a few of those, obvious conclusion: the drive is bad. That the computer crashes ocasionally can be attributed to spyware or viruses. A tech working for cheap isn't going to spend hours to test every possible case.

    RAM is also one of the most annoying things to try to diagnose. Disks at least have SMART, so if it got to the point where it's really broken, SMART will tell you about that quickly. And once it breaks it tends to do so very obviously. Now memory can pass tests and still be bad, and be marginal enough to work most of the time.

    I had several problems with RAM that firmly convinced me to always buy ECC.

    First one was when my Linux firewall, which ran for months without a hitch suddenly had a kernel panic. I thought it was strange, but oh well, nothing is perfect. Rebooted it, expecting that the new kernel installed weeks ago probably has a fix for that. A couple days later it crashed again. Rebooted it again making a note to investigate later. A day later it crashed yet again, but didn't boot this time due to disk corruption. Turns out the RAM was loose in the slot, and somehow stopped making proper contact. The module itself was good and passed memtest86 just fine when I set up the box.

    Second one was when I was buying a new shiny box, and started having strange crashes. This took me quite a while to diagnose, because memtest86 passed perfectly fine. Yet "memtester", an userspace tool did catch it finally, after running for 8 hours straight, and even then with about 50% accuracy. On repeated 8 hour runs sometimes it'd catch it, and sometimes not, while testing the whole memory several times during that period.

    Something like that probably won't be diagnosed correctly by tech support. Even if they do test the memory they're almost certainly not going to bother running it for a day straight, just to make really sure it's not a marginal case.
  • by Seor Jojoba (519752) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:44PM (#20860359) Homepage
    Could you give some indication in the teaser that the content is actually inside of a video? Ideally, I could filter out the video content. Can't watch it at work due to IT constraints and videos usually take much longer than text to consume.
  • Re:And sometimes (Score:3, Informative)

    by Hell O'World (88678) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:53PM (#20860469)
    I have fooled around with debugging borked boxes a lot over the years, and the time I had RAM problems was the most perplexing. I found it very hard to diagnose. Even after having gone through that, I am not clear what symptoms would point to bad RAM. Anybody have any light to shed?
  • by WaXHeLL (452463) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @07:55PM (#20860479)
    Geeks.com is Computer Geeks, an online store. Different from Geek Squad. One actually provides reliable parts, the other is run by Best Buy (enough said).
  • Memtest86+ (Score:2, Informative)

    by Zymergy (803632) * on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:20PM (#20860811)
    http://www.memtest.org/#downiso [memtest.org] Bootable from USB Drive, CD, or Floppy... ...A standard troubleshooting tool in my TS kit. Sure, it takes some time, but it eliminates instability/random software/OS issues and verifies the RAM is 100% IN SITU.
  • Re:"Simple"? (Score:3, Informative)

    by PlusFiveTroll (754249) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:22PM (#20860841) Homepage
    I am one of these self-employed geeks. Whenever I run in to a hardware issue that doesn't manifest a simple solution quickly, I ask to take the computer with me overnight. That way I can run memtest without actually siting at their office wasting my time and my clients. Swapping out known good components is a quick way to find out what is going on if you've detected hardware problems. Before that, knoppix like boot operating systems can quickly remove the hard drive as part of the malfunction.

    Most of my clients don't realize that I spend a good portion of my time waiting on there computer. Installing AV/anti-spam/rookit scanner then waiting for them to finish is time consuming. Most of the actual fixes take a short period of time (repairing the registry, replacing hardware, replacing corrupt files, etc). The biggest issue I have with most computer people is they don't even try to teach the user what went wrong and how to keep it from occurring again, in the case of viruses and such, not much a person can do about hardware failure other then keeping the case free of dust.
  • by cloricus (691063) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:27PM (#20860909)
    We have that in Australia. It's called 'The Chasers WAR on Everything' and you can check it out on YouTube, abc.net.au/chaser, or your favourite BT network. One of the better segments is 'What have we learnt from current affairs this week?' in which they make a mockery of Australia's nightly rubbish news shows. Have a look at it, get a group of crazies in your country to start up a similar show. If it doesn't clean up the trash on those sorts of shows at least it will let you laugh at the sorry state of affairs.

    We also have a semi-funny-semi-serious show called MediaWatch which is a 15 minute show that goes over all of the illegal, stupid, dangerous, and bad things the media did that week. You can also find copies of it at abc.net.au/mediawatch.
  • by Vainglorious Coward (267452) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @08:41PM (#20861083) Journal
    You can't have seen the show - they inserted RAM that had been "blown" (I think they'd dropped a blob of solder on some crucial area) so the machine wouldn't even POST. It's not hard to diagnose why a machine won't even get to post - RAM or motherboard or CPU or an external card. (Indeed all four of those reasons were given by various different techs).
  • by alphabeat (1162741) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:00PM (#20861907)
    National broadcast and government funded media outlet the ABC also runs a show called "Media Watch" which focuses more on inept journalism, although The Chaser do punch holes in current-affairs shows like Today Tonight and ACA with style and grace. Media Watch even attack the ABC which is funny. Their shows can be watched at http://abc.net.au/mediawatch/ [abc.net.au]
  • by mallie_mcg (161403) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:41PM (#20862261) Homepage Journal
    Try the actual site http://abc.net.au/tv/chaser/ [abc.net.au] You can even podcast full episodes.
  • by sjs132 (631745) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @10:58PM (#20862423) Homepage Journal
    Yeah, it looked like some guys tried to take the easy way out (sell a new computer instead of fix, etc..) But I also saw the "expert" from some college saying the ram part should be only $25... What about shipping, installing, time, I remember the days when I worked Temp jobs... I was billed out at $80/hr even though I only saw $12 of it. There is overhead to have a person come over to your house and fix something. "Fix it yourself?" Umm... Don't think so. Too many folks don't know. How many times do you change your own breaks? or do something on a car? You don't you take it to the mechanic. Some mechanics are crooks & As&holes.. Same in the computer biz. But the rest of us are not.

    Also for getting parts online... I've always been asked when I tell someone they need ram/hd/etc to go buy online... but they want it NOW.... So off to the BigBox store we go to purchase it NOW... Tsk...Tsk... Rather one sided.

    As for the "nerd" with the "clean room" idea... I tell people that all the time when I'm explaining what could go wrong and it happens to include HD's... A Person HAS to put a $$$ Figure on their data... Is it worth $XXX to get it back, or just drop a new drive in and go. It actually looked like he just diagnosed it wrong as a Drive instead of ram. If it was a Drive and he copied the files over and restored them onto the new drive after setup, my "customers" would see me as a GOD and not think twice. IF that was the problem but we know he missed it. I don't think it was ill intention, just choppy edits, and a bad personality that seemed to want to go for the glitz of the problem instead of simple ram fix.

    Oh well...

    BTW, I didn't see a single "geek" with a wrist strap... And the complaints about some standards or lack of screening would be fixed if people hired were at least A+ or etc... SOME type of certification is better than none. At least with A+ they (used to) stress static shock damage with hardware, etc...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:00PM (#20862435)
    Well I'm in the computer repair business AND in Toronto and my mom called yesterday to tell me this was on, so I tuned in, as an 'expert' as it were. Watching the show and then rewatching the first part I missed from the web, it becomes obvious that parts of the recorded sessions with their tech help were edited to make it seem over the top.

    Here's a bunch of points and the text from the show:

    The presenter says that blown ram is a "simple problem" ?? WTF ... Also the price they quote for the 512MB DDR ram at $25 really lowballing it. 512MB of DDR-184 may be $29 to $35 at the "in store" for good cheap parts in Toronto, but where any average person would shop at Staples.ca it's $79.92... And of course there is installation, and more importantly diagnosing which can be nasty, so stating $25 gives the viewer the impression that A) it's easy, and B) total cost _should_ be $25... (see end for URLs)

    They show three of the in-home techs at work, again just snippits.

    "Grade A Students": he supposedly, remember the video is heavily edited, tells them they need a new motherboard. Well with an older computer, the chances are just about even that its the ram or the motherboard. The guy may not be the best repair tech in the world, but it's not over the top to suggest that. The one fault I find with him is telling the customer to "go buy a motherboard" as there's no way an average user could do that. The show points out A) he charged $80 which seems fair for in-home visit to diagnose something, and B) reiterating it's a motherboard "don't need" thus making the diagnosis seem rediculous.

    "Nerds On Site": this is the fellow they make to look the worst, but from the few edits they do have of him, he seems to ask some good questions off the bat, "Is the hard drive making different sort of sounds?" That is the best question to ask a user since the CLICK CLICK CLICK of a bad drive most people do hear and they know "it didn't sound like that before". So this guy guesses it's the HD before he opens the case, which is actually a bad diagnosis since we can only assume the box didn't even POST with the bad ram (if it did POST with flakey RAM well it could be anything right?). Their expert tells the viewers, "you can't make any kind of diagnosis that quickly", when in fact yes you can with a bad HD or even bad ram/mb...

    "Geek Squad": So they show the guy saying "My professional advice is the motherboard. You have to have it taken in and you have to replace the motherboard", which is perfectly reasonable. On-site it's almost impossible to figure out if it's the mb or not, and if you don't carry spare ram, figuring out if its the ram is also best done in the shop. At this point the show states "Remember the problem's a broken ram part. So far we've heard it was the motherboard, the cpu, and the hard drive. All wrong." But those are their guesses and all are reasonable for being in the field guesses, so they're not wrong, save the HD guess, but that guy is not necessarily the most adept diagnostician... Continuing, "Out of 10 techs we call in, only these 3 can figure out what the problem is." So these three guys try pulling out the ram and try one at a time. Again, since it's an old system, guessing that's the the MB is not that off base, though not trying the ram is a shame but not over the top.

    Taking Advantage of "most of us"

    "we track down 3 techs who used to work for big name retailers, Rob, Macolm, and Shawn confess that taking advantage of most of us is easy"... um 'taking advantage' of most people who often don't know much more than 10 things about using the computer, when a seasoned pro may know and encounterd say 1,000 to even 10,000 things. Well how easy would be for a doctor to say to a patient, "look's like you've got a dwarf living in your belly" and that person believe them??

    On the average customer

    Presenter: "When people come in with a crashed computer, how much do they actually know about what was wrong

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:11PM (#20862525)

    Memory affects pretty much everything, so it's hard to isolate it from everything else. Bad RAM can result in disk corruption, making it hard to determine it's the memory and not the disk that's broken.

    For example, take Nero, burn a CD, then verify it. If the RAM is bad it may well happen that a few bits you read from the CD got flipped, and now the verification fails. Obvious conclusion: The CD-R was bad. After a few of those, obvious conclusion: the drive is bad. That the computer crashes ocasionally can be attributed to spyware or viruses. A tech working for cheap isn't going to spend hours to test every possible case.

    RAM is also one of the most annoying things to try to diagnose. Disks at least have SMART, so if it got to the point where it's really broken, SMART will tell you about that quickly. And once it breaks it tends to do so very obviously. Now memory can pass tests and still be bad, and be marginal enough to work most of the time.

    I had several problems with RAM that firmly convinced me to always buy ECC.
    Have you ever used Memtest386? [wikipedia.org] At my job I've only ever encountered two or three instances of bad ram and this is the tool that's done it. Replace the ram, perfect functionality. I've had very good luck with it. For servers everyone says don't dick around, make sure you get ECC, so that seems like smart advice.
  • Tech's are morons (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:16PM (#20862577)
    Step 1.

    Air Compressor. Clean all that crap out of the fans and power supply.

    2. Check for swollen (or leaky) caps (if bad replace MoBo). Check for proper cooling including CRACKED FAN HOUSINGS on the heatsink (VERY COMMON esp on P4s)

    3. Pull off all IDE/SATA/SCSI ribbons cables etc. Put 'em on a cable tester. Replace if needed.

    4. Hook the Power Supply up to a tester and . . . test it. Replace if needed (replace in eMachine regardless, it'll go out soon enough).

    5. Remove HDD's, and hook them up externally to a PC that has had its AV/AM software updated withing the last 24hrs. I personally recommend Avast or Avira and Spybot, Ad-Aware, SuperAntiSpyware. This will get most bugs off, but not all. Also run a chkdsk. If its win2k or newer make sure its NTFS and not FAT (YOU'D BE AMAZED). Check to see if the drive is full or close (this causes TONS of issues in Windows). If its full, sell the customer a bigger one - - clone the old drive to the new one dynamically growing the partitions. Don't know a good free tool that does this, so a commercial solution is best - - - or the customer can lose data.

    6. While step 5 is running, boot the HDDless PC with a diagnostic disk (such as Ultimate Boot CD) and run some stress tests to determine if the RAM/MoBo/CPU etc. has any failures. Replace as needed.

    7. Once the HDD is back in the original PC, boot into safemode and log in as ADMIN. If the machine doesn't get that far - do a repair install. Run msconfig and make sure some idiot; er ah . . . the customer isn't running in selective startup (VERY COMMON).

    8. Go to Add/Remove Programs and remove the hundreds of dollars in crapware the customer installed while trying to fix it him/herself... Super Reg FIxer Pro, etc. Then run a good cleaning tool (like CCleaner) to get rid of unneeded garbage files and simple registry errors (dupes, dead links etc.)

    9. Install a good AntiSpyware tool like Spybot or SuperAntiSpyware or Ad-Aware. Update and run. If it doesn't update run LSPFIX then WINSOCK FIX (from a cd-r or usb key), then try again. Then run a real registry tool like the free RegSeeker or equivalent.

    10. Run Hijack This. Select anything suspicious for deletion. If you are 110% sure about an entry - - GOOGLE IS YOUR FRIEND, that's all I gotta say.

    11. Boot into regular mode. Install a good AV (ie NOT NORTON or MCAFEE) If crappy AV is already loaded; remove it. It wasn't done while in SAFE MODE because Norton/McAfee cannot be removed from SAFE MODE. If they refuse to uninstall (and they often do) do google search for "XXXXX REMOVAL TOOL" (XXXXX=Norton or McAfee). Avast AV or Avira are both free for personal use and much better products; AVG ain't too bad. Update 'em and run a scan. After that run another Spyware scan while the AV's real time protection is on.

    12. Run HiJackThis again, and look for "nofiles" or any entries that mysteriously came back. Double check them and MAKE SURE they are malware entries. Since multiple scans didn't zap them, do a search for a SPECIFIC removal tool for the persistent virus. At this point it is probably Vundo or a variant as its often updated to get around virus scanners. While Vundofix is awesome, it may not get rid of it alltogether if the PC is infected with the latest version - - but it will give you its name and location (usually C:\Windows\System32\) and you can now shut the machine off and access it (again) by hooking it up to another box. Now that its not the BOOT drive you navigate to the file thru explorer and delete it without permission hassles.

    If you can do this - you are better than 99% of all PC tech's I've ever worked with. I've worked at "big" stores and mom/pop shops fixing PC's since the 486 was cutting edge and most tech's don't know shit from shinola - - especially ones with an A+ cert.
  • Idiots (Score:2, Informative)

    by codingmasters (1105003) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <sretsamgnidoc>> on Thursday October 04, 2007 @11:18PM (#20862597) Homepage
    That is why I will never let a so-called computer technician into my house to look at my computer which he knows jack all about.
  • by computerchimp (994187) on Friday October 05, 2007 @12:06AM (#20863021)
    hahaha....that guy was by far the worst offender! -He copied files from her "broken HD"; I still can't figure that one out! -The guy was totally jerking her around for his own amusement; come on only a total tard could come up with a line like that and be serious. -Lets say he was serious, he is a fraud. Lets say he wasn't serious, he took her time and attempted to take money. He is a thief. The other guys were bad, but not as bad as this turkey. How come he did not get fired? Is he related to the owner? CC
  • by DeadChobi (740395) <DeadChobi.gmail@com> on Friday October 05, 2007 @12:25AM (#20863169)
    If she's getting her hair cut the same way a man does, then she should be going to a barber shop and not a salon. The reason it costs more is because the salon people can actually style as opposed to cut to a length, block/fade into top, and even out sideburns. The latter is all a lot of men really need.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 05, 2007 @02:56AM (#20864279)
    Daily Show / Colbert Report are as much satirizing the media's pathetic coverage of politics as they are the politics themselves.
  • by Explodicle (818405) on Friday October 05, 2007 @09:04AM (#20866465) Homepage

    Computer repair (just like car repair and health care) are problems that free markets just don't solve very well. There's no way for consumers to make informed decisions since diagnosing the problem is the job. Most people not only can't diagnose these problems themselves, but don't make this type of purchase very often, and have little or no objective data to go by. It's a tough problem.
    This market failure is known as information asymmetry [wikipedia.org].

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