Q: With Windows computers being so cheap these days, how do I know when it's better to repair or replace my computer when I have a problem? - Glenda
A: The ‘should I repair or replace my computer' conundrum is one of the most common questions faced these days, especially since we see advertisements for cheap computers just about everywhere.
Although we are a computer service company, we also sell computers, so my perspective isn't to try to talk everyone into repairing everything.
It's really important that you completely understand the pros and cons of both repairing and replacing your computer before you make a decision.
If repairing a television or refrigerator costs nearly as much as replacing it, it's a pretty easy decision to make. Computers, however, are not like appliances because they have programs and data that need to be included in your evaluation.
Often times, folks that are in a hurry go out and buy a new computer assuming that it will solve all their problems. It's entirely likely that it won't solve your problem, it simply changes your problem and can come with a few hidden expenses you hadn't thought of.
What I mean is that your problem went from having a computer that had everything just the way you like it but wasn't performing properly to having a computer that doesn't have any of your programs, documents, address books, e-mails, printer drivers, bookmarks, pictures, music, video, Wi-Fi settings or a host of other items that you weren't really aware were important.
What you must evaluate is if the actual cost (and the associated pain) to replace your computer is preferable to the cost of repairing it. This greatly depends upon your ability and/or desire to do all the work to get your new computer to look like your old computer.
Make sure you aren't making your decision based on these common misconceptions.
Misconception #1: The advertised price of a computer is the total price!
Very few people can actually make use of a computer advertised at $300 because it's usually a pretty basic, low-end computer designed to get you into the store so they can upsell you.
Here are a list of items that often get added to the ‘advertised' price: Upgrades to memory, processor or hard drive space to make it suitable, antivirus or other security programs (watch out for ‘trial versions' that expire in 30-90 days), monitors (for desktop computers) if you need a new one, higher capacity battery (for laptop computers) as some low cost units come with a small capacity battery, transfer of data from your old computer to the new one (up to $200 if you don't know how to do it yourself), and updated versions of your programs (if they are older).
Misconception #2: Microsoft Office comes with Windows, doesn't it? This has been fed over the years by sneaky computer manufacturers that will pre-load a trial or limited-use ad displaying a version to trick buyers that aren't paying attention.
This isn't a problem if you have your licensed copy of your old software and it will run on the newer operating system, but this leads to another ‘oh %@#$#' moment: You don't have any idea where your old program disks are, which means you have to buy new disks (a $50-$500 surprise) or switch to a free alternative that doesn't work the same.
In early versions of Windows, you could copy programs from one computer to another and they would generally work, but today you must install each program you wish to have on your new computer.
Misconception #3: I have all my important files backed up! This one comes from 20-plus years of working with folks that get a new computer; everything I care about is in the My Documents folder right? WRONG!
Depending upon the programs that you have installed, your critical financial files, for instance, could reside within the programs folders far away from the My Documents folder. If you have multiple user profiles for different members of your family, you need to make sure the data that resides in each person's profile has been backed up.
Misconception #4: Copying my old files to the new computer is all I need to do, right? Even if you have done a good job of backing up all the data for each user, your new machine doesn't know anything about your old computer or the various profiles you created on it. If you had 3 profiles on your old computer, you need to recreate what is essentially three computers on your new computer if you want it all to work the same way.
Getting a new computer to look and work like your old computer is a lot of work, especially if you make the mistake of getting rid of your old computer before you get your new one completely setup.
I'm not suggesting that repairing your computer is the best decision in every case, I'm simply pointing out all of the things that have caused many a new computer buyer to say "I wish someone had told me before I bought this new computer!"
• Ken Colburn is president of Data Doctors Computer Services and host of the Data Doctors Radio Program, noon Saturdays on KTAR 92.3 FM or at www.datadoctors.com/radio. Readers may send questions to email@example.com.