Portland Computer Service
Call it fee geek: The metro area has many
By Steve Woodward; The Oregonian
Friday, July 28, 2006
It can feel like the ninth circle of computer hell. Your hard drive is infected with viruses and spyware. Your wireless network is down. You can't figure out how to set up your new printer.
And the prospect of spending hours on the phone with technical support brings you to the brink of screaming.
Where do you turn for help?
Many people turn to computer-savvy family members or friends. Some browse Craigslist for a reliable-sounding advertisement by a self-employed computer technician. Others entrust their problems to a large commercial service, such as Geek Squad or CompUSA.
It comes down to how much you're willing to spend, how much you trust an unfamiliar service -- or how many times you can depend on the kindness of others.
"I have family members who are computer people," says Tamar Boussi, a Southwest Portland investment consultant who hired Geek Squad recently. "But I found it was easier to pay someone to help than to always impose on my son or grandson."
One of the best, nonbiased and free sources for referrals is the little-known Angie's List. The online nationwide service (www.angieslist.com) leaves it entirely up to its 425,000 members to add companies to the list, rate them and leave comments about them, good and bad.
Portland is among the 61 cities where Angie's List members hand out report cards on dozens of services, including computer repair.
Antico Plus Computer Repair and Consulting, one of the top-rated Portland-area computer repair services on the list, got straight A's from all but one of 11 customers. One gave it a B on price and A's on the remaining four Angie's List categories: quality, responsiveness, punctuality and professionalism.
In the past three months, Theresa Stankovik, Antico Plus owner, says almost 8 percent of her new customers found her through Angie's List. The bulk came through referrals from past clients (41 percent) and newspaper advertising (39 percent). Craigslist, the online classified ad service, brought her an additional 6 percent.
Angie's List also lists company specialties, contact information, Web sites and whether the company offers senior discounts.
Company Web sites often offer additional information, such as the staff's qualifications, warranties and prices. The Antico Plus site, for example, talks in detail about its flat rate of $49.99, not including parts, for each PC or laptop it services.
Angie's List is not as well known as Craigslist, where many independent Portland-area computer technicians advertise (portland.craigslist.org/cps/). Unlike Angie's List, Craigslist has no consumer rating system.
Matthew Miner, a Northeast Portland real estate trader, turned to Craigslist last fall when he became stymied dealing with his desktop PC's hard drive. He found a technician, who has since left the business to return to school.
"I remember his (ad) as being very well-written and presented," Miner says, who liked the repairman's $20-an-hour rate and the fact that he could speak in understandable lay terms.
"There's no way to tell for sure beforehand," Miner says, adding that the technician fixed his problem in 20 minutes. "You give him a shot, and if it works out, you've got someone to go to next time."
For $20, Miner figured he couldn't go wrong.
"I've seen some of the rates these commercial outfits charge," he says, "and it's outrageous."
Boussi, in contrast, didn't flinch at paying a flat $279 fee for a Geek Squad technician to come to her house for two hours of personalized training. Although Boussi was adept at e-mail attachments and reading online newspapers, her knowledge of more complex tasks, such as downloading photos, was limited.
Boussi chose Geek Squad because of its affiliation with electronics giant Best Buy and because its on-site services were guaranteed for 30 days. Geek Squad has about 50 "agents," or technicians, in the Portland area and 10,500 nationwide, says Amelia Lukiman, a Geek Squad spokeswoman.
Brandon Maas, the Geek Squad "double agent" who trained Boussi, says the company's Beaverton precinct gets lots of requests to set up wireless networks, many of them for home businesses, as well as to strengthen computer security.
"Security seems to be the biggest thing we hear about," he says, listing viruses, spyware and password safety as key areas they discuss with customers.
Maas adds that other clients include seniors who want help setting up new computers, receiving basic training and getting e-mail up and running.
A basic in-home computer setup costs a flat $229 at Geek Squad and $129.99 at CompUSA, according to their Web sites.
For seniors and others on fixed incomes, an alternative to commercial services is Ray Norman. The 35-year computer-industry veteran is devoting his retirement years to repairing computers and training users, for donations or for free.
"I've seen people spend hundreds of dollars on things that weren't worth $50," says Norman, a Gresham resident. A blind client recently told him about her experience with an independent computer technician.
"They charged her $160 to fix a key on the keyboard," Norman says.
During his career, Norman flew 100,000 miles a year, installing computer systems in hospitals nationwide. A bad back forced him to retire seven years ago, at age 50. Today, he repairs computers for the Oregon Commission for the Blind, as well for as any needy person who comes to him with a computer problem. (He can be reached at 503-465-1970.)
Stankovik, of Antico Plus, offers some cautions for consumers. Many consumers, for example, go beyond their own limitations in trying to fix computer problems themselves.
"It is those who are unaware of the damage that can sometimes be caused by trying to do it themselves," Stankovik says, "that can end up paying more for service or repairs, especially if they are paying by the hour."
Also, she says, "in this day and age of identity theft, people should be wary about who they entrust with their data."
Although no company or technician could stay in business if accused of identity theft, she says, there's no guaranteed way of ensuring the safety of data.
"In the end," she says, "the consumer has to go with their his gut."
Finally, Stankovik says, the customer should evaluate the service after the job is done. If not satisfied, computer owners can shop around for another technician. After all, Portland's market, she says, is full of technicians who charge flat rates or hourly rates that range from $25 to $180.
"Let's face it," Stankovik says. "In a flooded computer tech market like Portland, it never pays to leave a customer unsatisfied."