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Repair Services
We service all brands of IBM PC compatible systems (and Apple, too). That includes desktops and notebooks, and larger laser and business inkjet printers.  We do everything, from identifying and replacing a bad stick of RAM, to swapping notebook system boards, to fixing software issues (including virus/spyware removal).  We commonly work on (and are pretty familiar with) many locally-built (Milwaukee PC, INET), mail-order (Dell, Gateway), and superstore (Compaq, HP, eMachine) brands.  No appointment necessary, just drop-off your problem child during our normal business hours (10-6 Monday-Friday).

 

*Parts not included.  Turnaround is typically 2-3 days, but depends on parts availability.  Other restrictions may apply.

 

Apple
Yes, we fix Apple iMacs and Macbooks.  When it comes to iMacs, the main failure mode we see is bad hard drives.  But any iMac with a bad hard drive is really an opportunity to upgrade to a SSD (Solid State Drive).  SSD's don't have any moving parts, they store data on flash memory chips.  They're much faster and not susceptible to the same sorts of mechanical failures that destroy conventional hard drives.

Pretty much the same thing goes for Macbook and Macbook Pro computers.  It isn't a question of whether the conventional hard drive will fail, only a matter of when.  But again, replacing the conventional hard drive with a SSD dramatically reduces the time it takes for the machine to boot and launch applications.

Conventional hard drives on portable computers are inherently failure-prone.  That is because people tend to move around with their portable device, picking-up and then setting-down the machine on hard (table) surfaces.  Newer hard drives keep track of what they call G-SHOCK's.  They have accelerometers and can actually tell when they are being abused by bumps and knocks.  We've seen G-SHOCK values in the 100's before the drive simply can't endure the final (big) shock, and crashes.

On both iMacs and Macbooks we also see just grossly corrupted filesystems on the hard drives.  The underlying hardware itself is fine, but the sort of table of contents or index that points to the locations of the files becomes unusable.  In those cases we often can just reload the O/S from scratch.

Oh, and one more thing when it comes to Apple PC's...  We often have machines come in that haven't been updated since new.  They literally have the same version of OS X as they did two, three, or four years ago.  The problem is, many security updates were never rolled back to older versions of OS X so users may not be adequately protected from malicious code.  With newer versions of OS X like Yosemite being free, there is really no reason NOT to upgrade.  Sure, there may be some software compatibility issues, but they can be checked beforehand.  And older Macs may not be able to run the latest OS X, but they should be running the newest version of OS X they support.

Oh, and one more one more thing when it comes to Apple.  We also see dead system boards on Macbooks pretty frequently.  The main contributing factor is (drum roll please) someone spilled something on the thing.  Just a little bit of water on top of one of those chiclet keyboards and it can be game over.

Here is a tip for anyone that spills something on their notebook (Mac or otherwise):  Flip it over.  That's right, let gravity work for you.  Flip the machine upside down, turn it off, remove the A/C adapter and the battery (if you can, not all batteries are user-removable).  Now, I know you're going to want to turn the thing back on after an hour.  Don't.  You'd be amazed how long a small bit of fluid can stay trapped between components.  Capilary action draws it between the board and the chips and other components.  No, just leave it off until you can seek professional help.

I'm not going to sugar-coat it, spilling anything on a Macbook can be an expensive proposition.  The way Macbooks are assembled is upside down, with the keyboard going in first and everything else after.  So replacing the keyboard requires removing the back, the battery, the drives, the motherboard, and over 100 screws just to remove the keyboard.  And those Apple chiclet keyboards seemingly like to funnel the water or soda or whatever it was right to the spot on the motherboard where it will do the most damage.

Just don't spill anything on the Macbook.  Don't drink near a Macbook.  Trust me, you're better-off dehydrated.

 

Windows PC's
Enough with Apple.  We get a lot of other brands in for service, too.  Acer, Asus, Dell, Fujitsu, Gateway, HP, Lenovo, Panasonic, Samsung, Sony, Thinkpad (which is now Lenovo) and more.

And the typical failure modes we see on most of these are:  Bad hard drives, bad power (batteries and AC adapters), bad keyboards (someone spilled something) and track/touchpads, bad LCD panels, bad RAM, bad optical drives, etc.  Okay, we're all over the place.  We really do see it all, though.

I'd guess about 75% of it comes down to a bad hard drive.  And like I said above, every bad hard drive is an opportunity to upgrade to a SSD.  Well worth doing, provided the unit is otherwise serving well.

Dead batteries and AC adapters can be problematic.  You can buy replacements from local outfits but based on the prices charged, they seem overly proud of these aftermarket wares.  I can often find a battery for as little as half their inflated prices, and the same goes for the A/C adapters.  I prefer to use an OEM A/C adapter where possible.  Avoid counterfeit stuff manufactured in China, they can burn your house down.  I'm not exaggerating, even the OEM stuff gets recalled fairly frequently, buying some aftermarket AC adapter is nuts.

Bad keyboards.  My gosh people spill stuff on notebooks.  When it comes to clean-up, I don't mind water so much.  Sugary drinks can be a massive PITA, and often require just a wholesale replacement of the keyboard.  The stuff (sugar water) has a half life.  Each time I clean it, I remove about half of the stick, but you can never remove ALL of it.  Depending on the brand, a keyboard may only be $25 or $50, it can be well worth the price to just replace the thing.  Keyboards are subject to wear anyhow, a new keyboard can be a pleasant experience.

Bad touch/trackpads.  Well, sometimes these are easy to replace, other times they are molded into the palmrest and require a rather expensive part.  We never know until we look it up.  Sometimes using an external mouse is the right answer, it depends on the age of the machine and the parts cost.

Bad LCD panels are sad, just sad.  About half we see are physically cracked, you can see it a mile away.  And the owner usually feels awful for having broken their own machine.  And of course me calling them clumsy doesn't help (I don't actually do that).

Panels can be anywhere from $75 to hundreds, depending on size and resolution, and just how commonly they were used in different makes/models.  And we often have people bring machines in that are several years old, require a $125 panel and $99 in service, and they want to get the thing fixed.  The reality is, it often just doesn't make financial sense.  Some of these machines are pre-Win7, sometimes they're pretty beat-up.  When you can find brand-new machines going for $300 to $500, putting $225 into a machine that is four years old may be crazy talk.  Not always, mind you.  There are times when a machine may be four years old but was high-end to begin with.  We have to take that all into account (and we do).

Bad RAM is typically caught during our initial diagnostics.  Thankfully the days of bad RAM everywhere are mostly over.  There really was a time there where much of the RAM being shipped wouldn't even pass diagnostics brand-new.  This probably had more to do with poor diagnostic tools than anything else.  Now we have tools like Memtest and Memtest86.  They are awesome (but not fool-proof) for finding back sticks.  Less than 5% of the machines we see these days have a bad stick of RAM.  Down from nearly 25% just ten years ago.

All the other bad stuff is just a matter of good diagnostic work.  Each machine that comes in undergoes thorough hardware diagnostics.  If the machine is dead, we start testing all the individual components, reseating parts as we go.  We do our best to bring it back to life.  We will figure it out and call you with our best advice.

 

Viruses & Malware
They're everywhere, these viruses.  And we find them on Macs too.  Obviously not to the same degree, but we've definitely run into malicious code running on Macs.  Few people with Macs have any sort of antivirus software.  There are some great free apps out there that won't slow down your machine, we'd be happy to discuss them with you.

The three biggest sources of this crapware are:  (1) Bogus E-Mail attachments.  (2) Search engine poisoning.  (3) Advertising servers.

E-Mail attachments are those emails that start with carp like "your FedEx delivery was delayed, please click on the attachment to print the label and get instructions for retrieving your package from the depot."  Stuff like that.  Just don't open attachments.  You even need to be careful even if you EXPECT an attachment, it may not be what you were hoping for.

A quick story there.  We accept credit cards.  We work with a large bank, with the bank serving as the "processor."  We receive monthly reports via email that tell us what was deposited in our account.  Well, about a year ago I received an email that looked JUST LIKE one of those month statements I receive.  That is because the ass-hats that sent it basically did a cut and paste of all the text from a legitimate statement E-Mail.

But instead of having a PDF of the actual statement attached, it had a virus payload.  It was soooooo well done, I was just in awe.  The guys writing this garbage are really upping their game.

Okay, next sure way to infect your machine is through a little thing called "search engine poisoning."  The scammers create web pages that look (to search engines) like legitimate web pages with information about celebrities or what-not, but the reality is the page contains a virus payload.  So you're searching for information on Tina Fey and think (by the synopsis on the search results page) that you're going to be reading all about her private life, but in fact you're simply going to infect your PC if you visit that page.

In fact, security software outfits often discover that as many as 25% of pages about celebrities also include some sort of malicious code.

And it doesn't have to be just celebrities.  I once had a customer infect her PC looking for recipes containing oranges (because her daughter loves oranges and who doesn't?).  She was clicking on one link after another, click click click.  Page two of the search results click click click.  And soon enough, a virus.

And BTW, the malware rarely pops-up as soon as your PC is infected.  It is loaded.  Laying low.  Waiting.  Watching.  Perhaps stealing all your saved passwords and transmitting them to Russia.  But waiting.  Then you go to Amazon.com, and the virus pops up.  So now you think Amazon infected your PC.  Nope, the page you were on just ten minutes ago about Tina Fey (sorry to pick on Tina Fey) that seemed to lock-up and you couldn't close it?  That one infected your PC.  They were just employing a little redirection to make you think the legitimate site infected your PC.

Okay, finally, the third way to infect your PC, advertising servers.  A local newspaper's website seems especially prone to this attack.  Basically, the ad servers (the servers that provide the advertising on the webpage you're visiting) is compromised and hackers replace legitimate ads with virus payloads.  Ugh.

Alright, so what can be done?  Well first, the malicious code needs to be cleaned-off, of course, we need to get back to ground zero.  And we use a ton of tools to accomplish that, it isn't as easy as telling people "just run program X."  We often have people ask which program we use, like this is simple, but think about it:  If there was a single program that could clean the PC of all infections and keep it clean going forward, why would there be any other programs?  And the outfit that wrote that app. would have a market capitalization greater than Microsoft and Apple combined, right?

So it is a bit more complex, we use a host of applications, some of which we've created ourselves, to identify new malware and clean it up.

But going forward, there are three things you can do:  (1) Don't open attachments unless you're absolutely sure they are legitimate.  As I've already said, some of the fake ones are so good they'd be nearly impossible for the average person to identify.  So if there is any doubt, don't open it.  If the attachment isn't of a sensitive nature, you can always forward it to info@cgallery.com and we will take a look and let you know if it is legit.

(2) Be very careful with the search engines.  That means Google and Bing and any of the others.  You can use them, they can make finding stuff at Amazon and Wikipedia much more convenient.  But you can't just click on any link returned without looking at the address line of where it wants to take you.  So if you're searching for information on Tina Fey (that poor woman) and Google shows you a link to "Vanity Fair," that is probably safe.  But another address that reads "everything-to-know-about-tina-fey.com" should be avoided at all costs.

(3) Advertising server infection isn't something you can do much about.  I've seen some security appliances I use for commercial clients block sites like jsonline.com (site of local newspaper) a couple of times now, as it was determined an advertisement they were "serving up" was actually a payload.  All I can tell you is, sites with infected ad servers tend to suffer from this problem repeatedly.  I actually avoid the jsonline.com site for this reason.

OH MY GOSH, I can't believe I forgot to mention this.  It is a good thing you're still reading this, in fact.  But likely the #1 way people infect their machines is loading apps and utilities like Adobe Flash or Acrobat Reader.  People will google "Adobe Acrobat" and click on pretty much any link returned.  Something like "read Acrobat files" will catch their attention and they will download and install junkware.  When you need to load something from Adobe, start at adobe.com.  If you want something from Microsoft, go to microsoft.com.  DO NOT find your apps and utilities from sites like downloads.com or adobe-acrobat-reader.fixitup.com, got it?  Again, if there is any doubt, call us, we won't laugh at you until we hang up the phone.  One quick, free call may save you $50 or $100 to get your machine cleaned.

 

What is at stake?
I get this question ALL THE TIME.  Why do these hackers bother?  Answer:  Do-re-mi.  Money.  Green.

Many of these cons simply involve popping-up a screen saying the PC is infected and you need to enter your CC information to clean the virus.  And you'd be surprised at the number of people that fall for it.  And they don't charge your card $50 or whatever, they take all the information you enter and use it to create a counterfeit card which they then attempt to use for all sorts of fraudulent charges.

But that isn't the half of it!

I had a firm call me after a recent virus scare caused them to call their existing IT outfit to have a 2nd look.  Their existing IT people looked around and then gave them a thumbs-up (everything clean).

But days later, they received a call from their bank indicating someone had initiated a bank transfer for $75k (that is seventy-five thousand dollars!).  This outfit asked if I could come give a second opinion on whether any of the PC's were infected and, as it turned out, the very first PC at which I sat was, indeed, infected.  Not only that, but examining which ports were in use via a little utility called CPORTS indicated that someone was logged into the PC from elsewhere right at that moment.

 

What to do next?
If you suspect your PC is infected, turn it off and bring it in.  Whatever you do, don't continue running an infected PC as possible back-doors allow others to access your files and look for documents that contain information about the location of your banking and investment accounts.

 

414/963-6336 -or- 800/876-2186
info@cgallery.com (E-Mail)
Not responsible for typographical errors.
All prices are subject to change without notice.