Tales from the Tech Trenches: A Coworker and Her Motherboard

Authors: Bryce Whitty

A Technibble forum member has shared one of his experiences as a Computer Technician with us and the lessons he learned along the way. Due to the public nature of this article the technician wishes to remain anonymous. This is his tale from the tech trenches.

Anonymous Writes:
A co-worker of mine has an HP a6663 she bought in December 2008 and used until January 2010, when she asked for help. The symptoms she verbally described were merely those of Spyware. I agreed to fix the problem for $60 thinking it was only Spyware, but when I got there it would hang solid, Blue Screen of Death as well as sometimes fail to POST. In addition to it being so loaded with Spyware it would take 35 minutes to boot (when it worked).

I didn’t really want to open the computer or do much for the $60, but I did agree to fix the problem and I also know that she would not be able to tell the difference between symptoms caused by bad hardware from those caused by Spyware. I knew she would not consider the computer repaired even if I had removed all the spyware, because it would still freeze and crash.

When I started work, I presumed it would boot fast enough to backup my co-workers information and then I could run the HP recovery utility (in the worst case scenario – if the standard Spyware cleanup tools don’t work) and copy the information back onto the system. It became apparent this wasn’t the case. When it did boot, little things like the extensions to .zip were broken and 20+ toolbars/desktop-bars were installed. Windows was foobared enough to not be able to copy files!

It would freeze solid, so I knew it was a hardware problem that must be resolved first. I tested it with Memtest 86+ which it passed. It then hung on POST; again, I knew it is a hardware problem. Anyway, I tried Bart PE to copy the information off but it didn’t see the hard drive for more than a few seconds each time I booted it.

I decided to try CHKDSK on Windows PE which took about 5 tries to boot without crashing, so I knew something was terribly wrong. None the less, I pressed on and it fixed 20,000+ NTFS errors which made me question whether the hard drive was good. In my experience usually a drive is bad when CHKDSK has errors scroll for 10 minutes.

I opened the case and pulled the drive to make a backup of the data first in case it died during diagnostics. Then I ran the Western Digital Diagnostics which it passed. The computer was out of warranty anyway and the drive was never covered by Western Digital being a HP provided part. When I opened the case, I saw bulging capacitors and knew that was the culprit.

1. I called the user back and told her I got her data and that the drive itself is fine, so no need to buy a new one.

2. I explained that the computer is out of Warranty from HP, which is BAD because it needs a new motherboard due to bulging capacitors.

3. I contacted HP and they would NOT send me the part. They wanted me to send the computer in with $200 to diagnose the problem, which I already knew was bulging capacitors. They said if it needed a new motherboard then expect the total to run up to $400. I asked/begged them to sell me a replacement motherboard but they refused, insisting that part is ONLY serviceable by an HP repair center.

4. I searched on the Internet and eBay for a replacement board and did not find anything for this model.

5. I then packaged the motherboard up properly in anti-static wrap & packing material in a Priority Mail box and addressed it to be sent to Badcaps.net for recapping. I had my co-worker sign a form saying she would pay for the re-capping and that I am not responsible if the recapping does not work.

The recapping will be an extra $80 paid directly to BadCaps.net of which I will take on $60 (full payment of my labor agreed upon) risk. Basically saying, if it doesn’t work you still pay for the re-capping, but I won’t bill you for any of the labor up to this point.

6. I later get chewed-out by co-worker that the $20 shipping is expensive (I forced her to send it Priority Mail with Delivery Confirmation) mainly because it only gets handled for two days and has some tracking in addition to a properly sized, free box. I simply told her to mail it herself with HER return address and call me when the part arrives.

7. I find out from BadCaps.Net she doesn’t have a PayPal account to pay the $80 for the recapping, so I made the payment and printed the PayPal receipt for reimbursement.

At this point, I am at 3 hours of work and $80. I have also made two trips – one to do the initial work presuming it was just spyware and 100% user stupidity and take the drive for backup (as well as write down all the serial numbers for warranty lookups), and the other trip to package the motherboard up for shipping after I figured out what to do.

8. She called me that the board came in and to come over. I arrive at the scheduled time and she wasn’t home. $^&*(%!!!

9. I re-schedule the call out. I arrive and inspect the motherboard; it looks fabulously repaired! I install it and cross my fingers that it will POST and be okay after having like 20 caps replaced. Everything works, no hangs, no freezes, etc.

10. I go through the HP recovery process, Windows Updates, install her Microsoft Office, setup her Internet access, install her printer, install her scanner and create her icons. I install Security Essentials and Firefox (because it is more like IE than Chrome and safer for home users than IE).

11. Reload her data from backup.

12. Configure Windows backup and teach her how to backup her data.

The job was done in 3 trips, 4 hours total work and 1 hour research checking warranties and places to get it re-capped in addition to $80 of my own to pay for the capacitor repair.

  • I never changed the original estimate from $60 and the travel cost of $9.
  • I never charged travel on more than one trip, yet there were three.
  • I did not charge for getting the packaging material (I bought), time getting the Priority Mail box and getting an anti-static bag – all of which took probably an hour, some travel and $5.

Then she says, “Can I pay you in installments?”

Me (not really caring; since, I am asking for so little): “Sure, go for it. Do you have the first payment now and how much?”

Her: “We get paid at work next week.”

Me: “Okay.”

Her: “Can I have an invoice?”

Me: “I hand her an Invoice for $60 labor, $9 travel, and $80 for the re-capping.”

Pay Day comes around and I don’t say anything hoping she will pay pro-actively. I wait two days and send another invoice.
She then tells me at work she has an installment of $80 as repayment for the portion of the BadCaps.net recapping. I took it, so I am at least at the break-even point except for my time and fuel running around.
I mailed a receipt showing that I put it toward that and now she owes on the $60 labor and $9 travel. Two weeks later we got paid again, so I asked about it and she paid me the $69.

What I learned

1. Simple jobs aren’t always simple when there are multiple problems.

2. Don’t quote a fixed cost and stick to it even as other problems crop up.

3. Don’t work for co-workers.

4. Never buy (and try not to avoid working on) a computer that doesn’t have a good source of original, spare parts.

What I should have charged

1. $80 for the Recovery (not $60 for Spyware removal)

2. $20 for the Hard Drive Diagnostics & Motherboard Diagnostics (bad caps)

3. For packaging/shipping materials (aside for the free Priority Mail box)

4. $80 up front before sending it for re-capping, not after.

5. $60 to cover the backup/restore

6. $40 to clean the dust & remove/install the motherboard… should have charged something for that trip.

7. Travel for all three trips at $9 each.

8. I should have charged at least $20 installing the AV, Anti Spyware, Office, updates, etc.

9. I should have charged at least $20 for setting up the backup & teaching her to use it.

10. Should have charged maybe $20 per device i.e. Internet, Printer, Scanner

I wasn’t doing this job for the money; I looked at is as doing a favor for a friend that just wasn’t totally free. I was doing it to help out and wanted to make sure she was not over-charged. I merely quoted $60 because I don’t want the word getting around that I will do favors and to discourage her from asking for repeat favors.

The original idea of mine was that I would take care of her Spyware issues, get everything running smoothly in an hour and then train her with some basic knowledge to leave her feeling good with high esteem and some basic knowledge to prevent reoccurrence. I planned to be done fixing the problem in under an hour then stay around just long enough to make her feel she got “added” value beyond fixing a computer.

That said, I never expected this little job to turn into a big project involving research, paper-work, invoicing, receipts, appointments, a missed appointment, shipping, packaging, multiple trips, multiple warranty checks, visual observation/diagnostics of the motherboard, memory diagnostics, data recovery, drive diagnostics, restore backup, updates, training, backup configuration, printer, scanner, Internet, software installation and loan of money via a PayPal payment to re-cap the motherboard.

The entire time, I never budged on my quote because I felt I had a commitment and that she was a friend, but I should have either charged more or known when to walk away from the job.

I also wanted to keep the price very low because I knew she was far more underpaid than I am at work. She probably gets paid $1 for every $3 I get, and I felt for her situation since she just bought the computer 14 months ago. I knew if I didn’t fix it, anywhere she took it they would have quoted astronomical prices higher than those listed that I should charge. I knew if I didn’t fix it, she would have no choice but to buy a new computer.

A retail shop would have run into the same problems I did, have to make the same diagnosis or possibly make a miss misdiagnosis. They would also have a problem not being able to buy a motherboard from HP. Even if they could source one, they would probably charge $150 to $200 for it plus its installation.

Although we don’t forget how important it is to look after people (especially friends and family), we often forget to look after ourselves – that is the lesson I learned.

By the way, it has been over a year and she told me at work that the computer is still running great. She said it actually works better than new because it would sometimes hard-freeze a couple of times a month after the first few months of ownership. It has been rock-solid, stable and reliable since the new capacitors.

Do you have your own tale from the Tech Trenches you would like to share with us? Please send it here.

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